Still on the Same Path to Armageddon?

As long as nuclear weapons exist there is a danger that someday they will be used either as a result  of accident or technical failure or of evil intent of man, an insane person or a terrorist.

— Mikhail Gorbachev

Scientists tell us that the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago when a comet or asteroid struck that so geologically rocked the planet that earthquakes, volcanoes, fires and subsequent climate change destroyed the ecological basis for much of life on earth. The concept of “nuclear winter” derives from what must have been an enormous blanket of ash and dust that enveloped the atmosphere, cut off solar radiation, and dropped temperatures extremely.  Yet the dinosaurs did not create the conditions for their own extinction. That was as the saying goes “an act of God.” Because it is so terrifying no one likes to imagine that nuclear war is possible. We humans think of ourselves as the only intelligent species on earth so how could we be so stupid as to snuff ourselves? Yet, despite the forewarning of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we continue on the path to self-extermination. The very existence of nuclear weapons is like leaving a loaded gun in a day care center. Sooner or later…..

William Perry served as Secretary of Defense under Clinton. He spent most of his career in that “Defense” establishment or the arms industry. As such an insider he knows as much about the means and methods of Armageddon as anyone. His book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink entreats us to take seriously that “the danger of some sort of nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.” It is worth noting that he was the only member of Clinton’s cabinet who opposed NATO’s incorporation of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic because that measure would betray the progress made in nuclear weapons reduction and gravely alarm Russia.

The great sociologist C. Wright Mills once warned that World War III will be caused by our preparations for it, and we are doing exactly that, moving ever closer to the abyss. Today the U.S. has over 800 military bases spanning the globe, a deployment of arms far more extensive than any in human history. Four hundred of them are ranged between Alaska and Australia well within reach of China. Meanwhile Russia and China are called “existential threats” yet have no military bases anywhere near our own territory.

As he leaves office President Obama has authorized the largest buildup of American troops and heavy armor in Germany, Poland and Norway since the Cold War was claimed to have ended in the 1990s. The Pentagon and all the perryjourneyintelligence agencies are blinking red in their insistence that Russia poses a dire threat to our national security. A recent poll indicates that a majority of Americans are buying this unremitting indoctrination and see Russia in exactly this light.

As of Trump’s inauguration relations between the United States and Russia are at their lowest point since the mid-1980s when tensions were dreadfully high and the two nations glowered at each other across an economic and ideological divide with 30,000 nuclear weapons ready for launch on each side. Trump has floated the intention to ease sanctions on Russia in exchange for substantial reductions in nuclear weapons, one of his very few proposals that should be taken with the outmost seriousness. Deplorably none of his national security state appointees appear to agree.

Thirty years ago the rationality of Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost intervened against the madness of that day and was matched also by Reagan’s conversion to sanity at least on the danger of nuclear war. Both sides signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987 as a first step toward further reductions. Later, as the Soviet Union dissolved, the first Bush promised that the NATO alliance would not take advantage of Russia’s new weakness and move to incorporate former Warsaw Pact nations and Soviet republics. That promise was soon broken by the Clinton Administration and Bush II. Meanwhile, Boris Yeltsin’s regime, which had been assisted to power by American intervention, invited western capital and “free market” economists in to restructure the Russian economy along capitalist lines and this led to the plunder of Russian wealth and its organized flight into the hands of gangsters and western banks. In turn this led a severe reaction and return to repressive state rule under Putin, who, while certainly an authoritarian, is no Stalin.

Recently, Washington aided the overthrow of the elected, if corrupt, government of Ukraine in order to tear that country away from Russian influence. Today Ukraine’s current government is equally corrupt but now in ways that are approved by western bankers and politicians. The re-annexation of the Crimea, composed predominantly of ethnic Russians, was Russia’s measure to prevent Ukraine from allowing a NATO naval base on the Black Sea. Try to imagine a scenario in which the U.S. would allow Cuba to enable Russia to take over the naval base at Guantanamo. Too few Americans remember how close we came to Armageddon when Russians were on our doorstep. But we think it reasonable to be on theirs?

NATO has incorporated former Soviet republics and satellites and stationed nuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missiles virtually on the Russian border. In all the demonization of Putin that we have heard ad nauseum only journalists and analysts outside the corporate media have been willing to acknowledge that Russia sees all this as profoundly threatening and that the steps it is taking are perceived among Russian citizens as defensive and necessary to their national security.

How many Americans know that the United States dispatched troops to Russia in 1918 in order, with other western powers and Japan, to strangle the Bolshevik Revolution? If Russian forces had ever been inside U.S. territory killing Americans every American would learn this on the first day of the first grade! And what was the motivation for this intervention? It was hardly concern that the Bolsheviks were violent or “un-democratic.” No, the reason was that a successful Russian Revolution was going to tear that vast country out of the Western capitalist system which had just begun to penetrate the resources, markets and cheap labor of what we would today call today a “third world” country. In other words vast profits were at stake.

Whatever one thinks of the Russians it is imperative to understand that they have legitimate security interests that the U.S. has been threatening since the end of the de facto U.S.-Soviet alliance of WWII to defeat Nazi Germany. Our propaganda insists that the Soviets occupied Eastern Europe illegitimately after that victory. If that is so then the U.S. occupied Western Europe illegitimately. Unbeknownst to most the cold hard fact is that most of the eastern European governments allied with Nazi Germany and aided the invasion of the USSR. Keep in mind the savagery the Nazis, and their Czech and Hungarian allies and others, inflicted on the Soviet Union. Deaths there numbered between 25 and 30 million, and a comparable toll had been visited on Russia only a generation earlier during WWI. The U.S. has endured nothing remotely like this since the Civil War of the mid-19th Century. There is no doubt that in the post war the Russians in turn brutalized many peoples of the region who resisted their rule and the U.S. has always insisted that it opposed the Soviets because of that maltreatment and American desire to promote “freedom and democracy.” But that hypocrisy stands naked in the face of the millions of human beings Washington has killed directly as in Korea, Indochina, Iraq and Afghanistan, and by proxy in Libya and Syria and many other places across the globe. U.S. support for numerous vicious dictatorships throughout the Cold War and continuing today absolutely proves the lie to any genuine concern about democracy and freedom.

In a constant drumbeat we are told that our deeply threatening actions toward Russia are vital and beneficial to our national security? Our establishment media parrot the claims of the neo-cons and hawks in the military and intelligence agencies and continue to propagandize the public with fundamentally crackpot and gravely dangerous misinformation. Well informed critics of U.S. policies and actions are banned from the press and airwaves. The truth is that Russia is far weaker than the U.S. economically and militarily, with the glaring exception of its nuclear arsenal which it developed in fear after Moscow witnessed the U.S. vaporize two Japanese cities in 1945. Those weapons are the only true threat to our national security and Russia, unlike the U.S., has declared it would not be first to use nuclear weapons. So why do our so-called leaders continue to ratchet up perilous tension?

Throughout the last century Russia’s policies have always been defensive and Russia has never shown any inclination to move West except during WWII to defeat the Nazis and their Eastern European allies. Yet in today’s climate we hear statements from military figures that Russia must be confronted and that a war with Russia can be won. Meanwhile in the last year  Obama, who at the outset of his presidency vowed to work to abolish nukes, set a 1 Trillion dollar upgrade to the U.S. nuclear triad. Do we think that Russia ignores such bellicose and confrontational actions? Numerous analysts like Perry are deeply worried that we are approaching a state of friction and mistrust that can spin catastrophically out of control.

Meanwhile on the other side of the planet Obama’s “pivot to Asia” plays out. According to published accounts sixty percent of U.S. air and naval forces are earmarked for the Western Pacific. The pivot is intended to ensure that China does not establish economic and military preponderance in East Asia. That is one reason the Trans Pacific Partnership was formulated. Keep in mind that a principal cause of war with Japan was its “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” a vast area from which American commerce and capital investment was excluded (that was very much the same trouble Washington had with Germany and, for that matter, the USSR). China has declared that its Exclusive Economic Zone, which, like our own, extends for 200 nautical miles, prohibits the naval maneuvers that the U.S. provocatively is conducting. In response China is creating new islands and installing defensive weapons.  China’s foreign ministry asks that if what China is doing is considered militarization by the U.S. “Then what is the sailing of fleets into the South China Sea?” Trump’s Secretary of State designate, oil baron Rex Tillerson, stated in his confirmation hearing that China should not be allowed to occupy these islands! Now Trump concurs. Oh? By what means does he intend to prevent this?

How many know that during the Korean War General Douglas MacArthur openly declared his desire to nuke China? That is why he was fired. Needless to say the Chinese understand that he was not the only high ranking member of the American ruling elite who wished to carry out his yen. After the war he said “I would have dropped between thirty and fifty atomic bombs…and spread behind us-from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea- a belt of radioactive cobalt.” It was not long before China developed its own nukes.

Last year the Council on Foreign Relations issued a study that declared that “preserving U.S. primacy in the global system ought to remain the central objective of U.S. grand strategy.” The problem for the grand strategists is that China is a part of this system only to the extent it serves Chinese interests. Meanwhile, the Rand Corporation and the U.S. Army have developed plans entitled War With China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Need I belabor what is meant by “unthinkable?”

American culture and education about both World Wars teaches that each was caused by aggressive and unwarranted acts against us. This doctrinal interpretation is dangerously superficial. Most never get a glimmer of the deeper roots which were primarily economic though ideology played its role. Let me emphasize here that in neither of the world wars was American national security at stake if by that we mean safety from direct military attack on the nation and from invasion. No other country then or now has had the capacity for that. Indeed, if any nation tried to invade the National Rifle Association alone would dispatch the threat swiftly.

Most Americans believe that the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor was the cause of American entry into the global war already in progress. That attack was merely the spark. The publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger wrote in 1941 that “We did not go to war because we were attacked at Pearl Harbor. I hold rather that we were attacked at Pearl Harbor because we had gone to war.” What did he mean? And if he was correct why had we gone to war?

The U.S. had been at odds with Japan ever since it began to imitate the West by militarily occupying China and Korea as colonies at the turn of the 20th Century. In 1853 the U.S. Navy had “opened” Japan by threat of force, leading Japan to overhaul its entire political and military structure to meet the threat of the West on its own terms and to act as Europeans and Americans were doing: to protect itself by becoming militarized and annexationist in the same manner as the West. By 1900 the U.S. had seized Hawaii for its naval base at Pearl Harbor, acquired the Philippines and Guam and Cuba and Puerto Rico by force and began to intervene militarily throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, what Henry Stimson, Secretary of State and War liked to call “our little region over here.” For American financial and political plutocrats that was the problem. The region was too small.  Asia was up for grabs.

By 1900 the U.S. looked to the “Great China Market” as a necessary outlet and market for American overproduction of goods and agricultural commodities that regularly spawned economic depression in the states. But so did Japan and other imperial powers. That is why the U.S. issued its Open Door Policy, still the bedrock of American foreign policy. As benign and boring as it sounds the policy insists that vital resources, markets and labor power should be open to American capital investment anywhere on planet earth and on American terms. Thus, any nation that thwarts this policy will be viewed, if not as an outright enemy, then as an adversary or rival to be defeated by whatever means necessary.

As early as 1905 the U.S. Navy formulated War Plan Orange for potential war with Japan, and Pearl Harbor was the pivot of strategy. Military planners knew then that Japan knew of these plans and knew also that if war ensued Pearl Harbor would be the primary target. When Japan annexed Manchuria, China’s northern province, in 1932 and later declared a “Monroe Doctrine for Asia” in imitation of U.S. domination of the Western Hemisphere, and in clear defiance of the Open Door, war was effectively set in motion. As Japanese troops moved into greater China and then into French IndoChina the U.S. demanded their withdrawal and imposed severe embargoes on exports of oil and steel critical to Japan’s economy. As Secretary of War Henry Stimson put it in his diary “The question was how we should maneuver them into firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.” Washington authorized American Army pilots secretly to fly combat missions for China, in violation of supposed neutrality, which, of course the Japanese knew. The issue had nothing to do with Japanese atrocities and cruelties. How else had Britain, France, Russia and the U.S. behaved toward their conquered peoples?  The challenge was who would get to control the vital resources, markets and cheap labor of China.

As tensions mounted Washington then issued an ultimatum to Japan to withdraw completely from China. The U.S. had given Japan the classical “Hobson’s choice”: either give in to American demands or go to war. Under no circumstances would Japan’s military accept such terms and humiliation. And Washington knew it.

Few American citizens know this but in 1946 Congress learned that the FDR administration knew that Japan had decided for war because the U.S. had cracked Japanese diplomatic codes and knew that Japan had decided on war. High tech monitoring devices of the day, radio direction finders, tracked the Japanese navy on a course due east toward the only target that made sense militarily if Japan was to have the merest chance against the overwhelming U.S. advantages: the base where the bulk of the U.S. Pacific Fleet lay at anchor. The commanders in Hawaii were told nothing of this. On the night before December 7 FDR read the latest Japanese code decryption and said simply “This means war.” When the attack came Secretary Stimson wrote “When the news first came that Japan had attacked us my first feeling was of relief that the indecision was over and that a crisis had come that would unite all our people.”

In history’s inevitable irony, however, the U.S. defeated Japan in this ferocious contest only to lose China to the Chinese. Of course, they were the wrong Chinese, the communists, who would ensure that the U.S. would never access China’s riches on its terms. That is the essence of Washington and Wall Street’s problem today. China now is powerful and can establish its own terms. While China still calls itself “communist” in fact it practices capitalism and competes with the U.S. agenda far more efficiently than ever. That is the real issue.

Of even greater importance in the lead-up to WWII the U.S. conducted the bulk of its commerce in Europe. Nazi Germany clearly intended to control the resources of Central and Eastern Europe and to do so by autarky i.e. by imposing a self-contained system closed to outside economic penetration. The American public was propagandized to believe that either Germany or Japan would invade the U.S. but elites knew that wasn’t the threat.

The Hollywood “documentary,” Why We Fight, even employed trick photography to depict Japanese troops marching down Constitution Avenue in D.C. But under no circumstances could either Japan or Germany accomplish an invasion. Nor did they have the remotest plans to do so. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels stated that “I can scarcely believe that it would be possible for any man to be crazy enough to invade this hemisphere.” Admiral William Standley, ambassador to the USSR, affirmed that Japan had no power to threaten the continental mainland. The New York Times wrote that “No air power now assembled is capable of bringing that kind of power against the United States.” The Magazine of Wall Street declared that if “Hitler cannot cross the English Channel, how can he cross the Atlantic Ocean?”

The real issue was the “Nightmare of a Closed World.” With Germany sealing much of Europe to outside economic activity and Japan doing the same in East Asia the American economy, already in depression, would have to settle for trade and profit only in the Western hemisphere or be restructured more along social democratic lines as had already been done via the New Deal, or even by totalitarian means.  Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau worried that “the Germans would form an overall trading corporation and what are we going to do about our cotton and wheat?” Bernard Baruch, a major lord of Wall Street, emphasized “Germany does not have to conquer us in a military sense. By enslaving her own labor she can place in the markets of the world products at a price with which we cannot compete. This will destroy our standards of living…” Thomas Lamont, a Morgan partner, echoed the same concern, “Under a Hitler victory (in Europe) we should find ourselves in the midst of a country-wide depression so deep and so prolonged as to make the last ten years look like a happy and bountiful time.” Breckinridge Long of the State Department worried that,” If Germany wins this war and subordinates Europe every commercial order will be routed to Berlin…rather than in the United States.”

Let me be clear. I am happy that the Nazi regime was defeated but we must not delude ourselves that our government went to war to stamp out Nazi evil for then we would also have to explain why that same government recruited that same evil to enhance our own intelligence agencies, and our military weapons programs? People like Werner von Braun, Reinhard Gehlen and Klaus Barbie were only some of the war criminals who went to work for our military-industrial complex and helped to foster military dictatorships in Latin America but should have faced the same justice that was meted out to others at Nuremberg.

At the end of World War II the U. S. establishment was determined not to fail at what had been attempted after the First World War i.e. the restructuring of the global economic and political order along lines that served the bedrock of American economic interests and policies. International finance was reorganized along the lines of the American central banking system in order to tie the capitalist economies into a seamless web: hence the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Given that most of the developed world now lay in ruins the American elite believed the time had come for American dominance. Even before U.S. entry into the war Henry Luce, the influential publisher of Life, Time and Fortune magazines, had spelled out the basic contour for what he called The American Century in the post war world.

And the cure (for past failures in foreign policy) is this: to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.(emphasis added)

American politicians place much consequence on American “exceptionalism” and exalt our supposed commitment to key core values and principles like democracy and self- determination for all peoples. In their mouths these are mere platitudes intended for children. History clearly shows that these tenets are honored mainly in their breach. The real agenda is one of American supremacy and dominance of the global order. The real convictions of those who claim to speak for us ring clear. Here is what George F. Kennan, who headed the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff said in 1948 in words long hidden from the public because they were classified “top secret.”

We have 50% of the world’s resources but only 6.3% of the world’s population…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.

Are 50% of the world’s resources miraculously located inside the United States? The reality is that we control such wealth by virtue of our armed forces, our control of international finance and our proxy regimes. Thus we Americans enjoy our bloated, wasteful, self-indulgent, and narcissistic way of life at the expense of half the world.

Kennan’s were the words of an American supremacist, of one who believes in the superiority of the United States and its “right” to set the global agenda. Though Kennan later woke up to the critical danger of nuclear war, American supremacy remains the mindset of most of the power elite. No nation that ever sought to dominate its world ever succeeded and none ever will. It is a fool’s errand. Supremacy is always resisted. Given the myriad of grave problems caused by humans ourselves, most critically nuclear weapons, global warming, climate change, and environmental destruction, the human species needs more than ever to perceive the thin line that separates us from extinction.

American citizens are duly apprehensive about many problems in these unprecedented times. If we do not grasp the paramount danger of all-out war, and prevent the desolation sure to follow, all the others will be moot.

Adapted from remarks at the Community Church of Boston, January 29, 2017. The author can be reached at


Paul Atwood is the author of War and Empire: the American Way of Life.