Nazi leader Hermann Goering once stated:
Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
Who can deny that Goering was right, especially in countries where people have been inculcated with a mindset of deference to authority and blind trust in public officials?
Consider the 2003 invasion of Iraq. All that U.S. officials had to do was tell the American people that Saddam Hussein was about to attack the United States with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Fancy colored charts were used to buttress the point. References were made to mushroom clouds.
U.S. officials knew full well the effect such images that would have on the minds of the American people. Never mind that there was never any evidence that such an attack was about to occur. Americans trusted their public officials. The common feeling was that U.S. officials had access to information that the American people didn’t have and that “national security” required that such information be kept secret from the American people.
It never occurred to many people that their public officials might be lying to them. People just deferred to authority, just as they had been taught to do since the first grade in the government-approved schools their parents were required to send them to. They ended up supporting the war on Iraq, a war that killed and maimed thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people, none of whom had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks on America.
What happened when U.S. officials failed to produce those infamous Iraqi WMDs that they had used to scare the American people into supporting their invasion of Iraq? They simply shifted gears and began emphasizing their alternative basis for invading the country — to altruistically help the Iraqi people achieve democracy. Continuing to defer to authority and to place their deep and abiding trust in their public officials, many Americans went with the flow.
Hardly anyone noticed or cared that there was no upward limit placed on the number of Iraqis who could be killed in the altruistic process of helping them to achieve democracy. And never mind, of course, that U.S. officials had already contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children with more than 11 years of brutal sanctions. In fact, the goal of the sanctions had been to oust Saddam Hussein from power and replace him with a U.S.-approved ruler, a goal that the 2003 invasion, not so coincidentally, finally achieved.
The situation was really no different in principle some 50 years ago, when U.S. officials announced that North Vietnamese gunboats had attacked U.S. vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. Back then, the deference-to-authority mindset among the American people and their propensity to blindly trust their public officials were more pronounced than they would be in 2003. Believing that U.S. officials, especially those in the Pentagon, would never lie to them, the members of Congress overwhelmingly enacted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which launched a foreign war that ended up killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.
Of course, as everyone now knows, they did lie about the attack. It never happened, and U.S. officials, including President Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, knew it hadn’t happened. But that was the way they got the American people behind their war effort — by making them falsely believe that America had been attacked several thousands of miles away from American shores and that U.S. troops were defending America by invading South Vietnam.
And now the same thing is happening with Iran. All sorts of scares over WMDs and mushroom clouds are once again being inserted into the minds of the American people. Meanwhile, U.S. officials continue to tighten an economic noose around Iran — the same noose they tightened around Iraq for 11 years, knowing that the tighter the sanctions, the greater the likelihood that the Iranian people, including Iranian children, will begin suffering and dying, as they did in Iraq.
Will the Iranian regime passively accept the horrific effects of the sanctions, as Saddam Hussein did, notwithstanding the annual deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children? Or will it retaliate against the sanctions with a military strike, say, at the Straits of Hormuz?
If they retaliate with force, we know what the response of U.S. officials will be:
We’ve been attacked! We’re innocent! We were just minding our own business with sanctions, embargoes, assassinations, UN resolutions, and surrounding Iran with U.S. troops. We had no intent of effecting regime change in Iran, as we did in Iran in 1953 and as we did with Iraq in 2003 after our deadly sanctions had failed to oust Saddam from power.
But now that our nation has been attacked thousands of miles away from our nation’s shores, we have no choice but to once again defend our nation by bombing Iran and killing any number of Iranians, which will also altruistically help them achieve another regime change, similar to when we installed the Shah of Iran’s dictatorship into power after we ousted Iran’s democratically elected prime minister from office in 1953.
Meanwhile, many Americans are falling for it again, just as they did in 1964 and 2003. As Goering suggested, when it comes to war deference to authority and blind trust in public officials is, unfortunately, a universal phenomenon.