Dave Crouch looks at War is a Lie by David Swanson, a new book about the stories our rulers tell to sell their imperial projects
Does this sound familiar? A dictator is massacring his own people. He is a threat not only to the region, but also to us here in Britain.
He has weapons of mass destruction.
Something must be done—urgently. While we hesitate, children are dying. People are being hideously tortured. They are defenceless. They are pleading for us to act.
We have the technology to ensure swift and clean victory. The choice is civilisation or barbarism.
With overwhelming firepower and precision bombing, we can stop this tyrant. There is no alternative.
These were the lies peddled to the British public in 2003 when Tony Blair dragged us into the disastrous war in Iraq.
Eight years later, it is uncanny how the same falsehoods have been disinterred to justify a new war in Libya.
The simplest deceit was also the most effective—that we were going in to save civilians from Colonel Gaddafi.
That flimsy and transparent fallacy was faithfully relayed by almost all the mainstream news media, which bent over backwards to convince us that military intervention was essential to avoid further bloodshed.
Baseless allegations have been tossed into the boiler to stoke the momentum for war.
There has been a stream of stories claiming Gaddafi has chemical and biological weapons. These are despite repeated statements by international officials saying that Libya destroyed the missiles that might enable chemical agents to be actually used in combat.
Unsubstantiated reports of atrocities by Gaddafi’s forces appear daily, though how exactly bombing by Nato aircraft might prevent rape or sniper fire is not explained.
In his new book, David Swanson calls these lies the “common themes in the war lying business, lies that keep coming back like zombies that just won’t die”.
Swanson, an American anti-war activist, systematically dismantles the wide variety of lies and half-truths that are used to justify modern warfare. The book is intended as a tool for peace campaigners, and it is bursting with useful facts, insights and arguments.
For example, did you know that in 2008, US vice president Dick Cheney seriously discussed a plan to dress up US Navy Seals as Iranians and stage an attack on a US ship as an excuse to launch war on Iran?
Or that the US government expected and largely provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941? Or that president Lyndon Johnson lied about a supposed attack on US warships in the Gulf of Tonkin during 1964 to justify escalating the war in Vietnam?
You will learn something new on every page of this book. Particularly useful is Swanson’s critique of the idea that a “surge” of extra troops to Iraq in 2007 finally brought peace.
Swanson extends his hatred of the US’s current and recent wars back into history, which is a good corrective to the patriotic nonsense we are told about the main conflicts of the 20th century.
So he argues that the consequences of war for the human beings caught up in it are so devastating that “war would be the greatest evil on earth even if it cost no money, used up no resources, left no environmental damage, expanded rather than curtailed the rights of citizens back home, and even if it accomplished something worthwhile”.
But this is going too far—and follows from Swanson’s failure to make a distinction between imperialist and oppressed nations.
For him, there can never be a war for national liberation, or a revolutionary civil war.
Similarly, Swanson has no explanation for the drive towards war, and he makes no connection between imperialism and capitalism. As a result, he ends up relying on some rather odd ideas about war being a throwback to primitive times when humans hunted animals. Perhaps this is also why he pays so little attention to Palestine.
But these are quibbles. Swanson has written a powerful and lively polemic that will be a useful tool for activists seeking to combat the war lies over Libya and Afghanistan.
War is a Lie by David Swanson, Biteback, £12.99. Available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk