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Forgotten February (A brief peek at America's unrestrained brutality)

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Just in case anyone needs reminding that "USA" has always stood for "United States of Aggression," here are a forgotten few from February's Files: February 1898 In 1897, Teddy Roosevelt stated bluntly, "I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one." His wait lasted less than a year. February 15, 1898 was a muggy Tuesday night in Havana Harbor. Some 350 crew and officers settled in on board the Maine. "At 9:40 p.m., the ship's forward end abruptly lifted itself from the water," writes author Tom Miller. "Along the pier, passersby could hear a rumbling explosion. Within seconds, another eruption-this one deafening and massive-splintered the bow, sending anything that wasn't battened down, and most that was, flying more than 200 feet into the air." The Maine was in Havana Harbor in 1898 on a purportedly friendly mission. "At a certain point in that spring, (President) McKinley and the business community began to see that their object, to get Spain out of Cuba, could not be accomplished without war," writes Howard Zinn, "and that their accompanying object, the securing of American military and economic influence in Cuba, could not be left to the Cuban rebels, but could be ensured only by U.S. intervention." American newspapers, especially those run by Hearst (New York Journal) and Pulitzer (New York World), jumped on the Maine explosion as the ideal justification to drum up public support for a war of imperialism. "Tabloid headlines depicting Spanish atrocities against Cubans became commonplace, and the influential papers of both men were outdoing each other in the sensationalized screaming for war," says historian Kenneth C. Davis. When Hearst sent artist Frederick Remington to Cuba to supply pictures, he reported that he could not find a war. "You furnish the pictures," Hearst famously replied, "and I'll furnish the war." (In 1976, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the U.S. Navy mounted an investigation of the Maine disaster. Rickover and his team of experts concluded that the explosion was probably caused by "spontaneous combustion inside the ship's coal bins," a problem common to ships of that era.) February 1901 In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the U.S. fought a brutal war of conquest in the Pacific. By 1900, more than 75,000 American troops-three-quarters of the entire U.S. Army-were sent to the Philippines. In the face of this overwhelming show of force, the Filipinos turned to guerrilla warfare. The February 5, 1901 edition of the New York World shed some light on the U.S. response to guerilla tactics: "Our soldiers here and there resort to terrible measures with the natives. Captains and lieutenants are sometimes judges, sheriffs and executioners. 'I don't want any more prisoners sent into Manila' was the verbal order from the Governor-General three months ago. It is now the custom to avenge the death of an American soldier by burning to the ground all the houses, and killing right and left the natives who are only suspects." February 1939 Imagine a rally that involved plenty of marching and arms raised in a Nazi salute to their leader. Somewhere near Nuremberg, perhaps? Guess again. The venue was Madison Square Garden where frenzied members of the German-American Bund cheered Fritz Kuhn as he stood before a 30-foot high portrait of George Washington flanked by black swastikas, leading them in a chant of "Free Amerika!" (a rallying cry which had just recently replaced "Sieg Heil!"), while thirteen hundred New York City policemen stood guard outside the building. A U.S. citizen who served in the German Army during the First World War, Kuhn's loyalty to Adolf Hitler was surpassed only by his hatred of Jews (like Henry Ford, he went as far as blaming the Jews for Benedict Arnold's treason). When asked if there were any good Jews, Kuhn replied, "If a mosquito is on your arm, you don't ask is it a good or a bad mosquito. You just brush it off." Before you dismiss Kuhn as a fringe character, consider this: The February 20, 1939 rally described above drew 22,000 avid followers. February 1942 Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 giving the army the unrestricted power to arrest-without warrants or indictments or hearings-every Japanese-American on a 150-mile strip along the West Coast (roughly 110,000 men, women, and children) and transport them to internment camps in Colorado, Utah, Arkansas, and other interior states to be kept under prison conditions. The Supreme Court upheld this order and the Japanese-Americans remained in custody for over three years. A Los Angeles Times writer defended the forced relocations by explaining to his readers that "a viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched-so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents, grows up to be a Japanese, not an American." Life in the internment camps entailed cramped living spaces with communal meals and bathrooms. The one-room apartments measured twenty by twenty feet and none had running water. The internees were allowed to take along "essential personal effects" from home but were prohibited from bringing razors, scissors, or radios. Outside the shared wards were barbed wire, guard towers with machine guns, and searchlights. The dislocated Japanese-Americans incurred an estimated loss of $400 million in forced property sales during the internment years, and therein may lie a more Machiavellian motivation than sheer race hatred. "A large engine for the Japanese-American incarcerations was agri-business," says Michio Kaku, a noted nuclear physicist and political activist whose parents were interned from 1942 to 1946. "Agri-businesses in California coveted much of the land owned by Japanese-Americans." A formal apology came to the 60,000 survivors of internment camps in 1990. The U.S. government paid them each $20,000. While Yale Law Professor Eugene V. Rostow later called the internment camps "our worst wartime mistake," Zinn pointedly asks: "Was it a 'mistake'-or was it an action to be expected from a nation with a long history of racism and which was fighting a war, not to end racism, but to retain the fundamentals of the American system?" February 1945 With the Russians advancing rapidly towards Berlin, tens of thousands of German civilians fled into Dresden, believing it to be safe from attack. As a result, the city's population swelled from its usual 600,000 to at least one million. Beside the stream of refugees, Dresden was also known for its china and its Baroque and Rococo architecture. Its galleries housed works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Botticelli. On the evening of February 13, none of this would matter. Using the Dresden soccer stadium as a reference point, over 2000 British Lancasters and American Flying Fortresses dropped loads of gasoline bombs every 50 square yards out from this marker. The enormous flame that resulted was eight square miles wide, shooting smoke three miles high. For the next eighteen hours, regular bombs were dropped on top of this strange brew. Twenty-five minutes after the bombing, winds reaching 150 miles-per-hour sucked everything into the heart of the storm. Because the air became superheated and rushed upward, the fire lost most of its oxygen, creating tornadoes of flame that can suck the air right out of human lungs. Seventy percent of the Dresden dead either suffocated or died from poison gases that turned their bodies green and red. The intense heat melted some bodies into the pavement like bubblegum, or shrunk them into three-foot long charred carcasses. Clean-up crews wore rubber boots to wade through the "human soup" found in nearby caves. In other cases, the superheated air propelled victims skyward only to come down in tiny pieces as far as fifteen miles outside Dresden. "The flames ate everything organic, everything that would burn," wrote journalist Phillip Knightley. "People died by the thousands, cooked, incinerated, or suffocated. Then American planes came the next day to machine-gun survivors as they struggled to the banks of the Elbe." The Allied firebombing did more than shock and awe. The bombing campaign murdered more than 100,000 people-mostly civilians...but the exact number may never be known due to the high number of refugees in the area. February 1946 Edgar L. Jones, a former war correspondent in the Pacific, wrote in the Atlantic Monthly: "What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought anyway? We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers." February 1966 David Lawrence, editor of US News & World Report, wrote: "What the United States is doing in Vietnam is the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times." When challenged with stories of American atrocities in Vietnam, Lawrence explained, "Primitive peoples with savagery in their hearts have to be helped to understand the true basis of a civilized existence." February 1968 An unnamed U.S. major, quoted by Associated Press on February 8, 1968, was asked about the American assault on the Vietnamese town of Bentre. The major explained: "It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it." February 1991 High above a swamp, over 60 miles of coastal Highway 8 from Kuwait to Iraq, a division of the Iraq's Republican Guard withdrew on February 26-27,1991. Baghdad radio had just announced Iraq's acceptance of a cease-fire proposal and, in compliance with UN Resolution 660, Iraqi troops were ordered to withdraw to positions held before August 2, 1990. President George H.W. Bush derisively called the announcement "an outrage" and "a cruel hoax." "U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours," says Joyce Chediac, a Lebanese-American journalist. "It was like shooting fish in a barrel," one U.S. pilot said. "Many of those massacred fleeing Kuwait were not Iraqi soldiers at all," says Ramsey Clark, "but Palestinians, Sudanese, Egyptians, and other foreign workers." Randall Richard of the Providence Journal filed this dispatch from the deck of the U.S.S. Ranger: "Air strikes against Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait were being launched so feverishly from this carrier today that pilots said they took whatever bombs happened to be closest to the flight deck. The crews, working to the strains of the Lone Ranger theme, often passed up the projectile of choice...because it took too long to load." "Every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments," Chediac reported after visiting the scene. "No survivors are known or likely. The cabs of trucks were bombed so much that they were pushed into the ground, and it's impossible to see if they contain drivers or not. Windshields were melted away, and huge tanks were reduced to shrapnel." "At one spot," Bob Drogin reported in the Los Angeles Times, "snarling wild dogs (had) reduced two corpses to bare ribs. Giant carrion birds pick(ed) at another; only a bootclad foot and eyeless skull are recognizable." Major Bob Nugent, an Army intelligence officer, said: "Even in Vietnam I didn't see anything like this. It's pathetic." Correction: When you're talking about America, it's not pathetic...it's policy. Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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