Which reminds me: the notion that the war-mongering racist and imperialist Teddy Roosevelt was a great man is a lie.
The commonplace white-American depiction of the Native Americans as “savages” and the white so-called “settlers” as agents of “civilization” is itself a great lie. The truth was, if anything, the opposite. The new imperialist nation’s original indigenous inhabitants lived without the savage class inequalities and the related ferocious propertarian, Cartesian, capitalist, and imperial destruction of nature and the exterminist and eliminationist warfare that pockmarked European and Euro-American society. The people already here were the civilized ones, not the barbarian un-“settlers,” who thanked their imagined vengeful God for supposedly helping them murder and enslave Red, brown, and Black people and fence off the lands and pollute the soil and water of the supposed “wasteland” and “wilderness” that was pre-conquest North American.
The relentless, indeed savage Indian-killing of 18th and 19th Century planted the racist, evangelical, and bloodthirsty seeds for later massive eliminationist U.S. wars waged against Filipinos, Central Americans, Japanese, Southeast Asians, Iraqis, and other nonwhite people caught on the wrong sides of the guns of the self-declared homeland and headquarters of freedom and democracy.
Likewise, the savage slavery practiced on the land stolen from the “Indian savages” planted seeds and set the stage for the ongoing oppression of Black America today, replete with shocking levels of racial apartheid and disparity and ubiquitous and savage racist police brutality, incarceration, and criminal branding.
Antebellum southern U.S. slavery propagandists claimed
that the slave South had developed a paternalist and non-capitalist society concerned for the welfare of its supposedly cherished Black workforce. This was a lie and, yes, “a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.” Edward Baptiste’s prize-winning study The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and Rise of American Capitalism
shows that 19th Century U.S. cotton slavery was a highly profitable capitalist project based on the ruthless exploitation and indeed torture of Black workers in forced labor camps (“plantations”) producing surplus value that fueled the United States’ emergence as a player in the world of capitalist nations before the Civil War.
Nineteenth century northern U.S. leaders’ claim to have constructed a glorious “free labor”
land of opportunity where hard work was rewarded with upward and outward mobility so as to prevent the formation of fixed social classes and a wage-earning proletariat was a lie. Already, even before the Civil War, northern cities and early industrial towns were home to a swelling impoverished and exploited population of permanently proletarianized, slum-dwelling whites
. After the Civil War, as the United States became a leading industrial power, the northern and western states hosted the bloodiest labor history in the world
, involving the regular and recurrent bloody repression of working class activists (i.e., the murdered Molly McGuires, the Haymarket Martyrs, Joe Hill, etc.) by company militias, local and state police, and federal troops (including Sioux Indian killers who were called into Chicago
to murder strikers during the Great Upheaval of 1877).
The southern white Redeemers’ overthrow of post-Civil War Reconstruction governments and construction of a racial terrorist Jim Crow regime in the South was based on three great lies: the myth of white supremacy and Black inferiority, the false claim that the South had seceded from the Union out of concern for states’ rights (the real cause was fear that Abraham Lincoln’s opposition to slavery in the Western territories spelled doom for their vicious chattel system), and the claim that the Reconstruction governments briefly enabled and protected by the Union Army had been woefully incompetent and oppressive due to a combination of Black inferiority and northern corruption.
Then there are all the lies involved in making the case for America’s endless imperial wars. The Mexican War of American western conquest began in 1846 when President James K. Polk cited an attack on American troops south of the Nueces River in Texas — troops he had placed precisely to provoke Mexico. The notion that the conflict was started by Mexico was a lie meant to provide a pretext for U.S. seizure of the North American Southwest and California. It worked, creating a vast westward U.S. expansion that American imperialists sold in the name of a great lie called “Manifest Destiny” – the preposterous notion that the United States was destined by God to spread its supposedly benevolent dominion, “democracy,” and capitalism across the entire North American continent. “Manifest Destiny” was another one of those “self-evident truths” enforced by the barrel of a racist gun.
War lies? The Spanish-American War began in 1898 when President William McKinley claimed that the warship USS Maine had been blown up by Spanish operatives. This was a convenient fabrication: the explosion resulted from an accidental fire in the munitions compartment inside the ship. The resulting war led to a significant expansion of U.S. power and bloodshed into the Pacific and Caribbean, sold under the great lies that Washington sought to liberate the people of the Philippines and Cuba. The U.S. would liberate many tens of thousands of Filipinos from earthly existence, its troops referring to the
Asian peasant they exterminated en masse as “niggers,” “gooks,” and other racist names.
The notion that the Franklin Roosevelt White House was surprised by the supposedly “unprovoked” Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a great lie. Also false was the notion that the Japanese had no reasons other than sheer malevolent imperialism for attacking U.S. forces there.
The savagely racist and criminal atomic bombings of Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 were justified with epic lies, all part of the lie of “the Good War.” As John Pilger wrote
12 years ago:
“In the immediate aftermath of the bomb, the allied occupation authorities banned all mention of radiation poisoning and insisted that people had been killed or injured only by the bomb’s blast. It was the first big lie. ‘No radioactivity in Hiroshima ruin’ said the front page of the New York Times, a classic of disinformation and journalistic abdication, which the Australian reporter Wilfred Burchett put right with his scoop of the century. ‘I write this as a warning to the world,’ reported Burchett in the Daily Express, having reached Hiroshima after a perilous journey, the first correspondent to dare. He described hospital wards filled with people with no visible injuries but who were dying from what he called ‘an atomic plague.’ For telling this truth, his press accreditation was withdrawn, he was pilloried and smeared – and vindicated…The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a criminal act on an epic scale. It was premeditated mass murder that unleashed a weapon of intrinsic criminality. For this reason, its apologists have sought refuge in the mythology of the ultimate ‘good war.’ whose ‘ethical bath,’ as Richard Drayton called it, has allowed the west not only to expiate its bloody imperial past but to promote 60 years of rapacious war, always beneath the shadow of The Bomb…The most enduring lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific and save lives. ‘Even without the atomic bombing attacks,’ concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, ‘air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that … Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.’” (emphasis added).
The “Vietnam War” – more honestly understood as the U.S. war on Southeast Asia – moved into high gear when President Lyndon B. Johnson exploited an alleged attack on a U.S. ship in “international waters” to justify a massive escalation of America’s assault on the region, which killed 3 to 5 million people
— “parents, grandparent, children” (John Marciano) – between 1962 and 1975. The famous Gulf of Tonkin war resolution in Congress was based on one of the most fateful lies in American and world history.
As a presidential candidate in 1968, future war criminal and epic serial liar Richard Nixon lied about wanting peace in Vietnam. His agent, Henry Kissinger
, actively undermined a peace accord with Hanoi before the 1968 election.
Nixon later lied about respecting the neutrality of Cambodia
. He lied through secrecy and omission about the criminal and fateful U.S. bombing of Cambodia—a far bigger crime than the burglarizing of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex, about which he of course famously lied.
Regarding Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg recalled 20 years ago
that his 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers exposed U.S. military and intelligence documents “proving that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward. … A generation of presidents,” Ellsberg noted, “chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was. …”
The Cold War, in whose name the “Vietnam War” was fought was a great lie
, predicated on the myth of an international, Moscow-based conspiracy to spread socialism (supposedly a bad thing – a great lie) and the related myth that the United States was advancing “democracy” (this while backing and even imposing Third World Fascist governments around the world), supposedly at one with the supposedly benevolent (and in fact authoritarian and destructive) system called “capitalism.”
The Cold War hatched all kinds of lies. President Dwight Eisenhower flatly lied to the American people
and the world when he denied the existence of American U-2 spy plane flights over Russia. President John F. Kennedy lied
about the supposed missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union. And Kennedy lied when he claimed that the United States sought democracy in Latin America
, Southeast Asia and around the world.
The serial fabricator and arch-Cold Warrior Ronald Reagan
made a special address to the nation in which he lied by saying, “We did not—repeat—we did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we.” He did trade weapons in a criminal effort not merely to secure the release of hostages but to fund the mass-murders murderous Contras, right-wing terrorists fighting to bring own the leftist revolutionary government in Nicaragua.
The foreign policy lying continued after the end of the great Lie Fest that was the Cold War. President George H.W. Bush falsely claimed
on at least five occasions in the run-up to the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War that Iraqi forces, after invading Kuwait, had pulled babies from incubators and left them to die. Operation Desert Storm was based on the lie that Washington was concerned for the fate of the Kuwaitis and the people of Iraq. The real war aims were to preserve U.S.
control over Middle Eastern oil reserves and to demonstrate newly undeterred American military power – that “what we say goes” (in former CIA director Bush’s words) – in the wake of the decline of the Soviet Union. Bush41 savagely slaughtered surrendered and retreating conscripts with racist impunity during the infamous Highway of Death
and left oppressed Iraqi Kurds and Shiites to be massacred by Saddam once it was determined that these US objectives had been achieved. American war planes risked mid-air collisions in their frenzy to exterminate already defeated Iraqi troops.
George H.W. Bush crassly lied to Russian leaders when he and his emissaries promised that the West would not expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into Eastern Europe during 1990 negotiations over the reunification of Germany.
President Bill Clinton (who shamelessly lied
about his White House sexual shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky) falsely claimed to be upholding international law and to be opposing genocide when he bombed Serbia for more than two months in early 1999.
The mass-murderous petro-imperialist U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq under George W. Bush was based on cold-blooded blockbuster lies that would have made Orwell blush and Goebbels envious: the false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including a nuclear capacity, and that there were clear connections between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 jetliner attacks. After the WMD fabrication was exposed, the serial liar Bush43 falsely claimed
to have invaded Iraq to spread liberty and democracy – an abject lie.
The notion that the United States had done nothing to provoke 9/11 was of course a great lie based on the total Orwellian erasure of Washington’s bloody history of petro-imperial intervention in the Middle East.
Bill Clinton (subject of a useful 1999 book
titled “No One Left to Lie To”) and Barack Obama
were both silver-tongued corporate-neoliberal Wall Street and Pentagon Democrats who deceitfully asserted that they were progressive friends of working people and the poor. President Obama lied repeatedly, as when he falsely claimed
that he would have his Department of Justice investigate and prosecute abusive lenders for cheating and defrauding ordinary homeowners.
In a grotesque lie early in his presidency, Barack Obama’s White House claimed that the carnage caused by its bombing of the Afghan village of Bola Boluk (where dozens of children were blown to pieces by U.S. ordnance) had really been inflicted by “Taliban grenades
Obama lied when he said he ordered the 2011 bombing of Libya out of benevolent concern for the Libyan people. He was pursuing petro-imperial regime change there, a disastrous policy that sparked humanitarian and racist disaster within Libya and across north Africa.
Obama turned reality upside down when he portrayed a 2014 U.S.-backed coup spearheaded by fascist forces in Ukraine as a peaceful and democratic revolution.
Obama lied in essence when he ran as the supposed progressive candidate of the 99 percent against the 1 Percenter Mitt Romney in 2012. A deeply conservative neoliberal corporatist who would go on to champion the arch-authoritarian global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership after a first term in which he protected and bailed the financial parasites who collapsed economy while offering no bailout for the working and lower classes and passing a health insurance reform that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, Obama had enlisted the Department of Homeland Security in the infiltration and dismantlement of the populist Occupy Wall Street movement – the inventor of the terms “the 1 Percent” and “the 99 percent.”
One of my favorite Obama lies came the day the record-setting liar Donald Trump defeated the serial liar Hillary Clinton in November of 2016. Obama went out to the White House Rose Garden to, in the trademark language of his public relations department, “address the nation on the election results and the next steps we can take to come together as a country and ensure a peaceful transition of power.” His oration that day was a tour de force of accommodation, appeasement, and denial. Despite Trump’s history of vicious attacks on him, Obama spoke in muted terms of conservatism, unity, and normalization:
“Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage…We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country….[Trump wants]…what the country needs—a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other… That’s the nature of democracy…We all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens—because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens…I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on as Americans will go on. …We’re all on the same team.”
Obama didn’t believe a word of this. In October of 2016, Obama said this to Hillary’s lame vide presidential candidate Tim Kaine: “Tim, remember,” Obama said by phone, “this is no time to be a purist. You’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.”
It was an accurate observation, born out in subsequent years, but never voiced in public by Obama.
I could go on. A real catalogue of great U.S,-American lies could run for many volumes.
Paul Street’s new book is The Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and Politics of Appeasement.