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.
In 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.
The Independent Institute