Our nation often gets into wars over things that sail the oceans.
The Boston Tea Parties — there were two — involved committing acts of economic vandalism on British merchant ships.
The War of 1812 was sparked by maritime trade disputes and American sailors being “impressed” into sea-going slavery.
The 1898 Spanish American War started when Spain blew up the U.S. battleship Maine. Or maybe a boiler, fuel or munitions exploded by accident. Some claim it was a false flag operation. Whatever the cause, an imperialistic land grab on two hemispheres ensued.
Seventeen years later, a German U-boat sank the ocean liner Lusitania, with 128 Americans on board, along with U.S.-made, Britain-bound munitions the Germans knew would be used against them. The incident helped sway American public opinion away from neutrality in World War I, which it entered two years after.
Twenty-three years later, the Japanese attack on ships at Pearl Harbor pulled the U.S. into this planet’s most deadly conflict.
Nineteen years after that, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, in which North Vietnam perhaps fired a torpedo at a US Navy vessel — and missed — gave Lyndon Johnson ample pretext to jump fully into a Southeast Asian war.
Five more recent episodes involving ships sparked near or actual armed conflict. North Korea captured the U.S. Navy intelligence ship Pueblo in 1968, which nearly rewarmed the Korean War. In 1975, Cambodia seized the U.S.-flagged container ship Mayaguez that had sailed into its claimed waters. Al Qaeda attacked the destroyer USS Cole 18 months before 9/11, and, in 2016, Iran captured two small U.S. Navy vessels that blundered into its waters. That could easily have provoked military action, but cool heads worked for President Obama, and the matter was resolved within hours.
Obama’s successor, however, isn’t trying to improve relations with Iran. Instead, President Trump may be attempting to provoke it into war in league with two of his best international buddies: Israeli Prime Minister, and corruption suspect, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince, and butcher of journalists, Mohammed bin Salman. The only thing restraining Trump may be his mysterious fealty to Iran’s ally-for-now, Vladimir Putin.
In mid-May, four tankers in the Persian Gulf were sabotaged with explosives. Damage was relatively light, and suspicion was immediately cast on Iran. The immediate consequence was a jump in oil prices despite little disruption of flow. Then, on June 13, two more tankers were damaged by torpedoes or missiles or hit mines. The following day, the U.S. government released a video that seems to show the crew of an Iranian vessel removing a mine that failed to detonate from the hull of one of the ships, but now a debate rages as to whether or not that evidence is real or manufactured, or if, given their seemingly intentional minimal damage, the attacks were intended merely as warnings.
The Trump administration had previously dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group to the area, so it may have been planning to provoke or react to such actions. The USS Abraham Lincoln and its support ships were sent as an escalation to Trump backing out of the Iran nuclear deal and imposing harsher economic sanctions.
I have a grandson on one of those ships and am aware that Iran has many anti-ship missiles. Our Navy has countermeasures, but those systems aren’t perfect. Our troops should not be missile fodder in a geopolitical game that mostly further enriches the financial elite.
I’ve contacted my congressional representatives to remind them that the War Powers Act dictates that only they can declare war. I hope you will, too, and ask them to remind the president that he can’t launch international conflicts on a whim.
Finally, I only support candidates who’ve pledged to prevent madness on the high seas and elsewhere.
Jim Catano, Salt Lake City, is a writer and editor currently working on a screenplay about what run-away climate change will mean for humanity.