Who are you calling a ‘war­mon­ger’?

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By James Kirchick

Do you be­lieve that eco­nomic sanc­tions are nec­es­sary to pre­vent the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment from ob­tain­ing nu­clear weapons? That small, Eastern Euro­pean democ­ra­cies liv­ing in the shadow of an ag­gres­sive Rus­sia ought have the choice to join a de­fen­sive mil­i­tary al­liance? That democ­racy pro­mo­tion and the pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights should be at the fore­front of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy?

If so, you have prob­a­bly been called a “war­mon­ger.” It’s a fa­vorite of the iso­la­tion­ist alt-right and the bur­geon­ing, equally iso­la­tion­ist “dirt­bag left.” Of course, the tra­di­tional left doesn’t shy away from it, ei­ther. “The rest of the world, al­most unan­i­mously, looks at Amer­ica as the No. 1 war­mon­ger,” says Jimmy Carter, who also has used the ep­i­thet to de­scribe Sen. John McCain, a man who knows the costs of war bet­ter than most.

As a term of po­lit­i­cal abuse, “war­mon­ger” is fre­quently de­ployed to as­sail in­di­vid­u­als rec­om­mend­ing mea­sures far short of war, like the afore­men­tioned Iran sanc­tions, NATO en­large­ment or hu­man rights pro­mo­tion. “War­mon­ger” be­longs to the id­iom of po­lit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda, and like all pro­pa­ganda, its pur­pose is not to clar­ify but to con­demn — which is key to un­der­stand­ing its ig­no­ble 20th cen­tury pedi­gree as a pe­jo­ra­tive fa­vored by fas­cists and com­mu­nists, some­times speaking in har­mony.

In the years be­fore Amer­i­can en­try into World War II, iso­la­tion­ists fre­quently hurled the “war­mon­ger” charge at Pres­i­dent Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt over his sup­port for arm­ing Great Bri­tain against the grow­ing Nazi threat. FDR, ac­cord­ing to the no­to­ri­ous Fa­ther Charles Cough­lin, was “the world’s chief war­mon­ger” and “the war­mon­ger hireling of the Jews.”

Whether they knew it or not, Roo­sevelt’s crit­ics were echo­ing Nazi pro­pa­ganda. “Roo­sevelt main tool of Jewish Freema­sonry; Sen­sa­tional Doc­u­ment Re­veals Con­nec­tion of the War­mon­ger with the In­ter­na­tional Clique,” de­clared the Völkische Beobachter, the of­fi­cial news­pa­per of the Na­tional So­cial­ist Ger­man Work­ers’ Party, in the sum­mer of 1941. That same year, in what was dubbed “The War­mon­ger Hear­ings,” a bi­par­ti­san group of iso­la­tion­ist sen­a­tors launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Hol­ly­wood’s al­leged pro-war mes­sag­ing, a fore­taste of the House Un-Amer­i­can Ac­tiv­i­ties Com­mit­tee that would tar­get com­mu­nist in­flu­ence a decade later.

For the two years that Nazi Ger­many was al­lied with the Soviet Union, Amer­i­can com­mu­nists joined right-wing iso­la­tion­ists in de­nounc­ing Roo­sevelt as a “war­mon­ger,” only to jet­ti­son that line of at­tack the minute Hitler turned on Stalin.

But af­ter the war against fas­cism ended and the Cold War be­gan, “war­mon­ger” be­came a sta­ple of com­mu­nist pro­pa­ganda again. When Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill de­liv­ered his fa­mous “Iron Cur­tain” speech in Ful­ton, Mo., Stalin re­ferred to his erst­while wartime ally as a “war­mon­ger” and banned pub­li­ca­tion of the ad­dress in the Soviet Union. In 1950, as it set about oc­cu­py­ing Eastern Europe, the Com­mu­nist In­for­ma­tion Bureau pub­lished a doc­u­ment ti­tled “The De­fense of Peace and the Strug­gle Against the War­mon­ger.”

The Sovi­ets and their sym­pa­thiz­ers in the West ap­plied “war­mon­ger” to ev­ery­one from Churchill (pick­eted at a 1946 speech in Madi­son Square Gar­den by mem­bers of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Amer­i­can-Soviet Friend­ship) to Henry Wal­lace, the for­mer Pro­gres­sive Party pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who later con­fessed to be­ing a dupe for Soviet to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. Like “fas­cist,” Moscow and its fel­low trav­el­ers used “war­mon­ger” to de­scribe es­sen­tially any­one even re­motely crit­i­cal of the Soviet sys­tem and its for­eign pol­icy.

“War­mon­ger” was given a new lease on life af­ter 9/11 and the re­sponse these at­tacks en­gen­dered from Western democ­ra­cies. To­day, vir­tu­ally any mea­sure un­der­taken to con­front ter­ror­ist groups or au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes is rou­tinely de­cried as “war­mon­ger­ing” by an ide­o­log­i­cally di­verse as­sort­ment of pun­dits and po­lit­i­cal ac­tors.

Dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, sup­port­ers of Don­ald Trump fre­quently as­sailed Hil­lary Clin­ton as a “war­mon­ger” for ad­vo­cat­ing a no-fly zone in Syria in­tended to de­fend in­no­cent civil­ians from Bashar As­sad’s bar­rel bombs. On the left, Ger­many’s for­mer for­eign min­is­ter last sum­mer de­cried NATO ex­er­cises as “war­mon­ger­ing” and “saber-rat­tling” de­signed to pro­voke Rus­sia.

In both cases, and in keep­ing with the term’s dis­hon­or­able lin­eage, the be­hav­ior of the ac­tual ag­gres­sor was con­ve­niently ig­nored. In­deed, whether em­ployed by com­mu­nists, fas­cists, the alt-right or the iso­la­tion­ist left, what’s con­sis­tent about “war­mon­ger” is how it’s ap­plied only to the ac­tions of lib­eral democ­ra­cies. Those who com­plain most of­ten about “war­mon­ger­ing” are con­spic­u­ously silent about the be­hav­ior of anti-Western regimes and move­ments, whether Rus­sia (war­mon­ger­ing in Eastern Ukraine), Iran (war­mon­ger­ing in Syria), Ha­mas (war­mon­ger­ing against Is­rael) or Venezuela (war­mon­ger­ing against its own peo­ple).

Calling some­one a “war­mon­ger” is, then, a politi­cized form of the psy­cho­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non known as “pro­jec­tion,” whereby one as­cribes his own ne­far­i­ous con­duct and mo­tives onto oth­ers. By fling­ing the term at any­one who ad­vo­cates a mus­cu­lar re­sponse to ter­ror­ism and dic­ta­tor­ship, those who lob “war­mon­ger” are faith­fully car­ry­ing on the tra­di­tion of fas­cists and com­mu­nists.

James Kirchick is fill­ing in for Doyle McManus. He is au­thor of “The End of Europe: Dic­ta­tors, Dem­a­gogues and the Com­ing Dark Age.”

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