Misusing the Sacrifices of WW II

The unjustified interventions and increasingly ugly defeats simply don’t get mentioned. It is as though 70 years of U.S. military history has been whitewashed from the American mind, writes Joe Lauria.

Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, May 29, 2017. (White House, Shealah Craighead)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Caitlin Johnstone in her Memorial Day column published here today correctly points out that post-World War II U.S. leaders have deviously invoked that justified war to cement U.S. popular support for conflicts with less than justified aims.

The problem began as the Second World War ended, with the U.S. the only major combatant undamaged at home and left with military bases flung around the world. The U.S. stood astride a devastated globe faced with a choice: make good on its rhetoric of international social progress, or fortifying those bases into the nodes of a global military and economic empire. We know the answer.

Recent American leaders should be aware what the last just American war was. That is why they bring it up every time the U.S. is gearing for a fight.

Before the 1989 war on Panama, Gen. Manuel Noriega was called Hitler; before the 1999 attack on Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic was compared to Hitler; as was Saddam Hussein before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As tensions rose with Russia during her presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton called Vladimir Putin Hitler, leaving the impression she too was itching for war.

World War II imagery and rhetoric has been so crucial to American imperial leaders since 1945 that they have ritually inflated the role the U.S. played in defeating Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union’s outsized contribution to destroying the Nazis has been airbrushed out of history and U.S. allies are relegated to a supporting cast, fitting for the vassals they’ve since 1945 become.

Nothing New

Using past military victories to prime the public for future war is as old as civilization. Athenian leaders invoked the victory at Marathon over the Persians. Roman victory arches reminded the public of past battlefield successes and stoked confidence for future conquests. The reputed defeat of the Spanish Armada was forever a prime propaganda piece of the British Empire. In this the U.S. empire is no different. Only the medium has changed.

A steady diet of World War II films and TV shows in the 1950s and 60s (dramas like Combat! and comedies like Hogan’s Heroes) groomed the Boomer to think the U.S. was still the good guy and that its post-1945 wars were just fighting World War II all over again.

The unjustified interventions and increasingly ugly defeats simply don’t get mentioned. It is as though 70 years of U.S. military history has been whitewashed from the American mind. Even the most recent setbacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya are never joined by establishment media into a coherent trend of U.S. defeat, which would undermine the militant bravado of successive White Houses and the Pentagon.

And it would be considered unpatriotic to do so, especially on Memorial Day.

Kicking the ‘Syndrome’

The Vietnam war was the main bump in the post-war road. It was a defeat hard for the establishment to sugarcoat. The brass tried to blame the debacle on the media and the anti-war protests. Vietnam followed closely by Watergate staggered militarists in the White House and Pentagon.

It allowed the opening of a mature period of self-reflection perhaps unknown in U.S. history. Congressional investigations looked into what the intelligence services had done with its secretive powers and the results were not pretty. Waste and fraud in the Pentagon was also subject to emboldened congressional scrutiny.

That extraordinary seven-year period from 1973 to 1980 ended as Ronald Reagan swept to power and declared it was “morning again in America” while it had hardly been night. Among Reagan’s goals was to quash a realistic look at America and return it to a “a shining city on a hill.” American mythology was back with a vengeance. It would be 11 years though before the U.S. could again shamelessly play the World War II card as justification for blatantly imperial and unnecessary wars.

For leaders like George H.W. Bush, an American awakening that opposed imperial war and made intelligence agency crimes public, both of which hamstrung the military, was a “syndrome” that had to be overcome.

Bush probed the reaction with his 1989 Panama invasion against “Adolf” Noriega, and then led the first full-scale military attack on Iraq in 1991. He declared in March that year: “The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula…. By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” And it’s been thus ever since, his son upping the ante the second time through Iraq.

Whether U.S. leaders actually believe their own rhetoric that aggressive wars are really part of America’s justified World War II heritage or whether they know it’s a lie to cover up aggression, comes down to the individual politician. Some are smart—and cynical—enough to know it’s a ruse. Others may be true believers. But there’s no doubt the tale is not intended for political or corporate leaders—or media executives—but for a gullible American public.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former UN correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

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10 comments for “Misusing the Sacrifices of WW II

  1. Antiwar7
    June 2, 2021 at 11:11

    Even in the “extraordinary” period from 1973 to 1980, Pres. Carter allowed the violently Russophobic Zbigniew Brzezinski to form, train, and create the mujahadeen, and we’ve been dealing with international, extremist Islamic fighters ever since.

    (Note that Brzezinski, though born in Poland, has ancestry from Galicia, now in western Ukraine. Not surprising: it’s one of the most Russophobic and pro-Nazi regions in the world.)

    In that same timeframe, Carter unleashed the CIA on Nicaragua.

    So it’s been all evil, all the time, since WW II.

  2. June 1, 2021 at 17:08

    And the parasitic class continues to demonize Russia. “the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming”! Indeed the Chinese with their global OBOR policy are creating a multi-polar world. Russia is very much in agreement with China and it appears to be a very positive and successful alliance. Uni-polar USZ cannot succeed.

  3. Drew Hunkins
    June 1, 2021 at 10:59

    These American boys have died for empire.

  4. Raymond Knowles
    June 1, 2021 at 10:59

    A quote from, “America’s War Machine” James McCartney

    “Naturally, the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But…the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

    Attributed to Nazi leader Hermann Goring.

  5. Carolyn L Zaremba
    June 1, 2021 at 09:40

    Hear, hear. Thank you, Joe, for putting it plainly. I was vilified all day yesterday for not “thanking the troops”.

  6. June 1, 2021 at 09:31

    Important introspection that begs the question, “are American citizens as enslaved by the Deep State as the other places it seeks to conquer, and do we ourselves act as our own overseers”? Are there no “really woke” heroes among us or just too few to matter.

  7. S.P. Korolev
    June 1, 2021 at 02:31

    The periods 1941-1948 and 1973-1980 are fascinating periods in the US that could have altered the course of world history had things turned out just a little differently. In 1941 FDR was reelected for his third term with the support of the Communist Party of the USA, bringing with him Henry Wallace as vice-president. A strident critic of fascism, Wallace was supportive of a continuing alliance between the US and USSR, which had both both entered the war against fascism in 1941. Wallace believed such an anti-fascist alliance would accelerate already existing tendecies toward convergence between the US and Soviet systems, with the US becoming more socialist and less racist, while increased opportunities for democratic participation would emerge in the USSR, ushering in a ‘Century of the Common Man’.

    Such a prospect terrified the majority of the US elite, who sympathised with fascism and hoped the Axis powers and the USSR would bleed each other white and allow the US to dominate Eurasia. Wallace was removed as vice-president and replaced by the anticommunist Harry Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt as president upon his death in 1945. Truman shattered the antifascist alliance with nuclear terror, and the passage of the Taft-Hartley act of 1947 purged communists and socialists from the US labor movement, forestalling the possibility of creating a real labor party in the US on the basis of a Democrat-Communist alliance. The anticommunists in the emerging ‘Military Industrial Complex’ drafted the National Security Act the same year, the blueprint for the Cold War that founded the CIA and the Department of Defense. Within 3 years the former antifascist allies were involved in a proxy war over the division of Korea and the goal of destroying communism and subjugating the Third World was codified in NSC 68.

    1973-1980 was another crucial period when the forces of reaction in the US manage to beat back the threat of popular power. The revolutions of the 1960s had been radicalised by ‘COINTELPRO’ policies of repression and assassination, and intra-elite struggles over Watergate had discredited politics-as-usual in the eyes of many Americans. The exhaution of the Fordist economic paradigm of the postwar period coupled with an oil crisis presented a stark choice: either move the US towards a more planned economy with expanded social rights, or roll back the gains working Americans had made under the New Deal and Great Society. In the international sphere, a rising Third World’s push for a ‘New International Economic Order’ threatened the privileges of US multinationals.

    Sadly we all know how this struggle turned out – the Reagan counterrevolution, the re-subjugation of the Third World under the rubric of Globalisation, the end of the USSR, the collapse of living standards for working people worldwide. As a fan of Alternate History, I would love to visit parallel universes where the outcome of these struggles had been different. No Hiroshima. No Korean War. Krushchev and Wallace or his successor working together to decolonise and develop the Third World and eradicate fascist sympathising elites worldwide. A civil rights movement supported by a US labor party sweeping away Jim Crow in the 1950s. Or a just a 1980s without Neoliberalism or a 21st Century with the USSR. I think the lession here is that none of these disasters was inevitable, and learning the lessions of history and preparing for the next inflection point is essential.

  8. Jeff Harrison
    May 31, 2021 at 19:39

    Thank you, Joe. The truth may be harsh and unpleasant but, as the Swedes say, the truth wears bright colors, spring, summer, fall, and winter. Unfortunately, the government is filthy with military types. There’s nothing wrong with being a military man per se but as a general rule, they can’t run a country or make peace.

    • rosemerry
      June 2, 2021 at 02:19

      Notice also the number who are “experts” telling the news on the free US media.

  9. John Pedretti
    May 31, 2021 at 18:38

    “Sacrifice to keep us free”. Funny that those Swiss yodelers have lots of freedom without fighting and dying in wars for centuries. Maybe
    our super smart intel. agencies should look into it. John Pedretti

Comments are closed.