How do governments of democratic states manage to wage wars that are rejected by the populations? The “incubator lie” that was presented in 1990 in the run-up to the Iraq war exemplifies how governments try to legitimise wars against the will of the citizens. The mechanism has a long tradition.
Thirty years ago, on October 10, 1990, a young Kuwaiti woman appeared before the Congressional Human Rights Committee in Washington and made a statement. To protect her family, the 15-year-old girl was introduced only by his first name, Nayirah. In tears, the teenager recounted how, two months earlier, as an intern at the al-Addan clinic in Kuwait, she witnessed Iraqi soldiers storming the neonatal unit and stealing the incubators. The premature babies threw them carelessly on the ground and let them die, 312 in number.
Although the Human Rights Committee is not an official committee and no one is under oath there, Nayirah’s appearance caused a huge stir. Amnesty International reported on December 19, 1990. US President George Bush (Senior) reported the story ten times. It was dished out to the UN Security Council and collided with Congress when it agreed in January 1991 to the war against Iraq, which invaded Kuwait in August and occupied its oil fields. Votes for the war were tight; 250 to 183 in the House of Representatives and 52 to 47 in the Senate. Given this narrow difference in votes, it is conceivable that Nayirah’s account was decisive. Certainly, however, it had overturned public opinion. Now people understood why the US had supported Saddam Hussein for years – and was now waging war against him. Now the government has been able to begin the military struggle for oil in the Middle East, while maintaining the march of freedom, democracy and human rights.
PR campaigns for war
Without public approval, US governments are also struggling to wage war in a third country. So it does well to ensure the desired public opinion by means of propagandistic measures. In Nayirah’s case, every syllable of her account was invented and lied to. In fact, she was none other than the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, a member of the royal family, and had not worked for a second as an intern in the maternity clinic. The whole story was conceived by the then world’s largest PR agency, Hill&Knowlton, which was commissioned by the Kuwaiti government in exile to take public opinion for the war for 10.8 million dollars. It is uncertain whether the US government was also aware of the action.
The so-called “breeding box lie” has since been left to the forgetfulness of the people. For it leads directly to the center of a problem that is discreetly ignored in the USA and NATO: into the tension between democratic public opinion and imperial claims. It is a particularly glaring example of how the UN Security Council is jumping around with the ban on violence. While people object to “war being the father of all things” (Heraclitus, 500 BC), he is the father of all business for the “military-industrial complex” (Eisenhower). It is indispensable.
The history of Nayirah exemplifies how governments legitimize war, even though the people who elect the governments reject it. The mechanism has a long tradition. If it was the folly of the German admiralty that torpedoed the British steamer Lusitania (which had 1,200 American passengers and a supply of weapons for Britain on board) during the First World War, and thus caused the US entry into the war long demanded by industry and the banks, but it was already more complicated in the Second World War: again, big business pushed for the participation in the war, but again the public hesitated. It was not until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 that the change of opinion energised. The US public was denied that the US government had deliberately provoked the first strike of the Japanese through a radical oil embargo and the freezing of foreign assets, and even knew of its impending date. It would have been easy to save the 3,000 people who were to fall victim to the attack – instead, they rescued the aircraft carriers, which were pulled from the danger zone to the open sea. They were still needed.
The post-war period with the Cold War, the proxy conflicts and the increasingly inhibited turbo-capitalism carried an increased amorality into the war-initiation lie. The 1954 coup in Guatemala, where Social Democrat President Jacobo Arbenz planned a land reform to protect the campesions from exploitation by the United Fruit Company, was a landmark coup in Guatemala. The company’s major stock packages were in the hands of the Dulles brothers, CIA Director Allen Dulles and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Accordingly, the CIA acted rigorously. For the first time, she used scientific propaganda research by entrusting the PR specialist Edward Bernays (a nephew of Sigmund Freud) to prepare the public for a military coup in Guatemala.
The pattern of war propaganda
The pattern proved to be the case. After Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution in 1959, a commission of experts, chaired by General Lemnitzer, the Chief of the General Staff, presented President Kennedy with a series of proposals on how to manipulate public opinion to make US military intervention feasible in Cuba. The paper, called “Operation Northwoods,” which remained under lock and key for 40 years but is now available in the University of Washington’s National Security Archive, contains, among other things, the following ideas: destruction of a U.S. military base with subsequent accusations by the Cuban army, the downing of a U.S. military jet by Russian fighter jets, the capture of terrorist action by sinking a ship with exiled Cubans, and shooting down a Cuban civilian. Kennedy was prudent enough to reject the action and reject all proposals. But two years later, President Johnson had no qualms about seeking congressional approval to legitimize the bombing of North Vietnam, with the fictitious Tonkin incident – alleged shelling of the US destroyer Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Middle East has become the focus of US foreign policy. After the collapse of The Regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi and the (illegal) entry into the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the US went on the offensive. President Jimmy Carter told the world:
“Any attempt by another power to gain control of the Persian Gulf is seen by us as an attack on the life interests of the United States. Such an attack will be repelled by all necessary means, including military force.”
Since then, the US has behaved as if the Carter doctrine had turned usurpation into law. The government team led by Us President George W. Bush (Junior), Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld lied to the world in 2003 that the beams were bent. Nothing, but nothing at all, was in it when US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Security Council that Iraq was working to produce weapons of mass destruction. With the “coalition of the willing,” Bush and Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, decoupled themselves from the “old Europe” and opened the war, which claimed the lives of a million people and led to the sell-out of Iraq.
Democracies and the “military-industrial complex”
To be sure, the US is not the only nation to be blamed for the war anniversary lie. Hitler’s “Since 5:45 a.m. now is shot back” is just one evidence of a multitude of propaganda lies that belong to it in the run-up to the wars, such as the misery they leave behind. The governments of all countries give their secret services the feeling of being above the law and the constitutions. But in democracies, it is particularly difficult to get voters behind the aggressive intentions of their governments. That is why, among the superpowers, no other nation has used the war-initiation lie as often as the US. It is undisputed that Saddam Hussein was a murderer and war criminal inhumane. But the fact that a million people had to die with it in order to secure control of the US over the Middle East is a gigantic war crime that has not yet been prosecuted before any tribunal.
The disintegration of a nation begins with the disintegration of its moral values; it was no different to the Roman Empire today than it is today in the United States. That under US President Donald Trump (apparently) they are tumbling towards their demise is a process that began long before the egomaniacal in the White House. The fall was that a democracy was completely subordinated to the interests of the “military-industrial complex” (today one would have to say: the interests of the “military-digital complex”). Today, the US economic elite is only half-heartedly opposed to Trump, because it has corrupted itself for decades. We Europeans can only help to find their own way in politics, business and journalism. The ‘old Europe’ should finally find the courage to distance itself from all the lyings that have been served up, rather than simply nodding them off.