Pearl Harbor And America At War
Date: Wednesday, December 11 @ 11:11:50 UTC
Was It A 'Just' War?' Or Was It Just Another War? by Jim Haber, Dec 06 2002, www.tompaine.com
Saturday is the 61st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. World War II is held up as the most just of wars, and many say similar humanitarianism is echoed in our war on Afghanistan and the enlarged war on Iraq.
But there are many reasons that even World War II could not be considered a just war. Yes, the Nazis were genocidal, and in fact killed many of my own family. But that is not why the United States entered the war. By 1935 there were demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns exposing religious persecution in Germany and calling for boycotts. The economic interests of rich industrialists and the absolute opposition to anything smacking of "communism" stifled United States opposition to Hitler despite his murderous despotism.
Just as we didn't go to war to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban, we didn't enter the European war to stop the Nazi death machine. Activists, particularly women's rights advocates, denounced the Taliban's viciousness for years. Similarly, voices of conscience were raised against Germany in the '30s. Then as now, the U.S. government refused to act until war appeared to be the only "humane" option.
In early 1944, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel admonished American Jews, saying, "Where were we when men learned to hate in the days of starvation? When raving madmen were sowing wrath in the hearts of the unemployed? Let fascism not serve as an alibi for our conscience. We have failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness; as a result, we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil. We have failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace; now we must offer sacrifices on the altar of war."
Jeannette Rankin of Montana was the only member of Congress who voted against declaring war on Japan. (In 1917, during her first term in Congress, she had voted against United States entry into World War I). In 1943, she reminded Congress of ways we shared responsibility for Pearl Harbor. She cited a Saturday Evening Post article that quoted Vice Adm. William Frederick Halsey Jr. ordering pilots on Nov. 28, 1941 to "shoot down anything we saw in the sky and to bomb anything we saw on the sea." Our embargo already had cut Japan's trade by 75 percent.
In 1958, in her essay "Two Votes Against War," she again raised "the question whether President Roosevelt had not, at least nine days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor without a declaration of war, authorized an identical attack upon the Japanese -- also without a declaration of war." She ended prophetically: "And how much do the people and even the members of Congress know about the moves now being made by our government or other governments which may lead to another war? Our being kept in ignorance arouses my apprehensions today as it did more than 40 years ago when World War I burst upon my world."
Backing Japan into a corner has been justified by saying that Americans needed war on Japan to get us to fight Hitler in Europe. What a sad statement about our nation's lack of genuine concern for other people's human rights that to stand up against genocide, we would wait to be baited, by our leaders, to go to war against a third country. Sadder still is the reality that "war is a racket," (to quote a Marine Corps legend, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler), and that the profit motive continues to dictate when and with whom we go to war.
On the 61th anniversary day of remembrance of a tragic loss of life, let us reflect on these words by the late congresswoman: "You can no more win a war than an earthquake!"
Jim Haber is director of War Resisters League-West, based in San Francisco. This commentary was first published by the San Francisco Chronicle.