As a tool of control, there’s perhaps nothing more effective than questioning a person’s patriotism. In every group that I’m aware of, people are taught from a very early age that they have the duty to love the nation and obey its leaders and customs. This sets people up to be duped.
Nobody would accuse Hermann Goering of having been a pacifist or a peace-loving man. In fact, he was a dedicated Nazi who was the vile and contemptible head of the German air forces during Hitler’s invasions of his European neighbors.
After the war — while on trial for his actions as part of the war — Goering was candid during interviews with Gustave Gilbert, a U.S. psychologist who was also an intelligence officer. Gilbert published a book called “Nuremberg Diary” in 1961 based on his interviews with the Nazis who talked with him privately as a confidant during the trial. Here’s an excerpt from the book about a conversation with Goering:
We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.
“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”
“There is one difference,” [Gilbert] pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”
“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
When I first read an edited version of this quote some time ago, I thought it must be made up by someone trying to make the case that the wars the United States is currently engaged in are wrong. After all, if you could make the case that even the Nazis knew that war is driven by a political class manipulating the people, you’ve made your case. It turned out, though, that the story was completely true.
There is no reason for Americans to be in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya killing people in the name nation-building or whatever else a president wants to call it this week. It’s immoral to be killing innocent people who haven’t attacked anyone here, yet pretend we’re doing it in the name of “freedom.” It’s immoral to be taking money from U.S. taxpayers to be making planes and bombs and tanks to spread around the globe in order to play policeman to the world.
Many politicians like war because it increases their power and popularity. Some companies like war because it allows them to sell expensive products and services to the state’s military — products that are destroyed in war and have to be regularly replaced, ensuring repeat business.
Among the rest of the people, nobody benefits — and many people pay a very high price for nothing. (Remind me again exactly what purpose the U.S. military deaths in Vietnam and Cambodia served.) But many, many people support these aggressive foreign wars — as I did as a child — because they’re patriotic and believe their leaders are telling them the truth.
I learned to think for myself instead of being intimidated by the emotional desire to be “patriotic.” I decided I didn’t like being duped by people such as Hermann Goering — or George W. Bush or Barack Obama.