But They Know More Than We Do

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"But
the President knows more than we do and we must trust his wisdom
about the war in Iraq. Plus, this President is a born-again believer!"

Have
you heard that refrain in recent months, especially those of you
in the conservative evangelical Christian community to which I belong?
Those of us in that community need to confront an unsettling question:
Have we been misled? Misled by the cheerleading, ratings- and advertiser-conscious
mainstream media, by warmongering conservative and "Christian"
talk radio programs – and by our fellow conservative and Christian,
George W. Bush.

Too
bad our pulpits have not blazed with a holy, articulate, prophetic
fire on this, one of the great issues of our generation – and, rest
assured, our children's generation. Nonetheless, we as individual
Christians have a responsibility to be "wise as serpents and
harmless as doves" regardless of the shortcomings of our ecclesiastical
leadership. Wisdom includes knowing our history, that by God's grace
we might craft a better future. And our history tells us that American
presidents have often deceived, dissembled, and lied in order to
drag their people into wars they would not have fought had they
known the facts.

The
current one and his lieutenants have done so with such frequency
it is hard to keep track of their errors. Syndicated conservative
columnist Eric Margolis lists a few: the administration's claiming
Iraq had "drones of death," mobile germ laboratories,
a stash of Scud missiles, a pipeline to al-Qaida and "poison
camps," chemical munitions bunkers, smallpox or anthrax to
unleash on America – and that it attempted to purchase uranium from
Niger in order to develop its secret nuclear program.

The
President himself promised on the eve of war that the Iraqi "regime
continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons
ever devised."

Upon
such falsehoods were we, the people of America, persuaded to support
the sacrifice of our young people's blood, our nation's treasure,
and the slaughter of uncounted Iraqi soldiers and civilians.

But
it is an old habit, as predictable as the next July heat wave in
Texas. Whether it was Franklin D. Roosevelt engineering a brutal
program of provocation against Japan in order to get at Hitler and
the Nazis; Lyndon Johnson contriving his Gulf of Tonkin incident
to get at the North Vietnamese; or Bill Clinton proclaiming ethnic
genocide and mass graves in Serbia to get Monica Lewinsky off the
front page – when a United States president decides he wants a war,
he usually gets one.

Thomas
Fleming's devastating new blockbuster The
Illusion of Victory, America in World War I
, presents a
(previous) textbook case of how a devout, well-intentioned, Southern
president can, with enough time and resources, drag his trusting
people into just about anything.

How
did President Woodrow Wilson and his minions spur a prosperous,
once-noninterventionist American public into supporting America's
plunge into the Europeans' Great War? By sometimes speaking, persuasively,
and sometimes not speaking, withholding crucial information.

To
begin with, they fostered the image of America as a peace-loving
neutral. Yet while the U.S. leadership pilloried the Germans for
creating a maritime war zone around Britain, it scarcely protested
the much more sinister British food blockade of Germany. Perhaps
this was because the titans of American industry were reaping a
financial bonanza with their colossal sales of weapons and munitions
to Allied belligerents Britain, France, and Russia. These banks
and corporations assayed their payday could grow even richer if
America itself were in the war. So declared one prominent member
of the New York Stock Exchange to his customers. He wrote them,
"The popular view is that stocks would have a quick clear sharp
reaction immediately on the outbreak of hostilities. They then would
enjoy an old fashioned bull market such as followed the outbreak
of war with Spain in 1898."

Wilson
& Co. promoted tales of German atrocities in Belgium, where
the barbarous "Huns" supposedly hacked off the hands of
young men, the body parts of young women, and raped the female population
en masse. Famed attorney Clarence Darrow, among others, conducted
independent research and found these claims false.

They
propagated stories of German U-boat submarines committing mass murder
in the sinking of British ocean liners such as the Falaba
and the Lusitania. Censored from these reports were facts
such as the Germans running full-page ads in New York City newspapers
beseeching Americans against boarding such ships, because they were
steaming into a war zone. War zone or not, why were passenger ships
a danger to the Germans? Because the cargo was not all human. It
was also, in the case of the Lusitania, over four million
rifle cartridges and 1,250 cases of shrapnel shells – destined
for use against German soldiers. The British government knew this,
but the passengers did not – including the 128 Americans who
died.

They
cried how the barbarity of these incidents was heightened by the
Germans breaking their word not to resume unrestricted submarine
warfare. Yet Wilson and his subordinates virtually ignored the criminal
continuation of the British naval blockade of the entire German
nation. How vicious was that blockade? Esteemed U.S. Senator Robert
La Follette of Wisconsin denounced it as "starving to death
the old men, the women and the children, the sick and the maimed
of Germany."

Wilson
concluded his thunderous herald to war before Congress with a ringing
call to fight for the liberation of the world's peoples, "the
right of nations, great and small . . . the world must be made safe
for democracy."

His
admonitions fell somewhat short of consistency, since at that moment,
indigenous peoples across the globe were keeling under the burden
of British "democracy," a democracy elected by the Maxim
gun and its 20th century descendants, and in no wise intended for
millions of Irish, millions more Egyptians, tens of millions of
Indians, even millions of Britain's own citizens.

In
the end, this armada of falsehood garnered Woodrow Wilson nearly
everything he pushed, bullied, and intimidated to get – and
almost nothing he hoped would come from it. America proved the winning
balance against Germany, but we lost over 100,000 men killed and
hundreds of thousands more wounded and maimed, and the vice grips
of central government control twisted tighter on our country. Wilson's
misguided utopian notions crashed to earth with the U.S. Senate's
rejection of his proposed League of Nations. Broken in spirit, a
stroke mentally and physically incapacitated him for much of the
rest of his term in office. Bitterness poisoned his few remaining
years of life. And we now know that the slaughter and hatred of
World War I led straight to World War II, the worst calamity in
history.

Indeed,
George W. Bush and his lieutenants, like other administrations before
them, do know more than we – and that renders them all the
more culpable for the consequences they have engineered for us and
our children.

August
8, 2003

John
J. Dwyer (send him mail) is
chairman of history at Coram Deo Academy near Dallas, Texas. He
is author of the historical novels Stonewall
and Robert
E. Lee
, and the upcoming historical narrative The War
Between the States, America's Uncivil War. He also is the former
editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort Worth Heritage newspaper.


        
        

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