‘Unprovoked’ Attacks, From 1812 to 9/11

Lusitania Sinking

Lusitania Sinking

In World War I, the United States took advantage of the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats to enter the conflict—no matter that the U.S. was insisting on neutral rights for a passenger ship carrying weapons for the enemy of Germany through a war zone.

Although the hallowed World War II was fought against the ruthless Imperial Japanese and Nazis, the full story is a bit more complex. The Japanese didn’t just attack Pearl Harbor for no reason, and the Nazis didn’t simply declare war against the United States.

At some point in the 1930s, FDR decided that he could not live with Hitler’s regime, so in the spring and summer of 1941, long before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he ordered the U.S. Navy to help the British sink German U-boats in the Atlantic—hoping that would cause Hitler to declare war on the United States.

But Hitler refused to take the bait, and the German leader avoided declaring war on the American colossus until his ally Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. That Japanese attack was made in desperation, because the United States, then the world’s largest oil producer, had cut off the supplies of petroleum and other key materials to the island nation in an attempt to economically strangle Japan for colonizing China by force. FDR refused the Japanese prime minister’s attempt to negotiate an end to the dispute; the “Hail Mary” Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor followed.

In Vietnam, American history focuses on the North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin, at least one of which was fictitious. Even if the North Vietnamese did attack, what goes unexamined was the secret U.S. raiding of the North Vietnamese coast, which provoked any attack.

In 1979, most Americans thought that the new diabolical theocratic regime in Iran just kidnapped U.S. diplomats and held them hostage out of spite. Long forgotten was the CIA’s overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadegh and U.S. restoration and support for the thuggish and oppressive regime of the shah until he was overthrown by the theocrats.

Ivan ElandIn Grenada in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan accused the Marxist regime of allegedly threatening U.S. medical students, who weren’t really in harm’s way, in order to justify invading the small Central American country.

And then there was George W. Bush, who unnecessarily invaded Saddam’s Iraq—which had been severely weakened by Bush Sr.’s pounding of it a decade before—on a bunch of trumped up-accusations.

American history vindicates the old saying that “truth is the first casualty of war,” but the passage of time should allow a republic to undertake a more honest and dispassionate examination of historical events. It rarely does, with truth being swept under the rug in favor of assuming uncaused indignities.

Ivan Eland
The Independent Institute

Published by the LA Progressive on May 13, 2011
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About Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He also has served as Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), and has testified on the military and financial aspects of NATO expansion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CIA oversight before the House Government Reform Committee, and on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Eland is the author of The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, as well as The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool. He is a contributor to numerous volumes and the author of 45 in-depth studies on national security issues.

His articles have appeared in American Prospect, Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Emory Law Journal, The Independent Review, Issues in Science and Technology (National Academy of Sciences), Mediterranean Quarterly, Middle East and International Review, Middle East Policy, Nexus, Chronicle of Higher Education, American Conservative, International Journal of World Peace, and Northwestern Journal of International Affairs. Dr. Eland's popular writings have appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newsday, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, Washington Times, Providence Journal, The Hill, and Defense News. He has appeared on ABC's “World News Tonight,” NPR's “Talk of the Nation,” PBS, Fox News Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, CNN, CNN “Crossfire,” CNN-fn, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Canadian TV (CTV), Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other local, national, and international TV and radio programs.