When a foreign nation attacks one of our own or even invades our home the appropriate response seems to be to fight back. When the Imperial Japanese attacked the US at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, the response was to fight back. When the North Vietnamese launched torpedoes at the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, the response was to fight back. When Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait, the response was to fight back. When Al-Qaeda launched a coordinated attack on several US cities, the response was to fight back. When Iran launched skirmishing attacks on US soldiers in Iraq and Syria, the response was to fight back.
This casus belli or cause of war, when listed in that way gives the impression that the US is defending as opposed to attacking. However, very few people stop and wonder why these nations would want to attack the US. These are the causes of war for the US but what were the causes of war for them?
In the case of Pearl Harbor, there were many factors in Japan’s decision to invade US territory and other nations. Some direct like the US putting an oil embargo on Japan and others were indirect and more methodical. The indirect cause was the sense of national pride which lead to colonialism. After the Meiji Restoration which modernized and industrialized Japan, the Japanese decided to redesign their military under the German standard. They invited a prominent German officer named Jakob Meckel to drill top Japanese officers on modern tactics and weaponry. Meckel was the one who told the Japanese that in order to secure their place in the world and to protect their nation they would need to invade Korea since Korea was a knife to the belly of Japan which could be used by foreign powers.
European nations and America had expansive empires all over the world which surrounded Japan. The French held southeast Asia, the Russians held Siberia and were expanding southward into Manchuria, the newly formed Chinese republic was also expanding into Manchuria and into Korea, the Dutch held the indies and restricted foreign trade, and lastly, the Americans held islands to the east of Japan.
Japan desired to become like the rest of the great powers at the time and all of those powers had colonies of their own. All that Japan did was mimicked what the US and other powers did. If we want to be disgusted by the actions of the Japanese, which we should, we must also be disgusted by the nations Japan was imitating.
Vietnam has a history of foreign powers oppressing their people from the Chinese to the French and briefly the Japanese. During World War II the Japanese invaded French Indo-China, modern-day Vietnam, and expelled the French only to surrender to allied forces shortly after. In the period after the Japanese left and before the French returned, Ho Chi Minh with the backing of the American OSS took back the country and quickly declared independence. American forces supported Ho Chi Minh and even saved his life several times.
Ho third from the top left next to American OSS operatives
In Ho’s speech declaring Vietnam’s independence, he started with the words, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In case you missed American history, those are the same words in America’s declaration of independence which was also against a European power. Next to Ho during that speech was American OSS Major Archimedes Patti showing just how close the US and Vietnam relations were.
This peace did not last long as the French demanded their colonies back and President Truman abandoned any support for the Vietnamese. This started the First Indochina War between the French backed monarchists in the south and the Viet Minh in the north.
After several French defeats such as at Dien Bien Phu negotiations split the country into two a communist republic in the north called the DRV and a Monarchy in the south called the State of Vietnam. Shortly after, however, the Monarchy broke down as the Prime Minister, Ngo Dinh Diem, declared the south as a republic but had refused to hold a referendum on whether or not the south would be united with the north since he was corrupt and wanted to maintain power for himself. This caused many DRV insurgencies to rise in the south against Diem which were met with more force backed by the United States. Diem was not entirely cooperative with the United States and so the south Vietnamese military backed by the CIA had Diem assassinated in a coup d’etat.
It was the American-backed forces suppressing any democratic process to reunify Vietnam that caused the DRV to attack the USS Maddox off the coast of their own country. In this instance, the United States was the foreign aggressor.
The history of Iraq is similar to the history of Vietnam in many ways. For thousands of years there were foreign occupiers that exploited the people and land from the Persians to the Greeks to the Ottomans, and in more recent history the French and the English. During World War I the French and British promised independence for anyone in the Ottoman Empire who rebelled against the Ottomans. Secretly, however, the French, British, and Russians agreed to split the dying Ottoman Empire for themselves in the infamous Sykes-Picot Treaty.
Due to instability in the region and the expense of World War II the European Empires lost most of the control in the region and decided to consolidate power. In the case of the Iraqi territory the British consolidated power into two specific areas, Kuwait and Palestine. Kuwait was historically an Iraqi territory and was originally founded by the ancient Iraqis known as the Mesopotamians in 2000 BCE. Kuwait belonged to Iraq, the British did not care and siphoned off the region from Iraq in order to maintain an important trading port and naval base along with the land near the island which was rich with oil.
After World War II, Iraq was volatile and unstable until the late 1970s when Saddam Hussein rose to power through military and political force. Shortly after consolidating power within the country, he desired to expand Iraq by taking back its former territories starting with Kuwait. After his invasion and annexation, the UN sent a relief force led by the United States under the Bush Sr administration. Kuwait was liberated which is not an accurate statement; Kuwait was returned to the British-influenced government.
In this incident, Iraq was trying to gain back the territories lost to colonial powers much like Vietnam. Was Hussein a good person, no, but his rise to power and asperations of expansion were caused by the instability from colonial powers. Those colonial powers only continued the cycle of war instead of ending it. The United States remained complicit and supported the status quo created by colonial powers much like what happened in Vietnam.
Al-Qaeda is an organization that was founded during the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s. Most of its members are from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE. The organization believes in Salafism which was the idea that Islam should return to its fundamental way a life, specifically to the way Islam was in the first three generations following the Prophet Muhammad. The name Al-Qaeda translates to the “fundamental” or the “base.”
As mentioned before, Al-Qaeda became active during the 1980’s Soviet-Afghan War and fought along side the American backed Afghan government to remove the foreign invaders. After the war, however, American forces did not leave despite the people demanding that all foreign influence, including the US, must leave. This created instability and civil war including the creation of the Taliban in the early 1990s which was and still is the de facto government of non-US controlled parts of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda worked with the Taliban in its attempts to expel the United States along with all “western” influence.
It was in this conflict that pinned Al-Qaeda directly against the United States and so in every nation that Al-Qaeda spread to, the United States would be there to fight them regardless if the local populations even wanted US support.
Although Al-Qaeda declared itself against the whole world, it was the US insistence to not leave certain nations alone that created direct and unnecessary conflict, and ironically it was the civil wars in Afghanistan partly caused by the United States that gave local populations a reason to join organizations such as Al-Qaeda in order to expel foreign influence. 9/11 was not the start of the conflict, merely a single battle in a long drawn out conflict that only perpetuated war and reinvigorated the cycle of violence.
Iran, like Syria, and the aforementioned Iraq and Afghanistan was trying to get rid of foreign influence and in 1979 the country overthrew their King or Shah named Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The US intervened and defended the King and eventually took him into the United States to provide safety and healthcare. The Iranians demanded the Shah back so that he could stand trial for crimes against Iranian citizens. This never happened and so the Iranian people took US hostages from an embassy.
This act of US support of a brutal King and the retaliation from Iran taking hostages has pinned the US and Iran against each other ever since. The Obama administration attempted to end tension through the Iranian nuclear deal but that was undermined by further sanctions under the same administration. Relations became worse under the Trump administration as the US left the nuclear deal and began maximum pressure against Iran starting with the droning of Iran’s top general, Soleimani at the start of 2020.
Here, much like the other nations discussed before, most of the violence was unnecessary, and furthering tension and conflict will do nothing to bring peace.
I do not know how to make or maintain peace, but I do know what causes war. What the United States has done and still does is not creating peace only a status quo of hegemony that can collapse at any moment just as the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, Ottoman, Japanese, and many other empires had. We are already seeing American hegemony decline all over the world and the best thing that we can do is to give up that hegemony peacefully and willingly. Would this create peace in the rest of the world, probably not, but it will prevent the United States from being the reason why war is happening.
This has been a brief history as to the causes of war in a few conflicts and I encourage my readers to go out on their own and study this intricate and fascinating history of US conflicts.