The Lusitania Is Down! (or How to Sell a War)

War does three things: it enriches the special interests on whose behalf it is waged, it secures additional power and profit opportunities for the ruling class, and it kills a lot of people in the process.

Amazingly, some statist-minded people still argue that a nation’s full economic potential is only realized during times of war. “Warfare,” they say, actually strengthens the economy of the winning power, due to increased employment and productivity. Just look at the prosperity that WWII brought the American economy!” Even people who denounce the costs of war often favor the consequence of total governmental control of the economy, and they seek to achieve this latter ideal in other, “more humane” ways. These folks are the “progressives” of the modern era.

These fallacies are fairly easy to expose by noting that widespread disease increases the employment of doctors, zipper-makers (for the body-bags) and undertakers, but few people advocate the creation of an artificial plague epidemic for that reason. Furthermore, no rational “progressive” can claim that the monopoly that is the U.S. Postal Service actually increases productivity by coercively prohibiting free competition. In actuality, state involvement in the economy never increases productivity or wealth; it simply benefits one individual or group at the expense of another. The exploitative element of statist economic control is quite easy to spot. Nowhere is this principle of exploitative and coercive control more true than in matters of war.

To illustrate this, I will briefly analyze the United States’ entry into the first World War. While initially this might seem like an arbitrary example, I think it’s fitting for two reasons. First of all, WWI is, historically speaking, America’s first “modern” war. Secondly the specific circumstances of U.S. involvement in WWI are especially clear-cut and representative of the primary message of this article: government creates war for no good reason. If you think that WWI was about “making the world safe for democracy,” then you’re in for surprise. Politicians must sell the wars they create, and now that the framework for our analysis is complete, let’s dive into our analysis of how they sold this one.

(All of the following information summarizes or is taken from G. Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island and Patrick Beesly’s Room 40. These, along with the wikipedia, are my primary sources of research.)

The House of Morgan Floats Billions to Allies

England and France weren’t economically prepared to fight such a massive war, and both countries quickly used up all their capital resources and found themselves in debt. Unable to secure any additional loans from within their borders, the Allied powers turned to wealthy American banking families. In 1915, they signed contracts with the Houses of Morgan and Rothschild, which then began to loan millions of dollars to England and France each day. The Allies then chose these American banking families – the very families that lent them the money in the first place – as their purchasing agents. In just a few months time, the House of Morgan was the primary financier and purchasing agent of the entire Allied war effort. While maintaining that he was “opposed to war,” J.P. Morgan pocketed a cool $30,000,000 through his enterprises with England and France alone.

Despite all this financial help from U.S. banking interests, the situation quickly turned against the Allies. German U-boat submarines were dominating naval warfare in the Atlantic, and Britain, as an island country, found it increasingly hard to ship and receive vital supplies. Griffin notes that between 1914 and 1918, one out of every four British ships that sailed away from England was destroyed by the German Navy, and he then quotes British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour as saying, “At that time, it certainly looked as though we were going to lose the war.”

You can imagine Morgan’s dissatisfaction with this new situation. If it looked like the Allies were going to lose the war, who would continue to buy war bonds? If things kept up, there would no longer be sufficient funds to continue to finance the war, which would inevitably cause an Allied defeat. This, in turn, would render the existing war bonds worthless, and so not only would the House of Morgan stop earning new commissions, but it would also lose its entire investment of billions of dollars. It seems obvious, then, that the most powerful American banking and business empires had much to gain from U.S. entry into the war and thus vigorously advocated such involvement, for an Allied victory would effectively save the Morgan empire from total bankruptcy.

Government Comes to the Rescue

A man named Colonel Edward House served as a bridge that connected the Allies, Morgan, and President Woodrow Wilson. Formally occupying the position of Wilson’s personal adviser, House clearly saw that by bailing out the House of Morgan through war, Wilson and the federal government in general would enjoy great increases of power and influence. House then began to negotiate an arrangement for a U.S. Declaration of war in 1916 while President Wilson looked the other way and continued to campaign on his slogan of “keeping America out of war.”

Why would Wilson want to wage war and lie to the American people? He clearly wasn’t in it for the money like House or Morgan. Recall that Wilson’s political dream was a central world government; he was an internationalist’s internationalist. Only through such a large and extreme conflict could the conditions for such an international government ever be developed and accepted by the American people. Wilson went to war in hopes that when the U.S. won, he would be in the supreme position of writing the peace treaty and forming his League of Nations.

Selling the War

How did it all go down? Well now that Wilson was committed to going to war, he had to find a way to sell it to a public that wanted to avoid the “European War” at all costs. Wilson, recognizing that he couldn’t succeed by telling the truth, waited until he was reelected as an anti-war democrat and then began to go to work. Together with Morgan, he embarked on the most massive propaganda campaign that the U.S. had ever seen. In addition to owning thousands of newspapers and magazines (many purchased by the fruits of his war-profiteering), Morgan also enjoyed a considerable degree of influence over a great majority of American media networks. Consequently, after Wilson’s reelection in 1916, thousands of newspapers unsurprisingly and gradually began to print propaganda designed to demonize Germany and drum up support for American involvement in "protecting democracy." While this unrelenting propaganda machine did indeed have some success in eroding isolationist attitudes and molding popular opinion, it didn’t have the far-reaching effects that Morgan and Wilson had envisioned, for the majority of Americans were still anti-war. Something had to be done.

The Lusitania Goes Down

Morgan was also involved with shipping goods during the war. He had only one formidable competitor in the shipping industry: the British owned Cunard Company. Morgan previously tried to purchase this company, but the British refused so that they could outfit British shipping vessels for military use should the need arise. Needless to say, the need arose, and the Cunard company began to militarize its ships and enter them into the British Admiralty fleet register as warships and armed merchantmen. One of these vessels was called The RMS Lusitania, which had been converted from a full passenger liner to a military cargo transport that also carried passengers. As a result, the Lusitania’s captain resigned in 1915, saying he was unwilling to command a warship that used unsuspecting passengers as human shields.

Not all navy officials or politicians were as considerate, however. Winston Churchill, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, began to play politics in attempt to bait the Germans. He ordered all British cargo ships to act as passenger liners and fly the U.S. flag. Furthermore he ordered that no British ship should stop and allow itself to be searched by the Germans; instead, they were to ignore warnings in order to provoke the Germans into taking them out. This was cold blooded strategy, but it worked. As he explained at the time, “The Maneuver which brings an ally into the field is as serviceable as that which wins a great battle.”

It might seem obvious by now what happened to the Lusitania. The German’s knew that it was being loaded with military cargo and ammunitions as well as passengers. They filed complaints to Wilson’s government that went ignored. Frustrated with the lack of cooperation from the U.S. government, the German embassy paid for hundreds of advertisements in U.S. Newspapers saying the following:


TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY, Washington, D.C. April 22, 1915

But recall that Morgan owned many newspapers and Wilson had considerable influence over those Morgan did not own outright. As a result, only one paper in Iowa printed the notice. William Jennings Bryan, Wilson’s Secretary of State, knew what was going on. He personally met with Wilson and urged him to warn American’s traveling across the Atlantic of the extreme danger they faced as passengers on military warships. Wilson issued no such warning.

The Lusitania was attacked on May 7, 1915, after it’s escort ship, the RMS Juno, never arrived to protect it. All evidence shows that the German torpedo induced a second, much larger explosion that sank the vessel in a matter of minutes. This second explosion was undoubtedly the result of the torpedo’s contact with the millions of rounds of live ammunition that the Lusitania was carrying, but the government never mentioned this in its initial history. Instead, Wilson and Morgan propagandized the incident and wrote about how the evil and monstrous German’s killed American women and children. After this, popular support for the war was widespread, and the rest, as they say, is history.

War and the State

This is not a conspiracy theory. This is what actually happened. Colonel House wrote about his secret agreement with Britain in his memoirs published after the war, and dozens of military leaders and politicians who either participated in the events or resigned in protest have confirmed and expounded this in their own writings. Official British documents show that the Lusitania was indeed a warship that was carrying ammunition and military cargo. All the evidence is there to corroborate the events, but they remain ignored by most people who choose to accept only the official, mainstream historical account. It hardly needs to be noted that the truth is often suppressed by the accounts written by the victorious and conquering parties. History is written by the winners.

This example shows that wars really are manufactured by government, often at the request or benefit of third party special interests. Wars can, and are, sold to the public through propaganda and murder. Unjust wars (and the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a just war in over 140 years) always benefit certain groups and ultimately serve the aspirations of the political class in general at the expense of thousands and millions of lives.

I’ll stop just short of claiming that FDR knew about Pearl Harbor, etc. But clearly, we have seen here that blindly accepting the official historical account as absolute truth can be (and usually is) a grave and ignorant mistake. Are we really to believe the hackneyed paradigm of the gentle and peaceful America that contentedly minds its own business until some anti-democratic foreign band of lunatics inexplicably attacks us? That America only flexes its military might when the security of world peace or democracy itself are in jeopardy? I need not connect the dots and illustrate the obvious parallels with the current American wars and foreign policy. It is sufficient to conclude that unjust wars (and the deaths and suffering of millions of innocents) are frequently manufactured and deceptively sold to the public. Though private interests may benefit, only government has the power to make this happen.

I’ll end with a particularly representative and poignant quotation:

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, 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 way in any country."

~ Herman Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

February 14, 2006