Simultaneous multiple launch of North Korean missiles, March 2017.
Lies, Dumb Lies, and Imperialist Whoppers
BREAKING NEWS! Donald Trump is a liar. A Big Liar.
Okay, so it’s not news. It is a given of contemporary political culture that Trump lies about pretty much everything great and small. Trump’s lies have garnered a whole industry of online lying lists at Politifact and other fact-chasing organizations. But when it comes to lies, size matters, particularly as concerns the lies that serve as pretexts to launch wars. Those lies kill millions, and almost every imperialist slaughter begins with them. Now we are seeing the Big Lie in action over Korea, and while Democrats may be getting nervous about the megalomaniac Republican president with his finger on the nuclear trigger, liberals have been promoting warmongering Big Lies about Korea, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and elsewhere for decades.
But first the smaller lies: Donald Trump tells lies to puff up his fragile and aggrieved ego. Those lies often take the form: “It was the greatest _______ (fill in the blank: speech, victory, witch hunt, crowd, executive order, etc.) in history.” Everything he does is the greatest in history, because he demonstrably doesn’t know anything about history. He said that Andrew Jackson (U.S. president between 1829 and 1837, died in 1845) could have avoided the Civil War (1861-65). He heard that Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) “is doing a good job.” Trump is a fitting heir to the 19th century anti-immigrant racists known as the “ Know Nothing” movement.
Trump lied about getting a phone call from the leader of the Boy Scouts saying his speech to the Jamboree was the “greatest ever” delivered to them. That’s where he told the Scouts about his pal who sold his business and partied bigly on his yacht. The White House had to admit there was no phone call, and Scouts leaders apologized for Trump’s partisan diatribe. He lies about things that are demonstrably false, that people can easily see with their own eyes, like bragging that his inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s. That time he even lied gratuitously about the weather, saying the sun was shining as people opened their umbrellas.
And he lies as he contradicts himself. These lies usually take the form: “I have always said…________ (fill in the blank: I was against the Iraq war, let Obamacare implode, I am a champion of gay rights, etc.) Sometimes he contradicts himself in the same sentence. Trump also lies to set up and denigrate political opponents and critics on his extensive enemies list. Such are the dumb lies that reflect the style of the reality TV persona, media-obsessed Donald Trump who back when he was in the celebrity-branding business would call media outlets pretending to be a P.R. person lathering compliments on none other than Donald Trump. Explaining those lies is best left to psychiatrists and Trump’s hapless apologists.
But his Big Lies have more serious real world-consequences. Trump was catapulted into his candidacy on the racist “birther” lie that Barack Obama was ineligible for the presidency because he was supposedly born in Kenya. When Trump says that three million people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, he is not merely lying to assuage his ego for losing the popular vote. This lie has led to a commission of far-right zealots aiming to disenfranchise blacks and Latinos. When Trump says that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists and that immigrants have driven down wages for U.S. workers, it is in the service of an intensified racist dragnet by the I.C.E. immigration cops. These are lies that the working class must take seriously and combat.
Bipartisan Big Lies in the Service of Imperialist War
Trump’s near constant lying has driven liberals crazy just as it has delighted and congealed his tribe of ever-loyal nativists. Liberals are embarrassed to the core by the vulgar narcissist who disgraces their exalted idea of the imperial presidency. They cringe at the saccharine testimonials at cabinet meetings. They act as if this is the first time a liar has been discovered in the Oval Office. Pundits in the liberal media sanctimoniously agonize over Trump’s ungrammatical tweets, and claim that “truth itself” has become lost in the Trump regime. As if their newspapers and talking heads represented truth. In fact, the “free but responsible press” is constantly serving up disinformation and outright falsehoods in the interests of the capitalist rulers. They’re just different lies, reflecting at most different policies and different sectors of the same ruling class.
Most of Trump’s lies are dumb if not pathological. But the lies that matter most are the strategic ones that U.S. imperialism cooks up regularly to justify its oppressive policies and drive the population into war. And here liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans have equally blood-stained hands. U.S. presidents new to the office often start out by invading some country, like liberal Democrat John F. Kennedy with the Bay of Pigs (1961) and Vietnam. So when Trump launched an attack against Syria back in April based on the lie spread by the liberal media that Syrian president Bashar al Assad had used chemical weapons “on his own people,” all the Democrats applauded. Launch cruise missiles while eating chocolate cake at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, and suddenly Trump was deemed to be acting “presidential.”
The deadliest imperialist lies are often bipartisan. Consider the lie by Republican president George Bush II about Iraq’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.” Colin Powell held up phony photos to justify the invasion and occupation that killed perhaps as many as a million Iraqis, including at least twice as many civilians as soldiers due to the destruction of waterworks and food supplies that caused the spread of infectious diseases and malnutrition. That murderous lie was pushed by the liberal media, particularly the New York Times that acted as a state media propaganda outlet. And before Bush, hundreds of thousands more Iraqis, particularly children, were killed due to lethal sanctions imposed by the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton.
Consider Democrat Obama’s lie that his secret CIA drone “targeted killing” (assassination) program was “surgical,” carefully avoiding civilian casualties as the U.S. flew more than a thousand drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. How many were killed? Government estimates are in the thousands, human rights groups say it is many more. And how about Ronald Reagan’s lies that enabled the Iran-Contra deals for providing arms to drug-trafficking death squads in Central America, supposedly to spread “democracy” at gunpoint? Or the lie that the anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan, armed by the CIA under Democrat Jimmy Carter and continuing under Republican Reagan, were “freedom fighters”?
Of course, there are many other historical whoppers like “Remember the Maine!” (the U.S. warship which blew up in Havana harbor) that served to justify the 1898 U.S. invasion of Cuba and Puerto Rico. Don’t forget Woodrow Wilson’s vow to “make the world safe for democracy” to justify U.S. entry into the imperialist World War I after he vowed as a candidate to stay out of the war. Or one of biggest whoppers of all – the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin fake “incident” which provided the pretext for bombing North Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution was approved by a near-unanimous U.S. Congress and supported by a jingoist press which didn’t ask for evidence and supported the war until the U.S. started to lose.
Adolf Hitler staged a phony attack on German soldiers in Danzig (Gdansk) as the excuse to launch his invasion of Poland in 1939, and his propagandist Josef Goebbels was the consummate practitioner of the Big Lie. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that “the broad masses of a nation” are easily corruptible because “in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more ready fall for the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters” but “would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Yet the history of “democratic” U.S. imperialism is replete with Big Lies often used to deceive and mobilize a war-reluctant population.
Trump Lies and Threatens to Lay Waste to North Korea
North Koreans march in capital of Pyongyang on August 9 to protest war threats by U.S. president Trump.
So far Trump’s lies have not yet produced the level of lethality of such historic imperialist whoppers. Yet. But the president and his circle of financial oligarchs and militarists are busily fabricating the lies that could push the U.S. into a first-strike war on North Korea. If Trump does attack, the way will have been paved by the bipartisan War Party, including Congressional Democrats and Republicans, the chiefs of the Pentagon and spy agencies, and the mainstream media, led by the Democrats in their anti-Russian frenzy. Against these warmongers, it is the duty of all class-conscious workers and opponents of imperialism to stand with North Korea and its right to nuclear, or any other kind of weapons to defend itself against the imperialist behemoth.
At the outset of the 1990s, the triumphant bourgeoisie trumpeted the “death of communism” upon the fall of the Soviet Union: the first workers state in history, born of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, undermined and betrayed by the Stalinist bureaucracy, destroyed by imperialist-led counterrevolution. Liberals, conservatives and their social-democratic camp followers cheered, working people the world over suffered the consequences. But today the left-over Cold Warriors, with Hillary Clinton at the head, still vituperate against the Kremlin, and the bureaucratically deformed North Korean workers state is a prime target. Handing over the presidency, Democrat Obama told Republican Trump to put North Korea at the top of his priorities list. And so he has.
Trump’s most dangerous lies are not about who talked to Russia when and about what regarding the 2016 election, for which Democrats accuse him of “treason.” Trump’s whoppers include the assertion that the U.S. military was “hollowed out” (although the U.S. war budget is bigger than that of China, Russia and the next five countries combined) and that Washington must go on the warpath to enforce its hegemony. With this rationale, the War Party voted almost unanimously to sanction and provoke North Korea and Russia. Now they spread the truly dangerous Big Lie that North Korea has nothing to fear from the U.S. military. Nonsense. If Kim Jong Un ever agreed to give up the North’s nuclear deterrent, imperialist “contingency” plans for counterrevolution and a new Korean War would immediately go live.
Trump the president mimics the Trump the real estate mogul and Trump the reality TV celebrity. His M.O. is to look tough and intimidate. But he’s having trouble when people aren’t cowed by his bully-boy tactics. He couldn’t browbeat Republican senators into passing his repeal of Obamacare by threatening to cut off funds to Alaska, and he’s having trouble bellowing “you’re fired” to his racist attorney general Jeff Sessions. So now liberals are coming to the defense of the immigrant-bashing top cop in their call for anti-Trump “resistance,” and they are lionizing his claque of generals (Kelly as chief of staff, McMaster as national security chief, Mattis at the Pentagon) in hopes of “disciplining” the dysfunctional Trump White House. Yet a more coherent administration would more effectively implement his reactionary policies.
On Korea, Trump tweeted on January 2 that the North would not be allowed to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States (“won’t happen”). But on July 28, Pyongyang lofted an ICBM whose range may extend to the U.S. East Coast.1 Then in April when Trump escalated his threats to thwart a possible North Korean nuclear test (the only activity spotted at the test site was a volleyball game), he said he had dispatched an “armada” heading toward the Korean peninsula. Except the U.S. fleet was heading in the opposite direction, toward Australia. So either Trump didn’t know what the Pentagon (“my military”) was doing, or it was all a bluff, and one which would almost inevitably unravel, so that next time no one would believe his threats. Either way a disaster for the “credibility” of U.S. imperialism.
Remember Nagasaki, Remember Vietnam
Elderly woman with grandchild views wreckage of their home, in aftermath of U.S. air raid on Pyongyang, ca. 1950. Now South Korean propaganda videos (below) target North Korean capital again.
The bipartisan Big Lie holds that Washington only seeks to counter a mad ruler who issues threats to the U.S., failing to mention that North Korean statements refer to the response to a U.S. attack. Meanwhile, the U.S. military conducts provocative maneuvers in South Korea to simulate “decapitating” (murdering) the North Korean leadership, along with B-52 and B1-B overflights from Guam (which in South Korean propaganda videos are depicted as dropping bombs on Pyongyang). We hear crazed, perilous talk about the prospect of millions being killed and the chances of survival after a nuclear war, about nuclear first strikes being “on the table,” while the impulsive Trump talks of loosing “fire and fury…the likes of which this world has never seen before.” Watching TV news is like overhearing plans in the war room in Doctor Strangelove.
Trump is joined in this lie about benign U.S. intentions toward North Korea by Democrats and Republicans, aided by a hypocritical liberal media. Senator John McCain calls Kim a “crazy fat kid” who is getting ready to bomb Denver or Los Angeles. Looking for a nuclear-deranged ruler? Try closer to home. Only one government has rained down nuclear death on a defenseless civilian population, incinerating some 250,000 and poisoning thousands more in generations then still unborn: the United States. The lie about Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that it saved lives by shortening the war. In truth its aim was to send a ruthless warning to the Soviet Union to stay out. And now, on the anniversary of the A-bombing of Japan, Trump echoes President Truman’s threat of “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
The Kim dynasty and their supporters are nationalist bureaucrats atop a workers state who seek to build an isolated “socialist state” in the North. If they are delusional, it is in thinking that rapacious U.S. imperialism might tolerate a live-and-let-live relation, if only they hang tough. But as Lenin and Trotsky warned, and the fall of the USSR tragically demonstrated, socialism cannot be built in a single country, not even one as enormous as the Soviet Union (or China today), much less in half a country on the front lines with imperialism. To achieve a revolutionary reunification of Korea, Trotskyists fight for a political revolution in the North to replace the conservative ultra-Stalinist bureaucracy with internationalist soviet democracy, and for socialist revolution in the South to overthrow capitalism and drive out the imperialists.
North Korean leaders certainly remember what happened to the truly irrational Muammar Qaddafi, who made a deal with the U.S. to give up his nuclear material. Soon after, Libya was attacked by NATO, killing Qaddafi and destroying the country. And the population remembers the devastation of the Korean War, when mad bomber General Curtis LeMay boasted that “we [the U.S.] killed off … 20 percent of the population” and “burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too.”2 General Douglas MacArthur, hailed by Trump as a hero, wanted to drop atom bombs along the Chinese border, saying it would win the war in ten days. Truman fired the unhinged general but bought the lie that the U.S. could push up to the Yalu River with impunity. But then China entered the war and inflicted the U.S.’ worst-ever battlefield defeat.
Trump has repeatedly boasted “I want to be unpredictable.” Some have suggested that he is borrowing Nixon’s “madman theory,” to force Kim to the bargaining table. But North Korea has repeatedly made clear it will never give up its nukes, nor should it. Perhaps Trump is trying to get China to tighten the screws on North Korea and sponsor talks, as it did after Bush II included North Korea in his “axis of evil” along with Iran and Iraq, and then invaded the latter in 2003. China’s agreement at the U.N. to stiffer sanctions on the North is certainly a treacherous stab in the back against its fellow deformed workers state. Yet for all their illusions in an impossible “peaceful coexistence” with the imperialists, the Stalinist bureaucrats in Beijing prize stability. Why should they believe Trump’s empty threats? Unless they aren’t empty.
Trump’s latest is a twitter message proclaiming, John Wayne style, that the U.S. military is “locked and loaded,” ready for action against North Korea if Kim “utters” an “overt threat.” Many Democrats are now calling Trump’s bluster “irresponsible” or worse, saying his verbal brinksmanship could set off an actual nuclear holocaust. But back in April when the loose-lipped Republican president began his escalating threats, the liberal Democratic senator who calls himself a socialist, Bernie Sanders, declared that Trump is “doing the right thing” to get China to blackmail North Korea. Bernie said “North Korea is a real danger to this world and we must do everything we can … to get them to stop their nuclear program.”3 Another lie. The United States is the prime danger to the world, and North Korea’s nukes are key to deterring a U.S. attack.
The 1,800 deployed nuclear warheads in the Pentagon’s arsenal (plus another 4,000 stockpiled) are a far cry from the M-1 carbines Trump fooled around when he was at military academy. So if liberals are now getting nervous about Trump’s bellicose threats, what are they doing about it? Earlier, 64 Democratic legislators sent a letter about a “pre-emptive” military attack, saying that “a move to launch attacks, or declare war, on a nuclear-armed state such as North Korea” would require a Congressional debate. Fat chance of that. More down-to-earth, they called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to rein in his bombastic boss. Tillerson says not to worry, that “Americans should sleep well at night” and “have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days.” But even U.S. imperialist allies aren’t sleeping easily.
Some of the president’s far-right advisors are adding fuel to the rhetorical fire. White House advisor Sebastian Gorka, a member of a Hungarian fascistic order and favorite Trump surrogate on Fox News, dismissed Tillerson’s comments. Gorka compared the present crisis over North Korea to the 1962 showdown over Soviet missiles in Cuba, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. (Revolutionaries unconditionally supported Cuba’s right to have nukes for self-defense against Yankee imperialism.) But in the faction-ridden Trump White House, it is reportedly the coterie of generals favored by the liberals who are the hard-liners, labeling “North Korea a pre-eminent threat that requires a tough response,” while the ultra-rightists around Steve Bannon argue to “not give more prominence” to Kim (New York Times, 10 August).
Many “experts” worry about “stumbling into war unintentionally,” recalling how World War I broke out. South Koreans report fear that Trump could “recklessly if unintentionally trigger the Second Korean War.” But it could also be intentional. Trump used the same “locked and loaded” phrase to describe his dinner party decision to launch a cruise missile attack on Syria. And along with his praise of General MacArthur in Korea, the U.S. president declared on the campaign stump that he would “bomb the shit out of” adversaries, and also “I love war.” (This is from the “chicken hawk” who, like other right-wing warmongers starting with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, did everything to stay out of the Vietnam War.) Trump has also questioned that if nuclear weapons are not to be used, “Then why are we making them?”4
It is entirely possible that the current gang in control of the White House and the Pentagon are so deluded that they imagine that they can get away with naked aggression in North Korea with little or no response from their target, as Trump did with his missile strike on Syria. But U.S. war moves could easily create a situation where North Korea would have no choice but to respond militarily. As the bipartisan War Party builds up for a showdown and possible first-strike attack in Korea, internationalist workers and opponents of imperialist war must stand ready to take to the streets to oppose the plans of U.S. imperialism and defend North Korea (and China, the U.S.’ main target). That starts by shooting down the dangerous Big Lies that are coming from the White House and every quarter of capitalist media. ■
- 1. But with a nuclear warhead only as far as Anchorage, Alaska (or Seattle Washington or Portland, Oregon, with a smaller payload). See Theodore Postol, Markus Schiller and Robert Schumucker, “North Korea’s ‘not quite’ ICBM can’t hit the lower 48 states,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (11 August).
- 2. See “U.S. War on North Korea Never Ended,” The Internationalist No. 32, January-February 2011.
- 3. “Sanders: Trump on right track with North Korea,” CNN, 28 April.
- 4. “With ‘fire and fury,’ Trump revives fears about his possession of nuclear codes,” Washington Post, 9 August.