When considering the wars under American leadership, faulty or dubious pretenses never fail to show up in the beginning of the narrative. The alleged use of chemical weapons, the presence of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq, and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in Vietnam have all been discarded as legitimate reasons for foreign intervention. In We Who Dared to Say No to War, historian Tom Woods highlights the voices of those who opposed a war and a foreign occupation that has eerily similar, but altogether unsurprising parallels to other wars waged by the United States started under the pursuit of a straw man.
With the decline of the Spanish Empire in the late 19th century, the war hawks of the United States saw an opportunity to exert power on far flung Spanish territories. With a Cuban revolt against Spain underway, the United States sent the naval ship USS Maine to Havana Harbor to protect US interests. Under suspicious circumstances, the ship exploded and with the forces of inflammatory articles, blame was leveled at Spain as the culprit.
The war ended with Spain ceding of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. Cuba gained independence a few years later, but the United States continued to operate a naval base from Guantanamo Bay. Subsequently, American armed forces found themselves engaged in counter-insurgency efforts in the Philippines as discontent grew in a population that had witnessed the ousting of one ruling empire for the rule of another empire. The experience in the Philippine jungles against a tenacious guerrilla force in Asia would be replicated in the Pacific War and the Vietnam War in later generations of American soldiers.
The following quotes from We Who Dared to Say No To War illustrate the critical role of the media in American militarism. It was the so-called “yellow journalism” of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer that stirred pro-war sentiments toward the public to drum up enthusiasm for intervention. Additionally, the thoughts of Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan echo Frederic Bastiat’s concept of the Broken Window Fallacy when he explains that the costs of waging destructive war must be taken into account when weighing the gains. He also notes that trade cannot be profitable unless it is undertaken voluntarily
The lessons of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent occupation of the Philippine Islands show us that wars of conquest and quagmires in occupied lands are not new to the American military experience and that we must really think about who starts and who benefits from these types of entanglements.
“It is a matter of congratulation…that you have about finished your work of civilizing the Filipinos. It is thought that about 8,000 of them have been completely civilized and sent to Heaven. I hope you like it.”
(Andrew Carnegie, 89) who offered 20 million dollars to purchase Phiippine independence
William Graham Sumner (Yale Professor and Polymath)
Nervous and sensational newspapers are just as corrupting, especially to young people, as nervous and sensational novels. The habit of expecting that all mental pabulum shall be highly spiced, and the corresponding loathing for whatever is soberly truthful, undermines character as much as any other vice. Patriotism is being prostituted into a nervous intoxication which is fatal to an apprehension of truth. It builds around a fool’s paradise, and it will lead us into errors about our position and relations. (95)
A Mother (Lexington, KY)
How can the country that has bathed the land in the blood of the best of her sons to wash away the sins of slavery, have a right to buy ten millions of men, and butcher them by the thousand because they will not kiss the hand of their new masters? (97)
Oh, that my eyes were fountains of tears, that I might weep “for the lost honor of my beloved country, and for the wasted lives of those who died to save what the wickedness of men in high places” has thrown away! (98)
William Jennings Bryan to the DNC (Secretary of State to Woodrow Wilson)
The army is the personification of force, and militarism will inevitably change the ideals of the people and turn the thoughts of our young men from the arts of peace to the science of war. (103)
I am not willing that this nation shall cast aside the omnipotent weapon of truth to seize again the weapons of physical warfare. I would not exchange the glory of this republic for the glory of all the empires that have risen and fallen since time began. (105)
It is not necessary to own people in order to trade with them. We carry on trade today with every part of the world, and our commerce has expanded more rapidly that the commerce of any European empire. We do not own Japan or China, but we trade with their people. We have not absorbed the republics of Central and South America, but we trade with them. Trade cannot be permanently profitable unless it is voluntary. (106)
When trade is secured by force, the cost of securing it and retaining it must be taken out of the profits, and the profits are never large enough to cover the expense. Such a system would never be defended but for the fact that the expense is borne by all the people while the profits are enjoyed by a few. (106)
Henry Van Dyke (Vice President of the Anti-Imperialist League of NY)
The swiftness of action, the secrecy, not to say slipperiness of policy, and the absolution of control which are essential to success in territorial conquest and dominion are inconsistent with republicanism as America has interpreted it. When imperialism comes in at the door democracy flies out at the window. (112)
The cost of militarism comes out of the pockets of the people. (112)
The acceptance of imperialism means that we must prepare to beat our ploughshares into swords and our pruning hooks into spears, and be ready to water distant lands and stain foreign seas with an ever increasing torrent of American blood. (113)
Find We Who Dared to Say No to War at Thomas Woods Jr.’s website.
Click here for his podcast The Tom Woods Show.