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War Is a Lie Paperback – October 30, 2010
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About the Author
David Swanson is an American author, blogger, and anti-war activist. He served as press secretary for Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign. He was a key figure in making the Downing Street Memo known across America. The memo, the leaked minutes of a meeting of the British war cabinet, exposed the lies behind the war in Iraq and was a key element in turning the majority of American people against the war in Iraq. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
- the *legislative* branch is supposed to be in charge of declaring/debating war, and shouldn't cede this role to the executive branch (p. 8-9)
- psychologically speaking, it is the fear of being dominated by others that drives people to support wars launched for national defense (p. 17), especially if they are a prosperous people, as they have more to lose (p. 47)
- although wars are fought against the image of evil/ruthless dictators (or terrorists), it is the people in the lands being invaded/liberated that end up suffering (p. 30)
- war is not the only option; there are other ways around international quagmires, and people should press their elected officials to strive for those solutions first (p. 128-9)
- wars are no longer fought exclusively on the battlefield. If soldiers are stationed in villages and towns, how can they tell who among the populace is an innocent civilian and who is an enemy combatant hidden among the populace? For that matter, how can victory be defined in such a conflict? (p. 213, 235)
I just highlighted a few of his major points. There are a lot more such insights available throughout the book, as well as a discussion of the motivations elected officials have for instigating armed conflicts (p. 168-173, and 194-204), and the negative effects that war has on the parties involved (p. 220-222).
So far, so good. The problem comes when he tries to argue that World War II was not the "good war" that everyone claims it is. Now on its own merits, there's nothing wrong with making this argument, *if you can back it up with facts*. But that's the problem; his research into the subject is sloppy, lazy, and heavily biased.
He argues that FDR wanted us to get involved in the European conflict, but to do so, we needed an excuse, hence we goaded Japan into attacking us at Pearl Harbor, and did everything possible to force their hand. Swanson uses the specific quote from Churchill that "everything was to be done to force an incident." (p. 57-58) And everything else he says about US involvement in the war flows from this central thesis. The problem is that every other source I've read on American entry into World War II quoted FDR and Churchill discussing Germany as the far bigger threat, and that the rift with Japan was an unnecessary diversion that distracted them from their main focus. For that matter, although FDR did say he would try to "force an incident" to get involved in the war, he was directing this against GERMANY, not Japan. Whoops!
Swanson likewise argues that warnings were given ahead of time that Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked and FDR and his administration deliberately ignored them in order to allow the attack to happen. He cites the American ambassador to Japan, who sent off several cables back home that warned Japan was headed straight for Pearl Harbor. (p. 60) But he doesn't consider the possibility that the US government would dismiss those claims out of hand as being too far fetched to be possible. It also didn't help that J Edgar Hoover's FBI dismissed the warnings of a foreign spy who had documentation which would've hinted at what was coming because Hoover had such a hatred for foreigners of certain religious/ethnic origins.
We also put an embargo on supplies of oil to Japan, created or reinforced island naval stations in the Pacific (Wake Island, Singapore, etc.), and offered military aid to China (at war with Japan since 1931), including fighter planes that might have launched raids against Japanese cities. (p. 59-62) He's right that these actions certainly didn't help American/Japanese relations at the time, but he forgets/ignores that these actions were taken in direct response to Japan's invasion of China in the first place. It's one thing to say we could've/should've taken another course of action in hindsight, but I find it quite unfair that he doesn't at least acknowledge that we were reacting to events, not manipulating them.
Another major error (intentional omission?) occurs on page 63, when Swanson quotes George Marshall saying the government was "planning an offensive war against Japan" and asked the press "to keep it a secret". In fact, if you go back to the original source, what Marshall actually said was (paraphrasing): "we're making it look like we're planning an aggressive war to prevent further Japanese expansion in the Pacific." Again, if Swanson thinks this was the wrong way to handle things, that's fine, but don't take quotes out of context and make them appear to be something they're not.
I would also bring your attention to page 36, where Swanson makes the claim (or so it would seem) that the Holocaust was avoidable, if only Churchill would end his blockade of Europe. Then, the Nazi regime could've sent Europe's Jews away to Madagascar without needing to kill them. He claims this was a much talked about plan (sending the Jews away), and that if the Allies really cared about the victims of the Holocaust, they would've negotiated some sort of settlement to end the war (or at least delay it long enough for the plan to take effect). The only problem is that further research into the subject reveals that all the talk about the Madagascar plan was just that: talk. There was no serious plan to send the Jews away. Besides, Hitler had made it clear that if Jews were alive anywhere, they would be a virus that would rapidly spread throughout the world.
It's really a shame that this book was mired down by such poor research, because otherwise, it made a lot of good points that are very relevant today as the US finds itself mired in 3 wars overseas. I hear that Swanson is putting out a new edition of the book next year (2016). If so, I hope he corrects these errors and puts more focus on how to deal with wars now, instead of talking about ones for which we can no longer do anything about.
The Gulf war was preventable with conflict resolution around recognizing the problem between Iraq and Kuwait. Now look at the mess attacking Iraq has caused?
Still, I think it probably wouldn't have convinced me in my pre-pacifist days. The tone is somewhat propaganda-like and in places it is a bit too keen to embrace conspiracy theories.
It isn't really a general treatment of pacifism either, as it focusses almost exclusively on the US and heavily on the period since 1945. Which means it is mostly talking about a particular kind of war. This doesn't make it any less relevant today, but it is a more specific book than it appears from the title.