David Swanson is a longtime peace and justice activist and author of 'War Is a Lie'
In honor of the 10th Anniversary of Operation Iraqi Liberation, and in hopes of helping us keep in mind that every war is based on similar lies, even if sometimes the lies are told more competently, I'm making available here the introduction to my book War Is A Lie. If you're near the heart of the empire on March 18th, join us at the 10 Years Later: Still Shocked, Not Awed event.
Not a single thing that we commonly believe about wars that helps keep them around is true. Wars cannot be good or glorious. Nor can they be justified as a means of achieving peace or anything else of value. The reasons given for wars, before, during, and after them (often three very different sets of reasons for the same war) are all false. It is common to imagine that, because we’d never go to war without a good reason, having gone to war, we simply must have a good reason. This needs to be reversed. Because there can be no good reason for war, having gone to war, we are participating in a lie.
A very intelligent friend recently told me that prior to 2003 no American president had ever lied about reasons for war. Another, only slightly better informed, told me that the United States had not had any problems with war lies or undesirable wars between 1975 and 2003. I hope that this book will help set the record straight. "A war based on lies" is just a long-winded way of saying "a war." The lies are part of the standard package.
have preceded and accompanied wars for millennia, but in the past
century war has become far more deadly. Its victims are now primarily
non-participants, often almost exclusively on one side of the war. Even
the participants from the dominant side can be drawn from a population
coerced into fighting and isolated from those making the decisions about
or benefitting from the war. Participants who survive war are far more
likely now to have been trained and conditioned to do things they cannot
live with having done. In short, war ever more closely resembles mass
murder, a resemblance put into our legal system by the banning of war in
the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact in 1928, the United Nations Charter in
1945, and the International Criminal Court's decision to prosecute
crimes of aggression in 2010. Arguments that might have sufficed to
justify wars in the past might not do so now. War lies are now far more
dangerous things. But, as we will see, wars were never justifiable.
A defensive war remains legal, even if not necessarily moral. But any defensive war is also a war of illegal aggression from the other side. All sides in all wars, even wars with two clear aggressors, always claim to be acting defensively. Some actually are. When a powerful military attacks a weak and impoverished nation halfway around the globe, those who fight back may tell lies — about the aggressors, about their own prospects for victory, about atrocities they commit, about rewards for martyrs in paradise, etc., — but they do not have to lie the war into existence; it has come to them. The lies that create wars, and the lies that allow war to remain one of our tools of public policy, must be addressed before any others.
This book focuses, not exclusively but heavily, on the United States' wars, because the United States is my country and because it is the leading war maker in the world right now. Many people in our country are inclined to a healthy skepticism or even fanatical certainty of disbelief when it comes to statements our government makes about anything other than wars. On taxes, Social Security, healthcare, or schools it simply goes without saying: elected officials are a pack of liars.
When it comes to wars, however, some of the same people are inclined to believe every fantastical claim that comes out of Washington, D.C., and to imagine they thought it up for themselves. Others argue for an obedient and non-questioning attitude toward “our Commander in Chief,” following a pattern of behavior common among soldiers. They forget that in a democracy “we the people” are supposed to be in charge. They also forget what we did to certain German and Japanese soldiers following World War II, despite their honest defense of having followed their commanders' orders. Still other people are just not sure what to think about arguments made in support of wars. This book is, of course, addressed to those who are thinking it through for themselves.
The word “war” conjures up in many people’s minds the U.S. Civil War or World War I. We hear constant references to “the battlefield” as if wars still primarily involved pairs of armies lined up against each other in an open space. Some of today’s wars are more usefully referred to as “occupations” and can be visualized more as a Jackson Pollock painting with three colors splattered everywhere, one representing the occupying army, a second representing the enemy, and a third representing innocent civilians — with the second and third colors only distinguishable from each other using a microscope.
But hot occupations involving constant violence must be distinguished from the many cold occupations consisting of foreign troops stationed permanently in allied nations. And what to make of operations involving the steady bombing of a nation from unmanned drones piloted by men and women on the other side of the world? Is that war? Are secret assassination squads sent into yet other nations to work their will also taking part in war? What about arming a proxy state and encouraging it to launch attacks on a neighbor or its own people? What about selling weaponry to hostile nations around the world or facilitating the spread of nuclear weapons? Perhaps not all unjustifiable warlike actions are actually acts of war. But many are actions to which domestic and international laws of war should be applied and which we should have public knowledge of and control over. In the U.S. system of government, the legislature shouldn’t cede the constitutional power of war to presidents simply because the appearance of wars has changed. The people shouldn’t lose their right to know what their government is doing, simply because its actions are warlike without actually being war.
While this book focuses on the justifications that have been offered for wars, it is also an argument against silence. People should not permit congress members to campaign for office without explaining their positions on the funding of wars, including undeclared wars consisting of repeated drone strikes or bombings into foreign nations, including quick wars that come and go in the course of a term of Congress, and including very long wars that our televisions forget to remind us are still going on.
The U.S. public may be more opposed to wars now than ever before, the culmination of a process that has taken over a century and a half. Anti- war sentiment was extremely high between the two world wars, but it is now more firmly established. However, it fails when confronted with wars in which few Americans die. The steady drip of a handful of U.S. deaths each week in a war without end has become part of our national scenery. Preparation for war is everywhere and rarely questioned.
We are more saturated with militarism than ever before. The military and its support industries eat up an increasingly larger share of the economy, providing jobs intentionally spread across all congressional districts. Military recruiters and recruitment advertising are ubiquitous. Sporting events on television welcome “members of the United States armed forces viewing in 177 nations around the world” and nobody blinks. When wars begin, the government does whatever it has to do to persuade enough of the public to support the wars. Once the public turns against wars, the government just as effectively resists pressure to bring them to a swift end. Some years into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a majority of Americans told pollsters it had been a mistake to begin either of those wars. But easily manipulated majorities had supported those mistakes when they were made.
Up through the two world wars, nations demanded ever greater sacrifices from the majority of their populations to support war. Today, the case for war must overcome people’s resistance to arguments that they know have fooled them in the past. But, in order to support war, people need not be convinced to make great sacrifices, enlist, register for a draft, grow their own food, or curtail their consumption. They just have to be convinced to do nothing at all, or at most to tell pollsters on the phone that they support a war. The presidents who took us into the two world wars and deeper into the Vietnam War were elected claiming they’d keep us out, even as they also saw political advantages to getting in.
By the time of the Gulf War (and following British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s patriotic boost of support during her speedy 1982 war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands) the prospect of electoral gains, at least from quick wars, had come to dominate political thinking. President Bill Clinton was widely suspected, accurately or not, of launching military actions to distract from his personal scandals. George W. Bush made no secret of his hunger for war when running for president, blurting out at a December 1999 six-way New Hampshire Primary debate, which the media concluded he’d won, “I’d take him out, take out the weapons of mass destruction. . . . I’m surprised he’s still there.” Bush later told The New York Times he’d meant “take ‘em out” referring to the weapons, not the ruler of Iraq. Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to end one war but escalate another and enlarge the war-making machine.
That machine has changed over the years, but some things haven’t. This book looks at examples of what I take to be the main categories of war lies, examples taken from around the world and through the centuries. I could have arranged this story in chronological order and named each chapter for a particular war. Such a project would have been both endless and repetitive. It would have produced an encyclopedia when what I thought was needed was a guidebook, a how-to manual to be employed in preventing and ending wars. If you want to find everything I’ve included about a particular war, you can use the index at the back of the book. I recommend, however, reading the book straight through in order to follow the debunking of common themes in the war lying business, lies that keep coming back like zombies that just won’t die.
This book is aimed at exposing the falsehood of all the more and less coherent rationales that have been offered for wars. If this book succeeds in its intent, the next time a war is proposed there will be no need to wait to see whether the justifications turn out to be false. We will know that they are false, and we will know that even if true they will not serve as justifications. Some of us knew there were no weapons in Iraq and that even if there had been that could not have legally or morally sanctioned war.
Going forward, our goal should be war preparedness in a particular sense: we should be prepared to reject lies that might launch or prolong a war. This is just what the overwhelming mass of Americans did by rejecting lies about Iran for years following the invasion of Iraq. Our preparedness should include a ready response to that most difficult argument to refute: silence. When there’s no debate at all over whether to bomb Pakistan, the pro-war side automatically wins. We should mobilize not only to halt but also to prevent wars, both of which actions require applying pressure to those in power, a very different thing from persuading honest observers.
Yet, persuading honest observers is the place to start. War lies come in all shapes and sizes, and I have grouped them into what I see as the dominant themes in the chapters that follow. The idea of “the big lie” is that people who would themselves more readily tell small fibs than giant whoppers will be more reluctant to doubt a big lie from someone else than to doubt a small one. But it’s not strictly the size of the lie that matters, I think, so much as the type. It can be painful to realize that people you look up to as leaders recklessly waste human lives for no good reason. It can be more pleasant to suppose they would never do such a thing, even if supposing this requires erasing some well-known facts from your consciousness. The difficulty is not in believing that they would tell enormous lies, but in believing that they would commit enormous crimes.
The reasons often given for wars are not all legal reasons and not all moral reasons. They don’t always agree with each other, but they are usually offered in combination nonetheless, since they appeal to different groups of potential war supporters. Wars, we are told, are fought against evil demonic peoples or dictators who have already attacked us or might soon do so. Thus, we are acting in defense. Some of us prefer to see the enemy’s entire population as evil, and others to place the blame only on their government. For some people to offer their support, wars must be seen as humanitarian, fought on behalf of the very people other supporters of the same war would like to see wiped off the face of the earth. Despite wars becoming such acts of generosity, we are nonetheless careful to pretend that they are unavoidable. We are told and believe that there is no other choice. War may be a horrible thing, but we have been forced into it. Our warriors are heroes, while those who set the policy have the noblest of motives and are better qualified than the rest of us to make the critical decisions.
Once a war is underway, however, we don’t continue it in order to defeat the evil enemies or to bestow benefits on them; we continue wars primarily for the good of our own soldiers currently deployed on the “battlefield,” a process we call “supporting the troops.” And if we want to end an unpopular war, we do that by escalating it. Thus we achieve “victory,” which we can trust our televisions to accurately inform us of. Thus do we make a better world and uphold the rule of law. We prevent future wars by continuing the existing ones and preparing for ever more.
Or so we like to believe.
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"David Swanson’s War Is A Lie (Charlottesville, VA, 2010) may be the most comprehensive antiwar statement available in the English language." — Kevin Young, ZNet
“David Swanson despises war and lying, and unmasks them both with rare intelligence. I learn something new on every page.” — Jeff Cohen, founder of FAIR and author of Cable News Confidential.
"There are three insightful books I've read that explain how and why no good can come of the current U.S. reliance on military force and war in seeking its desired 'Pax Americana': War Is A Racket by General Smedley Butler; War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges, and War Is A Lie by David Swanson." — Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent, whistleblower, and Time magazine person of the year.
"If you stop and think, and genuinely wonder; and long for a new, better world, I urge you to read a book I've just finished. It's self-published, brilliantly and passionately written, and while being truthful is full of hope of destroying the military-industrial-media-congressional-imperialpresidential-complex. It's "War Is A Lie" by David Swanson." - Mumia Abu-Jamal.
"If decisions to go to war were really made on the basis of reason and facts, rather than greed and power, David Swanson's brilliant new book would put a stop to them. Those of us who know David understand that he writes quickly and eloquently, speaks honestly and powerfully, and follows a logical point all the way to its conclusion. He has a philosopher's mind with a computer's precision. And he always maintains a justifiable moral outrage at the lies of the war criminals -- calling out their crimes, detailing their carnage, poking holes in their excuses. Reading 'War Is a Lie' is like reading Mark Twain's 'War Prayer,' only in book form." — Steve Cobble, IPS Associate Fellow, PDA co-founder, AfterDowningStreet.org co-founder, Jackson & Kucinich campaign advisor.
“While Americans elect leaders whom they trust are honest, truthful
and really care about the kids they send to kill for our country, War Is
A Lie reveals decade after decade the sordid side of our history — that
our elected officials lie us into war with stunning and embarrassing
regularity and are little concerned about the harm to innocent
civilians, much less to members of our own military.” — Colonel (retired) Ann Wright, author of Dissent: Voices of Conscience.
“This book is every American’s best defense against the greatest danger we face as human beings: the threat of war. Swanson reveals how American leaders (from both major political parties) have confused the public to create the illusion of consent for endless destruction and slaughter. Behind the fear-mongering, flag-waving and lies of George W. Bush and the blandishments of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama lies the ugly reality that our leaders have been seduced by political ambition, delusions of military superiority, and the promise of secrecy and impunity to commit otherwise unthinkable crimes.” — Nicolas J. S. Davies, Author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.
“David Swanson is an antidote to the toxins of complacency and evasion. He insists on rousing the sleepwalkers, confronting the deadly prevaricators and shining a bright light on possibilities for a truly better world.” — Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.
"This book is revolutionary, and certainly truth-telling in a remarkable and brave way. The writing is so clear and easy-to-read, too. A pleasure to read, except that the content is so devastating, because it all means that not only are we utterly deceived but our entire reality is based on that deception. Swanson has gotten to the core of something. The only thing is I'm not sure he realizes how hopeless it is to expect a change -- and yet that is part of the appeal of his writing: his hopefulness in the face of lies and repression and denial." — Jennifer Van Bergen, author of The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America.
“War Is A Lie is an important and compelling book that arrives at a time when America is engaged in its longest running war to date. Swanson offers an incisive examination of the rationalizations, justifications, and outright lies that have led the United States, and other nations, into battle. And he shows the personal cost to the current generation of combatants returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” — Cynthia Wachtell, author of War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature 1861-1914.
“David Swanson has taken the mantle of AJ Muste, who had the guts and the audacity to declare World War II to have been unnecessary and wrong. Swanson takes Muste’s argument further to make the audacious claim that all wars are not just unnecessary, but a crime. He is correct, of course. Just as no good outcome (whether the ouster of a tyrant or the freeing of captive nations) can compensate for the death of millions of innocents, which of course is the argument made in defense of calling World War II a ‘good’ war, no good (whether the ousting of a tyrant or the claimed improvement in the rights of oppressed women) can compensate for the death of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq or of tens of thousands of innocents in Afghanistan. This is a book that every American should read, especially those who think the United States is the good guy.” — Dave Lindorff , journalist, author of The Case for Impeachment, and founder of the online newspaper ThisCantBeHappening!
"War is a Lie is a must read for anyone who wants to break the centuries-long cycle of a perennially war-waging United States. In this carefully researched book, Mr. Swanson exposes the falsehoods that a willing government sells to a gullible public to gain support for one unnecessary war after another. The profit motives, power plays and perennial chest-thumping, that have all been given more importance than human lives, are exposed in all their ugliness. The lie of a Department of ‘Defense’ is laid bare; there has been little, if any, defensive maneuvering by the U.S. military since its own violent birth. The empire-building that the U.S. criticizes in the name of citizen democracy is exposed as a main motivation for the U.S.’s many wars. With facts, figures and a clear and engaging writing style, Mr. Swanson cuts through the fog of government rhetoric to expose the reality of why the U.S. is constantly at war. War is a Lie will enable peace activists to ask questions of the U.S.’s so-called representatives that they will simply be unable to answer. Additionally, this book should be required reading in every high school history class in the country." — Robert Fantina, author: "Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776 – 2006."
"David Swanson is a fearless and tireless advocate of peace and works ceaselessly to unmask the mechanisms that keep us perennially at war." — Russ Baker, author of "Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years."
"Activist David Swanson is well respected in the anti-war community as a man who walks his talk in a bold, committed, solid way, that he is a principled leader. Now we must add to that list of credentials authorship of an important, destined to be classic book. 'War Is A Lie' addresses the web of lies, the taboo subjects, the false claims, the mythic messages that are hollow and empty and it lays waste to them. Swanson's book is a (I've never used the term to describe a book before) Tour de Force, an intellectual accomplishment that lays out the truths about war and the lies that support in a way that every peace activist, every anti-war organization and group must digest and frankly, use as the tools to take the arguments against war to a new more effective level. If there are awards for brilliant books that explode new ways to oppose the evils of this world, then David should sweep the field this year. One more thing. It is an exceptional accomplishment to present a book with such important ideas. It is another thing to write extraordinarily well, so, on page after page, the words are quotable, rising off the page with vivacity." — Rob Kall, creator of http://opednews.com.
"You don't believe in war, but can you articulate your reasons? What if someone challenges your position? Can you defend it? Suppose someone told you that spending for the military is good for the economy? What if they agreed that war is generally bad – but there are exceptions, such as the 'good war' against Hitler and Japan, or even the 'war on terror'? How about the notion that war makes us more secure? David Swanson's new book, War Is A Lie, provides answers to these questions and more. In 336 pages, he debunks every argument you've heard used to justify, glorify, instigate, promote, prolong, and expand war." — Kim Carlyle, War Crimes Times.
"Keep it simple stupid or KISS has been shouted at nearly every Private in every army for decades, hell even maybe centuries and with War is a Lie David Swanson KISSes near perfection. Not since General Smedley Butler's War is a Racket has a simpler, more brilliant, or truer book been published. The simple truth is that war is a lie! From the lies that are told to get countries into war, to the lies told to young men (traditionally though this is changing) to fight them, to the lies we are told about how wars are fought, to the lies we are told as they end so that another generation can have it's war in a few short years. Swanson captures these lies brilliantly from start to finish in his newest book." — Geoffrey Millard, Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"It was a Republican U.S. senator, Hiram Johnson of California, who is credited with coining the phrase: 'The first casualty when war comes is truth.' ... Were he serving in the Senate now, Hiram Johnson would go to the floor of the Senate, hold up a copy of David Swanson’s essential new book and demand that the chamber and the whole of the American people recognize the reality of its title: War Is a Lie." — John Nichols, The Nation.
"In War Is a Lie, David Swanson underscores a vital point that has been ignored by far too many people who hoped President Obama and the Democrats would bring about a break from the disastrous policies of the Bush years: 'we can't sit in elected officials' offices demanding peace while promising to vote for them, no matter what they do - not if we expect to be heard.' He shows how Democrats historically -- and President Obama today -- are part of the toxic bipartisan consensus that sustains repeated military intervention, at enormous and mounting cost to the world. And he importantly reminds us that it will take mobilize, active, engaged popular movements to change a status quo that will lead to only more wars." — Anthony Arnove, author, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal.
"In 'War is a Lie' David Swanson carves himself a monumental task: to prove the truth of this in every historical instance for which background is available. He accomplishes his task, with a weight of evidence which can only be described as devastating. Swanson sets forth a deceptively simple yet provocative thesis: War is never the only choice, and always the worst one." — Ralph Lopez.
"David Swanson writes in the tradition of Howard Zinn. He always goes for clarity, both in his relentless orchestration of the facts and his ethical vision. War Is A LIe is as clear as the title. Wars are all based on lies, could not be fought without lies, and would not be fought at all if people held their governments to any reasonable standard of honesty. The book is easy to understand, easy to read, if you have the will to face a vast array of facts that hold the United States government to a reasonable standard of honesty." — Charles M. Young.
"War Is A Lie is a book that belongs on the bookshelf or the bedside-table of every American, with pages dog-eared for future reference, and choice passages marked or highlighted. You can reach for it as a shield against lies and hypocrisy during Presidential speeches or as you watch Congressional committee hearings on C-SPAN, or wherever mythological versions of history are trotted out to justify policies or actions that threaten human life. If enough Americans read this book, it will give us the collective power to stand up to our warmongering leaders by disarming the most powerful and destructive of all their weapons: their lies." — Nicolas Davies.
"Swanson's penetrating analysis of the lies behind wars, backed by his extensive historical knowledge, shine a light not only on the destructive wars but on the irrational, delusional thinking and propaganda that starts and prolongs them and leads to so much death, destruction, and suffering. In the last chapter he also gives peace activists hope and some practical means to overcome the Scourge of War and build a more peaceful world for the children. Let's hope this book gets wide circulation. Swanson is an inspiration to all of us with his tireless energy in educating and motivating people that a better world of peace and justice is possible. If we work together we can make it happen." — Jay Kvale, member of the Minnesota Peace Project.
"I've been reading a bit of this book every night since I got it. The effect it's having on me is hard to explain. Like I've been born into a cult whether or not I want it, but now the lies are being washed away by the rain. Bringing down the rain of truth, that's something. Trapped people, taken hostage, facing death, if they want to live, they start to agree with their captors, their oppressors - they start playing their game, thinking what they're told to think, seeing what they're told to see. The Stockholm Syndrome, that's something. The grieving mother takes home the folded flag. You think she'd take a match and watch it burn. But she sets it in a place of honor in a plastic bag. Don't even approach her about it, she'll never learn. Honoring the thing that kills you, that's something." — John Bostrom
"When you signed my copy at the Charlottesville, VA reading/signing you asked me to let you know what I thought of War is a Lie. I just finished reading it. Excellent, comprehensive and well written. Great manual for spotting the lies and countering arguments for war. Just what I needed after a discouraging campaign season to get me charged up and back in the peacemaking game. Thanks for broadening our knowledge and telling what needed to be told." — Harry Davis
"Well, here we are in the 21st century of the Common Era, and given the violent history of the past decade, evidently the arguments about the disutility of warfare still need to be made, again and again and again... Depressing, really. But thank goodness David Swanson has taken up the effort. Buy the book!" — Helena Cobban
"David Swanson’s new book has given me a fresh perspective on a topic I’ve dedicated my life to: America’s war culture and its ever-nuanced fall out. Economic collapse, pollution, dependence on fossil fuels, even global warming: you can’t begin to fathom our predicaments until you conceive of the American War monster. Swanson rips away the public relations/advertising of this military industrial giant to show its true cancerous colors. Read slowly, America. This is a powerful mirror for those still clinging to our media distortions. It’s an indictment of a culture grown dependent on, and distorted by the machinery of violence. But there is a compassion, an empathy to the author’s tone. We are all victims, Swanson argues. We are a people kept blind to the true costs, the human tragedies, by the never ending lie of war." — Charles Bivona
"I am less than halfway through the book - and - I am learning so much! I consider myself very well read, a student of history, TV-free for over 14 years, etc. etc. - but - your book is a revelation. I've known for decades that the history we were fed in school is nothing but propaganda and lies, but the information in your book takes that to a whole new level. I have told people to read your book and that I rate its importance, for what it reveals about the mendacity of scholars, historians, the liberal class, politicians and propagandists, up there with Zinn's People's History. I'm serious about that - I don't say it lightly. Thank you for writing this book. I hope sales are going better than you expected. I am telling people about the book and making sure that when I’m reading it in a public place people see the title. I’ve had a couple people approach me, so I’ve been happy to tell them about such an important work. My husband is an artist and focused on his work (landscapes in oils) but I read him a lot of things that I read – and last night while he was making dinner, I read excerpts – things he didn’t know either. He wants me to read him more – which I will happily do! I’ve been reading it at lunch and in what little free time I have in the evenings and weekends – which isn’t much. My proverbial hat is off to you, David. I’m really impressed. Of course, I thought it would be another good and valuable addition to 'left' literature, but it is proving to be much more than that to me. I strongly feel the facts you have revealed are intrinsic to Americans’ understanding of our real history – history which is forgotten, deliberately hidden and covered with the propaganda masquerading as history in our schools. I have an awful feeling that your book may not have a wide readership – which it certainly should – because of how books are marketed these days and the problems inherent within the publishing industry. I’m doing what little I can do alert people to its value and importance. And I’m not even quite halfway through yet!" — Maria Allwine
"It's been a week since I finished "War Is A Lie," and I can't stop thinking/talking about it.... Everyone in my life is getting a copy for their b-day this year and I'm composing a letter to the editor of every major paper in ID. I'm also working w/ a local organization to contact you to come speak here and hoefully other places in ID. (although this is a blue county, unfortunately, this is the reddest of states as a whole). Thank you for rocking my world." — Kim Mazik
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