This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."
In Chapter 16, it does not appear that Zinn is trying to argue that WWII was an unjust war, merely that it was a hypocritical war. Hitler and his totalitarian regime were evil, but so have been countless other global atrocities that we as a nation have chosen to ignore. When we have intervened in other places - like Latin America and Asia - it has been to improve our ability to acquire resources and improve our trade conditions.
Zinn claims convincingly that the way we interfered in World War II (and we ignored the poor treatment of Jews in Germany throughout the 30s and sold oil to Italy after fascism had already taken root) was not for moral but for pragmatic capitalistic and imperialistic reasons. "Roosevelt was as much concerned to end the oppression of Jews as Lincoln was to end slavery during the Civil War; their priority in policy (whatever their personal compassion for victims of persecution) was not minority rights, but national power."
I imagine some readers will be outraged by this. Zinn knows this and backs it up further: "It was not Hitler's attacks on the Jews that brought the United States into World War II, any more than the enslavement of 4 million blacks brought Civil War in 1861. Italy's attack on Ethiopia, Hitler's invasion of Austria, his takeover of Czechoslovakia, his attack on Poland-none of those events caused the United States to enter the war, although Roosevelt did begin to give important aid to England. What brought the United States fully into the war was the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Surely it was not the humane concern for Japan's bombing of civilians that led to Roosevelt's outraged call for war-Japan's attack on China in 1937, her bombing of civilians at Nan king, had not provoked the United States to war. It was the Japanese attack on a link in the American Pacific Empire that did it."
But no matter how we got into it, our plan was clear. "In April 1944 a State Department official said: "As you know, we've got to plan on enormously increased production in this country after the war, and the American domestic market can't absorb all that production indefinitely. There won't be any question about our needing greatly increased foreign markets."" As we've seen throughout the book, if the market doesn't exist already, we create it.
Zinn discusses the ways we ended the war and how we gained from it. He also talks about the atrocities we committed against Americans in the name of patriotism and security. As usual, we promoted racism and xenophobia so that those with power and control could maintain it more easily. Go ahead, read the chapter.
Zinn also talks about the fascinating ways that the government created the Cold War and used it to manipulate Americans into buying into oppressive and exploitive foreign policy decisions.
"World events right after [WWII] made it easier to build up public support for the anti-Communist crusade at home. In 1948, the Communist party in Czechoslovakia ousted non-Communists from the government and established their own rule. The Soviet Union that year blockaded Berlin, which was a jointly occupied city isolated inside the Soviet sphere of East Germany, forcing the United States to airlift supplies into Berlin. In 1949, there was the Communist victory in China, and in that year also, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. In 1950 the Korean war began. These were all portrayed to the public as signs of a world Communist conspiracy.
"Not as publicized as the Communist victories, but just as disturbing to the American government, was the upsurge all over the world of colonial peoples demanding independence. Revolutionary movements were growing—in Indochina against the French; in Indonesia against the Dutch; in the Philippines, armed rebellion against the United States."
Zinn talks about McCarthyism, how Republicans started it and Democrats helped implement the prosecutions and censureships. The Red Scare unified even the more liberal parts of society against Communisism, permitting the military to get bigger and stronger to defend against the enemy. "At the start of 1950, the total U.S. budget was about $40 billion, and the military part of it was about $12 billion. But by 1955, the military part alone was $40 billion out of a total of $62 billion."
"By 1970, the U.S. military budget was $80 billion and the corporations involved in military production were making fortunes. Two-thirds of the 40 billion spent on weapons systems was going to twelve or fifteen giant industrial corporations, whose main reason for existence was to fulfill government military contracts. Senator Paul Douglass, an economist and chairman of the Joint Economic Committee of the Senate, noted that "six-sevenths of these contracts are not competitive. . . . In the alleged interest of secrecy, the government picks a company and draws up a contract in more or less secret negotiations."" You can bet I know this to be true. My dad was a fighter pilot in the Air Force, then retired and went to work for Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As a country, we wanted control over oil and other resources, so we interfered in the governments of South America and Lebanon and Cuba.
" The country was on a permanent war economy which had big pockets of poverty, but there were enough people at work, making enough money, to keep things quiet. The distribution of wealth was still unequal. From 1944 to 1961, it had not changed much: the lowest fifth of the families received 5 percent of all the income; the highest fifth received 45 percent of all the income. In 1953, 1.6 percent of the adult population owned more than 80 percent of the corporate stock and nearly 90 percent of the corporate bonds. About 200 giant corporations out of 200,000 corporations—one-tenth of 1 percent of all corporations—controlled about 60 percent of the manufacturing wealth of the nation."
The military was huge and ensuring that big business's interests were being favored all around the world. At home, though, the disparity continued. Thus Zinn concludes this chapter: "Nothing had to be done for blacks. Nothing had to be done to change the economic structure. An aggressive foreign policy could continue. The country seemed under control. And then, in the 1960s, came a series of explosive rebellions in every area of American life, which showed that all the system's estimates of security and success were wrong."