Embargoes and Other Acts of War
by David Rovics - Dissident Voice
July 12, 2019
The war between the United States and Japan began with a US-enforced oil embargo against the Japanese Empire.
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.