Imagine you’ve been through Hell. You’ve put your life on the line, and you’ve potentially seen your friends die, all because of a lie. If you’re enlisted in the military, that’s probably not too hard to imagine. For many members of the US military throughout the nation’s history no imagination is required at all.
The results of these lies have included the waste of millions to trillions of dollars. Sometimes the losses of life have been relatively limited for events on a national scale, other times it has climbed into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The tragic nature of that reality is beyond mere words to describe, but we’ll do what we can.
Note: For those who may wonder why the Gulf of Tonkin is not included, the reason for that exclusion is because it was previously covered on TopTenz here.
10. Nayirah Testimony
In October 1990, a Kuwaiti teenager identified only as “Nayirah” gave the gift of a lifetime to the American policy makers that wanted to push for the liberation of Kuwait after Iraq had annexed it. As early as September 5, 1990, unsubstantiated stories had circulated from the UK’s Daily Telegraph that Iraqi soldiers were taking Kuwaiti babies from incubators, throwing the babies on the floor, and then sending the incubators back to Iraq. To many Americans in the audience of more than 35 million, Nayirah substantiated those stories when she tearfully recounted witnessing such atrocities. Thus support for the subsequent war became overwhelming.
It turned out her testimony was lies that had been arranged by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, and that Nayirah was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador. It had cost the Kuwaiti government in exile about $12 million to get popular support to liberate their country. It also did not take long for the truth to come out. The New York Times reported on the hoax by 1992.
9. USS Maine
On February 15,1898, the USS Maine battleship did the third last thing it would ever do when it sailed out into Havana Harbor. It did the second to last thing it would ever do at 9:40 p.m. when it exploded and sank, taking 266 crew members down with it. The last thing it did was cause a war that killed thousands of US troops and changed the nation into an empire by acquiring it Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
William Randolph Hearst had already been using his newspaper, the New York Journal, to inspire the American people to overthrow Spanish rule in Cuba through depictions of the Cuban Revolution that ranged from heroic to salacious. He fell hungrily on the story of the Maine exploding until he had the nation yelling “Remember the Maine!” This despite the fact there was no evidence that any Spanish vessel or agent had anything to do with it.
In 1976, the US Navy launched an investigation into the Maine explosion under the command of Admiral Hyman Rickover. The official finding was that the explosion had originated from inside the side, and said the most likely culprit was a coal bunker fire. “Remember the Maine,” if the truth mattered more, would only have been a warning about fuel safety then a war cry.
8. United Fruit Guatemala Coup
In 1954, President Jacobo Arbenz ordered United Fruit Company out of Guatemala, with the consolation that he would pay the company for the land he was claiming domain over, which he would then give to his middle class citizens. On the basis of this and the existence of a small number of Communist Party members in low-level positions in his administration, United Fruit Company told President Dwight Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and the CIA director Allen Dulles (John’s brother) that Arbenz was a full bore, Warsaw Pact member communist and needed to be ousted, never mind that he was democratically elected and no more communist than the Western European nations. Eisenhower gave the go ahead.
The result was a bombing campaign which saw Arbenz leave the country to be replaced by military dictator Carlos Armas. Guatemala was stuck with repressive regimes for decades that left the country so dangerous that as late as 1998 Bishop Juan Geradi was assassinated for delivering a report that the government was having people assassinated. President Clinton tried to issue an apology in 1999, but it was far too little much too late. Even in 2009, Guatemala’s internal strife killed more civilians than terrorism killed in destabilized Iraq (much more on this later).
7. Smuggling for a Coup
Nicolás Maduro was elected president of Venezuela for a second term on May 21, 2018. Despite the fact that UN observers had been present for the election, it was declared illegitimate, and by January 2019 Juan Guiado claimed to be the new president of Venezuela. Told that he enjoyed vastly more popular legitimacy than he did, the US government recognized Guiado as the new president and began to smuggle weapons to his rebel forces. The effort came to a head when Guiado amassed a force of several dozen soldiers with thousands of protestors armed with rocks and attempted a putsch in Venezuela’s capital Caracas, an effort which failed when tear gas was fired and left one dead, dozens wounded. Despite the impression the US was given (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Maduro was ready to leave Venezuela for Cuba until Russian agents talked him out of it) even as he marched against the capital, hundreds of thousands of other marched in support of President Maduro.
Not that the relatively bloodless botched coup means that to date Venezuela has dodged severe damage from the US Military. A study by Columbia University reported that an estimated 40,000 Venezuelans have died as a result of US sanctions on Venezuela. Considering its economic problems, it was especially vulnerable at the time.
6. Grenada Invasion
To a large majority of Americans, the only thing they know about Grenada is that the US invaded the small Caribbean Island in 1983. The reason this island with a population of roughly 110,000 was invaded was that there was a military coup that overthrew the prime minister Maurice Bishop after he did not hold a free election. Among the Americans supposedly unable to escape the crossfire of the government and the rebels were 800 students at St. George’s University of Medicine, which was the primary pretext for the US military to send 7,000 troops. Additionally there were claims that the Cuban government had supported the coup and threatened to turn the government communist.
Both of these justifications were built on faulty information. The airports for Grenada were still functioning at the time of the US invasion, and the students could have left if they wanted to. A poll by the school’s chancellor found 90% didn’t. Part of the misconception was that those 10% who did were debriefed by the US government while those who chose to remain were not, and giving a very faulty, imbalanced perspective on the situation as far as the students were concerned. Furthermore, Fidel Castro had denounced the uprising. Warehouses full of weapons were found and accused of being Cuban support for the coup, but they were actually antique weapons the rebels had confiscated. Finally, there were only one hundred Cuban military personnel on the island (thirty-five of them were killed in the invasion) which was hardly a force to topple even a relatively small nation.
5. The Kosovo War
For the vast majority of Americans, this 1999 war has been completely overshadowed by the 2001 World Trade Center attacks and subsequent conflicts. Still, considering that more than 13,500 people died in the war, it was significant in shaping the future for the region near where the US would find itself inextricably involved in the years to come. In this case, however, US troops were sent overseas as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization instead of just by itself.
The main flashpoint for NATO involvement was reports of ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbs in Yugoslavia. One of the main means by which the public in NATO signatories were made to support intervention was images of alleged atrocities, such as photos of dead bodies. According to Globalresearch.com and the German TV documentary It Started with a Lie, photos that showed corpses of the Kosovo Liberation Army among the dead were excluded in government statements, especially in Germany. The Kosovo Liberation Army as US envoy Robert Gelbard said was “undeniably a terrorist group.” Thus would America find itself sending thousands of troops in an alliance with terrorists just a few years before terrorists would become the most feared people in the world.
4. Sinking the Gun Runner
By 1915, word had gotten out that the battlefields of the First World War were apocalyptic meat grinders, and thus Americans generally would require a lot of motivation to even consider taking part in it. U-boat U–20 provided a massive portion of it by sinking the H.M.S. Lusitania. It would be two more years before the U.S. would enter the war, but approval for war had begun to shift in the hearts of millions of Americans. After all, the Germans had committed a vile act of killing innocent civilians, not participants in the war!
Or had they? The German military insisted that the Lusitania had been transporting munitions, thus making the attack justified by the rules of war. British Intelligence denied this, but even at the time, it had been public knowledge that there were five thousand cases of small arms rounds aboard. In 2014, however, documents were leaked which revealed that a 1982 diving expedition was warned by the Foreign Office to be on the alert for munitions that might blow them all up. Beyond the obvious foreign relations reasons, this had been kept under wraps for fear that the families of the survivors would sue the government. To date, the only lawsuits filed over the Lusitania have been over who has the right to salvage the ship that became most momentous lie of WWI.
3. Libyan Radio Frame
On April 5, 1986, La Belle Discotheque in Berlin was bombed, killing two American service members and one Turkish civilian. Radio transmissions between East Germany and Tripoli were reportedly intercepted that implicated Libya as the culprit. Within 10 days, as Libya in general and Muammar al-Qaddafi were long time enemies of the United States, a retaliatory attack was launched on Libya. Among the targets hit would be three military bases, Qaddafi’s home, and the French embassy. Fifteen Libyans were killed, including Qaddafi’s adopted 15-month-old daughter.
Years later, Victor Ostrovosky published his memoirs By Way of Deception and The Other Side of Deception. A former agent for Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence network, he confessed that the transmissions had actually been the work of his fellow agents to essentially frame Libya. Even nine years later when offering testimony about the affair, he needed to be transmitted through closed circuit television. There was too much fear that if he went to Europe Mossad’s agents would kidnap him.
2. Douma Gas Attack
On April 8, 2018 it was reported that the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad had used sarin nerve gas on civilians in a rebel-controlled area of the city of Douma. The US, France, and the UK launched retaliatory missile strikes against Syria in response. The cost of the US attack was ,.; hard to pin down but much more than $100 million.
Then three months later, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a report that their analysis of the location had found no evidence of sarin gas or any such nerve gas, but they did report finding canisters with chlorine gas traces around them, which they said were possibly dropped by the Assad regime. Then previously censored portions of the report were leaked, which said that the canisters had been placed there manually instead of being fired by Assad’s military, almost assuring that it was a staged attack. Other witnesses pointed out that it would make little sense for Assad to be firing chemical weapons into the area of Douma as his troops were near the site. Furthermore, the rebels had been releasing hostages during the period of the alleged gas attack, which made even less sense. For all its advanced technology and analytical processes, the US military is still very vulnerable to being duped.
1. Iraq’s WMD
Some estimates put the death toll for Iraq since the US invaded on March 20, 2003 at more than two million. While it’s difficult to break down how many were enemy combatants and how many civilians, a study of one neighborhood in Mosul where bombardments had killed roughly three thousand Iraqis found that roughly eighty percent of them were civilians. Add to that the roughly 3,490 US troops KIA in Iraq, along with tens of thousands wounded, and the war begins to seem like quite possibly the greatest military disaster the US has engaged in during the 21st Century — even before getting into how it destabilized surrounding nations and contributed to refugee crises.
In the days leading up to the invasion, one of the primary justifications given was that Saddam Hussein’s government would soon begin developing “weapons of mass-destruction.” Evidence that he was doing that centered around documents given to the Atomic Energy Agency that said the Iraqi government was attempting to buy five hundred tons of uranium from Niger. Even before the invasion began, it was pointed out by the UN Security Council that the signature did not match that of Niger’s president, because the documents were “obvious fakes.” But the rhetoric of National Security Adviser Condelezza Rice that “we don’t want that smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” and the national mood at the time would not be denied.
Dustin Koski is the author of Not Meant to Know, a novel about cult conspiracies not nearly as scary as some of those in this list.