Embargoes And Other Acts Of War

| Educate!

Above photo: From Portland Indy Media.

The war between the United States and Japan began with a US-enforced oil embargo against the Japanese Empire.

This September 20 to 23, there will be mass protests in New York City during the United Nations General Assembly: The People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine. Click here for more information.

Right now, in the United States, huge detention camps are being constructed for the increasingly criminalized refugee and migrant population, a campaign of government-sponsored domestic terror run by a supposedly temporary, “acting” head of the department created by the ever-Orwellian 9/11-era Bush administration, Homeland Security.

Abroad, an oil embargo is being enforced by the US and British Navies against Iranian ships worldwide, strangling the Iranian economy, immiserating millions, with many unpredictable, destabilizing effects on the horizon.  These policies are being spearheaded by another sort of “acting” head, the infamously empire-loving sadist, John Bolton.

You can be sure, however, that if there is any sort of retaliatory action taken against these policies, this is where the mainstream narrative will start.  “Iran’s unprovoked, sneak attack,” or some variation thereof, will be the headline.  They’ll tell us about how much these totalitarian Iranians hate our freedom and democracy.  That the entire story between Iran and the west began with British and US support for a dictatorship, and a US- and UK-led overthrow of a thriving democracy will be facts relegated to the obscurity of the history books read by specialists in the region.  That the current oil embargo is an effort to strangle the Iranian economy and provoke a military response will rarely be mentioned, especially once the military response happens, if indeed it does, whether it’s in a form recognized as such by what they call “the international community” or not, whether it’s a response fabricated by John Bolton, that actually only exists in his warped brain, or if it’s a real one.

There are crippling embargoes the US has enforced on other countries for extremely long periods of time, without eliciting a military response.  But as economically damaging as it has been, the US never ratcheted up the blockade against Cuba to the extent that it is enforcing this blockade against Iranian trade — at least, to my knowledge, not since 1962 or so, when what we now call the Cuban Missile Crisis almost brought the world to nuclear holocaust.  (Prevented only by a very clear-thinking, cautious submarine commander named Vasili Arkhipov, incidentally.)

What has already been relegated to the dustbin of historical obscurity, of interest mainly to military historians and few others, as far as I can tell, is the fact that it was an oil embargo against Japan that was unequivocally and directly the provocation for the Japanese Empire’s bombing of the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii.  The bombing raid was retaliation against the embargo that had been preventing Japan from importing oil.  First the US stopped selling oil or anything else to Japan.  This is not what provoked Japanese retaliation, however.  It was after the US Navy imposed a blockade between Indonesia and Japan, preventing Japan from importing oil from anywhere else, that the Japanese Empire was put into a position where they could either surrender or fight back.  After the US imposed its embargo, the more militarist among the Japanese leadership rose to the top, and retaliation was ensured.  Hopefully we all know what came next — four years of massive bloodshed and destruction, ending with all of the islands of Japan in smoking ruins, including two cities and hundreds of thousands of children and senior citizens annihilated by the world’s first use of atomic weapons.

Although no two countries have the same histories, there are historically dynamics between powers like the US and the UK and other countries these governments and their corporations interact with, that tend to produce a lot of similar patterns.  While I may be just another voice shouting in the wilderness here, there are many reasons why the history of modern Japan is more than a little worth recalling — especially certain salient aspects of it.

Prior to its encounters with the western colonial powers (a group which has long included among its ranks the United States, contrary to popular mythology), Japan was, relative to Europe, a prosperous country with a strong and well-organized government, that had been at peace within its borders and with its neighbors for centuries.  This period was known as the Edo Era.

The Edo Era ended when Edo, what we now know as Tokyo, was bombarded by the US Navy in 1856.  In our history books we call this the “opening” of the “isolationist” nation of Japan.  Japan did not need to be “opened,” and it wasn’t “isolationist” either.  But if you don’t want to trade with the US, that apparently makes you isolationist, and in need of a thorough bombing.  In short, it is the US Navy that set Japan on its course of rapid industrialization and militarization, which culminated in the Japanese Empire’s desperate effort to beat back the United States and maintain its own brutal empire in East Asia.  The Japanese leadership that took power in the period after the US attack in 1856 believed that if Japan didn’t become a regional power capable of defending itself against the greatest military powers of the world, it would become a colony, like China had been.  The Japanese leadership looked across the sea at the opium-addicted, impoverished nation of China, and knew exactly the fate they wanted to avoid.  Britain and the US, among other colonial powers, had used their military might to force the Chinese Emperor to allow the import of the deadly drug, though the Emperor had repeatedly tried to ban the trade — clearly “isolationist” behavior that required severe punishment in the forms of a “trade war” that ended the lives of tens of thousands of Chinese people, and destroyed two cities, in two different military campaigns that took place both before and after Admiral Perry’s bombardment of Japan.

Pearl Harbor was not unexpected, nor was it a “sneak attack.”  The only reason some in the Roosevelt administration believed it wouldn’t happen was because they thought it would be an irrational move on the part of the Japanese Empire, when the US had just made sure that it was their only option besides surrender.  Historical differences aside, this is exactly, precisely the situation the Trump administration and its imperial British allies are putting Iran in, right now.  Retaliate or surrender.  Either way, the outcome will be immeasurable human suffering.  And probably the only ones who could potentially prevent this outcome would be an activated US population, organized into a massive, militant social movement that finally puts an end to the imperial madness that has characterized US foreign policy since long before the revolution of 1776, through both Republican and Democratic governments, up until the present moment, the current precipice we are all standing on now.

David Rovics is a singer-songwriter who tours regularly throughout North America, Europe, and occasionally elsewhere. Read other articles by David, or visit David’s website.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    Excellent article! Leave it to a “singer song writer”! This obvious truth telling (!) is nowhere else to be found in my daily scanning of the MSM. “Sad.” It’s just like my hero and late modern Irish-American philosopher (king) George Carlin said: “It’s BS, folks. It’s all BS, and it’s bad for ya'”, when referring to the MSM and American culture in general. Go Bernie and Elizabeth! And with apologies to my Persian friends!

  • Pat moore

    Thank you for this excellent history lesson (not as written by the victors). There is increasing awareness by the public of the evils of the military/industrial complex. But time is short.

  • John Chadwick

    History lesson: Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and Japanese response…

  • mwildfire

    Nmm. Go Bernie and Elizabeth, after railing against US imperialism? Do either of them oppose it? Warren, certainly not–Sanders has been on both sides. They are both solidly in favor of re-equalizing domestic wealth. But if you want international justice and peace, I think you have to consider Tulsi Gabbard.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    This is not a video game or “reality” TV. The military may be the only force protecting the American People from Our Mad King Donald’s coronation at this time.

  • Steven Berge

    There are few governments left that are not in the new world order harem. That leaves it up to the people on the inside of the global gangster group, us, to reign it in. Be active! Go Yellow Vests! Go Move to Amend! Go Represent.US!

  • Steven Berge

    I’ve been disappointed in how those two have dropped the ball at times, but at least they would be massive upgrades to Clinton. Unfortunately, with the DNCs new rules just reinforcing their ablilities to control the out come of primary elections, it would seem they’ve probably already decided who will win or at least their two or three acceptable winners.

  • chetdude

    Oh, please, don’t wish for that…

    The LAST thing we ‘need’ is a military coup…

    I’d rather starve the military machine than hope for its takeover of our country.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    Sorry, pal, but our brothers in arms may be our only salvation in righting this sinking ship of state. You do realize, do you not, that we have already suffered a coup? This would be a counter-coup-a common brain injury in auto accident patients I’ve treated. It occurs when the soft, pliable human brain is slammed usually forward in the hard skull-case and then bounces back only to end-up injured on both its poles. Life is not always fair, but predictable to an old hand. The “LAST” thing we need is 4 more years of a Mad King Donald ruled (if you call anarchy ruling!) Trumpistan. Wake up my brother! Go Bernie and Elizabeth!

  • chetdude

    I’m all for Bernie or Liz or Tulsi as an antidote for the toxic SYSTEM that coughed up both Trump AND Hillary…

    But just getting rid of Trump and replacing him with another creature of the system or having a bunch of very shallow, myopic people** who see a nail and immediately think of overwhelming force in the form of a Drone with a Hellfire missile, an F35 or atomic warhead hold a REAL coup…is far from a “solution”…

    Again, be VERY careful what you wish for…


    ** Believe me, I grew up with these people…and My Brothers In Arms were on the front lines of the Peace Protests…along with David Rovics, my actual Brother in the Union…