Pearl Harbor Day today is like Columbus Day 50 years ago. That is to say: most people still believe the hype. The myths are still maintained in their blissful unquestioned state. “New Pearl Harbors” are longed for by war makers, claimed, and exploited. Yet the original Pearl Harbor remains the most popular U.S. argument for all things military, including the long-delayed remilitarization of Japan — not to mention the WWII internment of Japanese Americans as a model for targeting other groups today. Believers in Pearl Harbor imagine for their mythical event, in contrast to today, a greater U.S. innocence, a purer victimhood, a higher contrast of good and evil, and a total necessity of defensive war making.
The facts do not support the mythology. The United States government did not need to make Japan a junior partner in imperialism, did not need to fuel an arms race, did not need to support Nazism and fascism (as some of the biggest U.S. corporations did right through the war), did not need to provoke Japan, did not need to join the war in Asia or Europe, and was not surprised by the attack on Pearl Harbor. For support of each of these statements, keep reading.
This week I’m testifying at an Iraq Tribunal about the Downing Street Minutes. In U.S. thinking the 2003-2008 period of the decades-long war on Iraq is somehow worse than World War II. But when it comes to lies, bad decisions, and levels of death and destruction, there is just no comparison: World War II stands unchallenged as the worst thing humanity in general and the U.S. government in particular (as well as numerous other governments) have ever done. There’s even a parallel to the Downing Street Minutes.
On August 18, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street. The meeting had some similarity to the July 23, 2002, meeting at the same address, the minutes of which became known as the Downing Street Minutes. Both meetings revealed secret U.S. intentions to go to war. In the 1941 meeting, Churchill told his cabinet, according to the minutes: “The President had said he would wage war but not declare it.” In addition, “Everything was to be done to force an incident.”
Indeed, everything was done to force an incident, and the incident was Pearl Harbor.
This was a very useful document that was released in a moment when it could have an important impact.
Like every war ever launched by anyone before or since (at least up until the age of openly blurting out “steal their oil” and “kill their families”), the 2003 stage in the Iraq war had been launched on the basis of lies and had been and still is continued on the basis of other lies.
We ought not to have needed any evidence. It is illegal to attack another country under the UN Charter and under the Kellogg Briand Pact (and arguably under the Hague Convention of 1899). And in this case, as with Afghanistan two years earlier, the UN had specifically rejected war. Launching a war is illegal and immoral no matter what weapons may be in the nation attacked and no matter what crimes that nation has committed. Launching a total assault on civilians to supposedly shock and awe them is illegal even in the understanding of lawyers who ignore the illegality of war. Morally it is one of the worst things ever done. Practically it has never worked.
Even if we accepted that weapons in Iraq or Iraqi crimes could justify a war, the evidence was clear that these were lies. The Iraqi government was opposed to the group it had supposedly collaborated with. In 1995 Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law had informed the U.S. and the British that all biological, chemical, missile, and nuclear weapons had been destroyed under his direct supervision. After U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998, the lead inspector said they’d come to the same conclusion. In 1999 at a primary debate in New Hampshire, Bush said he’d “take out” Saddam Hussein. “I’m surprised he’s still there,” he said. In 2001, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and others in the Bush Administration were telling the media that Saddam Hussein had no weapons. They transparently switched their views on command.
So, when the Downing Street Minutes came out on May 1, 2005, we jumped on it, not as new information but as evidence we could use, both to persuade others and to make a case in court or in Congress. These were the minutes of a meeting at Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office on July 23, 2002, at which his head of so-called intelligence, just back from Washington, reported (as summarized in the minutes):
“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
And so they were, as has been documented in extensive detail. The White House war schemers and their collaborators forged documents, solicited desired claims rejected by their own experts, relied on non-credible witnesses, fed fake evidence to complicit so-called journalists, and tortured desired statements out of victims they’d kidnapped. Bush concocted harebrained schemes to start a war that he publicly claimed to be trying to avoid. See, for example, the White House Memo.
But just the fact that the British had been informed that war was inevitable by July 23, 2002, ought to have been a big story in May 2005. We worked hard to make it such, pressuring a resistant corporate media that claimed either that it couldn’t verify a memo that was clearly authentic and not even disputed, or arguing that what it revealed was “old news,” even though it was brand new to anyone informed by those media outlets.
We made it into big news through public protests, reenactments in the lobbies of media outlets, floods of letters to editors, and a wide variety of creative actions. But we had an advantage. Democrats in Congress were in the minority and many of them were claiming they would take actions to end the war if given the majority. Key Congress members were supporting our efforts. I believe that we turned many of their encouraging claims into lies by shrinking rather than enlarging and intensifying our movement in January 2007.