Pearl Harbor mythologizing is not just a field for entertainment. Here’s a newspaper article:
“Pearl Harbor and World War II brought us together as a nation. We believed we could not be beaten. And we prevailed. But why is Congress now so intent on destroying our feelings of patriotism and decimating our national defense? Many Congress members want to cut our national defense spending in an effort to compensate for their ineptness, for not fulfilling their responsibilities as our representatives and for catering to other groups and politicians for the sake of their pet (pork) projects and the next election. They forget (or don’t know) that their No. 1 priority is the defense of our country, and related to that, the protection of our veterans’ benefits. . . .
“Could the fact that America forgot about what happened at Pearl Harbor and let down its guard have helped allow the attacks of 9/11 to happen? And will this forgetfulness and ignorance stoke terrorists’ ambitions to expand their attacks? Because Congress’ ‘supercommittee’ failed to meet its deadline last month to identify $1.2 trillion in savings, spending cut triggers are now set to take effect in 2013, including $600 billion for defense. If Congress is allowed to cut the military budget, another attack becomes more likely.
“We must call the president, our congressional leaders, our two state senators and our representatives in the House to tell them to stop their foolishness, renew the military and Veterans Affairs budgets, and even increase them so that we may both strengthen our programs for research and development in order to remain the largest and best-equipped military in the world and to respect and honor our past veteran heroes.
“If we allow them to make defense cuts all in the name of getting out of Iraq, and eventually Afghanistan (which is probably a mistake, but that discussion will be for another day), there will be no more research funds to remain No. 1, no upgrades, no new tanks, planes, ships and drones, neither more nor better body armor and vehicles.”
Regardless of whether you believe the legend of Pearl Harbor, it is very difficult to deny that this is a different world. The United States does not just have the most expensive military in the world, but one the size of the rest of the world’s put together. The United States has bases or troops in most of the world’s other countries. The United States dominates the oceans and outerspace. The United States has sliced the planet up into command zones. Congress is dumping over half of discretionary spending into the military. While they’ve roughly doubled this spending, both in real dollars and as a percentage of the federal budget since 9-11, the fact is that the nuclear arsenal and the empire of bases and all the endless spending had nothing to do with 9-11 other than serving to provoke it. Your newspaper is asking you to live in a dream world, and to destroy this one in the process.
No new tanks? No new planes? $600 billion sounds big, but over 10 years it’s $60 billion out of an annual “security” budget of a trillion — meaning 6%. All that’s required to turn that into an increase instead of a cut is to take it out of a “projected” budget that increases by more than 6%. If any actual cutting happens, you can rest assured our misrepresentatives will do everything in their power to take the money out of non-military areas, or at least to cut troop benefits rather than the sacred and profitable tanks and planes etc., almost none of which has anything to do with “defense.”
Countering the Myth
As we read Ulysses on Bloomsday every June 16th (or we should if we don’t) I think that every December 7th should not only commemorate the Great Law of 1682 that banned war in Pennsylvania but also mark Pearl Harbor, not by celebrating the state of permawar that has existed for 75 years, but by reading The Golden Age by Gore Vidal and marking with a certain Joycean irony the golden age of anti-isolationist imperial mass-killing that has encompassed the lives of every U.S. citizen under the age of 75.
Golden Age Day should include public readings of Vidal’s novel and the glowing endorsements of it by the Washington Post, New York Times Book Review, and every other corporate paper in the year 2000, also known as the year 1 BWT (before the war on terra). Not a single one of those newspapers has ever, to my knowledge, printed a serious straightforward analysis of how President Franklin D. Roosevelt maneuvered the United States into World War II. Yet Vidal’s novel — presented as fiction, yet resting entirely on documented facts — recounts the story with total honesty, and somehow the genre used or the author’s pedigree or his literary skill or the length of the book (too many pages for senior editors to be bothered with) grants him a license to tell the truth.
Sure, some people have read The Golden Age and protested its impropriety, but it remains a respectable high-brow volume. I may be hurting the cause by openly writing about its content. The trick, which I highly recommend to all, is to give or recommend the book to others without telling them what’s in it.
Despite a filmmaker being a main character in the book, it’s not been made into a film, as far as I know — but a widespread phenomenon of public readings could conceivably make that happen.
In The Golden Age, we follow along inside all the closed doors, as the British push for U.S. involvement in World War II, as President Roosevelt makes a commitment to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as the warmongers manipulate the Republican convention to make sure that both parties nominate candidates in 1940 ready to campaign on peace while planning war, as FDR longs to run for an unprecedented third term as a wartime president but must content himself with beginning a draft and campaigning as a drafttime president in a time of supposed national danger, and as FDR works to provoke Japan into attacking on his desired schedule.
The echoes are eerie. Roosevelt campaigns on peace (“except in case of attack”), like Wilson, like Johnson, like Nixon, like Obama. Roosevelt, pre-election, puts in Henry Stimson as a war-eager Secretary of War not altogether unlike Donald Trump nominees.
World War Two Was Not a Just War
World War II is often called “the good war,” and has been since the U.S. war on Vietnam to which it was then contrasted. World War II so dominates U.S. and therefore Western entertainment and education, that “good” often comes to mean something more than “just.”
The winner of the 2016 “Miss Italy” beauty pageant got herself into a bit of a scandal by declaring that she would have liked to live through World War II. While she was mocked, she was clearly not alone. Many would like to be part of something widely depicted as noble, heroic, and exciting. Should they actually find a time machine, I recommend they read the statements of some actual WWII veterans and survivors before they head back to join the fun.
No matter how many years one writes books, does interviews, publishes columns, and speaks at events, it remains virtually impossible to make it out the door of an event in the United States at which you’ve advocated abolishing war without somebody hitting you with the what-about-the-good-war question. This belief that there was a good war 75 years ago is a large part of what moves the U.S. public to tolerate dumping a trillion dollars a year into preparing in case there’s a good war next year, even in the face of so many dozens of wars during the past 71 years on which there’s general consensus that they were not good. Without rich, well-established myths about World War II, current propaganda about Russia or Syria or Iraq or China would sound as crazy to most people as it sounds to me. And of course the funding generated by the Good War legend leads to more bad wars, rather than preventing them. I’ve written on this topic at great length in many articles and books, especially War Is A Lie. But I’ll offer here a few key points that ought to at least place a few seeds of doubt in the minds of most U.S. supporters of WWII as a Just War.
World War II could not have happened without World War I, without the stupid manner of starting World War I and the even stupider manner of ending World War I which led numerous wise people to predict World War II on the spot, or without Wall Street’s funding of Nazi Germany for decades (as preferable to communists), or without the arms race and numerous bad decisions that do not need to be repeated in the future.