World War II and American Empire

“The formulation of a statement of war aims for propaganda purposes is very different from formulation of one defining the true national interest… If war aims are stated, which seem to be concerned solely with Anglo-American imperialism, they will offer little to people in the rest of the world, and will be vulnerable to Nazi counter-promises. Such aims would also strengthen the most reactionary elements in the United States and the British Empire. The interests of other peoples should be stressed, not only those of Europe, but also of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This would have a better propaganda effect.” — US Council on Foreign Relations report, April 1941.

This policy recommendation directly affected the Atlantic Charter, an agreement between the US and Britain in August 1941, the public war aims statement of the US-UK alliance, months before the US would enter the war.

We were not “drawn in” to the war by Pearl Harbor, it provided the impetus for beginning to implement what had already been planned . And the April 1941 CFR report should mitigate against the ridiculous notion that we entered WWII for some altruistic purpose, that of “saving the world” from Nazi aggression (indeed, it’s been argued by some historians that, public school history class propaganda to the contrary, the real US interest in WWII was the defeat of Japan and taking over the Far East sphere of influence). As post-war events would show, particularly in our relations with Latin American countries (support of military dictators and the training of and turning a blind eye to the operation of government-sponsored death squads in the region being just a couple of examples), the idea of supporting the right of peoples’ self-determination was at best only a propaganda statement, and at worst just an outright lie.

Only 3 years after WWII, in 1948, George Kennan wrote the following advice for US policy in the Far East:

. . . we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population . . . In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction. . . We should cease to talk about vague and… unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better. — George Kennan, head of Dept. of State Policy Planning Staff, excerpted from PPS23. Declassified in 1974.

Years later, here we are still, in the words of Livy, trying to conquer the world for our own defense – we call it a War on Terror.

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2 Responses

  1. “Men are least safe from what success induces them not to fear.”
    -Titus Livy quote

    “Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.”
    -Alexander Hamilton

    “Nothing can be more absurd than the practice that prevails in our country of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strengths and with one mind, for thus, the state instead of being whole is reduced to half.”
    -Plato

    “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”
    -Plato

    “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
    -Plato

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