Escaping Orthodoxies

leaders claim when they use force. The major recent academic study of

humanitarian intervention is by Sean Murphy, Humanitarian Intervention: The UN

in an Evolving World Order. He’s now an editor of the American Journal of

International Law. He points out, correctly, that before the Second World War,

there was the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928 that outlawed war. Between the

Kellogg-Briand Pact and the U.N. Charter in 1945, there were three major

examples of humanitarian intervention. One was the Japanese invasion of

Manchuria and north China. Another was Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, and a

third was Hitler’s takeover of the Sudetenland. They were accompanied by quite

exalted and impressive humanitarian rhetoric, which as usual was not entirely

false. Even the most vulgar propaganda usually has elements of truth. In fact,

the propaganda was similar in its rhetoric to other so-called humanitarian

interventions, and about as plausible. Furthermore, here you have to look

elsewhere. What you have to do is look and see what was the U.S. reaction. Some

of it is public, but parts of it are from the internal record, which is now

partially declassified. The reaction is commonly called appeasement. But

that’s a little misleading, because that makes it seem as if you’re

groveling before the tyrants. It doesn’t convey the fact that the reaction was

actually approval and was rather supportive. When it was critical, it was on

very narrow grounds. So in the case of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and

north China these are things I wrote about over thirty years ago, because these

were public records the official U.S. reaction was, We don’t like it, but we

don’t care, really, as long as American interests in China, meaning primarily

economic interests, are guaranteed. The U.S. Ambassador, Joseph Grew, who was a

very influential figure in Asian policy in the Roosevelt Administration, in

1939, pretty late, ridiculed the idea that the Japanese were big bullies and the

Chinese were oppressed people. By then there had been huge atrocities, the

Nanking massacre and on and on. Grew said the only real problem was that the

Japanese were not protecting U.S. interests in China. If they did that, it would

be OK. At the same time Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, said

that we could reach a modus vivendi with Japan if they were to protect U.S.

commercial interests in China. If they wanted to massacre a couple of hundred

thousand people in Nanking, its another story.


with Mussolini. There was extreme support. The State Department hailed Mussolini

for his magnificent achievements in Ethiopia and also, incidentally, for his

astonishing accomplishments in raising the level of the masses in Italy. This is

the late 1930s, several years after the invasion. Roosevelt himself described

Mussolini as that admirable Italian gentleman. In 1939 he praised the fascist

experiment in Italya’s did almost everyone, its not a particular criticism of

Roosevelt and said it had been corrupted by Hitler, but other than that it was a

good experiment. How about Hitler’s taking over the Sudetenland in 1938? One

of Roosevelt’s major advisors was A.A. Berle. He said that there’s nothing

alarming about the takeover. It was probably necessary for the Austrian Empire

to be reconstituted under German rule, so its all right. The State Department,

internally, was much more supportive of Hitler, on interesting grounds. He was a

representative of the moderate wing of the Nazi Party, standing between the

extremes of right and left. In 1937 the European Division of the State

Department held that fascism must succeed or the dissatisfied masses, with the

example of the Russian Revolution before them, will swing to the Left, joined by

the disillusioned middle classes. That would be the real tragedy. Notice this is

the late 1930s. There’s no concern about Russian aggression. That’s a

typical remark. That’s the way every monster is described, a moderate standing

between the extremes of right and left, and we have to support him, or too bad.

That’s a famous remark of John F. Kennedy’s about Trujillo reported by

Arthur Schlesinger, the liberal historian and Kennedy aide. Kennedy said

something like, We dont like Trujillo. Hes a murderous gangster. But unless we

can be assured that there wont be a Castro, well have to support Trujillo. We

can never be assured that there wont be a Castro. Remember how Castro was

regarded at the time. We know that from declassified records. Kennedy was going

to focus on Latin America. He had a Latin American mission, including Arthur

Schlesinger, who transmitted the conclusions of the mission to Kennedy. Of

course they discussed Cuba. Schlesinger said the problem of Cuba is the spread

of the Castro idea of taking matters into your own hands. He later explained

that its an idea that has a lot of appeal to impoverished and oppressed people

all over Latin America who face similar difficulties, oppression and misery and

might be inspired by the example of the Cuban revolution. So thats the Cuban

threat. Schlesinger also mentioned the Soviet threat. He said, Meanwhile the

Soviet Union hovers in the wings, offering development loans and presenting

itself as a model for achieving modernization in a single generation. So

that’s the Cuban threat and the Soviet threat. You have to stop that. It was

the same reason that the State Department gave for supporting Hitler in the

1930s, and in fact just about every other case. Case after case after case. The

threat of a good example, or its sometimes called the virus effect. The virus of

independent nationalism might succeed and inspire others. Actually, the war in

Vietnam started the same way.


I think; maybe check: There was a comment attributed to FDR about a Latin

American dictator, I think it was the elder Somoza. He may be an SOB, but he’s

our SOB.


falsely attributed, but it’s the right idea.


Speaking of Nazi Germany, Goebbels once said, It would not be impossible to

prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people

concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can

be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.


worth remembering where he got that idea. We ought to come back to humanitarian

intervention, because of course the fact that Hitler and Mussolini and the

Japanese fascists called it humanitarian intervention is not enough to prove

that other cases are not humanitarian intervention. It just raises some

questions that a serious person would want to look at.


got that idea, as did Hitler, from the practice of the democracies. They were

very impressed. Hitler in particular talked about the successes of

Anglo-American propaganda during World War I and felt, not without reason, that

that’s partly why Germany lost the war. It couldn’t compete with the

extensive propaganda efforts of the democracies. Britain had a Ministry of

Information, or some Orwellian term, the purpose of which, as its leaders put

it, was to control the thought of the world, and in particular to control the

thought of liberal American intellectuals. Remember the circumstances. Britain

had to get the U.S. into the war somehow, or it wasn’t going to win. That

meant it had to appeal to the educated sectors in the U.S. and get them on its

side, and they did. If you read back, John Dewey’s circle, I’m sorry to say,

what they produced about the First World War is very similar to the chorus of

self-adulation that similar circles produced during the bombing of Yugoslavia

last year, full of praise for their own enlightenment. They were very

pro-Wilson’s war, and the population wasn’t. Wilson in fact was elected on a

kind of pacifist program. Peace without victory, was his slogan. He immediately

tried to turn the country into raving warmongers, which they did, through

propaganda. But the educated sectors, especially the progressives, the liberal,

educated sector took great pride publicly, in The New Republic, for example, the

main journal, that this was the first war in history, as they said, which was

not due to military conquest or crass economic motives but just for values and

that had been led by the educated sectors who understood this and brought the

population to war. It was a new era in human history. Incidentally, this is the

same thing we heard last year in Yugoslavia. The first war ever fought for

principles and values. We are an enlightened state. There was a huge chorus of

self-praise. Not at all new, very similar to the First World War. At that time

the educated sectors here were transmitting tales about Hun atrocities, tearing

arms off Belgian babies. Like most propaganda, there was some element of truth

to it, but it turned out that it was mostly fabrication. In fact the picture

wasn’t pretty, but it was not what was being presented. One of very few people

who resisted was Randolph Bourne. He had been in Dewey’s circle and was more

or less thrown out, barred from participation, because he was telling the truth,

what later was recognized to be the truth, about what the war was really about

and why Wilson was trying to get us into it. That was not acceptable just as its

not acceptable here, right now. In fact, the similarities are very striking, as

is the style, and intellectual and moral level, of the defense of orthodoxy. For

people who want to think about humanitarian intervention, its worth looking at.


the British had the Ministry of Information. The U.S. had the Committee on

Public Information, the Creel Commission, which was mostly liberals like Walter

Lippmann and Edward Bernays. The latter went on to found the public relations

industry. They succeeded. They were very impressed with their success in turning

a pacifist population very quickly into raving anti-German fanatics. It was real

hysteria about the Germans. It happened pretty effectively. A number of groups

were impressed. One group was the progressive intellectuals. Tha’s the

background for the influential social and political theories that developed in

the 1920s, mostly from progressive circles. Its part of the founding of modern

political science and the public relations industry and the media. The new

insight the new art of democracy, in Lippmann’s phrase is that we have ways,

as Bernays put it, of regimenting the minds of men just as an army regiments

their bodies, and we should do it. Because were the good guys and smart guys and

they’re stupid and dumb, and therefore we have to control them for their own

good. And we can do it because we have these marvelous new techniques of

propaganda. It was honestly called propaganda in those days. Bernays’ book is

called Propaganda. Lippmann’s the same. Harold Lasswell, Reinhold Niebuhr, it

goes on and on. That’s one group that was impressed. Another group that was

impressed was business leaders. That’s where you’d have the real explosion

of the huge advertising and public relations industry. And their leaders were

again pretty frank. We have to impose on people a philosophy of futility and

ensure that they’re focused on the superficial things of life, like

fashionable consumption. They have to try to pursue what were called fancied

wants, invented needs. We create the needs and then get them to focus their

attention on it. Then they don’t bother us, they’re out of our hair. Its not

hard to see the consequences years later. This wasn’t new. These ideas start

with the Industrial Revolution, but there was a real upsurge in the 1920s and

since. These are the huge industries of domination and control. Another group

that was impressed was what became the Nazis, who recognized, Hitler discusses

this, I think it must be in Mein Kampf, that the Germans simply couldn’t

compete with the Anglo-American propaganda. And next time, he says, well be

ready with our own propaganda. That’s the background of the Goebbels quote. So

yes, they recognized it and they got it from a good source, the democracies.


its not in the least surprising. It should be expected that its in the

democracies that these ideas would develop. Because in a democracy you have to

control peoples minds. You can’t control them by force. There’s a limited

capacity to control them by force, and since they have to be controlled and

marginalized, be spectators of action, not participants, as Lippmann put it, you

have to resort to propaganda. This was well understood and very self-conscious.

It was a very reasonable reaction. You can trace it right back to the

seventeenth century, the first democratic revolution.



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