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Commentary

America Won the World Wars, but Americans Lost


     
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General Thomas Power, Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1957 to 1964 and Director of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff from 1960 to 1964, ranked near the top of the U.S. armed forces waging the Cold War. An ardent warrior, he did not subscribe to the Aristotelian maxim of moderation in all things. In 1960, while being briefed on counterforce strategy, he reacted petulantly to the idea of exercising restraint in the conduct of nuclear war: “Restraint!” he retorted. “Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. . . . Look. At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!”[i] Everyone who knew Power seems to have thought he was crazy.

Even the man he replaced as SAC commander, General Curtis LeMay, regarded him as unstable—and everybody knew that LeMay himself was, as Dr. Strangelove’s Group Captain Lionel Mandrake would have put it, “as mad as a bloody March hare.” After LeMay left his command at SAC, he became Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force in 1957 and Chief of Staff in 1961. He is most often remembered as a tireless advocate of an all-out, nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union and its allies, and as the most likely inspiration for General Buck Turgidson in Strangelove. Either Power or LeMay might have served as a model for the Strangelove character General Jack D. Ripper, whose own nuclear first strike on the Ruskies came straight out of the LeMay-Power playbook.

It is chilling to recall that such men once held—and may still hold—the fate of the world in their hot hands. In Power’s day, heaven be thanked, the civilian leadership had slightly more sense than the military leadership, but in more recent times, that relationship seems to have been reversed, and now men such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their zealous, bloodthirsty subordinates vividly attest to F. A. Hayek’s observation that “the worst get on top.”

Winning

Whatever else one might say about our glorious leaders throughout our history, it must be admitted that they have had, just as the current gang claims to have, a dedication to “winning” the wars they set out to fight. President George W. Bush declared characteristically on January 11 that he wants to bring the troops home from Iraq, but “I don’t want them to come home without achieving the victory.”[ii] Indeed, winning a war strikes most people as a splendid idea until they stop to think about it.

Given an option to fight and win a war à la Thomas Power, however, with just two Americans and one Russian (Iraqi, Iranian, Chinese, or other foreign devil du jour) left alive at the end, sane people recoil. Such “winning” seems all too clearly absurd. As we back away from this reductio ad absurdum to consider less extreme conceptions of “winning the war,” a great deal of the senselessness continues to cling to the notion as long as we insist on an honest account of what actual war and actual winning involve.

The major reason for people’s confusion on this account probably pertains to their reification or anthropomorphization of the collectives—whether they be clans, tribes, nation-states, or coalitions of such groups—whose violent conflict defines the war. Lost in the fog of war-related thought is the concrete, unique, individual person. Hardly anyone seems capable of talking about war except by linguistically marshalling such collectivistic globs as “we,” “us,” and “our,” in opposition to “they,” “them,” and “their.” These flights of fight-fancy always pit our glob against their glob, with ours invariably prettied up as the good against the bad, the free men against the enslavers, the believers against the infidels, and so forth—on one side God’s chosen, on the other side the demons of hell.[iii]

Of course, which is which depends entirely on the side that people happen to find themselves on, usually as a result of some morally irrelevant contingency, such as birthplace, family migration, or a line that distant diplomats once drew on a map.[iv] More than fifty years ago, sociologist George A. Lundberg observed that despite “the cavalier fashion in which ‘statesmen’ revise boundaries, abolish existing nations, and establish new ones, . . . the demarcations thus arrived at thereupon become sacred boundaries, the violation of which constitutes ‘aggression,’ an infringement on people’s ‘freedom.’”[v] It’s almost as if human beings clamored to slay one another on behalf of little more than historical accidents and persistent myths. French philosopher Ernest Renan aptly characterized a nation as “a group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbors.”[vi]

A widespread inclination to think in terms of the group, rather than in terms of the distinct individuals who compose it, plays directly into the hands of violent, power-hungry leaders. Without that popular inclination, the leaders’ capacity to wreak destruction would be reduced nearly to the vanishing point, but with it, the sky’s the limit—or maybe it’s not the limit, now that space-based weapons are all the rage in the military-industrial-congressional complex. Nothing promotes the sacrifice of the individual to the alleged “greater good of the whole” as much as war does. On this ground, government leaders successfully levy confiscatory taxes, impose harsh regulations, seize private property, and even enslave their own country’s citizens to serve as soldiers, to kill or be killed in hideous ways.

Sometimes, as in the aftermath of World War I, people have the wit to recognize, with the benefit of hindsight, that the alleged “greater good” for which so many individuals’ lives have been sacrificed and so many individuals’ wealth and well-being have been squandered actually consists of little more than their leaders’ foolishness and vanity. On other occasions, however, people never come to that realization, preferring to live with a mythical justification of their losses. Even now, after sixty years have passed in which people have had ample opportunity to see through the official lies and cover-ups, the myth of World War II as “the good war” (in this country) or “the Great Patriotic War” (in Russia) remains robust.

Once memories of the War Between the States had faded, the mythologization of war came more easily to Americans because all our wars from the Spanish-American War on down to the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been fought on other people’s soil. No one can recall in sorrow and bitterness the wartime devastation of Philadelphia or Chicago because it never happened—devastation is what Americans dispense to Tokyo or Dresden or Fallujah. In an immensely important sense, our wars have long seemed to be, in their worst aspect, somebody else’s problem, something that happens “over there.”

If Ambrose Bierce could observe a century ago that “war is God’s way of teaching Americans geography,”[vii] one shudders to imagine what he might say today. Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa—in 1940, probably not one American in a hundred had ever heard of these remote places where tens of thousands of young American men, and many more Japanese, would soon lose their lives. Our good fortune in this regard has been real and important, but it ought not to blind us to the great variety of genuine losses that we have sustained notwithstanding our capacity to make all our wars since 1865—apart from the sporadic clashes between whites and Indians—take the form of “foreign wars.”

For one thing, many Americans have gone “over there” and done some definite dirty work—let’s be honest, war is always dirty work, no matter how hyped up we might get about its seeming necessity. In this regard, World War II, the so-called good war, might have been the dirtiest work of all. American forces abroad slaughtered not only multitudes of enemy soldiers but also hundreds of thousands (maybe more) of noncombatants—men, women, and children, most notably in the terror bombing of German and Japanese cities.

Curtis LeMay had an important hand in this evil work, as commander of the B-29 forces that laid waste to scores of Japanese cities. Speaking of his flyers’ devastation of Tokyo with incendiary bombs, he declared: “We knew we were going to kill a lot of women and kids when we burned that town. Had to be done.”[viii] Oh, did it really? Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, an aide to General Douglas MacArthur, called the March 10, 1945, raid on Tokyo “one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of noncombatants in all history.”[ix] As a result of the U.S. air attacks on Japanese cities, by the end of July 1945, “civilian casualties exceeded 800,000, including 300,000 dead,” and more than 8 million people had been left homeless.[x] Unsated by this orgy of savagery, the Americans went on, completely unnecessarily, to annihilate scores of thousands of the hapless residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs.[xi]

These events were not just losses for Germans and Japanese. The men who carried out these barbarous acts also sacrificed their decency and a vital part of their humanity. War brings many of its participants to that tragic end. Only a deranged man can live complacently with the knowledge that he has committed such heinous acts. In greater or lesser degree, however, every war encompasses an enormous mass of such indecencies. Soldiers may excuse themselves on the ground that they are “just following orders” or, if they are especially naïve, that they are acting heroically in defense of all that is good and great about their own country. Kept in combat long enough, however, nearly everyone who is not a natural-born killer becomes either psychologically disabled or absolutely cynical in a single-minded quest to survive.

Government leaders and their blindly nationalistic followers invariably tolerate and even glorify many of the bestialities perpetrated during warfare and elevate the perpetrators to the status of heroes, but these ignoble rituals of apotheosis ring hollow when placed alongside the raw realities, not only of the conduct of warfare but of its typical outcome. A half century ago, looking back on fifteen years of warfare and its aftermath, William Henry Chamberlin wrote, “It was absurd to believe that barbarous means would lead to civilized ends.”[xii] It is no less absurd today.

In the past century, in the United States, the two world wars required the greatest degree of mobilization, and therefore they entailed the heaviest losses for individuals both on the battlefield and on the home front, notwithstanding that this country is said to have “won” both wars.

World War I

Although American casualties in the Great War amounted to very few, in comparison with those of the major belligerents, their seriousness must have loomed a great deal larger to each of the 116,516 men who died as a result of their service, and to their wives and sweethearts, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, among others. In addition, 204,002 men sustained nonmortal wounds, and an undetermined number had their minds rearranged for the worse—“shell shock” was the common name for battle-induced psychic derangements in that war.[xiii] All these individuals, vaguely denominated “casualties” in military parlance, paid the heaviest price, but many other Americans—in some respects, all others—also bore substantial costs.

World War I changed the character of the American political economy for the worse in ways too numerous to list completely here. Before the war, federal revenues had never exceeded $762 million in a fiscal year; during the 1920s they were never less than $3,640 million. Before the war, federal expenditures had exceeded $747 million in a fiscal year only twice, in 1864 and 1865; during the 1920s they were never less than $2,857 million. Although part of the increase in the level of fiscal activities reflected price inflation, itself the product of the government’s war finance, the bulk of it was real. The public debt ballooned from slightly more than $1 billion before the war to more than $25 billion at its end. Income-tax rates were pushed up enormously during the war, and although they were reduced somewhat in the 1920s, they never again receded to the prewar level or even close to it.[xiv]

Many aspects of the “wartime socialism” left enduring legacies. The War Food Administration became the model for the New Deal’s agriculture program, which, despite countless changes to and fro over the subsequent decades, continues to plague consumers and taxpayers today. The Railway Administration gave way to a near-nationalization of the railroad industry in 1920. The Shipping Board inaugurated the government’s regulation of shipping rates and routes and its direct participation in the ocean shipping industry, which have continued ever since 1916. After the war, the War Finance Corporation continued to operate until 1925, came back to life as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932, and transmogrified into the Small Business Administration in 1953, misallocating resources by means of its extensions of subsidized credit and other interventions at every step of the way.

The War Industries Board roared back to life in 1933 as the disastrous National Recovery Administration, which unsettled the entire economy at the depths of the Great Depression with a muddleheaded program to cartelize every industry in the country, thereby making a mighty contribution to prolonging the depression. Although the Supreme Court struck down this loony experiment in 1935, the NRA in effect then fragmented into a variety of interventionist components, such as the National Labor Relations Board, that persisted for decades, some of them permanently.

Space does not permit me to continue this doleful recitation. Suffice it to say that the war’s consequences in fostering freedom-quashing, prosperity-destroying federal interventions in the economy have no equal in U.S. history. People typically think that this sort of government policy began for the most part in the 1930s, but almost everything the New Dealers did along these lines amounted to a revival of some wartime precedent.

The war’s constitutional legacies also took big bites out of American liberties. In virtually every case, the Court upheld the extraordinary powers that the government had exercised during the war. Highly significant was the blessing the Court gave to military conscription. Chief Justice Edward White could not take seriously the idea that the draft constituted involuntary servitude and was therefore proscribed by the Thirteenth Amendment. He declared that the Court was “unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation as the result of a war declared by the great representative body of the people can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude.”[xv]

While the Court was smashing individual liberty under the iron heel of “the great representative body of the people”—the same gang that Mark Twain had described more accurately as “America’s only native criminal class”—the justices did not hesitate to give their approval to the government’s rampant wartime assaults on the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, many of these outrages being the products of the Espionage Act (1917) and its notorious amendment, the Sedition Act (1918). The justices also validated the government’s wartime takeovers of the railroads, telephone and telegraph lines, and oceanic cables. They sustained wartime rent controls. Everything, so far as the Court was concerned, was fair game. Said the Chief Justice, “[T]he complete and undivided character of the war power of the United States is not disputable.”[xvi]

In later times, Franklin D. Roosevelt and other presidents would boldly seek, gain, and exercise quasi-wartime powers triggered solely by their declaration of a national emergency, even when the country was not at war, thereby cloaking their crimes in a mantle of pseudo-legal legitimacy. Owing to the consolidation of the various war-spawned assaults on liberty, now codified in the National Emergencies Act (1976) and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (1977), nearly all economic liberties in this country exist at the sufferance of the president. If he decides to take over the economy, he possesses ample statutory power to do so.

Perhaps equally disastrous in their implications for the future were the Great War’s ideological legacies. Because the wartime economic management schemes did not have much time to operate during the short U.S. engagement as an active belligerent, they did not have time to reveal how badly they were working. When the war ended, their managers, not surprisingly, announced that the programs had been splendid successes, critically important in equipping the Allies to defeat the Hun. Bernard M. Baruch, the chairman of the War Industries Board and a wealthy gray eminence for many Democratic politicians, did much to promote this myth and incorporate it into received wisdom.

Hordes of businessmen who had played roles in the government’s wartime economic planning emerged from the experience with, as a contemporary writer described it, “a sort of intellectual contempt [for] the huge hit-and-miss confusion of peace-time industry. . . . [and with] dreams of an ordered economic world.”[xvii] In other words, they came away from the war with a bad case of what Hayek famously called “the fatal conceit,” the fallacious idea that central planners can produce a better social outcome than the free market. These same misguided men would reappear in later crises to preside over additional assaults on liberty.

World War II

The Big One took a far greater human toll on Americans than had the previous world war. The 405,399 deaths loomed largest, for the deceased and for all those who cared about them as individuals. The seriously wounded amounted to 670,846, many of them suffering total disability for life.[xviii]

Approximately 25-30 percent of the casualties were psychological cases—victims of “combat fatigue,” as it was dubbed this time around. In the fighting on Okinawa, for example, American mental casualties accumulated to 26,221 out of the total (65,641) dead and wounded.[xix] In the entire war, more than a million men “suffered psychiatric symptoms serious enough to debilitate them for some period,”[xx] and “by V-J Day, 504,000 Americans soldiers, enough for 50 divisions, had been lost to emotional collapse.”[xxi] Some went raving mad for life. Others, seemingly having gone back to normal, endured mental tics and phobias for the rest of their lives, often treating their conditions with copious doses of alcohol or narcotics.

Some 75,000 men were listed as missing in action. Most of them, says historian Michael Adams, “had been blown into vapor.”[xxii]

So repulsive were the sights, sounds, and smells of actual combat that the government heavily censored what the folks at home were permitted to see or hear of them. If many of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen ultimately came home seeming fairly normal, chances are that they were among the great majority who, though serving in the armed forces, never got very close to harm’s way or stayed there for long—laborers, clerks, technicians, mechanics, trainers, supply troops, and millions of others who constituted the big “tail” behind the relatively small fighting “tooth.”

A minority of the men, most prominently the infantrymen and in a different way the bomber crews over Europe, bore the brunt of the sustained horror and paid the most awful price. Recognizing their position as sacrificial lambs, condemned to remain at terrible risk until they were killed or seriously wounded, or the war ended, the infantrymen came to despise their numerous comrades who stayed safely behind the lines as well as the people who remained back home in a regular job.

On the home front, with World War I already in the books, the men who ran the political economy during World War II could not do much that was genuinely original, but they did almost everything on a vastly greater scale. The Wilson administration had built up military and naval forces of some 4 million men, including 2.7 million draftees, by the end of 1918. Roosevelt and his lieutenants commanded more than 12 million in 1945, and during the course of the war they drafted some 10 million of the 16 million who served at some time. In prosecuting the war, the government spent approximately ten times more (in dollars of roughly equivalent purchasing power) than it had spent on World War I, and it imposed much more comprehensive and longer-lasting economic controls.[xxiii]

Federal outlays increased from $9.5 billion in fiscal year 1940 to $92.7 billion in fiscal year 1945, at which time those outlays amounted to almost 44 percent of officially measured GNP. To get the wherewithal for this huge gush of spending, the government proceeded, as it had during 1917 and 1918, to impose new taxes, to increase the rates of existing taxes, and to lower the income thresholds above which people were required to pay income taxes. Annual excise-tax revenue more than trebled between 1940 and 1945. Employment-tax revenue more than doubled. The major sources of increased revenue, however, were individual and corporate income taxes. The latter zoomed from $1.0 billion in 1940 to $16.4 billion in 1945 (the greater part of that sum representing an “excess-profits” tax), while individual income taxes jumped from $1.1 billion to more than $18.4 billion.

Before the war, fewer than 15 million individuals had to file an income-tax return; in 1945, approximately 50 million had to do so. And not only did most income earners have to pay; they also had to pay at much higher rates: the bottom bracket rose from 4.4 percent on income in excess of $4,000 in 1940 to 23 percent on income in excess of $2,000 in 1945. The top rate became virtually confiscatory: 94 percent on income in excess of $200,000. In one mighty wartime push, the government had completed the transformation of the income tax from a “class tax” to a “mass tax,” which it would remain ever afterward. Moreover, payroll withholding of income taxes, which the government imposed midway through the war, also remained an essential component of the great federal revenue-reaping machine. Notwithstanding the stupendous increase in taxation, the government’s revenues amounted to less than half its outlays, and it had to borrow the rest. As a result, the national debt swelled from $54 billion in 1940 to $260 billion in 1945.

Entire volumes would be required just to summarize all the economic controls the government imposed: price, wage, and rent controls; materials allocations; shutdown orders, some of which applied to entire industries (e.g., civilian automobile production, gold mining); employment controls; allocations of transportation services; rationing of many consumer goods (e.g., shoes, clothing, meats, fats, canned goods, gasoline, tires); consumer credit controls; and countless others.

Vastly more outrageous than any economic control was the forced relocation of more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, who were herded at gunpoint from their homes in the coastal regions of California, Oregon, and Washington into camps in desolate areas of the West, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by armed troops. Although not one of these people received due process of law, the Supreme Court, dominated at that time by justices who saw no limits to FDR’s war powers, could find nothing unconstitutional in the government’s actions.

Nor could they bring themselves to strike down any of the government’s arbitrary and capricious economic regulations. Of course, with the precedent of World War I decisions in their back pocket, the justices had no interest in hearing constitutional challenges to military conscription. This judicial stance was more than convenient for the government, because, as Justice Hugo Black wrote in a 1942 decision, employing the logic that would guide the Court throughout the war, “Congress can draft men for battle service. Its power to draft business organization to support the fighting men who risk their lives can be no less.”[xxiv] As presidential powers rose to unprecedented heights, Roosevelt’s appointees on the Court only smiled approvingly.

Perhaps even more consequential than the war’s constitutional legacies were its effects on the country’s dominant ideology. As World War I had done, only more so, the Big One produced a prominent move toward acquiescence in, and often demand for, collectivism. Not only did the masses now look more expectantly to the federal government for salvation from life’s troubles large and small, but the leadership of the business class also came finally to make a complete peace with the government it had long seen as a nuisance and a menace.

Although the war had brought countless regulations and demands for reports in octuplicate to the government’s control agencies, it had also brought a deluge of government contracts, from whose fulfillment the typical contractor had earned extraordinary profits with little or no risk. Thousands of leading businessmen had served in the government as dollar-a-year men. From this experience they took away not so much an appreciation of the ponderous irrationalities of government bureaucratic action as an appreciation that government could provide a bottomless reservoir of subsidies, cozy deals, and other benefits. The experience, wrote Calvin Hoover, “conditioned them to accept a degree of governmental intervention and control after the war which they had deeply resented prior to it.”[xxv] In short, the war had broken them to the yoke, either coercing them or co-opting them to comply with the government’s schemes—indeed, holding out the prospect that they might have a hand in guiding those schemes, if they behaved themselves.

Eventually, the old business-class hostility toward government faded into a pale semblance of its former self. As Herbert Stein observed in the 1980s, after having observed the process at close quarters for nearly half a century, businessmen “had learned to live with and accept most of the regulations [they] had strenuously opposed in the New Deal.” Disturbed only by new and unfamiliar regulations, “they regard the regulations they are used to as being freedom.”[xxvi]

War Is the Mother of Tyranny

Stein’s comment, which might aptly be applied far more generally, captures the essence of how the American people transformed their society from one in which, circa 1910, people enjoyed a great many freedoms to one in which, circa 1950, they had lost many of their former freedoms, perhaps irretrievably. Nothing propelled that process more powerfully than the two world wars—along with the New Deal, of course, but that crisis response itself involved little more than the revitalization, expansion, and elaboration of measures first taken during World War I, and therefore it must be understood as causally linked directly to the nation’s participation in that war. Whenever the government went to war, whether the war was real or metaphorical, it necessarily went to war against the liberties of its own citizens.

Of course, it invariably justified these assaults on liberty by characterizing them as necessary, merely temporary means of preserving the people’s liberties in the longer run—in General George C. Marshall’s words, “sacrifices today in order that we may enjoy security and peace tomorrow.”[xxvii] That claim was either a mistake or a lie, because the U.S. government did not need to go to war, not even in the world wars, in order to preserve its people’s essential liberties and their way of life: neither Kaiser Wilhelm’s forces nor Hitler’s—and certainly not Japan’s—had the capacity to deprive Americans of their liberties, “take over the country,” “destroy our way of life,” or do anything of the sort. This country has always contained persecuted minorities, and it still does; but since 1789, the only government on earth that has had the power to crush the American people’s liberties across the board has been the government of the United States.

U.S. participation in World War I was the classic instance of a war whipped up by self-interested elites and carried into effect by a megalomaniacal president. As Walter Karp and other historians have shown, the upper-crust, Anglophile, northeastern movers and shakers—leading figures in what Murray Rothbard dubbed the Morgan ambit—maneuvered the psychically twisted, wannabe world saver Woodrow Wilson into seeking U.S. entry into the war.[xxviii] Wilson, in turn, on completely spurious grounds, stampeded the overwhelmingly opposed populace into the war against its better judgment. Once war had been declared, the government used a combination of relentless propaganda and Draconian coercive measures to beat down active opponents and to stir up a generalized frenzy of chauvinism—One Hundred Percent Americanism, as its devotees called it.

Within a few years, most people came back to their senses, but by then the harm had been done. U.S. participation in the war had brought about many inauspicious, irreversible, politico-economic developments within the United States, as I’ve already indicated. More important, it had contributed decisively to the creation of a worldwide complex of interrelated ethnic, political, and economic disequilibria whose resolution would entail many of the great horrors of the following century, including World War II, communism’s geopolitical triumphs, the Cold War, and endless troubles in the Middle East.[xxix] So visible were the war’s poisonous fruits that soon after it ended, most Americans vowed never to take part in such an idiotic and destructive orgy again. Unfortunately, within a generation, they permitted themselves to be lured into an even more horrific charnel house.

Roosevelt idolaters and the jingoes of all parties have long maintained, of course, that the United States went to war altruistically to save the Jews of Europe from the monster Hitler and to stop Japan’s horrible aggression in east Asia, especially in China. A fair reading of the evidence supports neither claim.

As for the European Jews, the U.S. government did not go to war to save them; once in the war, it did not conduct its military operations in a manner designed to save them; and, most important, it did not save them. Ultimately, some 80 percent of them were killed.[xxx]

The U.S. government can claim some credit for stopping Japan’s aggression against the Chinese, of course, owing to its defeat and occupation of Japan, even though the same result might well have been achieved by peaceful means—“in the year before Pearl Harbor the Japanese were willing to abandon their expansionist program if they could be provided some face-saving formula, but this the United States persistently refused to grant.”[xxxi] In any event, however, one must bear in mind what came next. With Japan no longer acting as a powerful counterforce to the Chinese and Russian communists in east Asia, the North Koreans and the Chinese soon fell victim to communist totalitarianism—a much worse fate than integration into Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere would have been.

With regard to the idea that Japan launched an unprovoked “sneak attack” on the United States and thereby “started the war,” I can only say that anyone who believes this simplistic contention needs to learn more about the Roosevelt administration’s actions in the years leading up to the Japanese attack. Long before the bombs and torpedoes rained down on the Pacific fleet conveniently concentrated at Pearl Harbor, the United States had become an active, if undeclared, belligerent against Germany, cooperating closely with and providing enormous quantities of vital supplies to the British, the French (until late June 1940), and the Soviets (after late June 1941).

Moreover, the Roosevelt administration had imposed a series of increasingly stringent sanctions on Japan, culminating in joint U.S.-British-Dutch economic embargoes that placed a stranglehold on the Japanese economy. Finally, the U.S. government presented an unnecessary and completely unacceptable ultimatum that “called for complete Japanese withdrawal from China and Indochina, for Japan to support only the Nationalist government of China, with which it had been in conflict for four years, and to interpret its pledges under the Tripartite [Germany, Italy, and Japan] Pact and the [Cordell] Hull program so that Japan would be bound to peace in the Pacific and to noninterference in Europe, while the United States should be free to intervene in Europe.”[xxxii]

By these measures, among many others, the U.S. government provoked (and, having broken the Japanese diplomatic and naval codes, knew full well that it was provoking) the desperate Japanese to attack U.S.-controlled islands in the Pacific as well as the Asian colonies of Roosevelt’s European co-conspirators in these hostile actions.[xxxiii]

Whether the U.S. government’s publicly pronounced rationales for entering the wars be viewed as self-serving falsehoods or as mere mistakes, however, the ultimate outcome of waging the wars was the same. As William Graham Sumner wisely wrote, “It is not possible to experiment with a society and just drop the experiment whenever we choose. The experiment enters into the life of the society and never can be got out again.”[xxxiv] Thus, although the wars eventually ended, society never reverted fully to the relatively freer status quo ante bellum.

Every year, on Veterans Day, orators declare that our leaders have gone to war to preserve our freedoms and that they have done so with glorious success, but the truth is just the opposite. In ways big and small, direct and indirect, crude and subtle, war—the quintessential government activity—has been the mother’s milk for the nourishment of a growing tyranny in this country, and it remains so today.


Notes

[i] Power as quoted in Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, [1983] 1991), p. 246.

[ii] Deb Reichmann, “Bush Open to Hearings on Domestic Spying,” Associated Press report, January 11, 2006, at http://apnews.myway.com/article/20060111/D8F2LQLO1.html.

[iii] Vice President Henry A. Wallace, characterizing World War II as “a fight between a free world and a slave world,” declared: “We shall cleanse the plague spot of Europe, which is Hitler’s Germany, and with it the hellhole of Asia—Japan. No compromise with Satan is possible.” One ought to bear in mind, however, that Wallace also said, “The object of this war is to make sure that everybody in the world has the privilege of drinking a quart of milk a day.” Wallace as quoted in William Henry Chamberlin, “The Bankruptcy of a Policy,” in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: A Critical Examination of the Foreign Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Its Aftermath, ed. Harry Elmer Barnes (Caldwell, Id.: Caxton Printers, 1953), pp. 498-99.

[iv] Anthony de Jasay, “Is National Rational?,” The Independent Review 3 (Summer 1998): 77-89; and Laurie Calhoun, “Just War? Moral Soldiers?,” The Independent Review 4 (Winter 2000): 325-45.

[v] “American Foreign Policy in the Light of National Interest at the Mid-Century,” in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, ed. Barnes, p. 581.

[vi] Renan as quoted by Ethan Bronner in New York Times book review excerpted at “Roundup: Talking About History,” available at http://hnn.us/roundup/comments/3698.html.

[vii] Bierce quotation available at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ambrose_Bierce.

[viii] LeMay as quoted in Sven Lindqvist, A History of Bombing, trans. Linda Haverty Rugg (New York: New Press, 2000), p. 109.

[ix] Fellers as quoted in Hiroaki Sato, “Great Tokyo Air Raid Was a War Crime,” Japan Times, September 30, 2002.

[x] Stanley L. Falk, “Strategic Air Offensives,” in The Oxford Companion to World War II, ed. I. C. B. Dear and M. R. D. Foot (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 1078.

[xi] For a thorough debunking of all claims for the military necessity of dropping the atomic bombs, see Ralph Raico, “Harry S. Truman: Advancing the Revolution,” in Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom, ed. John V. Denson (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2001), pp. 577-86.

[xii] Chamberlin, “Bankruptcy of a Policy,” p. 519. Strange to say, Chamberlin later became a fanatical Cold Warrior. See Justin Raimondo, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2000), pp. 75-76.

[xiii] Casualty data from U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), p. 1140.

[xiv] Unless otherwise noted, the factual information about World War I given in this paragraph and the remainder of the section is drawn from Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 123-58, and the sources given there; and from Robert Higgs, “Government and the Economy: The World Wars,” Independent Institute Working Paper Number 59, April 20, 2005, and the sources given there (available at http://www.independent.org/publications/working_papers/article.asp?id=1499

[xv] Joseph F. Arver v. United States of America, 245 U.S. 366 (1918), at 390.

[xvi] Northern Pacific Railway Company et al. v. State of North Dakota on the Relation of Langer, Attorney General, 250 U.S. 135 (1919), at 149.

[xvii] Grosvenor B. Clarkson, Industrial America in the World War: The Strategy Behind the Line, 1917-1918 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1923), p. 312.

[xviii] Casualty data from U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics, p. 1140.

[xix] Michael C. C. Adams, The Best War Ever: America and World War II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 95.

[xx] George H. Roeder, Jr., The Censored War: American Visual Experience During World War Two (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 16.

[xxi] Bruce Shapiro, “Lugging the Guts into the Next Room,” Salon, July 30, 1998, available at http://www.salon.com/media/1998/07/30media.html.

[xxii] Adams, The Best War Ever, p. 105.

[xxiii] Unless otherwise noted, the factual information about World War II given in this paragraph and the remainder of the section is drawn from Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan, pp. 196-236, and the sources given there; and from Higgs, “Government and the Economy: The World Wars,” and the sources given there.

[xxiv] United States of America v. Bethlehem Steel Corporation, 315 U.S. 289 (1942), at 305.

[xxv] Calvin B. Hoover, The Economy, Liberty, and the State (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1959), p. 212.

[xxvi] Herbert Stein, Presidential Economics: The Making of Economic Policy from Roosevelt to Reagan and Beyond (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 84.

[xxvii] Marshall as quoted in William L. Neumann, “Postscript: Some Notes for Future Historians on the Truman Foreign Policies,” in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, ed. Barnes, p. 549 (Marshall was speaking specifically in support of the European Recovery Program, which became known as the Marshall Plan).

[xxviii] Walter Karp, The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars Which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic (1890-1920) (New York: Harper & Row, 1979).

[xxix] Jim Powell, Wilson’s War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II (New York: Crown Forum, 2005); Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003).

[xxx] Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, as cited in Bruce M. Russett, No Clear and Present Danger: A Skeptical View of the U.S. Entry into World War II (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1972), p. 42.

[xxxi] Chamberlin, “Bankruptcy of a Policy,” p. 516.

[xxxii] George Morgenstern, “The Actual Road to Pearl Harbor,” in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, ed. Barnes, p. 346.

[xxxiii] Robert B. Stinnett, Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor (New York: Free Press, 2000).

[xxxiv] William Graham Sumner, Essays of William Graham Sumner, ed. Albert G. Keller and Maurice R. Davie (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934), II, p. 473.


Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute and Editor at Large of the Institute’s quarterly journal The Independent Review. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, Seattle University, and the University of Economics, Prague. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University, and a fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National Science Foundation. He is the author of many books, including Depression, War, and Cold War.

Full Biography and Recent Publications

Acknowledgment: A slightly different version of this article, which appeared in Liberty, April 2006, is reused here with the permission of the editor of Liberty.

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CRISIS AND LEVIATHAN (25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION): Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government

The size and scope of government power has grown in response to crises of war and economic upheavals. Such increased power remains long after each crisis passes, threatening both civil and economic liberties, all at the behest of special interest groups. Learn More »»






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