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The Evil of the National-Security State, Part 4

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The day after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, they invaded the Philippines, where they killed or captured tens of thousands of American soldiers. The obvious question arises: What in the world was such a large contingent of U.S. soldiers doing in a land thousands of miles away from American shores? The answer lies in the turn towards empire that the United States took during the Spanish-American War in 1898. When Cuba and the Philippines revolted against the rule of the Spanish Empire, the United States intervened in the conflict, promising to help the revolutionaries to achieve independence.

America’s intervention succeeded and the Spanish Empire lost the war. Nonetheless, Cuba and the Philippines failed to secure their independence. The reason? The U.S. government insisted on replacing the rule of the Spanish Empire with the rule of what was to become the U.S. empire.

The result was another brutal war of independence in the Philippines, in which U.S. forces killed, maimed, or tortured hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in their successful quest to quell the rebellion.

Thus, the U.S. soldiers who were killed or captured by Japan at the inception of World War II were on U.S. territory that had been captured almost 50 years before as part of America’s turn away from a constitutional republic to a worldwide empire.

The U.S. government also treated Cuba as its colony, just as the Spanish Empire had done, effectively ruling the country for decades through a succession of brutal and corrupt dictators who would do the bidding of the U.S. empire.

Thus, the Spanish-American War was a watershed event for the United States, one that would ultimately lead to an empire with hundreds of military bases all over the world, along with an endless series of invasions, occupations, coups, assassinations, sanctions, embargoes, and regime-change operations, all intended to expand the reach of the U.S. empire around the world.

In fact, the corrupt dictator who ruled Cuba prior to Fidel Castro’s revolution, Fulgencio Batista, was one of the U.S. empire’s approved rulers, one who brutalized and plundered the Cuban people while doing whatever the U.S. empire requested of him. When the Cuban people revolted against Batista and replaced him with Castro, U.S. officials initially hoped that Castro would continue the tradition and place Cuba and himself under U.S. control. That hope, however, was soon dashed, as Castro made it clear to the U.S. empire and to the Cuban people that Cuba was, for the first time in history, to be a sovereign and independent country.

It is not a surprise that Castro’s position did not sit well with U.S. officials. The empire placed him squarely in its sights for a regime-change operation that would ultimately consist of an economic embargo, an invasion, assassination attempts, terrorism, sabotage, and almost nuclear war.

But there was another critically important factor that guaranteed that Castro would become the target of the U.S. empire. After seizing power, he revealed himself to be a communist, one who quickly began converting Cuba’s economic system to communism.

Those two factors — U.S. imperialism and U.S. anti-communism — became the twin driving forces of the U.S. government in the second half of the 20th century. More than anything else, those two forces would corrupt, warp, and pervert the principles and values of the American people.

From the first grade on up, American students are taught that “we” won World War II. Actually, the truth of that statement depends on how one defines the pronoun “we.” When “we” is defined to include the Soviet Union, then it is true that “we” won World War II. But when “we” is defined to mean the United States, Great Britain, France, and other non-Soviet Allied powers, then “we” did not win the war. It was the Soviet Union that won the war.

Recall, after all, the ostensible reason that Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. It was to free the Polish people from Nazi tyranny. What was the situation at the end of the war? Well, the Polish people were indeed freed from Nazi tyranny, only to have to suffer for the next 50 years under Soviet communist tyranny. From the standpoint of the Poles and, for that matter, other Eastern Europeans in the Soviet bloc, that was no victory.

But it was also no victory for the American people because almost immediately U.S. officials converted the Soviet Union from World War II partner and ally (and Hitler’s enemy) into a giant new enemy for the United States, a situation that would bring a half-century of crisis, chaos, conflict, and hostility during the Cold War and massive death and destruction in such hot wars as Korea and Vietnam.

Equally important, that new enemy would provide the justification for maintaining and expanding a massive and permanent military-industrial complex and for initiating a massive national-security state, both of whose policies and practices would end up looking strikingly similar to those of the totalitarian regimes that the United States had opposed during the war and was now opposing in the Cold War.

Anti-communist fervor

It is impossible to overstate the depth of the anti-communist fervor that characterized the Cold War. For those who were born after that era, the best way to describe it is that the fear of communism was about 1,000 times greater than the fear of terrorism is today. What was different, however, was that while terrorism involves a physical act of force, communism involved more than that. Communism also involved an idea, one that absolutely scared U.S. officials and much of the American populace to death. There were several aspects to the anti-communist fervor.

One aspect was the notion that the Soviet Union intended to initiate a war against the United States in which America would be conquered by the communists. Under that scenario, the American people would end up living their lives much like the people of Eastern Europe — under the iron boot of the Soviet Union.

A second aspect was the notion that communism would spread beyond Cuba, into other Latin American nations, which would enable them to mobilize military forces that would invade Florida and Texas and sweep up the Eastern seaboard, ultimately defeating U.S. forces and taking over Washington. Under this scenario, the Latin American communist forces would be serving as agents of the Soviet Union and would do its bidding after conquering the United States.

A third aspect was that communists would take control over European countries and Asian countries, causing the “dominoes” to continue falling until the final domino — the United States — would be toppled.

A fourth aspect was communist infiltration in the federal government and the public schools, where politicians, bureaucrats, and teachers would be serving effectively as moles of the Soviet Union, who would be indoctrinating the American people with communist ideas and, even worse, taking control of the reins of power and surrendering America to the communists.

A fifth aspect, which perhaps was the scariest for U.S. officials, was that communism would operate as a Sirens song, infecting the minds of the American people and seducing them into wanting and desiring a communist way of life, one in which people would eagerly and enthusiastically surrender their freedom in return for being taken care of from the cradle to the grave by the state. Under this scenario, communists would begin winning elections all across the land and gradually begin to seep into the federal bureaucracies, enabling them to bring communism to America in a purely democratic fashion.

All five of those aspects of the anti-communism mindset combined to produce a climate of constant preparation for war and a long, dark era of deeply seated fear that pervaded the United States and the American psyche. It was an era that was so frightening that Americans learned to defer to authority, to trust their government officials, and to place unwavering faith in them to protect “national security” and defend them from communism.

What was this thing that frightened people so much? Communism is an economic doctrine in which the state owns the means of production. In its purest sense, it means that the state owns everything in society. Since the state is the sole employer, everyone works for the state. The state guarantees that everyone will be taken care of with housing, food, employment, health care, education, and other important things. No more worries about losing one’s home, starving to death, being fired, or being unable to pay for medical expenses or for an education. Everyone’s needs are taken care of, from the day they are born to the day they die.

Needless to say, all that is a very attractive notion to many people.

The rise of socialism

What’s the alternative to communism or, to employ a similar term, socialism?

The alternative is a private-property, free-market way of life, one in which the means of production and most everything else are privately owned. People are free to engage in economic enterprise free of government regulation, to engage freely in mutually beneficial economic transactions with others, to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, and to decide what to do with it. In a system based on private property and economic liberty, which some might label as “capitalism,” the role of government is simply to protect people from the violence or fraud of others, to defend the nation in the event of an attack, and to provide a judicial forum by which disputes can be resolved peacefully.

Notwithstanding slavery and other exceptions, the United States had been founded on principles of private property and the free market. Despite the many exceptions, it was, in common parlance, a capitalist country. In fact, America’s free-enterprise economic system was one of the major things that distinguished the United States from all other nations in history.

Throughout the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, however, communism was becoming increasingly popular all over the world. Near the end of World War I, the Russian Revolution brought a communist regime to power in Russia. Moreover, socialistic ideas were percolating throughout Europe and Asia. By the time that World War II broke out, the United States itself had embraced a variation of socialism with its welfare-state way of life, one in which the federal government was expected to take care of people by means of certain important programs, such as Social Security.

Moreover, communist parties were playing active roles in the political process, including the U.S. political process.

All of that was too much for U.S. officials, who were convinced that unless the United States took a leading role battling communism around the world, it would end up being a communist nation. Thus, at the end of World War II, the Pentagon and a gigantic wartime military establishment became permanent fixtures in American life. Two years later, in 1947, Harry Truman signed into law the National Security Act, which brought the CIA into existence. Together, that permanent military establishment and the CIA would form the core units of America’s national-security state, which would, over time, effectively become a fourth branch of government having unbelievable powers of invasion, assassination, torture, and fomenting coups and regime-change operations. And the legislative and judicial branches and even the executive branch would not and could not touch it because of the overriding principle of “national security.”

What should the United States have done at the end of World War II? It should have come home and dismantled its wartime military machine. The war was over. Nazi Germany and Japan had been defeated. Sure, the Eastern Europeans were now under the iron boot of the Soviet Union but U.S. officials were partly responsible for that, not only in partnering with the Soviet communists during the war and relinquishing control over such countries to them, but also in their “unconditional surrender” demand by which they declined to enter into separate peace negotiations with the Germans that could have kept Eastern Europe free of Soviet control.

The U.S. government instead chose to maintain a massive level of military force in Germany to protect Western Europe from an attack by its World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union. That’s what NATO was all about. Even worse, the U.S. government promised to defend nations all over the world from communist aggression, an open-ended commitment that would transform America into a militarist, garrison state.

War with the USSR?

What were the chances that the Soviet Union would start a new war against its former World War II allies? Virtually nil. After all, the Soviets had just lost more than 20 million people in the war. The entire nation, including its economy, was devastated Moreover, the U.S. government had sent a powerful message to the Soviets regarding U.S. military might with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What about the continued Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe? The reasoning was no different in principle from that of the U.S. government, which fiercely opposed any communist regimes in Latin America. After two world wars, the Soviets wanted puppet regimes in Eastern Europe to serve as a buffer against future invasions by Germany. The rationale was no more justifiable than the U.S. rationale for installing pro-U.S. puppet regimes in Latin America, but it certainly did not mean that the Soviet Union was embarking on a worldwide campaign of military conquest.

The national-security state’s fear of communism in Latin America went deep. Consider Guatemala. When a socialist named Jacobo Arbenz was democratically elected president in Guatemala in 1950, the Pentagon and the CIA went ballistic. They were convinced that with Arbenz’s election, the communists had established a beachhead in the Western hemisphere. Apparently, in the minds of the military and CIA, Guatemalan forces would cross into Mexico, ford the Rio Grande, conquer Houston and Dallas, sweep northeasterly, conquer Georgia and the rest of the South, take Washington, D.C, and then hand the keys to the capital to the Soviet Union. Oh, if they waited until after 1959, Castro’s communist army would invade and conquer Florida and then move north, conquering everything in its path before joining with Arbenz’s army outside Washington, D.C., to jointly accept the surrender of U.S. officials in Washington.

It was obviously a ridiculous, inane notion. But nothing was beyond the communist-possessed imagination of officials in the U.S. national-security state. In fact, when Pentagon and CIA officials learned that Arbenz had purchased a shipload of arms from Czechoslovakia, which was under Soviet control, that transaction was positive confirmation that the communists were planning a military takeover of the United States. Never mind that the Czechs had taken the Guatemalans to the cleaners by selling them a bunch of military junk. Some giant, worldwide, monolithic communist threat!

The national-security mindset was the same in Southeast Asia. The communists would take over in Vietnam, which would cause the Southeast Asian dominoes to start falling, ultimately resulting in a communist takeover of the United States.

That mindset turned out to be as ridiculous and inane as the one that related to Latin America. The best proof, of course, is what happened at the end of the Vietnam War. The dominoes didn’t fall and the Vietnamese communists didn’t invade and conquer the United States. In fact, soon after the reunification of the country, the Vietnamese communists got into a war with the Chinese communists. Today, Vietnam has friendly relations with the United States.

In fact, let’s return to Latin America for a moment. Today, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua have socialist-communist regimes. So what? What American feels threatened by that? Is anyone worrying that communist armies are about to cross the southern border of the United States or invade Florida? Like I say, the fear of communism and communists was inane, overblown, exaggerated, and irrational.

What about the Communist Party and American communists — that is, people in the United States who were committed to converting its system to a communist economic one?

In a genuinely free society, people are free to expound any ideas they want, no matter how despicable or unpopular. The American Communist Party should have been free to participate in the political process to its heart’s content, doing everything it wanted to peacefully persuade people to embrace communism and socialism. It was the duty of the government to protect them in the exercise of their rights and freedom. After all, the best way to combat a bad idea like communism or socialism is to promulgate a better idea, such as libertarianism, i.e., a free-market, private-property system.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way the Pentagon, the CIA, and the FBI, another important part of the U.S. national-security state, viewed things. In their eyes, people who advocated communism were bad people and, even worse, grave threats to the “national security” of the United States.

Thus, to protect “national security” from communism, the U.S. national-security state adopted policies and practices that in some ways mirrored the policies and practices of the very regime they had defeated in World War II — the Nazi regime — and the regime that they had partnered with in World War II and against which they were now waging the Cold War — the Soviet regime. Of course, U.S. officials justified the evil and immoral means they adopted to combat communism under the rubric of protecting “national security.”

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.