Wars often start on the basis of false information. This is particularly likely when political leaders want war but need to convert public opinion to a pro-warfare position. Recent history presents several glaring examples of false information that led to warfare.
United States military escalation in Vietnam was justified by a purported North Vietnamese torpedo attack on U.S. destroyers in the Tonkin Gulf. The current evidence suggests that this attack never happened. Even at the time, President Lyndon Johnson remarked that the destroyers might have been firing at whales.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq was justified by claiming that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons. This allegation proved entirely false, but nevertheless led to the death of more than 100,000 Iraqis and the utter destruction of the country.
And at this very moment, false information could induce United States military assaults upon Syria and/or Iran. The Obama government claims to possess fool-proof evidence that the Syrian government launched an August 2013 chemical attack killing over 1,000 Syrians. Although the U.S. has not yet attacked Syria, the possibility of such an action continues. Meanwhile the supposedly foolproof evidence has proved deeply flawed. For example, the rockets that supposedly delivered Assad's chemical weapons do not have nearly enough range to do so.
The Obama government is also contemplating the possibility of attacking Iran supposedly to forestall its development of nuclear weapons. Yet most weapons experts say that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program a decade ago and its current leaders have no intention of building nuclear bombs.
Political leaders bent on warfare can usually generate data that seems to validate their militaristic predilections. The message of the examples above is that alert citizens should be highly skeptical about supposedly factual evidence that appears to justify warfare.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" column runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.