Leaders of every nation do what they think is in their countries’ immediate best interest and explain their actions with words that seem relevant at that moment. If future actions conflict with previous explanations, forgetfulness remediates the problem.

As a result, history includes a record of hypocrisy and is an endemic part of national leaders’ behavior. For the U.S. national establishment, control of school books has been an important aspect of preventing ordinary Americans’ exposure to national hypocrisy. As stated by George Orwell in 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

What differs between excuses of U.S. leaders for their geopolitical actions and those of other nations’ leaders are the sacrosanct, holier-than-thou reasons given by U.S. leaders. This has been apparent in many policy areas and is blatant in cases regarding secession.

Initially, secession from the U.S. was accepted as a state’s right, and in 1814-1815, when New England representatives met to discuss leaving the U.S., no one denied their right to do so.

Then, in 1861, only 71-years after the U.S. federal constitution’s ratification, in 1789, seven states seceded, including many that had created that U.S. The contemporary U.S. government said that states could not secede and began a war that yet holds the record as the bloodiest of many U.S. wars.

Other groups have since tried to create their own nations, and U.S. positions towards their aspirations have varied widely. Ireland is one example.

The U.K. abolished Ireland’s parliament, in 1801, and ruled Ireland as a part of the U.K. In the 1800’s, as national independence movements burned across Western Europe, nationalism only simmered in Ireland. Then, from 1845-1849 famine plagued Ireland, and about one million people died and one million more emigrated, which caused the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%. The U.K.’s parliament perpetuated that famine for economic reasons, which bred resentment amongst the Irish, which grew into an independence movement.

When rebellion finally began, during World War I, U.S. Pres. Wilson had only contemptuous words for the Irish. After the war, when Europe was being carved into nations for large ethnic majorities, England’s leaders and Wilson, a consummate Anglophile, rejected any consideration of Irish independence. As a result, Ireland was not allowed to secede from the U.K., and there was rebellion, until England allowed home rule in 1922. The treatment Ireland received from the U.S. and U.K. governments was almost as bad as that dealt to ethnic Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians by the Versailles Treaty.

Palestine is another example. Jewish settlement in Palestine and “national homeland for the Jewish people” there was approved, by the League of Nations, in 1920, without consulting Palestinians. Offering Jews part of Palestine was a scheme the U.K. devised, in 1917, to win worldwide Jewish support for its war. At that time, the U.K. and France were stalemated in their effort to defeat the German federation, the U.S. had not begun to pour is troops and armaments onto the Western Front to turn the tide against Germany, and Imperial Russia was in a death struggle with Bolsheviks.

The U.K. received a League of Nations mandate to rule Palestine, and carried out its promise to give away Palestinians’ land. The U.S. also a victor in that war, was an accomplice to the U.K.’s actions.

In 1947, the U.N. recommended creation of a Jewish state within Palestine, on land occupied for millennium by Palestinians. Palestine’s Jewish Agency (i.e., government) accepted the plan, but Palestinians and Arab leaders rejected it. They said that giving Palestinian land away violated the U.N. Charter’s principle of national self-determination, under which Palestinians should have the right to decide about giving away their land. The U.S., U.K., and Soviet Union voted for the U.N.’s plan.

War began between well-armed and organized Jewish settlers and poorly armed and poorly organized Palestinians. Armed Jewish groups killed civilians and spread terror in Palestinian areas, causing many Palestinians to flee to neighboring countries. When fighting ended, the Jews refused to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and colonized Palestinian territory with European Jews.

Jews have legally defined Israel as a Jewish nation and have relegated remaining Muslim and Christian Palestinians to second-class citizenship. They have also continued to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land. The U.S. and U.K. have developed intimate relations with Israel to the detriment of Palestinians and have enabled Israeli violations of successive U.S. resolutions and international law.

In 1992 Czechoslovakia became the separate nations of Czech Republic and Slovakia, after tense negotiations by political leaders. Czech political leaders wanted to maintain a country with strong federal control and Slovak leaders wanted a confederation in which each republic was equal. During the time when representatives of the two constituent nations negotiated to resolve their differences, the U.S. strongly urged Czech leaders to let Slovakia secede and become an independent republic. That was a safe call, as Czech leaders were not very bellicose and Slovakia and Czech Republic would both remain within the EU.

Kosovo offers a glaring example of a U.S. double standard. After World War II, Yugoslav president Josip Tito allowed many Muslim Albanians to settle throughout southern Yugoslavia.  Most settled in Serbia’s Kosovo Province, and quickly multiplied. They are known as Kosovars.

In 1980, a Muslin Albanian majority, in Kosovo, began to demand republic status within Yugoslavia. Serbia refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence, and, in 1987, began to implement centralizing policies. Serbia was also accused of persecuting Kosovars who were, at the time, persecuting and killing Serbs in Kosovo.

North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) nations were refused U.N. authorization to intervene in Kosovo, but, led by the U.S., proceeded to bomb Serbia, from March to June 1999. The bombings killed about 500 civilians and destroyed bridges, industrial plants, public buildings, private businesses, and military buildings. In April, Serbia agreed to allow a U.N. military presence in Kosovo, which included NATO-nations’ troops, and the war ended in June.

Thousands were killed in Kosovo, during the conflict, and hundreds of thousands fled from the province. Within a few months of the war’s end, most Kosovar refugees returned home, and many of the non-Kosovar population fled to other parts of Serbia or to protected enclaves within Kosovo. Kosovo Albanian guerrilla activity spread into other parts of Serbia and to neighboring Macedonia, and did not subside until 2001. The non-Albanian population has since diminished further, as a result of ongoing attacks and harassment.

During the war, Muslim volunteers from Albania, Turkey, and North Africa joined the Kosovar army. They were recruited by Islamic leaders in Western Europe that were allied with Bin Laden and Zawahiri. By helping Kosovars to win independence, the U.S. turned that volunteer stream towards Syria, Libya, and elsewhere.

With approval from Kosovo’s new, Muslim-Albanian government, the U.S. built Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo. It occupies 955 acres (3.86 km2) of land, and has been in use since 1999. To construct it, two hills were flattened and the valley between them filled. In August 1999, 52 helipads were constructed there to handle helicopter aviation. Bondsteel can comfortably accommodate 7,000 troops. It also has a prison that was described by the human rights envoy of the Council of Europe as a “smaller version of Guantanamo”.

By summer’s end, in 1999, most Serbs were gone from Kosovo, and, in 2008, Kosovo’s Albanian Muslims, enabled by the U.S. and NATO, declared Kosovo independent. Kosovars had used terror to drive Serbs from that Serbian province and the U.S. and NATO had assisted the Kosovars.

In 2010, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law, which recognizes the territorial integrity of states. Instead, it found that Kosovars had a right to secede, because they had been persecuted by Serbia. This ruling was carefully worded to discourage minority secession movements in states that support the ICJ.

The U.S. did not show the slightest blush of hypocrisy, in forcing Serbia from Kosovo, in 1999, or in furthering Kosovo’s nationhood, in 2008.

Sudan was governed as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, until 1954, when it became self-governing. Then there was an army revolt, in southern Sudan. It was suppressed, but low-level guerrilla war developed. Late in 1955, Sudan declared itself independent of Egypt and the U.K. The U.S. was one of the first countries to recognize Sudan as an independent nation. That same year the Arab-led government, in Khartoum, broke its promise to southerners to create a federal system, and a mutiny by southern army officers began civil war, which ended in 1972, after 17-years. In the early period of the war, hundreds of northern bureaucrats, teachers, and other officials, serving in the south were massacred.

Coups and counter coups followed, until 1983, when the Khartoum government’s Islamization policy led people in southern Sudan, who were Christians and animists, to revolt. More conflict followed, until a final peace treaty was signed in January 2005. In January 2011, the people of southern Sudan voted to secede from Sudan and later that year the Republic of South Sudan was created. The U.S. favored and supported southern Sudan’s secession from Sudan.

One should not forget how U.S. meddling in a Ukrainian election led to a crisis over Crimea. In 1991, Soviet leaders dissolved the USSR into its constituent nations. In 1993, U.S. officials told Russia’s president that the future European security system would include Russia. Instead, they planned to expand NATO to flank Russia with military bases.

An attempt was made to have Georgia join the European Union and NATO, which would have given NATO military bases in Georgia, on European Russia’s southern flank. That led to conflict between Russia and Georgia, in 2008, and an end to Georgian entry into the EU or NATO. It also led to the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, which the U.S. and EU nations have not recognized.

U.S., NATO, and EU agitation to have Ukraine join NATO and the EU derailed when Ukraine elected a president that wanted association with Russia and trade with the EU. In 2014, a local revolt was arranged, in Ukraine’s capital, by revolutionists trained and partly funded by Western advisors supported by Western governments and non-government agencies. They included seven U.S. organizations, including the U.S. State Department and USAID. The elected president fled to Russia, and, in a snap election that followed, a pro-EU, pro-NATO Ukrainian nationalist won. The U.S. and EU member states quickly recognized the result as valid, and, in late 2014, Ukraine signed an Association Agreement with the EU.

It appeared that EU and NATO membership were the next steps for Ukraine. That would have enabled NATO to replace Russia, at air and naval bases, in Crimea, thereby flanking European Russia on its south. In response, Russia occupied Crimea. In a referendum, which followed, the Russian majority in Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, which Crimea had been part of until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, then head of the Soviet Union, had detached it from Russia and given to Ukraine, which was then part of the USSR.

The U.S., NATO, and EU condemned Russia’s occupation of Crimea and rejected the referendum in which Crimea’s residents voted to secede from Ukraine and return to Russia.

In 1920, the victors of World War I signed the Sevres peace treaty, which ended the Ottoman Empire and divided much of its territory between the U.K. and France. The U.S., also a victor nation, did not take part in the negotiations and stood aside, as its French and U.K. allies divided Ottoman territories between them. The Sevres treaty provided for Kurds in Turkey to decide their future in a referendum, which would not include Kurds in Iran, U.K.-controlled Iraq, or French-controlled Syria.

Turks opposed the treaty, fought the victors and their proxies, and, in 1923 signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which recognized the Republic of Turkey. Kurds, backed by the U.K., declared a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, in 1927, which Turkey crushed in 1930.  Turkey also suppressed Kurdish revolts in 1925, and 1937–1938. After them, Turkey displaced many Kurds and encouraged Kosovo Albanians and Assyrians to settle in Turkey’s Kurdish region, in order to dilute the Kurdish population.

Iran crushed similar Kurdish moves in the 1920s. Only from 1946-1947, did a Kurdish state exist in northern Iran. It was backed by the Soviet Union and, as a result, was opposed by the U.S.

From 1922-1924 there was a Kingdom of Kurdistan in Iraq. When Ba’athist administrators thwarted Kurdish nationalist ambitions in Iraq, in the 1960s, war broke out, and Kurds fought Iraq’s Arab government, from 1960-1975. In 1970 the Kurds rejected an offer of limited territorial self-rule within Iraq and demanded a larger area that included the oil-rich Kirkuk region. After that, Iraq began a campaign to arabize its Kurdish population.

During the Iraq-Iran war, from 1980-1988, the U.S. supplied Iraq with ingredients to make poison gas, which Iraq used to kill Kurds. Iraq destroyed 2,000 Kurdish villages and killed between 50,000 and 100,000 Kurds.

During the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the subsequent war, from 2003-2011, Kurds fought for the U.S. and its allies. As a result, an autonomous Kurdish region was created in a part of the area populated by Kurds.

In Syria, Kurds have also fought with U.S. troops against terrorists and Syria’s government. Turkey wants to destroy them, and Syria wants to subjugate them, and the U.S. has now left Syria’s Kurds to Russia’s protection.

Beginning in 2014 Catalonia’s parliament held referendums in which voters favored independence. In all cases Spain’s government declared results illegal.

In 2017, before another scheduled referendum on independence, Spain’s national government seized referendum ballots, private cell phones, threatened to fine people that staffed polling stations up to €300,000 (about US$ 400,000), shut down web sites, and demanded that Google remove a voting-location finder from the Android app store. The Spanish government also sent to Catalonia police from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote and close polling locations. Some election organizers were arrested, and imprisoned, including Catalan cabinet officials, and demonstrations by local institutions and Catalonians increased in size.

The referendum took place on October 1, 2017, despite Spain’s actions to suppress it through court rulings and action by Spanish police to prevent voting in some places.  Catalan authorities reported that 90% of voters supported independence and turnout was 43%. On October 10, 2017, the president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, declared Catalonia independent, but suspended secession in order to try “to engage in a dialogue with Spain’s government to reach an agreed solution”. Spain was intransigent.

On October 27, 2017 the Catalan Parliament approved a resolution declaring independence from Spain by a vote of 70–10 in the absence of deputies that opposed secession. As a result, the Spanish government prorogued the Catalan government and imposed central-government rule. Under direct rule from Spain, elections were held in Catalonia on December 21, 2017. The three pro-independence parties retained their control of parliament with a reduced majority of 70 seats and a combined 47.5% of valid votes cast.

During Catalans’ attempts to secede from Spain, the U.S. was like the tar baby and dōn say nothin’. To have done so would have jeopardized the status of U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine bases in southern Spain.

The above examples of U.S. positions about secession show that, for U.S. national political leaders, the definition of what is right changes according to what they reckon suits current, U.S. best interest.

Norman Black

Norman Black is a former Navy journalist, news-wire and newspaper reporter, whose news stories, feature articles, and commentaries have appeared in newspapers and magazines in many countries. He is also the author of 12 volumes of autobiographical stories of combat veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and U.S. wars since Vietnam. These volumes constitute his Combat Veterans’ Stories series. His first work is Ice, Fire, and Blood, a military history novel about a period in the Korean War.

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