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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/11/17

War Stories

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Each year, for a lot of years, there was a remembrance on November 11th. The U.S. Congress called Armistice Day a holiday to "perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations," a day "dedicated to the cause of world peace." When churches rang their bells at 11:00, that was what they meant. It was a holiday for peace, and it lasted as long as the idea of peace did.


A lawyer in Chicago named Salmon Levinson had an idea. If you could ban dueling, why couldn't you ban war? He built a popular movement that did just that. Until 1928, war was legal. Its outlawing, by means of all the wealthiest nations on earth signing and ratifying the Kellogg-Briand Pact, was the biggest news story of 1928. Wars were prevented. After World War II, the losers were prosecuted for the new crime. Wealthy nations never went to war with each other again. Conquest and colonialism virtually ceased. Territorial gains through war were restored to 1928 borders. The number of nations on earth quickly doubled, as it became relatively safe to exist as a small country. But the outlawing of war was never accompanied by disarming of weapons. In fact, the arming and funding of future enemies became a growing industry from that day to this. The law was twisted at Nuremberg and Tokyo, and in the United Nations Charter, into a ban only on aggressive and non-U.N.-authorized wars. The five biggest weapons dealers and war makers were given veto power in the Security Council. Endless rules were invented for proper wars. The idea that war was a crime was intentionally forgotten. If anyone mentions it nowadays, the response is that war exists and is therefore not a crime -- a response that seems to work only in this instance and not for any other crimes, all of which exist or there would be no point in criminalizing them.


In the 1930s, the U.S. military expanded into the Pacific. In March 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt bestowed Wake Island on the U.S. Navy and gave Pan Am Airways a permit to build runways on Wake Island, Midway Island, and Guam. Japanese military commanders announced that they were disturbed and viewed these runways as a threat. So did peace activists in the United States. By the next month, Roosevelt had planned war games and maneuvers near the Aleutian Islands and Midway Island. By the following month, peace activists were marching in New York advocating friendship with Japan. Norman Thomas wrote in 1935: "The Man from Mars who saw how men suffered in the last war and how frantically they are preparing for the next war, which they know will be worse, would come to the conclusion that he was looking at the denizens of a lunatic asylum." The U.S. believed a Japanese attack on Hawaii would begin with conquering the island of Ni'ihau, from which flights would take off to assault the other islands. U.S. Army Air Corp. Lt. Col. Gerald Brant approached the Robinson family, which owned Ni'ihau and still does. He asked them to plow furrows across the island in a grid, to render it useless for airplanes. Between 1933 and 1937, three Ni'ihau men cut the furrows with plows pulled by mules or draft horses. The U.S. Navy spent the next few years working up plans for war with Japan, the March 8, 1939, version of which described "an offensive war of long duration." As it turned out, the Japanese had no plans to use Ni'ihau, but when a Japanese plane that had just been part of the attack on Pearl Harbor had to make an emergency landing, it landed on Ni'ihau despite all the efforts of the mules and horses.


On August 18, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street, his house. Churchill told his cabinet, according to the minutes: "The [U.S.] President had said he would wage war but not declare it." In addition, "Everything was to be done to force an incident." British propagandists had argued since at least 1938 for using Japan to bring the United States into the war. At the Atlantic Conference on August 12, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt had assured Churchill that the United States would bring economic pressure to bear on Japan. Within a week, the Economic Defense Board had gotten economic sanctions under way. On September 3, 1941, the U.S. State Department sent Japan a demand that it accept the principle of "nondisturbance of the status quo in the Pacific." The Allied blockade cut off about 75% of normal trade to Japan according to the New York Times. By September 1941 the Japanese press was outraged that the United States had begun shipping oil right past Japan to reach Russia. Japan, its newspapers said, was dying a slow death from "economic war." An October 1940 memorandum by Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum had called for eight actions that McCollum predicted would lead the Japanese to attack, including arranging for the use of British bases in Singapore and for the use of Dutch bases in what is now Indonesia, aiding the Chinese government, sending a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Philippines or Singapore, sending two divisions of submarines to "the Orient," keeping the main strength of the fleet in Hawaii, insisting that the Dutch refuse the Japanese oil, and embargoing all trade with Japan. The day after McCollum's memo, the State Department had told Americans to evacuate far eastern nations, and Roosevelt had ordered the fleet kept in Hawaii over the strenuous objection of Admiral James O. Richardson who quoted the President as saying "Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war." In late October, 1941, U.S. spy Edgar Mower spoke with a man in Manila named Ernest Johnson, a member of the Maritime Commission, who said he expected "The Japs will take Manila before I can get out." When Mower expressed surprise, Johnson replied "Didn't you know the Jap fleet has moved eastward, presumably to attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor?" On November 3, 1941, the U.S. ambassador tried -- not for the first time -- to get something through his government's thick skull, sending a lengthy telegram to the State Department warning that the economic sanctions might force Japan to commit "national hara-kiri." He wrote: "An armed conflict with the United States may come with dangerous and dramatic suddenness." On November 15, 1941, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall briefed the media: "We are preparing an offensive war against Japan." Ten days later Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in his diary that he'd met in the Oval Office with Marshall, President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Admiral Harold Stark, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Roosevelt had told them the Japanese were likely to attack soon, possibly next Monday. The United States had broken the Japanese' codes. It was Hull who leaked a Japanese intercept to the press, resulting in the November 30, 1941, headline "Japanese May Strike Over Weekend." The message that Admiral Harold Stark sent to Admiral Husband Kimmel on November 28, 1941, read, "IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT REPEAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT." Joseph Rochefort, cofounder of the Navy's communication intelligence section, who was instrumental in failing to communicate to Pearl Harbor what was coming, would later comment: "It was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country." Also on November 28, 1941, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., gave instructions to "shoot down anything we saw in the sky and to bomb anything we saw on the sea." On May 24, 1941, the New York Times had reported on U.S. training of the Chinese air force, and the provision of "numerous fighting and bombing planes" to China by the United States. "Bombing of Japanese Cities is Expected" read the subheadline. By July, the Joint Army-Navy Board had approved a plan called JB 355 to firebomb Japan. A front corporation would buy American planes to be flown by American volunteers. Roosevelt approved, and his China expert Lauchlin Currie, in the words of Nicholson Baker, "wired Madame Chaing Kai-Shek and Claire Chennault a letter that fairly begged for interception by Japanese spies." The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force, also known as the Flying Tigers, moved ahead with recruitment and training immediately, were provided to China prior to Pearl Harbor, and first saw combat on December 20, 1941. Marshall later admitted to Congress that Japanese codes had been broken, that the United States had initiated Anglo-Dutch-American agreements for unified action against Japan and put them into effect before Pearl Harbor, and that the United States had provided officers of its military to China for combat duty before Pearl Harbor. Henry Luce in Life magazine on July 20, 1942, referred to "the Chinese for whom the U.S. had delivered the ultimatum that brought on Pearl Harbor."


Jessie Wallace Hughan, founder of the War Resisters League, was very concerned in 1942 by stories of Nazi plans, no longer focused on expelling Jews but turning toward plans to murder them. Hughan believed that such a development appeared "natural, from their pathological point of view," and that it might really be acted upon if World War II continued. "It seems that the only way to save thousands and perhaps millions of European Jews from destruction," she wrote, "would be for our government to broadcast the promise" of an "armistice on condition that the European minorities are not molested any further. . . . It would be very terrible if six months from now we should find that this threat has literally come to pass without our making even a gesture to prevent it." When her predictions were fulfilled only too well by 1943, she wrote to the U.S. State Department and the New York Times: "two million [Jews] have already died" and "two million more will be killed by the end of the war." She warned that military successes against Germany would just result in further scapegoating of Jews. "Victory will not save them, for dead men cannot be liberated," she wrote. (Thank you to Lawrence Wittner for this story.)


"Anthony Eden, Britain's foreign secretary, who'd been tasked by Churchill with handling queries about refugees, dealt coldly with one of many important delegations, saying that any diplomatic effort to obtain the release of the Jews from Hitler was 'fantastically impossible.' On a trip to the United States, Eden candidly told Cordell Hull, the secretary of state, that the real difficulty with asking Hitler for the Jews was that 'Hitler might well take us up on any such offer, and there simply are not enough ships and means of transportation in the world to handle them.' Churchill agreed. 'Even were we to obtain permission to withdraw all the Jews,' he wrote in reply to one pleading letter, 'transport alone presents a problem which will be difficult of solution.' Not enough shipping and transport? Two years earlier, the British had evacuated nearly 340,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk in just nine days. The U.S. Air Force had many thousands of new planes. During even a brief armistice, the Allies could have airlifted and transported refugees in very large numbers out of the German sphere." (Thank you to and quoted from Nicholson Baker.)


A ship of Jewish refugees from Germany was chased away from Miami by the Coast Guard. The U.S. and other nations refused to accept most Jewish refugees, and the majority of the U.S. public supported that position. The U.S. engaged in no diplomatic or military effort to save the victims in the Nazi concentration camps. Anne Frank's family was denied U.S. visas.


U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson kept Kyoto off the list of targets for nuclear bombs. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not more military or less civilian than Kyoto was. And they were considered less ideal locations to demonstrate the new bombs. But Kyoto had cultural significance, and it appears that among those who appreciated Kyoto's beauty was Henry Stimson, who had visited Kyoto. As far as we know, he had never been to Hiroshima or Nagasaki, which was too bad for them.


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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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