Creative Pretexts for War July 2, 2012Posted by Beachcombing in : Contemporary, Prehistoric , trackback
In the good old days when we had spears and lived in tribal societies war was, for much of humanity, a seasonal activity like boar hunting and berry picking. You did not have to explain why you wanted to steal the cattle of the clan on the other side of the hill: you just got on with it. As humanity gave up its tribal ways though war became embarrassing. In Homer the head-hunters (Achilles etc) are already having to deal with peaceniks in Troy and in the Greek camp. And wars could no longer just be declared because the French or the Polish lived over the hill, there had to be a reason to go to a war. And if you didn’t have a reason: then you invented one. The pretext was born.
Pretexts for war range from the frankly unimaginative to the simply brilliant. In the first category we have various Chinese dynasties explaining to their neighbours that they ruled the world, the pretext being that the neighbours disagreed. In the creative category comes, instead, the terrifying Operation Northwoods where the CIA would kill lots of, er, Americans and blame Cuba: Kennedy was able to shut this scheme down. Then, while Beach has always found the evidence for American involvement in Pearl Harbor unconvincing, if you disagree… Ditto operation Gladio, ditto 9/11.
Past masters at the art of the pretext have included Japan clowning around in Manchuria and blowing up railway lines there: see the photograph above, part of the Japanese media push to blame Chinese ‘terrorists’.
Germany too has proved keen on the pretext. In 1914, Germany went to war, reasonably, against Russia over its eastern neighbours’ mobilisation: but then needed to declare war on France quickly. German planners had predicated their two front war on the quick defeat of France and then a long drawn out slogging match with the Ruskies. So what to do? Well, the Germans invented several French air-raids – novel in 1914: including the violation of Belgian neutrality (ahem!), and bombing raids on the railway near Carlsruhe.
Germany upped their pretext game against Poland in 1939. On 31 August a group of ‘Polish’ soldiers – actually Germans in Polish uniforms, seized the Gleiwitz Radio Station on German territory and broadcast a short message in Polish. The Germans even left a body on the scene – murdered naturally by the Gestapo – to demonstrate what had happened to a world agog. Hitler spoke in the Reichstag of ‘Polish atrocities’ and we all know what happened the day after: the Germans began their ‘defensive’ war.
In their own sweet way the Soviets showed even more chutzpah at the beginning of the Winter War with Finland. It must be remembered that the fully mobilised Soviet army was, in 1939, larger than the entire Finnish population: yet the Russians accused the Finns of planning to invade their territory! To add a little conviction to this unlikely scenario the Red Army shelled an obscure Russian village, Mainila, and blamed the Finns. The Russian ambassador to the League of Nations was naturally much mocked for his ‘tales’…
Beach isn’t going to claim that, in modern times, the western democracies have avoided pretexts for wars. But there is something rather endearing about the way that militaristic and totalitarian states try and justify their wars through slap-stick routines and pantomime costumes: ‘tell me the truth, Hans, do you find my Polish accent convincing?’ etc etc Beachcombing though is not picky: he’ll take pretexts wherever he can find them drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
31 August 2012: Tacitus from Detritus writes, ‘I must mention, though I shall doubtless be but one voice in the chorus, The War of Jenkins’ Ear!’ Ricardo recalls the Football War. Wade points out that Wikipedia has an entire entry on false flag operations. He also sends in this pretext happy site: Thanks Tacitus, Wade and Ricardo!