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What Kind of "Freedom" Did They Die For?

by John Spritzler

May 26, 2013

On Memorial Day tomorrow we remember those who died while in the United States military forces. Phrasing it this way is, of course, not the usual way it's done. Usually we're told that Memorial Day is for remembering "those who died to protect our freedom" or "those who died serving their country." It is true that some of those who died believed they were fighting to "protect the freedom" of Americans and believed they were "serving their country." And it is also true that some of those who died acted heroically in risking (and unfortunately losing) their lives to win a battle or protect or rescue their buddies. But not all felt this way. Others who died while in the military forces were killed for reasons completely beyond their control and independent of any belief, decision or action on their part other than agreeing to enlist, possibly for financial reasons alone, or to be drafted, possibly because they merely wanted to avoid imprisonment for refusal. These people deserve to be remembered too. It is no disrespect to the people whom we remember on Memorial Day, however, to distinguish the noble reasons some of them sacrificed themselves from the not so noble reasons they were placed in harm's way by the rulers of the United States in the first place. What were those reasons?

"To protect our freedom" is the official explanation for why men and women are recruited to the military and told to sacrifice their lives in some cases. But what kind of freedom are they protecting? Some would say it is the freedom that Americans have to do the things that our Bill of Rights guarantees--to speak freely, to worship as we choose, to bear arms, to not be forced to quarter soldiers in our homes, to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, to enjoy due process of law, be tried for a crime only after a Grand Jury indictment and never forced to testify against oneself, to be tried speedily by an impartial jury and have assistance of a lawyer, to not have excessive bail or fines imposed or be subject to cruel and unusual punishment. Additionally some would say it includes the freedom to live under a government that is elected, and hence not a dictatorship. Some would say it also includes the freedom to own property and the freedom to "pursue happiness."

Let us assume for the moment that the above specific freedoms are, collectively, what the phrase "To protect our freedom" is all about. The question then, is: Do our leaders use American military forces to protect these freedoms? The most decorated Marine in U.S. history, with the highest rank (at the time) in the U.S. Marines, Major General Smedley Butler answered this question with a vehement "No!" Butler wrote War Is a Racket (online here) in 1935 in which he said:

"WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives...Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few -- the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill. And what is this bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it...We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes."

Butler also declared:

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."


For What Did They Die In World War II?

Although many people believe that World War II was, unlike the earlier wars that Smedley Butler fought, a "Good War," it was not. As I discuss in detail in my book, The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II, for both the Axis and Allied rulers this war was a means for the rulers to control their own working class populations who were, in the years leading up to the war in the United States, Germany and Japan, an increasingly revolutionary threat to these rulers' ability even to remain in power. The Allied leaders used "fighting fascism" as a pretext for waging war but did not conduct the war with that as its top priority goal; its top priority was always to ensure that working people did not take power over society anywhere.

If, for example, defeating Japan had been FDR's top priority, he would have followed the advice of his generals and supported the Chinese peasants who were fighting the Japanese occupation army under Mao Tse-tung's leadership, but instead he supported Chiang Kai Shek who notoriously refused to fight the Japanese. FDR's decision had nothing to do with not wanting to ally with a Communist dictator; after all, FDR formed a close alliance with Stalin. FDR's aim was to get the American working class to stop fighting the American capitalist class with huge region-wide strikes across the nation, to defeat which the capitalist class repeatedly had to resort to using federal troops and declaring the workers to be engaged in "insurrection." To break this revolutionary working class, FDR played the race card; he told Americans to unite as a race against an enemy race--the "Japs." This is why he interned in concentration camps Americans of Japanese descent. And this is why he ignored his generals and sided with Chaiang Kai Shek against the Chinese peasants who were fighting the Japanese invaders.

The last thing FDR wanted was for American soldiers to know that the fundamental conflict in the world is class not race, which is why he didn't want them to come in contact with Chinese peasants waging a class war, peasants who were appealing with some success to the peasants in the Japanese army to turn against their extremely oppressive Samurai officer upper class and join their Chinese fellow peasants. The Japanese government was well aware of this. As reported in the August 13, 2003 issue of The Japan Times, "The army's staff headquarters was considering pulling troops out [of China] around this time due to the decline in their will to fight." What FDR wanted was to prevent U.S. soldiers from seeing the fight against fascism as a fight of the working class against the capitalist class. This is why FDR sent American soldiers to die in huge numbers fighting the Japanese as far away as possible from an anti-Japanese peasant uprising, on relatively barren islands in the Pacific where Japanese soldiers could not defect to the other side and could only keep killing Americans or be killed by their own Samurai officers if they refused. Instead of securing China as the obvious base from which to attack the Japanese mainland, FDR insisted on sacrificing far more Americans in a race war to capture islands to use as a base. A similar story played out in the European theater where FDR refused to support the pro-U.S. anti-Communist Germans who were attempting to assassinate Hitler. In every nation from Spain, Greece, Italy and France to the Philippines, whenever the choice was siding with an armed anti-fascist working class or the fascists, FDR sided with the fascists!

After World War II U.S. rulers fought a Cold War with the Soviet Union. It has now been well established that the Soviet Union never intended to invade the United States and American rulers knew it. The Cold War was always a contest over who would control the resources of Third World countries; it was never about "freedom" for ordinary people in those countries. The Cold War “Truman Doctrine” was based on the thinking of George Kennan, who wrote the following in U.S. State Department Policy Planning, Study #23 February 24, 1948:

"[W]e 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....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 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.
... We should recognize that our influence in the Far Eastern area in the coming period is going to be primarily military and economic. We should make a careful study to see what parts of the Pacific and Far Eastern world are absolutely vital to our security, and we should concentrate our policy on seeing to it that those areas remain in hands which we can control or rely on."

The U.S. government supported brutal dictators like the Shah of Iran no matter how much they oppressed their own people, as long as they did the bidding of the U.S. corporate elite that controlled the American government through its organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations, the honorary chairman of which is David Rockefeller. From the Korean war to the Vietnam war, American soldiers died in large numbers, but it had nothing to do with defending freedom in the United States or anywhere else for that matter.

Wars waged by the United States government have been for the purpose of strengthening the power and increasing the wealth of an American plutocracy, and keeping working class people in the United States fearful of a bogeyman enemy so they will put aside their grievances against this plutocracy in the name of uniting the entire nation against the "real enemy." The bogeyman enemy varies over time, from the Huns of World War I, the fascists of World War II, the Communists of the Cold War and now radical Muslim terrorists. U.S. rulers need a bogeyman enemy so much that they go out of their way to create one when necessary. Thus they use drones to deliberately drive Muslims into becoming enemies, they support Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians so as to portray righteous Muslim anger at this as "anti-Semitic hate that makes them terrorists," and the FBI creates terrorist plots so that it can "discover" them at the last minute, as reported here and here for example.

Smedley Butler said, "we must limit our military forces to home defense purposes." This is how to genuinely protect the freedoms enumerated above. Perhaps the most striking proof that U.S. military forces are not about home defense or "protecting our freedom" is the fact that an entirely separate department from the so-called "Defense Department" was created to supposedly be responsible for home defense--the so-called Department of Homeland Security. Imagine if a city with a Fire Department nonetheless created an entirely new and separate Department for Putting Out Fires. What would that tell you about the original "Fire Department"?


Memorial Day Should Be a Day of Truth-Telling

Memorial Day should be an occassion for speaking truthfully. Americans who died while in the U.S. military should be honored and respected for whatever noble intentions (like the sincere desire to fight fascism that motivated American GIs in World War II) led them to sacrifice their lives. But let's be honest. These deaths should be spoken of honestly. These soldiers were placed in harms way wrongly, not rightly. They were sent to their deaths by and for the exclusive benefit of a plutocracy that is selfish and venal beyond the imagination of most decent people. Their deaths are a cause for righteous anger at those who wrongly sent them to war.

They did not die for our freedom. They died for the freedom of a plutocracy to dominate working class people, to be richer and more powerful than ordinary people can easily imagine. And their deaths are a reason we should start Thinking about Revolution.

We should indeed use whatever it takes, including, when necessary, armed military violence, to protect our freedom. The plutocracy, however, doesn't use the militry to protect our freedom; it is eliminating the freedoms identified in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. The President claims the right to kill people without any judicial due process, American citizen or not, on or off a battlefield, and uses drones to do this routinely. Despite the Bill of Rights saying we are to be "secure against unreasonable searches and seizures" we are not, as evidenced by unauthorized phone wire taps under President Bush and President Obama's unauthorized invasion of AP reporters' email messages. Obama eliminated habeas corpus and authorized the law that allows the military to imprison Americans with no trial--indefinitely.

Not only does the plutocracy not protect the freedoms it claims to be protecting, and not only does it eliminate those very freedoms in the name of "national security" against a bogeyman enemy it works hard to create, but it excludes from our understanding of "freedom" one of the most important freedoms of all--the freedom of good and decent people--whose core value is the Golden Rule and who therefore value equality and mutual aid (helping one another)--to truly shape all of society by their values, to have the actual power to do this. Instead, the plutocracy substitutes for this important freedom mere procedural formalities: the right to vote, but only for politicians with the backing of the plutocracy who have no intention of making society more equal the way most people want it to be; the right to a jury trial to determine if one is guilty of breaking the law, but in a society in which the laws are made by a plutocracy to ensure that the plutocracy holds all of the wealth and power and others are kept in their place as the "hired hands"; the right to free speech but in a society in which only the plutocracy owns the mass media that enables them to communicate to millions of people, and ordinary people have to rely on passing out leaflets on a public Main Street and even that is not worth much because "Main Streets" are becoming privately owned shopping malls and the Big Money owners of the shopping mall don't have to allow anybody to pass out leaflets on their private property; the right to assemble and petition our leaders, but in a society where the leaders simply ignore petitions and ignore huge demonstrations, such as the big anti-war demonstrations against the Vietnam War and Iraq War. This is an even greater reason that we need to start Thinking about Revolution.

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