This week on the eve of September 11, President Obama made his case for striking at Syria—largely on humanitarian grounds—and reached into United States history to make his plan persuasive. The U.S., he stated, has been "the anchor of global security" for "seven decades." It is hard to believe a man as well educated as President Obama could make such a claim, since it whitewashes U.S. interventions and invasions across the globe following World War II.
Obama made this statement even though forty years ago the U.S. government engineered the violent overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende in Chile. This is hardly a secret since then U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger publicly boasted about it.
Are Americans also unaware of President Johnson's false claim that an attack on an American vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin justified our launching a bombing war on North Vietnam and sending in the Marines? In 1977, United States Undersecretary of State George Ball told the BBC that the U.S. was "looking for any excuse to initiate the bombing." This contrived incident marched our armed forces into a quagmire that cost tens of thousands of U.S. lives and the deaths of millions of civilians.
Perhaps you are more familiar with the lies that led President George W. Bush to attack Iraq where it was promised we would be greeted, as "liberators" and Iraq oil would pay for the invasion. Before that, in 1991, the Kuwaiti government hired a public relations firm that promoted claims of Saddam Hussein's atrocities saying his troops killed babies after pulling them out of their incubators. And George H.W. Bush launched his Iraq humanitarian invasion. And, in 2011, before the Libyan war, the U.S. media reported false claims that its ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, had given his soldiers Viagra to induce rape, and had hired black mercenaries to fight the enemy.
If you believe these kinds of lies are new, consider that in 1898 the United States attacked and seized Spain’s empire, which stretched from nearby Cuba and Puerto Rico to the distant Philippines, on the claim Spain sank the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor. Most historians now agree it was a Maine boiler explosion that sank the ship.
President William McKinley and Congress rushed to war claiming that Spain was at fault and the U.S. would liberate Cuba and the other Spanish possession—and bring these Catholic peoples "Christianity and Civilization." Instead the United States had to fight for many years to crush democratic liberation movements from the Caribbean to the Pacific before it finally achieved a vast overseas empire.
Presidential invasions of Grenada and Panama in the Americas—and a host of other places—have also been offered as humanitarian efforts, but they had more sinister origins. Or, if you are persuaded by the United States' effort to halt gas attacks on civilian populations, how do you explain America’s allowing Saddam Hussein to use gas against Iran and his own Kurdish people? When Iran protested bitterly to the United Nations, American diplomats sat silently, even though they knew the truth.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has given President Obama an excellent chance to move toward a negotiated peace that removes chemical weapons from both sides. While the world’s leaders negotiate and consider diplomatic solutions, in an era of truth distortion, the larger question remains: Who in the Middle East would Jesus decide to bomb? After all, neither side in Syria has refrained from waging a brutal war on men, women, and children.
We've been here before, and we should learn from our history. Attacking the vicious Syrian government would only embolden the Al Qaeda forces that now grow more powerful inside the opposition armies, cost more civilian lives, and possibly trigger a Middle Eastern conflict with unpredictable results. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.... Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
William Loren Katz is the author of Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage, and forty other books on African American history. You can find more essays and a list of books by Katz at http://williamlkatz.com
Damascus, Syria image via Shutterstock