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Shouldn't American Democracy Begin at Home?

A review of Frank Kofsky, Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948
By Rostam Pourzal

By coincidence, a fine film chronicling the Pentagon Papers phase of the Vietnam War premiered on cable television in the US as I read Kofsky's well-documented account of how the Cold War started. Daniel Ellsberg, the official who took the Pentagon's secrets to The New York Times, published his memoirs a year ago. Kofsky is professor of history. Both works expose peak periods in the US government's systematic efforts to deceive the public about foreign threats and "defense" planning. As I write, echoes of both are heard daily in the Bush Administration's battle to sell us its planned war on Iraq. Ellsberg and Kofsky had to rely on smuggled or declassified documents to make their case. But we need neither today. From the British "dossier" on Baghdad's banned weapons to the documents alleging Iraq shopped for uranium in Africa, major White House "intelligence" claims have been exposed as forgeries just as George Bush and Colin Powell repeatedly raised them sky high as proof that Iraqis deserve to die.

American intrigue may not surprise Iranians who remember their first democratic prime minister in at least a century, Mohammad Mosaddeq, was redbaited and overthrown by the CIA for the benefit of US business interests. But Washington's enduring legacy of domestic deception, and Kofsky's account of but one episode in that history, should be of special interest for a more immediate reason. It is now a common assumption among Iranian dissident intellectuals that we would attain democracy (never defined) only if government, the economy, and religion were kept separate from one another in Iran.

Prescriptions for an American-style free market economy abound unchallenged in Farsi journals, websites, and speeches as the remedy for official corruption in Tehran. Kofsky documents how the Cold War was instituted in this secular democracy, as subsidy to private industries, with a government-fabricated "Soviet threat." That the project eventually cost unsuspecting Americans trillions of dollars in false "defense" spending should be sobering to the people of Iran, who are once again promised a rose garden as they search for progressive alternatives to their existing government.

If Western opinion leaders inspired by orientalists have you on the defensive for imagining conspiracies, this book should relieve your shame. It was the winter of 1948, and peace was hell for the private sector, because the American public was happy to leave the world alone in the afterglow of the Allied victory over Fascism. US aircraft manufacturers were near bankruptcy from the postwar slump in military sales, and they and their lenders were lobbying furiously for subsidies, that is, government interference in the free market. Absent a national crisis like Hitler, Congress resisted higher military appropriations and nationalization of the aircraft industry was popular with the electorate. Stalin could be a candidate, but assessments of Soviet intentions were not what they should be:

"I am convinced that [the Soviets] will not take any steps which they feel would bring them into a major conflict in the foreseeable future."
Statement of Secretary of Commerce Averell Harriman to the President's Air Policy Commission, September 8, 1947

"We are relatively safe from attack... I do not think any power is in a position to attack us with any prospect of success in the immediate future."
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, chief of Naval Operations, to the President's Air Policy Commission, November 12, 1947

"...Dwight D. Eisenhower, retiring Chief of Staff, absolved the Soviet Union of any intention of deliberately provoking war... The Soviet Union is in no position to support a global war, he added..."
The New York Times, February 6, 1948

Enter Secretary of State George Marshall, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, and White House counsel Clark Clifford. Their mission was to convince President Truman and the Congress that a Soviet invasion of Western Europe was imminent. An entry in Forrestal's diary recalls a conversation with General Lucius Clay, the American military governor in Germany, on the postwar mood at home:

"I said the most dangerous spot is our own country because people are so eager for peace and have a distaste for war..."

General Clay was asked to send a top-secret cable to Washington warning of a sinister Soviet mood. In conjunction with twisted "news" of the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia and a Soviet treaty with Finland, the cable became the centerpiece of an intense campaign to overwhelm Congressional opposition to increased military spending. The suspicious death of Czechoslovakia's foreign minister on March 10 was used to further fuel suspicion that the Soviet tanks were about to sweep over the entire continent of Europe. All this while American aircraft industry was quietly selling used warplanes to Moscow.

Forrestal publicly equated Stalin's "territorial ambitions" with Hitler's. In the words of Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington, "...The word to talk was not 'subsidy' [to industry]; the word to talk was 'security'." So on March 25 Secretary of the Navy John Sullivan told Congress that, "Recently submarines not belonging to any nation west of the 'iron curtain' have been sighted off our shore." It mattered little that repeated CIA estimates of Soviet intentions, as well as internal analyses by the intelligence units of the State Department, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, contradicted the Administration's scare tactics. The public and Congress would not know for many years that, on the same day he helped change history with his alarmist cable, General Clay wrote the following to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge:

"I believe American personnel are as secure here [in Germany] as they would be at home... Probably no occupation force ever lived under as secure conditions and with greater freedom from serious incidents..."

Nevertheless, within weeks America's military budget jumped nearly 30 percent, increasing treasury spending in the aviation market by over $2,000,000,000 in one year. To quote the president of Bell Aircraft Corporation at the time, "As soon as there is a war scare, there is a lot of money available."

Fast forward to 2003, and you find reports of unwelcome intelligence agency threat assessments hushed in Washington as a national security monster is made of Saddam Hussein for imperial purposes. This time, it is Iraqis and their neighbors, such as us, who are promised democracy delivered at gun point. Shouldn't American democracy begin at home?!

About the author:
Rostam Pourzal writes regularly for Farsi journals Shahrvand (Toronto/Vancouver) and Iranians (Eastern US).

... Payvand News - 3/17/03 ... --

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