Article by Ivan Eland.
The killing of Osama bin Laden reminds us that there are only two disciplines in which uncaused events occur—quantum physics and the history of U.S. foreign policy. According to the version of history expounded by the American media and politicians, the passenger aircraft hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11 were a diabolical surprise attack out of the blue by the evil bin Laden against unsuspecting and naïve Americans. Of course, Americans were naïve, but principally about their government’s political and military interventions in Muslim countries since World War II, and especially since 1980. Bin Laden was blunt about this in his pronouncements on why he attacked the United States, but America never wanted to hear.
But this is not the first time in America’s version of its history that uncaused events have just happened. All countries twist their history into a more favorable light, and America is no exception.
The sanitized version of American history begins early with the War of 1812. If causes are discussed at all, the war was allegedly caused by British violation of American rights of neutral shipping during the Napoleonic Wars and the impressment of American sailors to fill shortages of manpower on British warships during those wars. Yet these affronts had been going on for more than a decade, and the region most adversely affected by them—seafaring New England—was almost in open revolt against the U.S. government over war with Britain. A more important reason that the new American nation unwisely declared war on a superpower was the election of “war hawks” to Congress in 1810. They wanted to grab Canada, and when the war started, an American invasion force was quickly dispatched there to do so.
The Mexican War set a precedent for what became a rich tradition in the American democracy of provoking your enemy into firing first. President James Polk—who wanted to and did steal one-third of Mexico’s land by using military force against a much weaker country—deliberately sent U.S. forces into a disputed area on the Texas-Mexico border, because he calculated that the Mexicans would attack that force in defending their border. The Mexicans had a much better border claim than did the Americans. Most historians agree that Polk provoked the war to grab the land, but they don’t focus on the fact that Polk had also blockaded the Rio Grande River—an internationally recognized act of war. So the United States didn’t just provoke the enemy to attack, it started the war, just as in the War of 1812.
Almost erased from the history of the Civil War and the actions of the now-canonized Abraham Lincoln is his deliberate provocation of the Confederates to fire on a supply ship to Fort Sumter. They had already done so on another such ship at the very end of the James Buchanan administration, so Lincoln knew what would happen when he sent the ship. Lincoln even admitted that he was trying to get the Confederates to fire first. As George W. Bush did when he fell into bin Laden’s trap and invaded Iraq after 9/11, the Confederates foolishly took the bait and even went Lincoln one better. They not only fired on the ship but also the fort, thus beginning the most cataclysmic war in U.S. history.