As the U.S. war drums beat ever louder with respect to Iran, it’s worth remembering the Maine, the Arizona, and the Maddox. They were three U.S. vessels that played instrumental rolls in enabling U.S. officials to embroil the United States into foreign wars.
The Maine was a U.S. ship that that U.S. officials stationed in Havana harbor in 1898 in the hope of embroiling the U.S. in the Spanish-American War. This was a time of empires, with the Spanish Empire controlling Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and others. Spain’s colonial acquisitions were fighting for independence, which was what the war was about.
The U.S. Constitution had called into existence a limited-government republic, one whose founding foreign policy was non-interventionism in the affairs and conflicts of other nations. That foreign policy had lasted about 100 years. By the time the late 1800s came around, however, there were a large number of Americans who favored converting the federal government into an interventionist empire, one that would acquire colonies and intervene in affairs and conflicts all over the world. Empire and intervention was the only way, they said, to make America great.
The plan became to intervene in the Spanish-American War. But there was an obstacle — the U.S. Constitution, which requires a congressional declaration of war before a president can legally wage war. This was a time when U.S. presidents were still complying with this part of the Constitution. Owing to America’s heritage as a non-interventionist limited-government republic, Congress wasn’t willing to declare war on Spain.
After U.S. officials stationed the Maine in Havana harbor, it was hit with a tremendous explosion. No one could trace the cause of the explosion to Spain but it didn’t matter. With all the emotional hype that interventionists, including mainstream newspapers editors and commentators, had built up in people’s minds, it was easy to convince people to blame the explosion on Spain. President McKinley secured his declaration of war from Congress, and the war slogan became “Remember the Maine!” Investigations into the mishap could never attribute the explosion to Spain.
Once Spain was defeated, its colonies received a rude awakening. After being told that the U.S. government was helping them to achieve independence, they learned that they actually had been lied to. U.S. officials informed the former colonies that there were going to still be colonies, only this time colonies of the United States. After all, U.S. imperialists and interventionists maintained, how else could America be great if it didn’t own or control Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and others?
In the race for U.S. president in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt told the American people that he was on their side in opposing U.S. involvement in World War II. At that time, the overwhelming majority of Americans opposed entry into the European conflict, especially after having been misled by President Woodrow Wilson into the disaster of World War I.
But FDR was lying. He had secretly promised British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that he would do everything possible to get the U.S. into the war. But he faced the same problem that McKinley had faced: the U.S. Constitution. FDR knew that Congress would not give him a congressional declaration of war.
So, FDR began provoking the Germans into attacking U.S. vessels, so that FDR could announce, “We’ve been attacked. It’s a surprise! Now, give me my declaration of war.” But the last thing Germany wanted was another war with the United States and thus it refused to take Roosevelt’s bait.
That’s when the wily FDR took his antics to the Pacific, in the hopes of squeezing and provoking the Japanese into attacking the United States. He imposed a strict oil embargo to ensure that Japan would not have the necessary oil to fuel its ongoing war in China. He seized Japanese assets in the United States. He then did his best to humiliate and demean Japanese officials with peace demands that he knew they could never accept. Careful to remove U.S. carriers from Hawaii, he left U.S. battleships, including the USS Nevada, USS Arizona, and others as bait for the Japanese.
FDR’s scheme worked brilliantly. The Japanese concluded that they had no choice but to try to break out of the strait-jacket that FDR was tightening around them. They took FDR’s bait and undertook a bombing attack at Pearl Harbor, wiping out the destroyers and thousands of American GIs. Japan then went into the Dutch East Indies to get the oil it needed, hoping, erroneously, that the U.S. Navy would not be able to interfere.
Playing the innocent and claiming that the attack was a “surprise,” FDR got his declaration of war from Congress and, at the same time, secured his “back door” into the European conflict.
After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and especially after the 1964 presidential election, President Lyndon Johnson reversed JFK’s plans to end the Cold War with the Soviet Union and Cuba and withdraw all U.S. troops from Vietnam. Like the U.S. national-security establishment, Johnson was convinced that the communists were coming to get us as part of a worldwide communist conspiracy based in Moscow. If the Reds weren’t stopped in Vietnam, Johnson, the Pentagon, and the CIA believed, the dominoes would fall to the communists, with the final domino being the United States.
In August 1964, U.S. military officials stationed U.S. vessels off the shores of North Vietnam. They announced that North Vietnam had suddenly attacked the USS Maddox. Of course, no one bothered to ask why U.S. vessels were stationed at that particular location instead of back in the United States. All that mattered was the commies had attacked the United States and were now coming to get us.
It turned out to be a complete lie, a concoction designed to secure approval from Congress to send hundreds of thousands of troops, many of them conscripted, to Vietnam to ensure that the Reds didn’t come and take over the United States. By this time, U.S. presidents were openly ignoring the congressional declaration-of-war requirement in the Constitution. But Johnson, the Pentagon, and the CIA still wanted congressional approval and funding for their war. The fake attack at the Gulf of Tonkin enabled them to secure the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” from Congress, which enabled them to embroil the U.S. in a land war in Asia that they ultimately lost, at the cost of almost 59,000 American men.
As the U.S. war drums beat louder with respect to Iran, Remember the Maine! Remember the Arizona! Remember the Maddox!