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“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, 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 in any country.”
Those were among the final words of the imprisoned Reich marshal Hermann Wilhelm Goering, awaiting the Nuremberg war crime trials. Goering was a World War I Flying Ace hero, the commander of Germany’s WWI Richthofen Squadron (following the combat death of the legendary Baron von Richthofen, the “Red Baron”), and one of the early members and military strategists of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, who also became obscenely wealthy during the years leading up to World War II.
Those same words could have been uttered by Hitler, by Hirohito, by Harry Truman, by the Johnson and Nixon administration warhawks (who mired us so deeply into the atrocity that was Viet Nam), by Ronald Reagan during his criminal wars in Central America, by George Bush Sr. before the first Gulf War, by George W. Bush Jr. after 9/11, and even by Barack Obama in his infamous drone war strategies that meet the definition of international war crimes.
Many leaders in many militarized nations have taken their countries into war by using Goering’s simple and secret logic to fool the people as well as the warriors into participating, to their eternal peril, in the mass slaughter that is modern war.
It is one of the interesting ironies of history that Goering (similar to so many of the Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld/Rice/Rove administration chickenhawks, who never went to war themselves but who, on the basis of monumental lies, eagerly declared war on militarily weak but oil-rich Middle East nations) avoided being sent to France in 1915 by using higher-up influences in the German government to get transferred from his doomed infantry regiment to the safer and more romantic German Air Force. Lieutenant Goering actually forged transfer orders from his infantry unit and barely evaded the military police, who were hunting him down for going AWOL (absent without leave). There are shades of this in George W. Bush and his shameful behavior during the illegal and immoral Vietnam War—he avoided the draft by getting, through his aristocratic connections, a cushy appointment to the Air National Guard—and even then going AWOL!
One wonders how different world history would have been if some of the most infamous chickenhawk war-mongers and war-profiteers of history (like Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann, Bush Jr., Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Abrams, Rice, Rove, DeLay, Frist, Lott, Gramm, Kemp, Guiliani, Gingrich, Santorum, Romney, Quayle, O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, George Will, Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Ralph Reed) had actually had a taste of real combat.
Goering’s truthful statement above reveals some of the tactics of professional war-mongers.
The first step that they use to start wars is to demonize the targeted enemy by endless propaganda far in advance of a declaration of war. The right-wing nationalist Hitler placed the blame for Germany’s economic problems on left-wing groups of various types, including trade unions, Jews, socialists, Slavs, pacifists, and liberal Christians who were falsely accused of unpatriotic activities. And it worked.
For Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush, it was easy to demonize the enemies (as well as the inevitable innocent “collateral damage” victims of the slaughter to come). As a matter of fact, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein despised and demonized each another. Non-white, non-English-speaking, non-Christian Muslims, just like the Japanese, North Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese before them, were also easy racist targets and demon material, and most Americans jumped eagerly and unthinkingly onto the pro-war bandwagon, never looking back.
The first casualty
of war is truth
It is a truism that the first casualty of war is truth. Truth-twisting propaganda units are top priority members in the executive branches of the Pentagons and White Houses of this world. Myths about the military prowess of the fearsome enemy are told again and again. (Recall the “Elite Republican Guards,” the dangerous Scud missiles—which were about 100 percent “duds”—or the empty poison gas threat of the first Gulf War.) None of those fictitious bogeymen actually materialized, but a lot of propaganda mileage—and defense contracts—were generated.
Censorship by a compliant press (that also doesn’t want to be accused of being unpatriotic) is another form of hiding the gruesome truths about war. It’s hard to find better examples than the Pentagon and White House’s total suppression of bad news from the Middle East in both Gulf Wars. Step one was the Cheney/Bush administration’s edict forbidding any media coverage of the returning body bags and caskets at Dover Air Force base.
Journalists with any integrity were appalled at how the Pentagon spokesmen fed them such obvious propaganda, but all the well-paid “embedded” reporters, safely in the back pockets of the media giants and Pentagon spin-doctors, shamelessly swallowed the propaganda like sweet syrup and breathlessly and obediently repeated it back to their fawning public, further entrenching and legitimizing the illegal and immoral war.
The vicious right-wing Republican critics of recent Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama replicated Goering’s dictum by attacking the candidates’ patriotism and accused their anti-war supporters of being “unpatriotic” and therefore a danger to national security. A lot of people fell for those false accusations, and the Democrats, as they have done for much of their history, lost their spine, fearing being labeled as wimps who were soft on crime, soft on terrorism, and therefore unpatriotic and un-American.
So is there any hope that we obviously blinded and “deaf-to-unwelcome-truths” Americans will ever wake up, wise up, rise up, and see through the fiction that war is glorious, necessary, and inevitable?
Will we ever start to understand that “supporting the troops” actually means sending them and leaving them in harm’s way to fight, kill, and maim and to die and be maimed in another unnecessary and illegal war, the costs of which will continue on for generations to come, to be paid for by our children and grandchildren?
Will Americans finally start noticing that the vast majority of our politicians are bought and paid for by greedy war-profiteering corporate elites and career militarists (who know they can’t get promotions and higher pay grades during times of peace) who are acting a lot like the fascist Goering, profiting by the wars that are physically, psychologically, and spiritually destroying the patriotic but duped soldiers who are actually doing the fighting (and who were led to believe, by clever and persistent propaganda, that they were serving the nation when they were actually serving the elite 1 Percent at Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, Northrup-Grumann, Blackwater, the investor class, the White House, the corporate-controlled news media, the financiers on Wall Street, etc.)?
Patriotism is the last
refuge of the scoundrel
The answer to those questions is yes if we ever develop a vocal and persistent minority of citizens who are able to think critically about the political and economic “big picture” issues, see through the propaganda lies and half-truths that the mainstream media is feeding us, and then decisively act on those beliefs.
The answer is yes if we finally start regarding the rest of our fragile and dying planet’s people (who also don’t want war) as brothers and sisters rather than enemies.
The answer is yes if we start counting the unaffordable costs of war and war preparation and realize that the starvation, poverty, pestilence, death, and mental and neurological ill health that follow all wars are no longer sustainable for the common people, especially children and other living things.
Unfortunately, the answer to those questions is no if we don’t stop agreeing with the war-mongers in the elite 1 Percent that war is important for our economy. The answer is no if Hermann Goering’s tactics continue to work for those who profit from war: the militarists, the NeoConservatives, the NeoLiberals, the TheoConservatives, the weapons-makers, the gun-runners, and the powerful, conscienceless, un-elected group of elites in the shadow government.
And the answer is no if those of us in the lower 99 Percent fail to recognize the imposter that is blind patriotism (and patriotism’s inevitable outcomes, militaristic nationalism and wars) for what it is, as Samuel Johnson famously defined it, “the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
Dr. Kohls is a retired Duluth, MN, physician whose practice of medicine largely dealt with the myriad of mental “illnesses” that were largely the consequences of psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual trauma and abuse or adverse effects from prescription drugs. Dr. Kohls feels that, as a physician, it is his duty to warn others that mental ill health has understandable and preventable root causes (especially psychological trauma) and can often be treated—and cured—without resorting to the use of toxic drugs.