[Rushtalk] The Impact of America’s Wars on Freedoms and Democracy at Home
cwsiv at juno.com
Wed May 9 07:43:50 MDT 2018
The Impact of America’s Wars on Freedoms and Democracy at Home
While America has gone a century and a half without being “war-torn” in
the conventional sense, the damage of war is not limited to that
inflicted by guns and bombs.
by Whitney Webb
MINNEAPOLIS – Despite concern that the United States will soon find
itself in a major war that could have global consequences, many
Americans are uninterested in that eventuality as shown by the minimal
attention major geopolitical events, like the recent bombing of Syria
orthe 17-year-long occupation of Afghanistan, receive compared to the
President’s alleged sexcapades and rapper Kanye West’s tweets.
Thoughmany theories have been put forth as to why so many Americans are
uninterested in their government’s military actions abroad that are
committed in their name and with their tax dollars, there is one that
stands out from the rest.
The United States has been at war for93 percent of its history. However,
a vast majority of those wars took place abroad and did not drastically
alter domestic life for most Americans, except in the case of the Civil
War. The suffering of wars in which the U.S. has participated has
largely eluded the majority of Americans, save for American servicemen
and veterans — who are often forced to internalize their suffering in a
country disconnected from the consequences of war.
Compare, for instance, the suffering unleashed upon the people of Korea
during the Korean War, the people of Vietnam during the Vietnam War and
the people of Iraq during the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq to
the domestic experience of the average American while those wars were
taking place. Even the “just” wars of years past, like World War I and
World War II, did not cause the type of destruction that those wars
wrought upon Europe. In fact, the U.S. government – beyond the loss of
life of its soldiers – benefited greatly from these catastrophes and
allowed the country to become a world power.
As a result, there is a prevailing, though likely unconscious,
perception that U.S. military adventurism abroad, no matter how brutal
or criminal, does not significantly impact the day-to-day activities of
American life, allowing a substantial portion of the population to
ignore the more sordid consequences of U.S. imperial ambition.
Yet, while America has gone a century and a half without being
“war-torn” in the conventional sense, the damage of war is not limited
to that inflicted by guns and bombs. With yet another war looming, it is
worth revisiting the effects past wars have had on American domestic
life as well as the dangerous precedents that past actions of the U.S.
government taken during war-time have set. Indeed, were the U.S. to get
involved in a major war with a country like Russia or Iran, many of the
past actions taken by the government, particularly those aimed at
curbing dissent, are highly likely to make a comeback to the great
detriment of American domestic life and, most of all, American
The Espionage and Sedition Acts: Protecting Americans from themselves
Reaching back a century ago, the memory of World War I is faint. “The
Great War,” as it was called at the time, killed millions and arguably
changed the face of war forever. While the war did not take place on
U.S. soil, it too brought great change to America, with Orwellian
consequences that still persist today.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilsondecided that the country needed to be
protected from “the insidious methods of internal hostile activities,”
and went to great lengths to restrict freedom of speech and criminalize
dissent. One of the results of Wilson’s efforts was the Espionage Act of
1917. Though it was similar to past laws dealing with espionage,the
Espionage Act was unique in the sense that it deemed anyone a criminal
who published information during times of war that the president
declared to be “of such character that it is or might be useful to the
enemy” or may “attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny or
refusal of duty [draft dodging].” The act passed with a wide majority in
both houses of Congress. For those found guilty, the legislation imposed
a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 20 years in prison.
Another piece of legislation passed a year later went even further in
curbing domestic dissent by limiting speech. The Sedition Act, an
amendment that extended the Espionage Act, officially forbade the use of
“disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” that cast the U.S.
government, its armed forces, or even the national flag in a negative
light or led others to view the U.S. government and its institutions
with contempt during times of war — regardless of whether the
information expressed was true. It also prohibited speech that
interfered with the sale of government bonds designed to fund the war
Though it was repealed in 1920, the Sedition Act ultimately paved the
way for similar legislation that would regulate speech during peacetime
in the years to come. The acts were also used to entirely dismantle the
progressive left in the United States. For instance, Victor Berger, the
first socialist elected to Congress,was sentenced to 20 years in prison
for “hindering” the war effort, and legendary socialist leader Eugene
Debs received 10 years in prison for making a single anti-war speech.
Today, a revised version of the Espionage Act of 1917 continues to be
used by the U.S. government toprosecute whistleblowers like Chelsea
Manning, John Kiriakou and Jeffrey Sterling, among others, as well
asjournalists and publishers like Julian Assange.
However, it is worth remembering that, in times of war, the Espionage
Act becomes a much more powerful curb on speech and, given that the U.S.
uses the law to target whistleblowers in times of peace, the war powers
it bestows on the government are sure to be used if and when the U.S.
enters into another major war.
The chill of civilian spy networks
In addition to legislative efforts and the use of media to manipulate
opinion and squash dissent, American citizens were also encouraged to
spy on their countrymen,leading to the formation of citizen vigilante
groups likes the Knights of Liberty, the American Defense Society and
the National Security League, among others.
A 1917 Chicago Tribune article on the The America Protective League.
A 1917 Chicago Tribune article on the The America Protective League.
The most powerful of these groups was the American Protective League
(APL), a semi-official organization that worked with the Justice
Department’s Bureau of Investigation and boasted around 250,000 members
in some 600 cities across the U.S. Though ostensibly tasked with
identifying war saboteurs, draft dodgers and foreign spies, the APL’s
members surveilled, harassed, intimidated and “arrested” Americans whose
loyalty to the war effort was called into question.
Declining to buy Liberty Bonds, being an immigrant of “questionable”
origin, and evenhaving food stores in your home were enough to raise the
suspicion of the APL. They raided factories, union halls and private
homes with impunity, seeking out any American who opposed the war effort
as well as targeting innocent Americans of German descent, whom
theytarred and feathered and attacked with horsewhips in full public
view. Theyalso worked to suppress American labor unions, calling unions
and socialists “pro-German” and “anti-American” and working with the
U.S. government to conduct mass raids on the socialist labor union
International Workers of the World (IWW).
Despite the clearly illegal tactics of the APL, it had the support of
then-Attorney General Thomas Gregory,who assured a skeptical President
Wilson that the APL “should be encouraged and…not subject to any real
criticism.” During the course of the war, the APL detained some 40,000
people and claimed to have found more than 3 million cases of
Though the APL and organizations like it have become relics of wars
past, civilian vigilante groups that collaborate with the government
have attempted to make a comeback in post 9/11 America. For instance,
under the George W. Bush administration, the Terrorism Information and
Prevention System (TIPS), was created and sought to create a domestic
intelligence-gathering program that would have U.S. citizens report
“suspicious” activity. The measure sought to recruitone out of every 24
Americans for the program, mainly those whose work provided access to
private homes or businesses, such as mailmen, utility employees and
truck drivers. The program, however, was eventually canceled and
replaced with Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something”
Propaganda: getting everyone on board for war
In addition to intimidating the public and curbing speech in
increasingly fascist attempts to limit dissent, World War I also saw the
advent of a new government agency aimed at the mass distribution of
propaganda in order to drum up support for the war. The Committee on
Public Information (CPI), established by Wilsonthrough an executive
order, put journalist George Creel – a fervent supporter of Wilson and
the war – in charge of the first state propaganda bureau in the
country’s history. In addition to Creel, the members of the committee
were the Secretaries of State, War and the Navy.
The idea for the CPI was not Wilson’s, it was Creel’s. Creel had heard
many military leaders call for strong censorship of criticism of the war
and subsequently sought to convince Wilson that “expression, not
suppression” of a controlled press could help the war effort. He urged
Wilson to create an agency that would disseminate “not propaganda as the
Germans defined it, but propaganda in the true sense of the word,
meaning the ‘propagation of faith.’”
The CPI brought powerful businessmen, media personalities, scholars,
novelists and artists into its fold, creating a propaganda machine that
blended marketing techniques with human psychology. It becamethe primary
conduit for information regarding the war, leading Creel to assert that
– in any given week – more than 20,000 newspaper columns across the
country were filled with information provided by CPI handouts. Towards
the latter half of the war, much of the content produced by the CPI was
hateful and xenophobic, adopting slogans like “Stop the Hun!” on posters
that showed German soldiers terrorizing women and young children. Its
film division produced such titles as The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin
and Wolves of Kultur.
The CPI was also remarkably thorough in its control of dissenting
narratives. According to historian Michael Sweeney, “every war story
[against the government narrative] had been censored somewhere along the
line — at the source, in transit, or in the newspaper offices in
accordance with ‘voluntary’ rules established by the CPI.” The CPI was
also a global operation, with offices in nine countries, and used its
propaganda to great effect in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere.
The CPI was dissolved soon after the war and the domestic (but not
foreign) distribution of propaganda was made illegal by the Smith-Mundt
Act of 1948. However, in 2013, then-President Barack Obama signed the
2013 National Defense and Authorization Act (NDAA) into law, which
contained a piece of legislation, known as “The Smith-Mundt
Modernization Act of 2012,” thatcompletely lifted the propaganda ban.
The act’s co-authorsasserted at the time that removing the domestic
propaganda ban was necessary in order to combat “al-Qaeda’s and other
violent extremists’ influence among populations.”
Five years later, the result of the lifting of the ban can be seen in
the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” in which false
narratives have become commonplace and largely normalized, as those who
publish demonstrably false claims face minimal, if any, accountability.
Meanwhile, alternative media sources that provide dissenting narratives
arerapidly being silenced and those journalists and citizens who offer
different perspectives on key issues are dismissed as “regime
apologists” and “Russian bots.” Were war to break out, surely the
current efforts under way to control the narrative would only grow.
WWII: Wash, rinse, repeat
World War II, in which propagandalikewise flourished, also resurrected
the dangerous “protection” practices set during World War I, namely the
mass targeting of those suspected of “disloyalty” to the war effort. The
most infamous of these was the internment of Japanese-Americans living
on the West Coast on the sole basis of their ethnicity.
In 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, which put
the Secretary of War and his commanders in charge of establishing
military zones, orconcentration camps, and deciding whom to imprison
within their confines. Congress supported the measure, passing Public
Law 503, which allowed for the executive order’s implementation.
Significantly, the measures did not name a specific ethnic group, but
allowed the military to restrict anyone it deemed a “threat.”
Anyone of Japanese ancestry along the U.S. West Coast was considered by
the military to present such a threat and, after the laws were passed,
many of these individuals were placed under restrictions and curfews
before being “evacuated” to internment camps scattered across the
country from California to Arkansas. However, it was later shown that
the Japanese-Americans were targeted, not out of fear for the national
security, butdue to the influence of “farmers seeking to eliminate
Japanese competition, a public fearing sabotage, politicians hoping to
gain by standing against an unpopular group, and military authorities.”
Following evacuation orders, this store was closed. The owner, a
University of California graduate of Japanese descent, placed the I
Following evacuation orders, this store was closed. The owner, a
University of California graduate of Japanese descent, placed the “I AM
AN AMERICAN” sign on the store front the day after Pearl Harbor.
Oakland, CA, April 1942. Dorothea Lange.
Around 120,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of them American citizens,
were sent to the camps. More than half of those interned were children.
They were not given due process and were incarcerated for up to four
years, unable to leave the prison camps. Many of the children imprisoned
there came to consider the camps “home.”
Strangely and tellingly, Japanese-Americans, despite being considered a
domestic security threat, were able to join the U.S. Armed Forces after
filling out a short questionnaire.
Not all Japanese-Americans complied with the government orders, however.
The most well-known of those who disobeyed the internment order was Fred
Korematsu, who later challenged the internment of Japanese-Americans on
the grounds that it was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court eventually
ruled 6-to-3 that the internment of Japanese-Americans was well within
the war powers of the President, arguing that in times of war such
actions — even if blatantly racist — are justified when there exists a
It is important to note, however, the vague nature of the law that led
to the internment of Japanese-Americans. It stated that the Secretary of
War was authorized to “prescribe military areas” and that “the right of
any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever
restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander
may impose in his discretion.” Thus, the legal war-time precedent that
resulted from war hysteria gave the U.S. military the ability to place
anyone from any group into concentration camps using “national security”
and “military necessity” as justification.
It’s not hard to imagine how this could play out in the United States
today if and when war breaks out. Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” and
push to make a registry of Muslim immigrants, as well astop U.S.
officials calling people of Russian descent “genetically driven” to be
untrustworthy, are just a few examples of the xenophobia and related
hysteria currently at work in the U.S. As long as those irrational fears
are cloaked in the patriotic blanket of “military necessity,” it seems
that the internment camps could again make an appearance on American
Fascism and racism cloaked in patriotism: an inevitable cycle
Ultimately, what the past shows us is that, in times of war, the United
States often embodies the very evils it purports to stand against –
fascism and racism chief among them – but does so by wrapping these
troubling acts in a veneer of patriotism that falsely seeks to claim
that such crimes against the Constitution and American democracy are
done out of “necessity” to national security.
Again, the oft-repeated adage that “those who ignore history are doomed
to repeat it” rings true. Trump’s Muslim ban and the anti-Russian
hysteria of the “Resistance”have raised concern among Japanese-Americans
that another group could again suffer in American internment camps as
they once did. Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something”
program shows that the APL’s brand of patriotic vigilantism still lives
on. The U.S. government’s continued use of the Espionage Act to target
whistleblowers and journalists further shows that dissenting narratives
are unwelcome here, whether during times of war or times of peace.
Top Photo | President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence greet
military personnel during a visit to the Pentagon, July 20, 2017.
(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to
Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research,
the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also
made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives
with her family in southern Chile.
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