Now We Know the Truth: “Brexit” Does Not Mean “Brexit”

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People should have known they were being played for fools when Cameron said “the British people have made a very clear decision….” In reality, under 52% of Britons voted to leave the EU in a non-binding referendum. Think about that, because apparently nobody has in these last 5-and-a-bit months. Less than 52% voted to leave and they only represent 37% of the total electorate because 13 million people did not vote at all. There was only a 72% turn-out and roughly half voted on each side.

So why are people like Cameron and Theresa May so adamant that “Brexit means Brexit”? Why is it only now that the High Court has reminded people that the UK constitution ensures, as lawyers have said all along, that parliament has the final say? Why is a government that largely wanted to remain in the EU putting on this ludicrous show of suddenly needing to uphold the will of the people? Is anyone stupid enough to believe that they care about the will of the people? They refused to allow Boaty McBoatface because of the extreme gravity of naming a ship, but they are honour-bound to redefine international and domestic relation drastically because of a small margin in a non-binding referendum? I do not think so.

17 of the 23 members in the current UK government campaigned to remain in the EU and yet now they are staging a farcical spectacle of girding their loins to fight valiantly for something they don’t want. Brexit Secretary David Davis even upped the hyperbole stakes by claiming that the leave voters had given the government the “biggest mandate in history”. Meanwhile, the most Brexity person in the UK cabinet is the outwardly oafish Boris Johnson, who recently claimed that Brexit will be a “Titanic success”. The obvious thing for people to do is feel good because the buffoon man said something dumb and it feels great to be superior to the idiot toff. But this is a guy who won a scholarship to Eton, won prizes there for English and Classics, and went on to become President of the Oxford Union. Maybe it is a blunder or maybe a Freudian slip, but we must always consider that it could be a witticism. Regardless, he is giving people what they want to see, and every time you laugh at him he is laughing twice as hard back at you. Every time you misunderestimate him, it feeds his contemptuous sense of superiority and power. But I digress….

Some in the government may be genuinely in favour of leaving, but if you think you know what lies in the hearts of people like Boris Johnson then you are fooling yourself. Collectively it should be clear that the exaggerated and silly pantomime currently being played out by the government is little more than B’rer Rabbit theatre meant to bamboozle B’rer Pleb (the public) that they are working incredibly hard and desperately want to get out of that nasty European briar patch. Ohhh, the pain of being held back by that sticky tar constitution and some nasty judges! What can B’rer B’rexit do against secretly European judges, one of whom is an “openly gay ex-Olympic fencer”?

So what is it all about then? Part of it, at least, is that the art of Western politics has now largely become the art of convincing people to be grateful and relieved to have their face stamped on by a boot covered in dog shit, or to blame themselves if they end up having their face stamped on by a boot covered in cat shit. This is also the essence of the current election campaign in the USA. Stupidity, greed, hatred, parochialism, ignorance, self-righteousness and, most importantly, fear are being harnessed to make people feel that Clinton’s presidency will be a lucky and narrow escape. Trump does a very good job of giving substance to those feelings. Alternatively if he does end up as President the blame, like that for Brexit, will be left firmly on the shoulders of the ordinary people. As with Brexit and the Colombian civil war referendum some elites will quietly but pointedly indicate that this demonstrates the dangers of democracy.

The UK has been offered two highly repugnant options by it rulers. One is a self-destructive Brexit that is already causing economic disruption, not to mention making the UK a laughing stock and further fueling Scottish secessionism. The other is a Bremain that means people have no right to complain unless they are xenophobes or take the David Cameron position of claiming (like a posh Trump) that the deal is bad and pledging to send the best negotiators to get the best deal out of those cunning foreigners with their greasy unboiled non-Anglo-Saxon ways. Never mind the actual substantive reasons to hate the EU: the inescapable neoliberalism wracking the poor and vulnerable and creating inequality and disastrous social exclusion. Never mind the gulf between the European Commission and the democratic voice of the peoples of Europe. Never mind the clear sentiment against neoliberal “norms” that are embedded in EU governance. Those things only matter to agitators and uppity proles. Real politics is the art of the possible and from an elite perspective the only thing possible is a finance-friendly fiscally-responsible slow painful descent into a new dark age. The elite conversation is dominated by the excuse that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”, as evinced by this charming person who reviewed Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake:

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A proper Brexit would have been a reclamation of popular sovereignty. It would have been an ultimatum to Brussels emanating from the grass roots: we will no longer comply with these unjust impositions, if you don’t like it then you can do the Brexit. I am being a little ridiculous, of course, because before they can reclaim democracy from Brussels, the UK people would have to reclaim it from the City of London. The obvious answer to this and other impediments that make a left-wing Brexit a current impossibility, is to remain, at least for the time being, and trying to work in solidarity with other Europeans to reform the EU, to make it democratic and to cleanse it of neoliberalism.

Wait a sec…

That sounds familiar.

I remember now! Yanis Varoufakis launched a European democracy movement just this year, but it was soon overwhelmed by the screaming and shouting over Brexit. Whether you think that Varoufakis has the answers or not, he is at least addressing the problem. Yet no possible solutions to real problems can even be heard over the insincere bellowing of scumbags who want to make people choose between gouging out their own eyes and injecting themselves with syphilis.

The latest episode of Westworld had a quote that, although aimed at the ultraviolence on our screens, also works for the political discourse in this well-spun world in which we live: “They create an urgency and a sense of danger so they can strip us down to something raw, animalistic, primal.”

So now we know. Brexit does not mean Brexit, and Project Fear did not die with the referendum. It may not have the same claims of immanent nuclear annihilation, but it is a nagging fear, and the urgency they build is now to end the suspense. Get it over with. That is the point of this current Brexit kerfuffle and drama. With neologisms like “remoaners”, “regrexit” creating a rising tide of twaddle all around, people have rather unsurprisingly started to shuffle back into the remain camp. Polls suggest now that 51% want to remain. The most surprising thing to me is that it has taken so long and shifted so little. Between the polls and the reminder that it was always going to be decided in Parliament, Theresa May and her Voltairesque high-principled crew will now be able to defend “democracy” with every ounce of their vocal chords until they are pulled kicking and screaming back to where most of them campaigned to be.

Viet Nam Lost the American War (as did Laos and Cambodia)

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Photograph by Philip Jones Griffiths © Philip Jones Griffiths / Magnum Photos

[G]enocide is a new technique of occupation aimed at winning the peace even though the war itself is lost” – Raphaël Lemkin, 1944.

In 2008 I wrote a post-graduate research paper about the “Vietnam War”. I believe I showed quite clearly that Viet Nam lost its war with the United States by any reasonable criteria apart from the most obvious surface events. We are now at the 40th anniversary of the time when North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon. Christian Appy has just published a piece criticising a popular revisionism that misrepresents the events of 40 years ago as an uncontextualised brutal Communist takeover. But what if our misapprehensions go deeper than Appy implies? What if we insist the Viet Nam won the war for ideological reasons and ignore the very compelling evidence that they lost the war, despite their military victory in the field? Drawing heavily on that past work, but giving it a new angle, I will show that the US actually won the “war” because all along their true energies were devoted to visiting destruction on Vietnamese, Cambodians. And Laotians. The word for this behaviour is “genocide”.

Genocide is a concept with an explanatory power that has been ignored and surpressed. It has been misrepresented and it is now generally used simply to indicate extreme condemnation – even more so than the word “terrorism”. Yet it does have a specific meaning, one which provides great insight into the nature of historic events. The problem, if anything, is that it explains things too well, whilst the US is heavily reliant on confusion and obfuscation to escape the moral censure and determined anger it should face for the mass-killings and mass-destruction it has carried out.

US citizens in particular, but Westerners in general, seem to have a gut fear of any suggestion that US actions in Indochina had a coherent rationale. Key beliefs about the fundamental nature of the civilised West and the US in particular are destroyed when we are forced to face the fact that the savage violence that we all must admit was undertaken was in fact part of the project, not an unintended by-blow. Moreover, those who oppose US military violence have been indelibly imprinted with notions of military and political incompetence. As if instinctually, they seem to fear that any suggestion that the US achieved a strategic success would empower the triumphalism of the ‘Murican meatheads they seem to feel surrounded by.

40 years ago the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh and the Pathet Lao were beginning the last phase of taking control of Laos. On April 30, 1975 tanks from the People’s Army of Viet Nam (PAVN) entered Saigon. It was the end of the Second Indochina War – known in Indochina as the “American War” and known in the US as the “Vietnam War”. The Communists, and some other anti-imperialists who worked under their leadership, had won.

But what sort of victory was this? Throughout the course of fighting the US grew constantly in wealth and strength, while Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos were weakened in ways they have never recovered from. In relations after the war the US clearly took on the role of victor imposing terms on the defeated. Despite an overblown, if not hysterical, public discourse of defeat and anguish in the US there was never any real question of substantive material damage to the US, nor any possibility that the US Government (USG) would have its actions dictated by Indochinese governments.

The Communist led movements and governments defeated the US militarily, but the shrieks of dismay uttered by US “patriots” and “liberals” alike about their defeat have little to do with reality. In every possible substantive material way the post-War history of Indochina is that of weakened defeated countries that would eventually submit to the hegemony of the US under the neoliberal “Washington Consensus”. What happened?

In this article I will show how much the war waged by the US hurt the countries of Indochina and how this in itself became the basis of a US victory. To understand how this happened we need to put aside some preconceptions and re-appropriate the term “genocide”. When Raphaël Lemkin first coined the term genocide he described it as a war not merely against states and their armies but against peoples.”[1]

Once I have clarified the distinction between military war and genocide, the nature of US actions will become clear. This is not about a secret conspiracy to commit genocide, US officials overtly rejected military contestation and opted for attacking the peoples of Indochina without feeling the need to conceal a genocidal intent. They openly embraced tactics which caused mass civilian deaths without any embarrassment.

Many contemporary observers commented on the genocidal nature of US mass violence in Indochina. Some used the term “genocide”, some didn’t, but they have all been effaced from the historiography of the Second Indochina War. Apart from a few easily dismissed Leninistic anti-imperial analyses, the orthodox criticism of US policy was created by Washington elites and amounts to little more than a skein of propaganda stitched together by insider gossip and coloured by a sickening lurid coat of racially informed chauvinism and mirror-blindness.

Pyrrhic Victory or Defeat?

On April 30, 1975 PAVN tanks rolled through the streets of Saigon. When Republic of Viet Nam (RVN) leader Duong Van Minh offered to officially relinquish power, tank commander Col. Bui Tin famously responded: “There is no question of your transferring power. Your power has crumbled. You cannot give up what you do not have.” In that respect this was a classic total military victory – the annihilation of the political power of the opponent.

The military theorist Carl von Clausewitz defined tactical victory as possession of the field of battle.[2] Possessing the entire contested territory at the end of hostilities would seem to signal victory in war. But Clausewitz didn’t believe that there was such a thing as strategic victory. He is best known for contending that war was “a continuation of policy by other means” and his wisdom is proven by the case of Indochina. His vision of war was of a limited and circumscribed aspect of violent contestation within a strategic dynamic relationship. Clausewitz knew the military action he theorised about could only ever be part of a greater picture.

It must also be noted that the RVN regime wasn’t the real enemy of the PAVN. It was an entity created, shaped, controlled and sustained by the US – as was Lon Nol’s regime in Cambodia and, to a large extent, the Lao regime under Souvanna Phouma. The Second Indochina War really was the “American War”. The US was the real enemy but the PAVN tanks never rolled into Washington DC; they never broke down the gates of the White House; and however much we might regret it, Bui Tin was never in a position to sneeringly depose Richard Nixon.

Moreover, the progress towards the victory in the field had been horrendously destructive. Each of the Indochinese states, and the people therein, have suffered immensely, whereas the US has no loss that is even remotely comparable. In deaths, for example, the US losses relative to population are less than 0.4 per cent of Cambodian losses (that is excluding the losses after 1975);[3] less than 0.5 per cent of Vietnamese losses;[4] and less than 0.3 per cent of Laotian losses.[5] If we estimate total Indochinese deaths as 4.5 million, of an estimated population of 42 million we get a figure of well over 10 per cent of the population killed, equivalent to 20 million US deaths.

Then there is the economic situation. The US GDP more than doubled in constant dollar terms between 1954 and 1975 and continued strongly afterwards, doubling again by 1997.[6] By contrast, Cambodia didn’t really have an economy by 1975. In fact it had been largely destroyed by the end of 1970, primarily this was caused by a massive influx of US “aid”.[7] By 1973, of less than 7 million Cambodians, an estimated 3,389,000 had been made refugees.[8] The bombing and civil war had reduced the capacity for growing food to such a level that the “sources close to the U.S. government” calculated that if the US government cut all food aid (which they did) 1 million deaths would result.[9] Whatever chances Laos had for development, they were surely crushed by a destructive and divisive war, and Laos remains one of the poorest places on the planet.[10] As for the Vietnamese, the war and subsequent US economic sanctions were devastating. By 1990 the per capita GDP was only $114.[11]

In 1990 Viet Nam began extending economic reforms known as doi moi (renovation). Under doi moi, Viet Nam has achieved much greater formal economic activity (GDP), but only by submitting to the “Washington Consensus”.[12] Among other things this means no price supports for staples such as rice, which in turn means that the real income of the poorest has dropped.

Former US military commander in Viet Nam, Gen. William Westmoreland, characterised doi moi as proof of US victory.[13] He also once said: “We’ll just go on bleeding them until Hanoi wakes up to the fact that they have bled their country to the point of national disaster for generations. They will have to reassess their position.”[14] The one major asset the Vietnamese gained from the war, massive scrap metal resources, was privatised causing government steel mills to stand idle (banned by law from importing scrap) while Viet Nam’s scrap steel was exported at “substantially below world-market values”.[15]

Some perspective on these decades of poverty is given by economists Adam Fforde and Suzanne Paine. Their analysis is that the DRVs “neo-Stalinist” economic approach was highly suitable for a united Viet Nam in the 1950s, but not so for North Viet Nam alone and not, after the destruction of the war and two decades of separate development, suitable for a reunified Viet Nam.[16] In other words the “American War” and the sanctions that followed meant the difference between a relatively prosperous populous nation with a degree of industrialisation, and a dysfunctional underdeveloped economic backwater that was forced to join the international economic order as a provider of cheap labour for the light manufacturing requirements of tax-averse and wage-averse multinationals. The implications are sickening.

In the meantime, the US claimed that it was trying to prevent the rise of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (DRV) as a regional military hegemon. But its actions belied those words. I do not have the space and time to detail this but the key points are: 1) The US drove the very reluctant DRV to war; 2) The US was antagonistic to negotiated settlements throughout; 3) Equally the US was extremely antagonistic to neutralism in Laos, RVN and Cambodia; 4) The US was antagonistic to political pluralism in RVN. These factors all far outweigh any efforts by the US to attrit PAVN military strength. The famous bombing campaign “Rolling Thunder”, for example, had the effect of strengthening civilian support for war against the US while increasing DRV dependence on Soviet aid.[17]

In essence the US manufactured the military victory of the North under a monolithic Communist regime – like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am not saying that Hanoi’s Communist leaders did not themselves work to consolidate power, nor that they would not have eventually seized power after the war. But that is speculation.

Effectively, the US role was to transform the political hegemony enjoyed by the Communists during the First Indochina War, into a military hegemony. This makes perfect sense as a deliberate strategic move. Indeed, throughout the Cold War the US was clearly quite comfortable with poor repressive Communist dictatorships which were dependent on the Soviet Union. In contrast, it hated and crushed regimes that had pluralistic governance that were Communist or Socialist led, or were independently nationalistic and inclusive of left-wing political factions. Of course the US claimed that it was acting against an impending totalitarian takeover, but its actions declare otherwise.

You might still think that this all mean that the Communists won, but that it was a Pyrrhic victory. On paper, Viet Nam won the right to $3.3 billion in reparations payments (diplomatically referred to as reconstruction “aid”) from the US. But the post-War years revealed who was really the victor.

Viet Nam wanted to normalise relations, but they also wanted to get that money. They tried using the issue of cooperation over POW, MIA, and KIA remains repatriation as a negotiating lever, but of course this was just a propaganda gift to the US. They tried to tie normalisation to the payment of the promised “aid”, but the US trade embargo on Viet Nam was hurting them far more than it was hurting the US. Far from paying them money, the US forced Viet Nam to spend huge amounts of its meagre finances on finding remains of US servicemen – an estimated $US1.7 million in per body in 1994 currency. The US lifted its trade sanctions in 1994, once Viet Nam was firmly part of a US dominated system of globalised economic and trade governance.

Impoverished Laos was never placed under sanctions, but Cambodia’s nightmare is also that of a defeated power, not a victor. In April 1975 years ago, with food production devastated and roughly half of the population crowded into Phnom Penh, units of Khmer Rouge began a brutal cleansing, emptying the overcrowded city completely. The forces that occupied the capital were predominantly very young, impressionable, and traumatised. Many were teens who had lived through five years of brutal warfare and who were commanded by an extremist political leadership who were already halfway to the crescendo of paranoid lunacy they would reach by 1978. The country was an unbelievable mess, and the “victors” were deranged ideologues dealing with circumstances which were themselves completely insane.[18]

Even without knowing what atrocities the Khmer Rouge would later commit, does it really seem that they were victorious over the US in 1975? And what about the people of Cambodia? It is important to distinguish between the people and their rulers because the US began secretly supporting the Khmer Rouge at the height of their violence[19] and continued to support them when they fought a guerrilla war against the Viet Nam backed government that had replaced them. Cambodia, like Viet Nam, was thence subject to US sanctions. I think that it is fair to say that although the Khmer Rouge defeated the US on the battlefield, the US soon began supporting them because they were demonstrable enemies of the Cambodian people.

It was the US that destroyed Cambodian neutralism. They claimed to be fighting communism, but their action were to spread communism whilst destroying Cambodia and killing its people to no discernible military end. A Finnish Inquiry Commission designated the years 1969 to 1975 in Cambodia as Phase 1 of the ‘Decade of Genocide’.[20]

Destroying Cambodia

In some respects US actions in Cambodia were the clearest and most successful expression of the model of genocide used in Laos and the RVN. US officials never made any cogent case for their actions in military terms. In a normal politico-military sense, US actions were very predictably counterproductive.

Before US intervention there seemed to be little threat of a communist takeover of Cambodia. The Cambodian Khmer Issarak (insurgents who had strong ties with, but formal independence from the Vietminh) had been unrepresented at the 1954 Geneva Conference and hence, unlike the Pathet Lao and the Vietminh, went unrecognised in the settlement.[21] Most of the Khmer Issarak (over 2000) left Cambodia with Vietnamese anti-colonial forces (Vietminh) who had been operating in Cambodia and based themselves in North Vietnam until their return after 1970.[22]

Although not immediately threatened by armed and trained leftists, Prince Norodom Sihanouk (the head of State from 1955 until 1970) adopted a neutralist position. He could not afford to be enemies with the Vietnamese. Nevertheless, under Sihanouk there was one serious leftist rebellion after his refusal to endorse candidates in the 1966 election closed the doors of electoral struggle to the left wing. The 1967-68 “Samlaut Rebellion” resulted in perhaps 10,000 deaths; greater than those incurred by Cambodians in the First Indochina War against French rule.[23] Although Sihanouk often viciously repressed the left of his own country, any concrete moves against the forces of the DRV or the NLF would have brought about his downfall. The US was, however, less than understanding of the delicate position – at least in its deeds. Although publicly supportive of neutralism, Washington worked hard to destabilise and cripple Cambodia, its actions driving Sihanouk into an ever closer relationship with Hanoi, Beijing and the NLF.[24]

The US “Studies and Operations Group” conducted attacks with US Special Forces personnel in Cambodia throughout the 1960s. In 1967 these were institutionalised as “Salem House” (later known as “Daniel Boone”). This programme was kept secret from the US congress and conducted a total of 1,835 missions. Their primary activity appears to have been the laying of “sanitized self-destruct antipersonnel” mines anywhere up to 30 kilometres beyond the border. Their supposed mission was intelligence gathering, but throughout the whole programme they only captured 24 prisoners.[25] The Special Forces troops usually disguised themselves as PLAF fighters and sometimes attacked civilians in “false-flag” operations.[26]

In 1970 Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak with tacit support from Washington and probable assistance by the CIA. The US had developed ties with Lon Nol in the 1950s and by 1970, according to CIA officer Frank Snepp, he was one of two candidates being groomed by the CIA to take Sihanouk’s place.[27] Washington recognised the new regime within hours.[28] So fast was recognition of Lon Nol’s government that it must have precluded any possibility that the changes on the ground were being assessed, which strongly suggests that the US must have had detailed foreknowledge in order to have any confidence in its judgement.

Sihanouk’s overthrow made civil war unavoidable. Many, including US personnel, thought that part of the reason for overthrowing Sihanouk was the fact that he allowed arms to flow to the PLAF,[29] yet the supply of arms coming from Cambodia to the PLAF was often conducted by pro-US officers,[30] including Lon Nol, and it continued unabated once Sihanouk was overthrown.[31] As I detail below, the US had created a system in Indochina where its own clients were suppliers of arms to its enemies.

In 1969, before the above events, the US began bombing Cambodia in what was known as “Operation Menu”. From Saigon, US General Creighton Abrams insisted that he had “hard evidence” that the Central Office for South Vietnam headquarters (COSVN HQ) had been located in the “Fish Hook” salient of Cambodia.[32] The problem was that no such place ever existed, though for years the US had mounted operations to crush it when they claimed it was located in South Vietnam.[33]

Once under way, Operation Menu spread to other areas. Despite the carpet bombing of area supposed to contain COVSN HQ, in April 1970 Abrams claimed that the headquarters still existed as a fortified underground bunker with 5000 personnel.[34] In May US and RVN forces invaded Cambodia, the action justified in part as an attempt, yet again, to wipe out the COVSN HQ “which had become the Holy Grail of the American war”.[35] The US/RVN invasion simply, and predictably, drove communist forces deeper into Cambodia.[36]

The results of the bombing were those of generating an enemy by killing civilians, a recurrent practice of the US. Ben Kiernan repeatedly cites evidence in numerous consecutive instances that US/RVN aerial bombardment strengthened the Khmer Rouge insurgency, and, more specifically the anti-Vietnamese faction of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.[37] In 1969, the Khmer Rouge consisted of perhaps 4000 – an ultimately unthreatening insurgency. By the end of 1972, they were able, with DRV logistical support, to “hold their own” against Lon Nol’s armed forces, which, at US instigation, had been enlarged to between 132,000 and 176,000 (not counting “ghost” soldiers, who existed only on the books of the corrupt officers who collected their pay) and had massive US/RVN air support.[38] In William Shawcross’s words, “the new war was creating enemies where none previously existed”[39] and by this stage, Lon Nol’s regime was already reduced to the control of shrinking and fragmenting enclaves.[40]

Within a year of Lon Nol’s coup the economy of Cambodia was virtually destroyed, not only by bombing, but also by US aid. Aid was channelled to the import of commodities and surplus US agricultural goods. It also underwrote the Cambodian government and armed forces: “By the end of 1970, the government was spending five times its revenue and earning nothing abroad.”[41] Most of the population became reliant on US aid to eat, and rice supplies were kept at the minimum level needed to prevent food riots. By 1975, malnutrition was widespread and many children starved to death before the Khmer Rouge victory.[42]

Less than two months after the coup that brought Lon Nol to power, the US invaded Cambodia, along with ARVN forces. They did not bother to forewarn Lon Nol who found out after Richard Nixon had announced the invasion publicly.[43] This invasion along US and RVN bombing and the civil war made refugees of nearly half of the Cambodian population.[44] Lon Nol was outraged by the invasion and when later briefed by Alexander Haig (then military assistant to Kissinger) about US intentions he wept with frustration. According to Shawcross, “He wished that the Americans had blocked the communists’ escape route before attacking, instead of spreading them across Cambodia. … The Cambodian leader told Haig that there was no way his small force could stop them. … [Haig] informed Lon Nol that President Nixon intended to limit the involvement of American forces…. They would be withdrawn at the end of June. The the President hoped to introduce a program of restricted military and economic aid. As the implications of Haig’s words for the future of Cambodia became clear to Lon Nol, he began to weep. Cambodia, he said, could never defend itself.”[45]

US actions, particularly in bombing, were directly responsible for creating the communist enemy which overthrew Lon Nol. The bombing between 1969 and 1973 took up to 150,000 lives.[46] If averaged out, over 33 tons of ordnance were used to kill each Khmer Rouge insurgent.[47] Despite the fact that Vietnamese pilots bombed any Cambodian they could, which aided only the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol acceded to a US demand that he request an increase in VNAF bombing in 1971.[48] By May 1972, the Lon Nol regime had control of perhaps 10 per cent of the country and continued to lose territory which was thereafter fragmented into ever smaller enclaves.[49] The result was by that stage foregone, and yet the war dragged on for three years with the greater part of the 1 million casualties occurring after that point.

In 1970, when Henry Kissinger briefed Jonathan “Fred” Ladd, who was slated to conduct the war in Cambodia, he told him, “Don’t even think of victory; just keep it alive.”[50]

When the US Congress finally blocked aid to Cambodia and South Vietnam, it was with the belated realisation that such aid would not give any hope of victory or improve a bargaining position. Senator Mike Mansfield spoke out, “Ultimately Cambodia cannot survive…. Additional aid means more killing, more fighting. This has got to stop sometime.”[51]

Ooops, we destroyed your country. Our bad :-(

Because the violence in Cambodia was a “sideshow” with little official acknowledgement, US officials did not have complex explanations for their actions. Historians have largely concluded that the US was in the grips of irrationality, but their evidence of irrationality is, in a nutshell, that the US acted in a militarily counter-productive and genocidal manner. They automatically rule out the possibility that US actions were cogent acts of genocide. They build a framework of knowledge by applying that presumption to various historical events and thus generating the historical “evidence” of systemic irrationality and dysfunction among US decision-makers.

Moreover, people like Lyndon Johnson ensured that history recorded how reluctant they were to fight. The reluctance was more apparent than real. Johnson made a very vocal show of having his hand forced. He famously referred to the conflict as that “bitch of a war”.[52] In addition, he called it a “god-awful mess”, and himself as “hooked like a catfish”[53] and “trapped”.[54] He had a habit of thinking out loud with regard to the war, wondering “how he could maintain ‘his posture as a man of peace’” and making it clear that all the options available to him were unpalatable.[55] He would have frequent theatrical outbursts of indignation against hawkish advisers and, on one occasion, the constant changes of regime in the RVN which his own administration engineered.

According to Schulzinger, “The succession of military regimes drove Johnson nearly apoplectic. ‘I don’t want to hear any more of this coup shit,’ he exploded to aides”. Johnson was not the only one to have the audacity to condemn the US brokered coups; Maxwell Taylor, who as US Ambassador to Saigon had first forced a change of Government on the US installed Nguyen Khanh, then had partaken in the destabilisation of Khanh’s second government. When the utterly predictable coup resulted, Taylor is reported to have railed at the coup leaders ‘we Americans [are] tired of coups,’.[56].

The most bizarre Johnson outburst I have come across is an instance where a Major was, for no apparent reason, made to hold a map during a meeting between Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Satff (JCS), becoming “an easel with ears”. Later he described the event to Christian Appy. First the JCS made some recommendations. “At that moment, Johnson exploded. I almost dropped the map. He just started screaming these obscenities. They were just filthy. It was something like: ‘You goddamn fucking assholes. You’re trying to get me to start World War III with your idiotic bullshit – your ‘military wisdom.’ He insulted each of them individually. ‘You dumb shit. Do you expect me to believe that kind of crap? I’ve got the weight of the Free World on my shoulders and you want me to start World War III?’ He called them shitheads and pompous assholes and used the f-word more freely than a marine in boot camp. He really degraded them and cursed at them. The he went back to a calm voice, as if he’d finished playing his little role….”[57]

Frederik Logevall describes Johnson’s behaviour as a “charade” undertaken because “Johnson wanted history to record that he agonised.”[58] But Johnson was not the only one. Not only was John Kennedy also in the habit of thinking out loud with regard to Indochina, but so was Eisenhower.[59] Kennedy would frequently profess peace whilst in the midst of making arrangements for escalation.[60] This conscious and consecutive manipulation of public and historical perception makes any expression of reluctance at any level of US government or military of extremely dubious evidential value.

Moreover, other US officials – notably Westmoreland, Nixon and Kissinger – were far more forthcoming about their genocidal intents. Noam Chomsky has said this: “On May 27, the New York Times published one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever seen. They ran an article about the Nixon-Kissinger interchanges. Kissinger fought very hard through the courts to try to prevent it, but the courts permitted it. You read through it, and you see the following statement embedded in it. Nixon at one point informs Kissinger, his right-hand Eichmann, that he wanted bombing of Cambodia. “I want them to hit everything,” he said. And Kissinger loyally transmits the order to the Pentagon to carry out “a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” That is the most explicit call for what we call genocide when other people do it that I’ve ever seen in the historical record.”

These sorts of statements, revealing an intent to target civilians or civilian infrastructure, are commonplace among officials at all sorts of levels. Westmoreland personally encouraged personnel to kill civilians.[61] He also approved the Phoenix programme which, by its inescapable nature, involved the murder of civilians (namely “non-combatants” as defined in international law).[62]

Historians might ignore or minimise statements of genocidal intent that they would never ignore had they come from, say, a Rwandan Hutu leader in 1994. In fact, a great deal of effort has gone into trying to find such statements, but the ICTR has found no clear expressions of genocidal intent until after the genocide was in progress. The way people discuss the 1994 genocide in Rwanda you would think that the inverse was true. But rhetorical pronouncements are actually less significant than orthodox historiography would have you think. What is clear from Indochina, and is also absent in the case of Rwanda, is that there was clearly articulated genocidal policy that was acted upon – as opposed to “stated policy” which is mere rhetoric. There were policies that either overtly evidenced genocidal intent or tacitly evidenced genocidal intent in a manner that was impossible to mistake.

In the next section I will show policies that either seemed designed to deliberately cause mass civilian deaths or made mass civilian deaths inevitable whilst promising little or no military benefit and ultimately being inherently counterproductive. Before I do, however, I want to showcase an overtly genocidal policy known as “graduated response”.

Graduated response” was not important as a military strategy so much as it was as a public relations strategy. Graduated response was an Orwellian construction – the rationale given was that by bombing North Vietnam the US would force the DRV to negotiate. This was based on three completely specious assertions – the first being that the insurgency in the South was a result of “communist aggression” and therefore controlled by Hanoi; the second is that the US would itself have negotiated in good faith; the third, and most breathtakingly baldfaced, is that the US began small and got bigger, initially only bombing the DRV to show the DRV that they would bomb the DRV.

In 1965 McGeorge Bundy explained graduated response in a memorandum, although “explained” might be too strong a word. Bundy states: “We cannot assert that a policy of sustained reprisal [graduated response] will succeed in changing the course of the contest in Vietnam…. At a minimum it will damp down the charge that we did not do all we could have done….” Bundy also talks of showing “U.S. willingness to employ this new norm in counter-insurgency….” It is worth remembering that this “new norm” in “counter-insurgency” is not interdiction bombing of supply routes, it is strategic bombing of the DRV, guaranteed to bring massive suffering to the civilian population.[63]

The military objected strenuously to graduated response, under the misapprehension or pretense that the given rationale was all true.[64] The military objections existed within a discourse of callous but pragmatic militarists and of concerned but naïve civilians who underestimate Hanoi’s legendary willingness to sacrifice its own people.[65] No doubt, many officials debated earnestly in these racially informed terms, but they were debating the merits of one fiction over the merits of another.

The air war in Indochina bore no resemblance in practice, to that which was espoused in theory. For a start, it could only be applied to the bombing of North Vietnam which was the recipient of less than one sixth of the bombs dropped by the US during the war.[66] Secondly, what actually occurred bore no resemblance to the increasing “slow squeeze” that is central to the story. Admittedly the tempo did increase between the initiation of the bombing campaign “Rolling Thunder” in April 1965 and the end of that year, but this was due to the US committing more and more resources to the air war. Bombing in Laos and South Vietnam increased at a far greater rate than in North Vietnam.[67]

Nor could the bombing campaign against North Vietnam be considered “limited” by any standards other than those of the bombing of Laos and South Vietnam. The campaign ran for 3 years and dropped an average of one 500 pound bomb every 30 seconds. By the end 860,000 tons had been dropped, three times as much as was dropped on Europe, Asia and Africa in World War II.[68] Whatever industrial capabilities that were not destroyed outright had to be decentralised at very high costs to efficiency. Agriculture was also affected and it is estimated that the campaign destroyed 10 to 15 years of economic growth. Three major cities and twelve of twenty-nine provincial capitals had been flattened. According to Robert McNamara’s estimate, at one point in 1967 1000 civilians were being killed each week.[69]

Nor can it truly be claimed that the US sought a negotiated settlement. Lyndon Johnson twice expressed a wish to negotiate, once offering “unconditional talks”, but these offers were not addressed to the DRV regime, but rather to US domestic audiences in speeches.[70] Not surprisingly, Hanoi took these offers with a grain of salt, when they heard of them, and released a list of its aims, presumably hoping that the US would respond by saying that none of the DRV’s desires were negotiable.[71] Instead the US government held up the list of points as proof that Hanoi did not want to negotiate, and when Hanoi tried to clarify that it was in fact willing to negotiate, it was ignored by the US government and media. In fact Hanoi had made several moves to try an institute negotiations which the State Department and even the hawkish Ray Cline (at the time, acting Director of Central Intelligence) agreed were probably real.[72]

Because the US was not actually willing to negotiate, “graduated response” is not really a strategy, and provides no actual rationale for US behaviour. By claiming to seek negotiations which the US would not itself allow, the US could continue bombing without any military strategic rationale, without having to give a reason. To maintain the illusion the Johnson administration would periodically cease bombing before any planned escalation. James William Gibson writes that the, “sense in which the [bombing] pause was for political appearances only can be discerned in most memoranda.”[73]

The really striking thing about “graduated response”, though, is that there was no real pretense that the bombing was designed to degrade military capabilities to improve military outcomes in the field. If the point was to drive the DRV to negotiate by “reprisal” then it is obvious that this is not a military exercise at all. The inevitable non-combatant casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure and property is no longer “collateral damage” in an attack on military targets, it is part of the intentional target. So even if the US had been trying to force the DRV to negotiate, there were using genocidal means to do so and they showed genocidal intent. It is a very clear breach of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG) which prohibits the intentional destruction “in whole or in part” of a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

Mass Murder in Viet Nam

There is no denying that the US visited systematic destruction on Laos, Viet Nam, and Cambodia. Those who deny the genocides usually do so on the grounds that the US did not have a genocidal intent. As I showed, the policy of graduated response shows that genocidal intent existed. But even genocide scholars often seem to think that “genocidal intent” only exists when that genocidal intent is itself a motive. This is the equivalent of saying that if I kill you in order to steal your watch I am not guilty of murder because I am was just using deadly means incidentally, as a means of acquiring your watch.

Genocide scholars are by no means above splitting hairs over intentionality in order to keep Western atrocities free of the stain of being labelled genocide. They largely reject even-handed simplicity. A straight-forward approach would inevitably force them to take intellectual stances that are politically uncomfortable with regard to settler-colonial history, US foreign policy, globalisation and neoliberalism, and, last but not least, Israel. Instead of maintaining clarity, these scholars tie themselves in knots of obfuscation, and in doing so they add more and more elements of unnecessary subjectivity to increasingly unreal and ornate theoretical constructs. They do so whilst complaining that the subject itself is too taxing and slippery for even the greatest of minds.

Mark Levene, to pick one example, described Spanish acts towards indigenous people at Potosí as the wholesale destruction of their political structures and autonomous power so that, suitably subjugated, their populations could be put to enforced work, in effect enslaved, in order to enrich their new Castilian masters.”[74] According to Levene, this is merely “hyper-exploitation” because it lacks exterminatory intent. He writes, “this was not a policy or strategy geared towards killing the natives or their replacements outright but extracting as much labor out of them as possible….”[75] This statement is quite simply wrong. These people were intentionally worked to death just like millions Jews, Slavs and Roma were worked to death by the Germans. There is no recognition given by Levene that up to 8 million people in Hispaniola were completely exterminated by the same empire using the same institutions,[76] even though he acknowledges their extinction as a result of contact with Europeans. Instead he merely writes, “There are conditions in which extermination may also emerge out of hyper-exploitation, most obviously when native peoples revolt against their oppressors, leading to the latter’s retributive over-kill.”[77]

Levene is formulating a typical expression of Western exceptionalist doublethink. He acknowledges acts of near inconceivable savagery, but then creates an interpretation which suggests that this savagery is only the accidental by-product of a far more essential Western rationality. This is nothing but conventional self-replicating racism. Levene automatically seeks evidence of rational self-interest on the part of Western actors, which then over-rides any evidence of racial animus and appetitive savagery. Conversely, when dealing with non-Western actors he seeks evidence of animus which then effaces issues of rational self-interest.

The irony is that Levene does an excellent job elsewhere of analysing the Revolutionary French genocide against the people of the Vendée when there was a counter-revolutionary insurgency. Therein he balances the passionate brutality and the cold calculations of a bureaucratic machinery of mass-murder. I assume that for someone like Levene it is somewhat easier to see savagery as a symptomatic part of Western culture if it is a revolutionary savagery. The funny thing is that historians of the period who are not familiar with the concept of genocide accuse him of imputing a genocidal motive because they can’t distinguish between intent and motive. I would laugh, if I wasn’t so busy raging ineffectually from the margins.

I have shown that in one policy, the US demonstrated genocidal intent towards Viet Nam, or at least the northern part of it. But one of the things that made the concept of genocide so brilliant from the first was that Lemkin always understood that genocide would, by nature, be expressed in many different ways. John Docker describes Lemkin’s conception as being “composite and manifold… a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of life of a group.”[78]

The genocide in South Viet Nam was more intense than anywhere else in Indochina, but also more complex and confusing. Much was similar to the situation in Cambodia. People were driven from the countryside to be concentrated in urban slums, a process Samuel Huntington described as “refugee generation”.[79] The RVN was also made economically dysfunctional by US “aid”. The result was a partly surreal country of militarism, consumerism, grief, poverty and degraded anomie. This was the society documented by Philip Jones Griffiths in his book-length photo-essay Vietnam Inc. which showed maimed civilians, beggars, drugs, and child soldiers. It showed that the war permeated everything. It was a world populated by a lost people ripped out of normality and placed in a new landscape strewn with alien protrusions of war machinery, billboards, craters, corpses and girly bars. Griffiths explicitly contextualised it all as a twisted form of business enterprise.[80] He later told Christian Appy, “The closer you got to the war… the more you objected to what you saw. Eventually I believed that what America was doing in Vietnam was genocide.”[81]

photographer-philip-jones-griffiths-in-vietnam-Little TigerCalled “Little Tiger,” rumored to have killed two “Vietcong women cadre”—his mother and teacher. Vietnam, 1968. Photograph by Philip Jones Griffiths © Philip Jones Griffiths / Magnum Photos

Here are some quotes from Lemkin that are apposite:

  • The destruction of the foundations of the economic existence of a national group necessarily brings about a crippling of its development, even a retrogression. The lowering of the standards of living creates difficulties in fulfilling cultural-spiritual requirements. Furthermore, a daily fight literally for bread and for physical survival may handicap thinking in both general and national terms.”[82]
  • In order to weaken the spiritual resistance of the national group, the occupant attempts to create an atmosphere of moral debasement within this group. According to this plan, the mental energy of the group should be concentrated upon base instincts and should be diverted from moral and national thinking. It is important for the realization of such a plan that the desire for cheap individual pleasure be substituted for the desire for collective feelings and ideals based upon a higher morality. Therefore, the occupant made an effort in Poland to impose upon the Poles pornographic publications and movies. The consumption of alcohol was encouraged, for while food prices have soared, the Germans have kept down the price of alcohol, and the peasants are compelled by the authorities to take spirits in pay agricultural produce. The curfew law, enforced very strictly against Poles is relaxed if they can show the authorities a ticket to one of the gambling houses which the Germans have allowed to come into existence.”[83]
  • Their general plan was to win the peace though the war be lost, and that goal could have been achieved through successfully changing the political and demographic interrelationships in Europe in favor of Germany. The population not destroyed was to be integrated in the German cultural, political and economic pattern.”[84]

It might surprise people that Lemkin put so much emphasis on cultural, economic, political, social and moral destruction. He didn’t actually devote any more time to the physical destruction of group members than he did to the seven other “techniques of genocide”. When he first described genocide even his account physical destruction was not particularly focussed on killing. He was more detailed about the way in which differential access to food was being used to increase mortality rates. Nevertheless, our common understanding quite naturally leads us to link genocide with mass killings of civilians. Even today there is a degree of interest and attention paid to the intimate acts of murder and massacre that US personnel undertook. In 2003 Michael Sallah started reporting based on atrocities uncovered but kept quiet by the US Army Criminal Investigation Command (CIC). In 2006, with Mitch Weiss, he published Tiger Force, in which the eponymous elite military unit were revealed to have prolifically tortured, raped, murdered and mutilated.[85] In 2007 a German book was published by Bernd Greiner which drew heavily on the files of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group (VWCWG) to document how US actions became “a war against civilians”. An English translation was published in 2010.[86] The VWCWG was formed in response to the My Lai massacre. It was intended to ensure that the US military was never again caught unprepared by revelations of atrocities. Like the CIC it uncovered many atrocities, documented them and buried them again. Since 2004 most of their files have effectively been blocked from public access.[87] In 2005 Nick Turse published a doctoral dissertation based on VWCWG documents.[88] This led to a series of articles in the LA Times with Deborah Nelson, which formed the basis of The War Behind Me in 2008.[89] Last, but by no means least, came Turse’s book Kill Anything that Moves in 2013.[90]

Collectively these works reveal a horrifying pattern of war crimes – brutal intimate crimes of personal savagery. They add immeasurably to the often derided testimonies of dissident GIs and veterans who tried to tell people what was happening. But this emphasis on massacre at close quarters threatens to overshadow the greater picture of civilian deaths. Most US personnel did not personally kill civilians and most civilians who were killed by US personnel died without their killers ever being close enough to see the terror and pain on their faces. These acts were part of a larger picture of killing.

Bernd Greiner deliberately chooses to isolate acts of violence in “close proximity” from violence at an “anonymous distance”.[91] Instead of placing the situationally generated personal violence within the context of other systematic acts of mass murder, he contextualises the violence by regurgitating the orthodox scholarship that contends that everything the US did was the result of miscalculating, maladaptation and dysfunction. He even repeats the irrational, but common, contention that “assymetrical warfare” makes material superiority “more of a curse” than a blessing.[92] Like Levene he is artificially separating the intimate brutal mass-murder from the calculated dispassioned policies of mass-murder in order to explain each and abberations in terms which, without the artificial cognitive distance, would readily be revealed to be contradictory.

The real story is only understood by seeing how the distant mass murder and the intimate mass murder both fit within the context of “composite and manifold” acts of destruction of which they are only a part.

At one point Turse and Nelson travelled to part of Quang Nam province to find the site of a massacre detailed in US investigation files. They had an uncertain location. In three days of looking for the site they were shown a total of 5 massacre sites where a total of 8 different massacres had occurred, 5 committed by US personnel. They were unable to find the site of the massacre:we thought we’d be looking for a needle in a haystack of hamlets, not a haystack of massacres.”[93] The factors which lead to such widespread mass murder were not cultural but rather systemic results of deliberate choices. US personnel were primed through indoctrination and then situated in such a manner as to generate a predisposition towards atrocities. US personnel were placed in what Robert Jay Lifton has referred to as “atrocity-producing-situations”. The problem is that even after 40 years of consistently creating these “atrocity producing situations” even Lifton himself will not entertain the notion that the atrocities are an intended result.

I will begin, then, by printing the testimony of S. Brian Willson. He was one of very few people who was forced to confront intimately the results of an airstrike on a village. The Vietnamese farmers had extraodinarily strong ties to their land and practiced a Confucian reverence for the shrines of ancestors. So, predictably, when a free-fire zone was declared many would remain behind, sleeping in bunkers and often living with the nightmare of nightly shelling. Those people faced the further risk of aerial bombardment. S. Brian Willson was assigned to guard Bin Tui, an airbase in South Vietnam, in which position he was given the duty of helping assess bombing missions, in April 1969, to ensure that pilots were not deliberately missing their targets. His description of the first such mission includes, “…a sea of bodies. Probably 100 to 120 corpses. A few of them were moving, most were still. This was 15 minutes after the bombing.” The village had been bombed in the middle of the day, when the healthy adults were at work in the fields, so the victims were all the children, the elderly, the infirm and childminders. The military situation was such that just two officers were able to arrive 15 minutes after the bombing without any endangerment to themselves. Willson’s companion, an VNAF Lieutenant replied to Willson’s protestations: “They’re communists, this is a victory,” and they left the wounded to die. Willson believed there was some mistake, but soon discovered that, because the entire province had been declared a free-fire zone, the villages were systematically being destroyed without reference to whether or not there was intelligence of enemy activity. Willson described this as “a deliberate systematic plan to wipe out the civilian population.”[94] In a written account of the same event, Willson adds, “At one dramatic moment I encountered at close range a young wounded woman lying on the ground clutching three young disfigured children. I stared, aghast, at the woman’s open eyes. Upon closer examination, I discovered that she, and what I presumed were her children, all were dead, but napalm had melted much of the woman’s facial skin, including her eyelids.”[95]

Free-fire zones unavoidably make a mockery of Greiner’s attempt to keep intimate and distant violent separate. In South Vietnam the number and extent of free-fire zones kept expanding. By the beginning of 1967, according to Neil Sheehan: “Free-fire zones proliferated so rapidly with new red lines on maps for laying waste that it was no longer possible to keep track of their number and the total area they encompassed.”[96]

The spread of free-fire zones was only made possible by the fact that US armed forces did not actually occupy or “pacify” rural South Vietnam, a circumstance which will be examined below. By 1969 they encompassed 75% of South Vietnam.[97] Though the Rules of Engagement (ROE) officially specified otherwise, examples abound of the military authorities encouraging troops to consider all persons in a free-fire zone to be a legitimate target. Weiss and Sallah detail multiple instances where it is clear that Tiger Force had been led to believe that “free-fire” meant that they had complete discretion and could legitimately kill whoever they wanted.[98] Eventually the Orwellian logic predominated to such an extent that Westmoreland, in 1969, was able to baldly claim that absolutely no civilians had ever been killed by the US in designated free-fire zones, because no-one in a free-fire zone was a civilian, by definition.[99]

This had been building for a long time. For many years the US had used militarily counterproductive tactics which systematically killed civilians and were a major impetus in fuelling the armed insurrection against the US-installed regime in Saigon. As early as 1962, with the war continually gaining momentum, US Colonel John Paul Vann observed an ARVN tactic of randomly shelling and bombing civilian structures which “kills many, many more civilians than it ever does VC and as a result makes new VC.”[100] When he and Colonel Daniel Boone Porter confronted Westmoreland’s predecessor, General Paul Harkins, with an appeal “to stop this self-defeating slaughter”, in Neil Sheehan’s words, “he turned out to be as dense in his own way as the Saigon commanders. Instead of using his influence to put a halt to the bombardments he was furthering them.”[101]

It should be noted here that with respect to major military policies, doctrines and significant recurrent tactics, the ARVN followed the dictates of the US military. The US exercised veto power over their allies actions because they were so essential a point of supply. As Roger Warner observed this gives the US complete power over the strategy of dependents like the Hmong forces in Laos.[102] In 1969 ARVN General Cao Van Vien said: “We Vietnamese have no military doctrine because the command of all operations in Vietnam is in the hands, is the responsibility, of the American side. We followed the American military doctrine.”[103] The fact is that the US simply dictated to the various RVN regimes what numbers and what kinds of forces it desired,[104] and when a regime was insufficiently compliant it was overthrown.

As it happened, despite further years of experience which confirmed Vann’s prognosis that randomly killing civilians would increase the numbers of the NLF, the US armed forces and those of their allies employed a virtually identical method of employing artillery, which they termed Harassment and Interdiction (H&I) fire. This was unobserved artillery fire, usually employed every night on places such as cross-roads in designated free-fire zones. It was not until the US had been doing this for 3 more years that General Creighton Abrams (who replaced William Westmoreland) urged his commanders to reduce the amount of H&I fire.[105]

In fact, the H&I tactic was only one way in which the US either directly or indirectly assured that civilians would be injured or killed by US ordnance. The most obvious being the free-fire zones. These were essentially identical, in terms of logic, to the way the Saigon commanders had justified their “butchery and sadism” to John Paul Vann in 1962, by the assertion that geographical location was proof of sympathies, and sympathy with the “Viet Cong” made for a legitimate target.[106] Before the term free-fire zone was invented, the phrase used was “solid VC areas” and by 1963 some US personnel had adopted the logic behind the characterisation: the USAF 362nd Squadron began shooting civilians for sport in these “de facto free-fire zones”.[107]

The way free-fire zones worked was through the way actions were allowed under the US armed forces ROE. US troops on the ground were still bound, in theory at least, to respect civilian life, but any person who ran, regardless of age, was a “VC”, and hence was to be killed. Philip Caputo, a USMC Lieutenant who was later to become a reporter and antiwar activist, asked the obvious question at the time: “Why should the act of running identify someone as a communist?”[108] Note that he is not questioning the rightness of killing someone unarmed because they had a particular political orientation. Turse finds the “purest expression” of the ROE logic on a death certificate which lists external cause of death as “Running from U.S. forces.”[109]

For those operating machine-guns in helicopters or boats, and for those able to strafe with aeroplanes, this rule became a license for mass-murder among those who wished to commit such an act. Gibson gives the example of testimony by a helicopter gunner:

“We had another rule, the use of evasive action. Anyone taking evasive action could be fired upon. Evasive action was never explained to me. It normally entailed someone running or trying to evade a helicopter or any fire.

“My unit, the gunships in my unit had installed MP sirens. Police sirens on the helicopter and we used these for psychological effect, to intimidate people.

“There is one incident I recall where we new over a large rice paddy, and there were some people working in the rice paddy, maybe a dozen or fifteen individuals, and we passed over their heads and they didn’t take any action, they were obviously nervous, but they didn’t try to hide or anything. So we then hovered a few feet off the ground among them with the two helicopters, turned on the police sirens and when they heard the Police sirens, they started to disperse and we opened up on them and just shot them all down.”

Gibson gives another such example before concluding: “United States forces thus consciously created conditions specified by rules of engagement to open fire and produce a body count.”[110] It would not take a lot of such behaviour before, predictably, the Vietnamese would run as soon as they saw a US helicopter or boat. Herman and Chomskly quote the “pro-Western” Japanese journalist Katsuichi Honda who described machine-gunners “firing away at random at farmhouses” and “using farmers for targets as if in a hunting mood”.[111]

In terms of the scale of suffering and death the actions of machine-gunners are nearly insignificant when compared with the consequences of aerial bombardment. For both air and ground artillery purposes anyone within a free-fire zone was a legitimate target. When a new free-fire zone was declared, leaflets were dropped on the villagers instructing them to assemble at certain points to be taken away by helicopter to a new life, generally in a camp or as a refugee. What followed the leaflet drop was known as the “mad minutes” because after as little as an hour had elapsed since the leaflets were dropped, the US would begin artillery bombardment.[112]

Another institution which promoted the killing of civilians was the body count. As Joanna Bourke said: “The ‘body count’ of the Vietnam War formalized psychological processes of dehumanisation….”[113] It should be said at the outset that “body counts” and “kill ratios” are not some logical outcome of an attrition policy. Attrition is about destroying an enemy’s forces and given the situation in South Vietnam[114] it would have made far more sense to emphasise achieving this by the capture or destruction of weapons and supplies. The body count in Vietnam was not just about facilitating violence against enemy combatants, it also created an incentive and inclination to kill civilians. Marilyn Young concluded thatlogic seemed to have no end short of the progressive elimination of the population of the South.”[115]

The practice of counting civilian dead as the enemy was known as the “mere gook rule”, and was the direct result of “pressure from on high for ever larger body counts”.[116] Jonathan Neale summarises the logic: “In effect, the American plan was to kill the Vietnamese until they gave up. The pressure for this was relentless. The Pentagon demanded statistics. In some rear unit’s the officers chalked the cumulative kills on a board. Officers knew their careers would depend on their numbers. And although the officers seldom said, ‘Kill all the civilians you can,’ they seldom criticized anybody for doing that, and often praised them.”[117] According to Gibson: “Producing a high body count was crucial for promotion in the officer corps. Many high-level officers established ‘production quotas’ for their units, and systems of ‘debit’ and ‘credit’ to calculate exactly how efficiently subordinate units and middle-management personnel performed.”[118] There were often rewards for kills as a former GI recalls: “There was a real incentivizing of death and it just fucked with our value system. In our unit guys who got confirmed kills would get a three-day in-country R and R.”[119] Perhaps more significantly, a failure to meet a “production quota” could sometimes mean being returned immediately to dangerous duty.[120]

A further institution which promoted the killing of civilians was the “search and destroy” mission. The search and destroy mission is mainly notable as an inherent part of of the ‘Fire-power/Attrition’ strategy, but such things are all inter-connected. The significance of search and destroy missions in terms of killing civilians is very well summed up by Michael Bernhardt, who was present at the My Lai massacre: “I think something like My Lai probably had happened many times before. It was just a matter of scale. Here’s the thing. The whole war effort was built on three pillars-the free-fire zone, the search-and-destroy mission, and the body count. The free-fire zone means shoot anybody that moves. The search-and-destroy mission is just another way to shoot anything that moves. I call it the portable free-fire zone – you tote it around anywhere you go. And the body count is the tool for measuring the success or failure of whatever you’re doing. When you’ve got those three things it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how it’s going to end up.”[121]

These circumstances, along with the abovementioned institutions, created a situational predisposition to kill civilians which might be strongly at odds with the actual values of the individual serviceman. Gibson insists that “atrocities against Vietnamese routinely resulted from the production logic in which the war was conceptualized and fought.”[122]

A very significant circumstance was the endemic racial animus amongst US troops, usually against East Asians as a whole. In training US military personnel were taught to hate their enemy in explicitly racial terms such as “gook”, “slope”, “dink”, “gooner” and “zipperhead”. These terms did not, of course, distinguish combatant status, nor political affiliation, nor even nationality and ethnicity. The result was that even Asian American’s were in danger of being shot because in the belief that they were Vietnamese (one was advised to dye his hair blond and whistle dixie when it got dark).[123] Many, if not most, combat troops came to see all Vietnamese as the enemy, but ironically there was considerable respect for their actual armed opponents, the PLAF and PAVN.[124] Contempt and hatred was particularly extended to their allies: “Many [US Troops] now regarded the ARVN, indeed all Vietnamese, with open contempt. At the same time they came to think of the VC/PAVN as a resourceful and able foe.”[125]

Adding to this was the sense of fear that derived from sense of being universally hated and the hysteria generated therefrom. eale, before detailing the common ways in which US troops would commit serious acts of violence against children for sport, writes: “The old soldiers told the new soldiers the truth [sic]: those children hate us. They know where the mines are. They want us to die.” Having established this “truth” Neale goes on to detail the common practice of throwing full cans of c-rations at childrens heads to split them open.[126] Other such “truths” about the local population would spread amonst the troops, including the belief that Vietnamese children sold poisoned Coke,[127] that the Vietnamese would rig their own babies with explosives to kill GIs, and that prostitutes would boobytrap their vaginas with broken glass.[128]

These rumours are symptomatic of a larger sense of panic and insecurity, and their infantile nature should not distract from the deadly seriousness of the mental condition of the US troops. Former medic George Evans describes the circumstances under which two young boys had died: “I found out they’d been hit by an American military truck and that there was this kind of game going on in which, supposedly, guys were driving through town gambling over who could hit a kid. They had some disgusting name for it, something like ‘gook hockey’.”[129]

Such behaviours are both a result and a cause of an alienation, a massive gulf between Vietnamese and US servicemen, but one of the greatest reasons for that separation lay in the US policy of 1 year tours of duty. As a former ARVN interpreter explains: “The GIs didn’t understand anything at all about Vietnam. They always talked about being here for just one year. Look at their calendars- XXX every day. Everywhere GIs lived they had their calendars, marking off every day, counting the days. By the time they had some understanding, it was time to leave.”[130] The whole culture of the US personnel was one in which Vietnam was not even real, while the US was the “World”.

Just as soldiers of other nations have been, US military personnel were desensitised to violence, fear, pain, and death as part of their formal training. A sample of boot camp experiences is given by Gibson:

“We were told that “the only good gook is a dead gook, and the more gooks you kill, the more slant-eyes you can kill in Vietnam, that is the less you will have to worry about them killing you at night.”

“Now in this training they referred to the Vietnamese as dinks or gooks. The impression was that they were something less than human. I had a drill sergeant in AIT [Advanced Infantry Training] reply to a question, ‘What is it like over there?’; and he told us, he said, ‘It is like hunting rabbits and squirrels.’

“…the main word was, ‘Kill. Kill. Kill.’ all the time, they then pushed it into your head twenty-four hours a day. Even before you sat down to eat your meals, you had to stand up and scream ‘Kill’ before you could sit down and eat.”[131]

Gibson also prints some of the chants used in drill, such as: “VC, VC, kill, kill, kill. Gotta kill, gotta kill, ’cause it’s fun, ’cause it’s fun.”[132] Obviously desensitisation not only facilitates the killing of the enemy, but it is a blunt instrument which also promotes killing per se. One of the most famous of all boot camp cadences from the Vietnam era had the refrain: “Napalm sticks to kids!” Perhaps this particular desensitising phrase was relevant to the conditions that the personnel were about to face, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with combat and the ability to perform the role of a soldier.

It is also a departure from normal military practice to induce unreasonable fear in the soldiers being trained. One former air hostess described the men en route to Vietnam: “These were boys destined for combat and they had been told in training what their expected mortality rate was. I remember an air force Blue Beret actually told me they were trained to die. He didn’t expect ever to go home.”[133] Actually, US casualties were extremely light in the Second Indochina War with less than 2% of those who served in or over Indochina being killed. Naturally the burden was not even and some faced a much higher risk. Nevertheless, in comparison with the odds faced, even by their own countrymen and women, in World War II, these were not in themselves figures which should have induced despondency.

Nevertheless, the sense of peril permeated everything. William Calley, who massacred civilians at My Lai, had this to say about his training: It was drummed into us, ‘Be sharp! On guard! As soon as you think these people won’t kill you, ZAP! In combat you haven’t friends! You have enemies!’ Over and over at OCS we heard this, and I told myself, I’ll act as if I’m never secure. As if everyone in Vietnam would do me in. As if everyone’s bad.”[134]

The fear felt by US troops was increased by the failure or outright refusal of their commanders to create securely policed occupied territory. Instead massive base camps were constructed which were like small cities, such as one Long Binh which “boasted movie theaters, slot machines, steam baths, restaurant complexes, lawns and flower beds….”[135] This was another factor which kept the US personnel segregated from the local population (except in I Corps where the Marines referred to their compatriots as ‘ice-cream soldiers’),[136] and created a situation where there were highly Americanised islands of safety in a sea of Vietanmese hostility and danger.

Another effect of US tactics at this time was that when on patrol or Search and Destroy missions, ground forces were essentially being used as bait. They would walk until making “contact” (which the US’s own figures indicate was almost always a case of coming under fire from the enemy) and then radio in air and ground artillery strikes.[137] Actually, this manner of emphasising fire-power may have been an effective way of minimising US casualties,[138] but it led to a strong sense of spatial insecurity. Spencer Tucker wrote: “The dominant idea was to locate its enemy using infantry as a reconnaissance force and then destroy him with artillery and air power. Notoriously wasteful of matériel resources, this indiscriminate method meant that innocent civilians often got caught in the crossfire. It also lead to ‘firebase psychosis’ whereby US commanders grew reluctant to commit troops beyond the range of firebase support.”[139] All of this, for the actual ground troops, must have created a complete sense of demoralising powerlessness.

There was also a sense of futility generated. The author Tim O’Brien told Christian Appy: “It was just a blur of going from village to village through paddies with no sense of destination, or mission, or purpose. You’d just wake up and go to a village, search it, and leave. Somebody might die or not, and you’d come back a month later to the same damn village and do it again. It was like going in circles and not really achieving anything. You weren’t winning hearts and minds and you weren’t winning ground. You didn’t know who to shoot unless they were shooting at you. The enemy seemed to be everywhere and nowhere.”[140] The result was that, in one former infantryman’s words, “…slowly as fear mounted frustration and rode down a crippled confidence, as callousness started taking over from condescension in our attitude to the Vietnamese, our vision blurred, clouded over, and refocused. Where before we had found it difficult to see the enemy anywhere, now we saw him everywhere. It was simple now; the Vietnamese were the Viet Cong, the Viet Cong were the Vietnamese. The killing became so much easier now.”[141]

Of course, atrocities committed by troops on the ground contibuted only a tiny part of the overall suffering in south Vietnam, let alone Indochina as a whole. But they must have played a very significant role in encouraging people to take up arms against the US. They also give insight into the US military effort as a whole. What is striking about accounts of atrocities is that frequently there is no trigger as such, merely a momentary failure of will against ongoing pressures which effectively made murder the path of least resistance. Tiger Force (an elite unit) were pressured into being “productive”, through the usual means, but as their habitual killing of civilians became known to superiors they were actually consciously used as a death squad (I can think of no other term) by battalion commanders. Sallah and Weiss give considerable detail about this process which is too complicated to summarise here, but on at least 8 occasions they highlight the centrality of orders coming from officers not in the field.[142]

Genocidal logic or Military Illogic?

I think it is safe to reduce my thesis here to the following: The US committed genocide in Indochina and because of that Viet Nam lost the “war” in far more substantive ways than it won by achieveing a military victory. In some ways you could say that both sides won in the terms on which they chose to fight. But the US, a global hegemon, had the luxury of playing the longer game and was also able to force the each of the Indochinese regimes (ally, enemy or neutral) into a internationalised high-tech industrial conflict that none of them would have chosen.

I should note here that though much of this article is copied from a post-graduate research paper I wrote in 2008, there is much of relevance in that dissertation that I have not relayed here. The most important is that the US forced its opponents to fight, despite considerable reluctance. It shouldn’t surprise anyone really, but no one wanted to go to war with them most powerful military on the planet.[143]

Another thing which is detailed throughout the paper is the way the militarily counterproductive actions of US forces helped maintain and sustain their enemies. I have alluded to the fact that killing civilians helps recruit enemies, and as it happens Ben Kiernan has just this week published, with co-author Taylor Owen, an article reitierating: “During the four years of United States B-52 bombardment of Cambodia from 1969 to 1973, the Khmer Rouge forces grew from possibly one thousand guerrillas to over 200,000 troops and militia.”

The US also acted in ways which ensured that their enemies were well armed. An indication of how crucial the US was in arming the PLAF can be gotten from the figure given by investigative reporter I. F. Stone, who revealed estimates that in 1965 97.5 per cent of PLAF weapons were of non-communist origin.[144] Some of these may have been captured weapons from the Korean War, transshipped via China, but this is nevertheless an eye-opening figure.

Insurgencies do tend to arm themselves by raiding, but the US military facilitated this inestimably. They maintained a series of easily over-run watchtowers which advisers such as John Paul Vann, believing them to be a result of ARVN stupidity, actually referred to as “VC supply points.”[145] These watchtowers were remnants of the First Indochina War and had been a disastrous burden on the French war effort, tying up 70% of French forces. By 1953 even the French knew that the towers were worse than useless. Bernard Fall described them as “downright ridiculous”.[146] And yet they remained in place right through to the Americanisation of the war. Philip Caputo was astounded to see them in 1965: “If this was a real war zone what were those anachronisms doing here? Their only conceivable us would be as registration points for VC mortar batteries.”[147]

Trading with the enemy also played a very large role in supplying insurgents. US aid was often known to go directly to the enemy. Gibson asks the question, “Why would the war-managers willingly acquiesce in the theft of so much American aid, especially when it sometimes ended in the grasp of the enemy?” The possible answers he provides are that it was either the price the US had to pay for GVN officials to co-operate or that the US could not intervene because to do so would belie the pretence of RVN sovereignty.[148] Neither of these explanations comes close to sufficing because, as Gibson’s own exposition reveals, the system was one created by the US from scratch. The US was also unconstrained by the pretence of sovereignty, and RVN sovereignty was only ever an excuse for not taking actions that were considered undesirable but which it behoved the US to evince support for. Finally it should be noted that GVN officials could have been bought off quite sufficiently without fostering an arms supply for the NLF. ARVN corruption was largely a result of pathetic pay rates – pay rates set by the US.[149]

US profligacy with fire-power also helped the PLAF – a Captain from the tunnel complex at Cu Chi said: “We hardly received any… weapons from the North. … We needed explosives and fortunately soon found them lying all around us on the ground.”[150] Tucker, writing of the earlier parts of the war, summarises the situation with these words, “new weapons that the US provided the ARVN merely meant that the VC would now capture newer, better American weapons….”[151]

Not content with arming and supplying their enemies, it can be argued that the US even contrived to provide them, rest, recreation and medical facilities which also provided sanctuary from the US military’s own offensive operations. I refer here to the Chieu Hoi (“Open Arms”) programme, putatively set up to facilitate defections from the PLAF. This programme was administered by the GVN, but designed, overseen and funded by the US. It consisted of centres spread around South Vietnam where defectors could safely go. It is generally considered to have been a great success because of the large numbers of defectors reported and because of its “cost-effectiveness”, reportedly only $125.12 per “returnee”.[152] But a social psychologist sent in 1966 to study US “psywar” efforts later wrote, “there was no way to know if the so-called ‘defectors’ were what they claimed to be. Anyone who showed up at one of these centers and claimed to be a ‘defector’ was given a bed. We do know that some genuine VC moved into these centers whenever U.S. Army divisions began military operations in their area. Thus the centers became ‘safe havens’ when the heat was on and even provided medical treatment to those wounded in action….”[153]

It is often said that the Vietnamese used their cunning oriental Sun Tzu-inspired military ways to turn US strength against itself. The US is generally represented as being almost stupidly and obtusely plain and open. Gabriel Kolko, for example, said that US officials didn’t really have a concept of historical trends.[154] The truth is almost the complete opposite. The US applied a great deal of abstruse and convoluted ideas which often employed deception. In fact the US had highly sophisticated intelligence and strategy formulation systems. They applied psychosocial and anthropological disciplines rigorously. The US produced large “Psychological Operations” reports on each of the three Indochinese nations in the late 1950s (note well that they produced one report for Vietnam) which the material, social, cultural and psychological milieu of each nation and how to exploit it. However parochial the viewpoint may have been, the US was therefore working with complex and highly informed rather than ignorant and simple-minded premises.[155] Incidentally, the US was also able to bring considerable anthropological acumen to bear when it came to working with the Hmong of Laos[156] and the Montagnards of Vietnam.[157]

In contrast, the PLAF and PAVN were almost completely confined to strictly military actions attacking the physical and moral military strength of their enemies. Their most important military leader, Vo Nguyen Giap, was a keen student of Clausewitz, of T. E. Lawrence, and of Mao Tse Tung who was also heavily influenced by Clausewitz.[158]

The most bitter irony is not the racism of those who assume that Vietnamese leaders would never employ strategic and tactical thinking from Western theorists, but rather that the relative weakness of the DRV regime meant that they could not afford anything but a fully committed outright military struggle. The French, whose war was paid for by the US, would make no concessions to the Viet Minh until they were clearly defeated. But what they won on the battlefield was stripped from them at the negotiating table. The DRV was in dire economic straits due to the ravages of war and colonialism, which, ultimately, was the reason that they even allowed Vietnam to be divided at the Geneva Conference despite having shown they were capable, if the war continued, of winning a complete politico-military victory.[159] The Viet Minh occupied most of Vietnam and Laos and had won a major victory at An Tuc near the 14th parallel. They wanted a temporary division at the 13th or 14th parallel and knew that by accepting a division at the 17th parallel they were facilitating a partition.[160] Douglas Pike, a US official as well as a scholar, puts it forthrightly: “Ironically the agreement in Geneva benefited all parties except the winners.”[161]

So ultimately, despite racial stereotyping, the enemies of the US could do nothing but fight a relatively straightforward military struggle, using the best tactics available to them, until the self-fulfilling prophecy of Communist tanks entering Saigon came to pass. It was the US that exploited Hanoi’s own strengths against it, making the 1973 peace agreement akin to the 1954 peace agreement. This time, however, when the US did not live up to the deal it was inevitable that the DRV would finish the military conquest, creating “visuals” that appeared as the conquest of an aggressor, not an act of liberation or reunification.

The US left to the military victor a deeply divided country which they had partitioned for 21 years. The economy was stretched thin in the North and fragmented, poisoned and half-immolated in the South. Kiernan and Owen write that the latest research suggests that “from 1961 to 1972, American aircraft dropped approximately one million tons of bombs on North Vietnam, and much more on rural areas of South Vietnam – approximately 4 million tons of bombs, 400,000 tons of napalm, and 19 million gallons of herbicides.”

The evidence that the US committed genocide in Indochina is overwhelming. There were statements of clear genocidal intent; there were policies that embodied genocidal intent; every other major policy, practice, or common tactic seemed to belong to a system which maximised the death and destruction visited on the peoples of Indochina. This system seemed equally to be hostile to military efforts, and US actions also blocked all avenues to peace apart from total conquest by Communist-led anti-US forces. This left 3 countries bearing enormous physical, psychological, cultural, social, political, ecological and biological wounds.

To clarify, I think it is safe to reduce the possibilities to two interpretations. A) The US was trying to fight a war, but was for various reasons unable to act in a logical politico-military manner and despite its material superiority was defeated by a weaker but more coherent enemy. B) The US was always engaged in the business of genocide. Recurrent decisions were made on the basis of the desirability of inflicting varying forms destruction on the peoples of Indochina as such. This destruction included, but was not limited to, mass physical violence on a scale which cannot be explained in military terms. The genocide gave the US an effective victory over Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam despite the military defeat suffered by the US.

We can think of these as hypotheses A and B. Obviously these are not experimentally falsifiable in the way that the ideal scientific hypothesis is. We can’t re-run the entire war and see if it looks different if we ensure there is no genocide, but it is still illuminating to put these in the context of what is considered meritous for hypotheses in science. Most important among those meritous qualities are explanatory power, parsimony and predictive ability.

So how do they stack up?

Hypothesis A doesn’t actually explain events very well. It does explain why Khmer Rouge soldiers took over Phnom Penh 40 years ago, and why Bui Tin told Minh he had no power to surrender. However, it doesn’t really explain the events leading up to that conclusion. US militarists are fond of saying that the US was never defeated in the field in Vietnam. That is utter nonsense, of course, but they never lost anything to force of arms that they couldn’t get back (except morale). There is a very clear disjuncture between all of the years of military success and the finalé of defeat that doesn’t comport with hypothesis A.

Hypothesis B explains a surprising amount. It isn’t a complete explanation for everything, but almost everything the US did in Indochina fits within the framework of genocide. To name a few such things: cluster munitions; strategic hamlets; Operation Speedy Express; Operation Menu; one-year tours of duty; the Phoenix Programme; Agent Orange; child soldiers and ghost soldiers.[162]

Hypothesis A is very far from parsimonious. In fact in important respects, hypothesis A is not a hypothesis at all, but a presumption which has spawned innumerable ornate theories or theorycules about US politics, culture, decisionmaking, psychology, dysfunction, and so forth. For example, I have documented four different variants of quagmire thesis, all of which are distinct from concepts of stalemate, inadvertence, groupthink, and imperial presidency.[163]

According to common perception Hypothesis B might seem to lack parsimony. In the common imagination a project of genocide is something hatched by maniacal plotters behind closed doors and enacted by brutal fanatics. One could argue that this is a perfect description of what occurred in Indochina, but it is subjective. It presupposes that the observer will see the plotters and those who execute the plots as the “other”. It makes people think that they have to reconceptualise the way that US society works because they believe, by definition, that the ordinary functioning of US political power precludes a series of officials all systematically choosing to commit genocide over a period of time. They believe that it would involve special secrecy and Byzantine conspiracy. The reality is far more banal. The maniacal plotters are rational and ordinary men and women, just as the Nazi leaders were. The brutal fanatics are also just ordinary people – frighteningly so. There was a lot of secret conspiracy, that has been well established particularly with regard to the Nixon administrations, but much that was genocidal was simply done in the open.

In fact, hypothesis B requires only a partial corollary. The corollary is that even if the main thrust of US activity was defined by a project of genocide, many personnel, if not entire institutions, engaged earnestly in counter-insurgency, winning hearts and minds and trying to establish democarcy and prosperity. The reason that this is only a partial corollary is that any such substantive effort was systematically undermined or subverted. Every bright idea that was fed into the US came out twisted into another interation of genocide. Efforts at “pacification” for example, spawned genocidal operations like Speedy Express. “Inkblot” counterinsurgency became “strategic hamlets”, “enclave strategy” and “refugee generation”. For any scholars of the 2nd Indochina War who still harbour doubts over the genocide, ask yourself whether it is really possible that all of those well-meaning and often very clever sounding military, political and civil actions somehow all came to inflict damage on the people they were supposed to help or co-opt.

Finally, I will turn to the predictive power of the hypotheses. Obviously this is not 1975, and it is not scientifically valid to make “predictions” in retrospect. But I am not doing science here, I am using concepts that are applied to science in order to show that the commonly accepted orthodox view of the 2nd Indochina War is hopelessly pathetic. That said, let us imagine what hypothesis A would predict. It would predict the “Vietnam Syndrome” and the massive reorganisation of the US military that followed the war. It would be highly consonant with the advent of the Powell Doctrine. In other words, the US military itself behaved very much like it had been defeated in a war. But in other respects the US did not seem like it had lost a war. As mentioned, it was not in any way subject to the power of the victors. In terms of international hegemony the US continued to grow in strength with its financial hegemony actually improving after it dropped the gold standard. The “Third World” – meaning the non-aligned countries – became the “Third World” – meaning impoverished debt-vassals to Western capital. The US won the Cold War and the Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia embraced the “Washington Consensus”.

More strikingly, though, is the fact that with some reluctance on the part of the US military, the US has started making exactly the same “mistakes” repeatedly and for very protracted periods. Since 2001, the US has been on a spree of war-fighting “mistakes”. In fact, even whilst the war was still happening in Indochina, they were making the same “mistakes” in Latin America and continued to make those “mistakes” for as long as they could.

To put this in perspective there is no country on Earth that comes close to the US in its experience of fighting against insurgencies and irregular warfare once you account for Indian Wars, Cuba, Philippines, every Marine campaign from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, The Pacific War, Korea, Indochina, the entire Western hemisphere, “advisors”, “trainers”, schools, AFRICOM, CENTCOM and more besides. In fact, I dare say that all other countries in the history of humanity put together have not equalled the US in the sheer number of person hours devoted to counter-insurgency. So how then do we accept the constant diagnosis given by respected analysts who explain US “failures” in terms of their inability to fight insurgencies? Are we that stupid?

Now the counter-insurgency and conventional military “failures” are proliferating, and they all happen to experience the social, cultural, economic, ecological and political destruction, along with mass deaths, that signify genocide. Places like Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Somalia resemble Lemkin’s description of the effects of German genocide very closely.

Hypothesis B might lead one to predict all of this. It could predict that genocidal events would occur in the Western hemisphere admixed with genuine counter-insurgency and politicidal violence by established comprador oligarchs. It would predict that client minorities in Apartheid South Africa and Israel would use the same tactics. It would predict that, as much as possible, the US would avoid the public and military morale problems that meant that it could not indefinitely continue violence against Indochina. In that vein, hypothesis B strongly resonates with actions such as declaring no-fly zones such as that imposed on Iraq during the sanctions period. It would predict that the US would often avoid “boots on the ground” of they were likely to cause exponentially mounting opposition. But where it had found them worthwile once, it would want to keep sending them back even after they had been withdrawn.

Hypothesis B would predict that once the hegemony of the US was threatened on a global scale its genocidal practices would spread. It would militarily intervene in ever more countries in order to weaken the nations and the peoples that threatened to break free of its control. It would exploit the weakness and instability it created in each intervention to perpetuate further destruction creating further weakness and instability which would allow further destruction. This would continue and proliferate until stopped by a fundamental change – either the complete collapse of US power altogether or a change in public perception which causes the genocidal acts to be clearly seen as genocidal and morally unacceptable. US military and economic power is immense and will not simply vanish overnight, so the first option is a guarantee of years of continued destuction, immiseration and death.

A or B?

[1] Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation – Analysis of Government – Proposals for Redress, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944, pp 80-1.

[2] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, 2.2.29. Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1997, p 93.

[3] Estimates of Cambodian deaths resulting from the 1970-75 war range from Vickery’s 500,000 killed (Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 263) to a credible 1 million excess deaths Sorpong Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy? Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000, p 54. Given that the Cambodian population was an estimated 6 or 7 million in the period of the Second Indochina War, this gives us a figure of between 1 in 6 and 1 in 14 of all Cambodians killed. The US lost around 59,000 (Gibson, A Perfect War, p 9) out of a population around 200,000,000; or 1 in 3390. This gives a range of between 0.18 and 0.41 per cent.

[4] Between 1.8 and 3.2 million Vietnamese died (Neale, A People’s History, pp 75-6; S. Brian Willson, ‘Bob Kerrey’s Atrocity, the Crime of Vietnam and the Historic Pattern of US Imperialism’, in Adam Jones (ed.), Genocide, War Crimes and the West, p 169; Robert K. Brigham, ‘Why the South Won the American War in Vietnam’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 98) giving a range of between 1 in 9 and 1 in 16. This gives US percentages as being between 0.27 and 0.47 percent.

[5] Laos is extremely problematic in terms of counting the lives lost. The New York Times gives an estimated figure of 350,000 (Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 260). That is around 1 in 9, but the figure may be too low when one considers that, in addition to civil war, the Laotians in this period were subjected to 500,000 bombing missions which dropped over 2 million tons of bombs (Willson, ‘Bob Kerrey’s Atrocity…,’ p 168).

[6] Bureau of Economic Assessment, “Current-Dollar and “Real” Gross Domestic Product” [Computer spreadsheet file]. Retrieved 25 January 2008 from http://www.bea.gov/national/xls/gdplev.xls.

[7] William, Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. London: Fontana, 1980 (1979), pp 220-1.

[8] Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, p 19.

[9] Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 264.

[10] It ranks 139th on the Human Development Index, which is two places below Cambodia (United Nations Development Programme, ‘Country Fact Sheet – Lao People’s Democratic Republic’. Retrieved 21 April 2015 from http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/cdp/ldc/profile/country_103.shtml Also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Human_Development_Index#Low_human_development).

[11] Hy V. Luong, ‘Postwar Vietnamese Society: An Overview of Transformational Dynamic’ in Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, pp 12, 14.

[12] Nicholas Minot; Francesco Goletti, ‘Export Liberalization and Household Welfare: The Case of Rice in Vietnam’ in American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 80, No. 4. (Nov., 1998), p 743. Minot and Goletti actually (to their own evident surprise) projected a slight overall drop in poverty, but they do so on the basis of changes in real income which do not take into account that rural persons are better able to acquire food without income expenditure. They also slightly underestimate the level of urbanisation – they use the 1990 figure of 20 per cent, when by the time of their writing the figure was over 23 per cent (Michael DiGregorio, A. Terry Rambo, Masayuki Yanagisawa, ‘Clean, Green, and Beautiful: Environment and Development under the Renovation Economy’ in Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, p 189.) and do not account for future urbanisation. Michel Chossudovsky suggests that the Vietnamese did, in the actual event, become considerably poorer (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty and the New World Order. Shanty Bay, Ontario: Global Outlook, 2003, p 168).

[13] Gilbert, ‘Introduction’, p 26.

[14] Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, pp 77-8.

[15] Some of the metal was actually sold back to Viet Nam by a Japanese conglomerate at market rates (Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty…, pp 172-3).

[16] Adam Fforde and Suzanne H. Paine, The Limits of National Liberation. Beckenham, Kent: Croom Helm, 1987, pp 127-8.

[17] Robert D. Schulzinger, A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp 172-3.

[18] John Pilger, “Year Zero” in John Pilger (ed.), Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, London: Vintage, 2005, pp 120-157. See also Alexander Laban Hinton, Why Did They Kill? : Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005;

[19] Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, p 143; Spencer C. Tucker, Vietnam. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999, p 196.

[20] Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 260.

[21] Wilfred Burchett, The China, Cambodia, Vietnam Triangle. Chicago and London: Vanguard Books and Zed Press, 1981, pp 41-2.

[22] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 238.

[23] Ben Kiernan ‘The Samlaut Rebellion, 1967-68’ in Kiernan, Ben, and Boua, Chanthou (eds). Peasants and Politics in Kampuchea, 1942-1981. London: Zed Press, 1982, pp 166-172.

[24] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 52-3, 55-7

[25] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 64-5.

[26] Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 18.

[27] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 114-5.

[28] William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II (2nd ed.), Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2004, pp 137-8; Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, pp 125-6; Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 114-23;

[29] Partly because the MACV produced figures 5 times as high as the more likely CIA figure. The Central Intelligence Agency agreed there was a flow through Cambodia, but its National Intelligence Estimate in 1968 put the level at only two thousand tons. Pacific Command intelligence essentially accepted the CIA estimate. The State Department argued that “what reliable evidence is available does not suggest that the operation is of the magnitude MACV describes.”’ Even the Pentagon questioned MACV methodology. CIA analyst Paul Walsh conducted ‘quite a sophisticated’ study, arriving ‘at a figure of something like six thousand tons from 1967 to early 1970. By then MACV’s claims were up to about eighteen thousand.’ (Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, p 236.

[30] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 64.

[31] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 202, 221, 251.

[32] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 19.

[33] Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991 pp 72, 186; William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1986, pp 79-80; Tucker, Vietnam, p 129.

[34] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 140.

[35] Young, The Vietnam Wars, p 245.

[36] Shawcross, 1979, p 151.

[37] Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, pp 19-23. Also see Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia, p 128.

[38] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 73, 180, 194-5, 261.

[39] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 249.

[40] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 254

[41] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 220.

[42] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 317-9.

[43] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 149.

[44] Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia , p 127.

[45] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

[46] Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 24.

[47] Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, p 19.

[48] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

[49] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 254-5.

[50] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 169.

[51] Nigel Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won. London: Arcturus Publishing, 2003, p 213; William C. Westmoreland “A Look Back” (1988). Retrieved 25 April 2015 from https://ongenocide.com/material/.

[52] Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, p 64.

[53] Edward Cuddy, “Vietnam: Mr. Johnson’s War. Or Mr. Eisenhower’s?” The Review of Politics, 65:4, Autumn 2003, pp 360-1.

[54] Frederik Logevall, “Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam”, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 34:1, March 2004, p 100.

[55] Schulzinger, A Time for War, pp 146, 166.

[56] Schulzinger, A Time for War, pp 169-70.

[57] Christian Appy, Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History Told from all Sides. London: Ebury Press/Random House, 2006 (2003), pp 120-3.

[58] Logevall, ‘Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam’ p 101.

[59] Schulzinger, A Time for War, pp 99, 111; Fred I. Greenstein and Richard H. Immerman, ‘What Did Eisenhower Tell Kennedy about Indochina? The Politics of Misperception.’ The Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 2. (Sep., 1992), p 584. These authors, I should point out, take the vocalisations and equivocating as a symptom of reluctance: “The events that culminated in United States military intervention in Vietnam were marked by continuing disagreement and ambivalence on the part of American policy makers, who sought to arrive at outcomes falling between what Eisenhower at one point described as the ‘unattainable’ and the ‘unacceptable.’”

[60] Schulzinger, A Time for War, p 111.

[61] Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss, Tiger Force. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2006, pp 29-30

[62] Tucker, Vietnam, p 151; John Prados, ‘Impatience, Illusion and Assymetry’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 141.

[63] McGeorge Bundy, ‘Memorandum for the President, February 7, 1965,’ in Gareth Porter and Gloria Emerson (eds), Vietnam: A History in Documents (abridged). New York: New American Library, 1981 (1979), pp 295-9.

[64] Harry Summers, On Strategy: A critical analysis of the Vietnam War. New York: Presidio Press, 1995 (1982) pp 117-8.

[65] Many authors are happy to suggest that the US was mistaken because it thought that Hanoi would not be so complacent about the deaths of its own people. By this means the whole public relations paradigm of graduated response reverses victim and perpetrator in the same manner as a large bully using a smaller child’s hands to hit his face while saying, ‘stop hitting yourself.’ Jeffrey Record writes that the air campaign against the DRV failed because: ‘As a fiercely nationalistic totalitarian state prepared to sacrifice entire generations of its sons to achieve Vietnam’s reunification, North Vietnam was a very poor candidate for coercion through bombing,’ (Record, ‘How America’s Military Performance…’, in Gilbert (ed.), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, p 128). Cawthorne, referring to US use of fire-power more broadly reads into a Defense Department report that Hanoi calculatedly maintains a level of casualties just below its birth rate (Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, p 114). This sort of ‘analysis’ relies on unexamined racial notions and also the unexamined presumption that the DRV leaders were presented with any choices in regard to either war on the ground or the air campaigns.

[66] Turley, The Second Indochina War, p 87.

[67] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 330.

[68] Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, pp 96-7.

[69] Turley, The Second Indochina War, pp 92-5.

[70] Qiang Zhai, ‘Opposing Negotiations: China and the Vietnam Peace Talks, 1965-1968,’ The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 68, No. 1. (Feb., 1999), p 25.

[71] ‘The four points were: recognition of the fundamental rights of the Vietnamese people to peace, independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity, accompanied by unilateral American withdrawal and the unconditional cessation of military operations in South and North Vietnam; American respect for the Geneva Agreement of 1954 settlement of South Vietnamese problems by the South Vietnamese people in accordance with the program of southern revolutionaries without outside interference; and no foreign interference in the peace process leading to the reunification of Vietnam,’ (Pierre Asselin, ‘Hanoi and Americanization of the War in Vietnam: New Evidence from Vietnam,Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 74, No. 3, p 433, n 21.

[72] Logevall, ‘Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam’ pp 106-7.

[73] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 333-4.

[74] Mark Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State, Volume II: The Rise of the West and the Coming of Genocide, London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2005, p 13.

[75] Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State: Volume II, p 13.

[76] Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, London: Routledge, 2006, p 71.

[77] Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State: Volume II, pp 10, 13.

[78] John Docker, Raphael Lemkin’s History of Genocide and Colonialism, Paper for United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, Washington DC, 26 February 2004, p 5.

[79] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Bases of Accomodation” in Foreign Affairs, 46:4, July 1968, pp 648-9.

[80] Philip Jones Griffiths, Vietnam Inc., Sydney: Phaidon, 2001.

[81] Appy, Vietnam, p 242.

[82] Raphaël Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation – Analysis of Government – Proposals for Redress, Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944, p 89.

[83] Lemkin, Axis Rule, pp 89-90.

[84] Raphaël Lemkin, “Genocide”, American Scholar, 15:2 , April 1946, p 227.

[85] Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss, Tiger Force. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2006.

[86] Bernd Greiner, War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam, London: Vintage, 2010.

[87] Greiner, War Without Fronts, p 11.

[88] Nicholas Turse. Kill Anything That Moves: United States War Crimes and Atrocities in Vietnam, 1965–1973. Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, 2005.

[89] Deborah Nelson, The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth about U.S. War Crimes, New York: Basic Books, 2008.

[90] Nicholas Turse. Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013.

[91] Greiner, War Without Fronts, pp 12-3.

[92] Greiner, War Without Fronts, p 31.

[93] Nelson, The War Behind Me, p 127.

[94] This description is from a speech given in Los Angeles at the United Methodist Church in North Hills on July 20, 2003 which was recorded by the L.A. Sound Posse. S. Brian Willson, ‘US Intervention in Korea’. Los Angeles: 20 July 2003. Retrieved 28 April 2015 from http://www.radio4all.net/index.php?op=program-info&program_id=7485.

[95] S. Brian Willson, “Biography”. Retrieved 28 April 2015 from http://www.brianwillson.com/bio.html

[96] Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, New York: Vintage 1989 (1988), p pp 617-8.

[97] Turley, The Second Indochina War, p 66.

[98] Sallah and Weiss, Tiger Force, pp 77, 164, 290-2.

[99] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 135.

[100] Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, pp 106-111.

[101] Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, p 111.

[102] Roger Warner, Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America’s Clandestine War in Laos, South Royalton, Vermont: Steerforth Press, 1996, p 82.

[103] Summers, On Strategy, p 168.

[104] Tucker, Vietnam, p 96; Shawcross, Sideshow, p 178.

[105] Tucker, Vietnam, p 150.

[106] Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, pp 109-110.

[107] Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State, New YorK; New Press, 2003, p 21.

[108] Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War. London: Arrow, 1985 (1977), p 74.

[109] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 138.

[110] Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p 195.

[111] John Pilger, Heroes, London: Vintage, 2001, (1986) p 191.

[112] Helen Emmerich quoted in Gibson, A Perfect War, p 141.

[113] Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face to Face Killing in 20th Century Warfare. London: Granta, 1999, p 220.

[114] Briefly put, the US was running a very expensive interdiction campaign in the air and supplies were very difficult to move South from the DRV. The southern forces needed very little in the way of supplies to continue an insurgency whose pace they determined themselves, but it was nevertheless true that supplies and weapons were of inestimable value.

[115] Young, The Vietnam Wars, p 187.

[116] Jeffrey Record, ‘How America’s Own Military Performance in Vietnam Abetted the “North’s” Victory’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 125.

[117] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 85.

[118] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 112.

[119] Appy, Vietnam, p 365.

[120] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 120.

[121] Appy, Vietnam, p 350.

[122] Gibson, A Perfect War, p viii.

[123] Appy, Vietnam, p 358.

[124] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 94.

[125] Tucker,Vietnam, p 152.

[126] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 96.

[127] Caputo, A Rumor of War, p 107.

[128] Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won, p 60.

[129] Appy, Vietnam, p 452.

[130] Appy, Vietnam, p 375.

[131] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 181-2.

[132] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 182.

[133] Appy, Vietnam, p 107.

[134] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 182.

[135] Record, ‘How America’s Military Performance…’, in Gilbert (ed.), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, p 127.

[136] Caputo, A Rumor of War, p 65.

[137] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, pp 87-8.

[138] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 110-2.

[139] Tucker, Vietnam, p 131.

[140] Appy, Vietnam, p 543.

[141] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, pp 90-1.

[142] Sallah and Weiss, Tiger Force, pp 29-30, 240, 250, 261, 278, 279, 285, 292.

[143] See: Beyond Stalemate, pp 61-80.

[144] Chomsky, For Reasons of State, p 44.

[145] Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, p 101.

[146] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 61-2.

[147] Caputo, A Rumor of War, p 54.

[148] Gibson, A Perfect War, pp 258-60.

[149] Schulzinger, A Time for War, p 191.

[150] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 100.

[151] Tucker, Vietnam, pp 92-3.

[152] Larry Cable, Unholy Grail: The US and the wars in Vietnam, 1965-8. London: Routledge, 1991, p 155.

[153] James O. Whittaker, ‘Psychological Warfare in Vietnam’ in Political Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 1. (Mar., 1997), p 168.

[154] Gabriel Kolko, Vietnam: Anatomy of War 1940-1975. London: Allen and Unwin 1986, p 48.

[155] Shawcross, Sideshow, pp 56-8.

[156] Warner, Shooting at the Moon, p 108

[157] John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, p 74.

[158] Phillip Davidson, Vietnam At War: The History 1946-1975, Oxford: OUP, 1991, p 20.

[159] Kolko, Anatomy of War, p 64.

[160] Gibson, A Perfect War, p 67.

[161] Douglas Pike, Viet Cong: The Organisation and techniques of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1968 (1966), p 51.

[162] All of which can be found in Beyond Stalemate.

[163] All of which can also be found in Beyond Stalemate.

Saudi Arabia is an Obedient Puppet of the US, Not a Rogue

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A reader of On Genocide‘s facebook page shared a link to this article. The premise of the article is that Saudi Arabia supports Islamist terrorists, but the US can’t do anything about it because Saudi Arabia has the US bent over an oil barrel. They are described as being in a “Mexican stand-off”. This is an incredibly naïve analysis. There is no parity between SA and the US. The Saudi régime is an extremely obedient and vulnerable client of the US and if they are supporting terrorists it is with blessings from Washington.

The US has a long established practice of blaming its puppet leaders for doing things or forcing the US to do things that the US wants to do, but has to pretend that it does not want to do. For most of the Korean War the US actively sabotaged peace negotiations, but they blamed Syngman Rhee for it using racially informed notions of Oriental despotism.

In Viet Nam they had to cycle through a number of a lot of leaders looking for people with the right stuff. Though they had initially supported the monarchy, Edward Lansdale famously used PR expertise, including deadly false-flag bombings to install Ngo Dinh Diem. Later, the US government played a crucial role in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem. It remains to be noted, however, that although Diem was supposedly out of favour for a number of reasons, the last straw for the US government is generally held to be when, on September the 19th, it was learned that Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was negotiating with Hanoi. Both brothers were dead by November the 2nd.1 Diem had also threatened to prevent any increase in the number of US “advisors” in South Vietnam.2

Diem’s replacement, General Duong Van Minh, had strong ties with the Buddhist community and good communication with the French. He began working with the French towards neutralisation. The Pentagon organised his overthrow.3 His replacement, General Nguyen Khanh, soon decided that the only reasonable solution for South Vietnam was a neutral coalition government and set up communications with the National Liberation Front. The US got hold of a letter written by him to a NLF central committee member in which Khanh declared opposition to US intervention. They overthrew him a month later. The replacements were General Nguyen Van Thieu and Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky. In Jonathan Neale’s words: “Both were corrupt in the usual bribery and export import ways. But both were also heavily involved in the heroin trade. Finally the American embassy had found someone at the bottom of the barrel who would do as they were told.”4

Once the US had installed these completely dependent underlings the propaganda machine quickly swung into action, blaming them for the profligate corruption, destruction and obstruction of peace that the US itself created. You will be very surprised to read that this propaganda drew on racially informed notions of Oriental despotism.

Similar tropes have been deployed regarding US client dictators throughout the world. The US loves ostentatiously corrupt dictators because they are more dependant and pliable. Such creatures are at odds with the interests of their own people, which is why they are dependant on the US and easy to control. This is old school imperialism.

The British created the Saudi monarchy in just such an act of traditional imperial practice. This tailor-made client regime was then poached by the US in 1945. If you want to understand just how compliant SA is, you just need to calculate how much of its wealth ends up in the pockets of US arms manufacturers and how much is put into the US treasury. This is a payment of tribute which Michael Hudson described as being “super-imperialism”.5

Often the US deliberately casts Saudi Arabia as the villain in its actions. A case in point is the oil embargo with which the nasty Arabs attacked the US, but as even the article linked above admits, this was a crucial step in establishing the hegemony of the US dollar from then until now – nearly half a century of imperial domination. What is more, this was all according to a plan that had already been prepared

The dollar was established as the international reserve currency via the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944, when the US had the bulk of world gold reserves and, as mentioned, half of its manufacturing capacity.6 What followed was an era of global developmentalism referred to as a ‘golden age’ where global economic growth far outstripped population growth. Exports, outside of the Communist bloc, grew an average of 6% per annum from 1948 to 1960, rising to an average of 9% from 1960 to 1973.7 Western countries practised ’embedded liberalism’, wherein trade barriers were reduced under a stable system of exchange, but many non-aligned states practised economic nationalism. While it is obligatory to denounce the shoddy inefficiencies of import substitution industrialisation (ISI)8 and the nepotist corruption of Third World populist corporatism9 of the time, it should nevertheless be observed (but oddly isn’t) that these were part-and-parcel of a developmentalist approach which performed almost immeasurably better than the imposed neoliberalism which followed.

The problem with the US dollar being the reserve currency was that in order to provide liquidity to other states the US had to run a balance of payments deficit leading to indebtedness.10 The US dollar was backed by gold at a rate of $35 per ounce set in 1934.11 The Second Indochina War, however, depleted gold reserves: “In 1958, US dollar liabilities accounted for only 80 per cent of the country’s gold reserves. But by 1967, US gold reserves could cover only 30 per cent of liabilities. …[T]he deficit had spiralled out of control, dollar liabilities massively outweighed US gold reserves, and confidence in the system began to subside.”12 A similar problem had as much as spelled the end of the British empire after World War I, but this was not to be true of the US empire and its financial hegemony:

[J]ust as World Wars I and II had bankrupted Europe, so the Vietnam War threatened to bankrupt the United States.

….

[B]y March 1968, after a six-month run, America’s gold stock fell to the $10 billion floor beyond which the Treasury had let it be known that it would suspend further gold sales. The London Gold Pool was disbanded and informal agreement (i.e., diplomatic arm-twisting) was reached among the world’s central banks to stop converting their dollar inflows into gold.

This broke the link between the dollar and the market price of gold. Two prices for gold emerged, a rising open-market price and the lower “official” price of $35 an ounce at which the world’s central banks continued to value their monetary reserves.

Three years later, in August 1971, President Nixon made the gold embargo official. The key-currency standard based on the dollar’s convertibility into gold was dead. The U.S. Treasury-bill standard – that is, the dollar-debt standard based on dollar inconvertibility – was inaugurated. Instead of being able to use their dollars to buy American gold, foreign governments found themselves able only to purchase U.S. Treasury obligations (and, to a much lesser extent, U.S. corporate stocks and bonds).

As foreign central banks received dollars from their exporters and commercial banks that preferred domestic currency, they had little choice but to lend these dollars to the U.S. Government. Running a dollar surplus in their balance of payments became synonymous with lending this surplus to the U.S. Treasury. The world’s richest nation was enabled to borrow automatically from foreign central banks simply by running a payments deficit. The larger the U.S. payments deficit grew, the more dollars ended up in foreign central banks, which then lent them back to the U.S. Government by investing them in Treasury obligations of varying degrees of liquidity and marketability.13

One of the consequences of repudiating dollar convertibility was that US imperial strength became ever closer linked to US control of oil resources. As Engdahl explains it, after 1971 the US dollar fell precipitately, as might be expected, but while US financial hegemony seemed doomed policy insiders prepared a bold new monetarist design, a ‘paradigm shift’, as some preferred to term it.”14 In May 1973 a meeting of the Bilderberg Group15 was presented a “scenario” by oil economist Walter Levy wherein there would be a 400% rise in oil prices, and planned how to take advantage of such a circumstance by what Henry Kissinger was later to refer to as “recycling the petro-dollar flows”.16

Engdahl continues: “In 1973, the powerful men grouped around Bilderberg decided to launch a colossal assault against industrial growth in the world, in order to tilt the balance of power back to the advantage of Anglo-American financial interests. In order to do this, they determined to use their most prized weapon – control of the world’s oil flows. Bilderberg policy was to trigger a global oil embargo in order to force a dramatic increase in world oil prices. Since 1945, world oil trade had, by international custom, been priced in dollars. American oil companies dominated the postwar market. A sharp sudden increase in the world price of oil, therefore, meant an equally dramatic increase in world demand for U.S. dollars to pay for that necessary oil.”17

Engdahl’s phraseology, for example “Bilderberg policy”, is unfortunate in sometimes giving the impression that this was a plot hatched at the Bilderberg conference. This has caused a predictably enthusiastic response from conspiracy theorists interested in the Bilderberg Group. Engdahl’s source is the official proceedings for the discussion led by Levy and it would be most accurate to characterise it as a means of giving attendees timely information about future events which could be managed to the advantage of Western oligarchic interests. That is, after all, the nature of the plan, to take the otherwise unwelcome force of events driven by the oil producing countries and to turn that force, in Judo fashion, to one’s own advantage while greatly strengthening its impact. Levy had already publicly written on this theme in a 1971 Foreign Affairs article. The article makes interesting reading, with one of the key points being that he treats oil first and foremost as a strategic concern. Also of interest is his glowing praise of oil companies acting as a global cartel. In his rendition of events these companies are guarantors of security, while poor oil producing countries are treated with barely veiled hostility due to their ‘lingering heritage of emotional resentments against former colonial administrations and concessionary circumstances.’18

According to Engdahl, “the Yom Kippur war was not the result of simple miscalculation, a blunder, or an Arab decision to launch a military strike against the state of Israel. The entire constellation of events surrounding outbreak of the October war was secretly orchestrated from Washington and London….” This was achieved by feeding false intelligence to both sides, particularly by withholding evidence of a military buildup from Israel. The architect of the war and the resultant oil embargo, Henry Kissinger, was then able to adopt the pretence of being a peacemaker, through “shuttle diplomacy,” while the blame for the suffering caused by his scheme fell firmly on the Arab world.19 This may seem unlikely, and it some might think that Engdahl is stretching the evidence. Indeed, a journal review of the book he cites as his source mentions no such revelation.20 However, a writer may, intentionally or otherwise, reveal more than they claim, and this particular work was heavily censored (causing some controversy at the time).21 It should also be noted that the US used almost identical tactics in ensuring that war ensued between Iran and Iraq and, similarly, to guarantee their own war against Iraq in 1990. Both of these cases are well documented, but mention should also be made of the equally, if not more, duplicitous deceptions that were deployed to facilitate the major US commitment of troops to Indochina (namely the ‘Tonkin Gulf Incidents’) and the deceptions used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Then there is the question of cui bono – who benefits? The US was entering a phase of seemingly perpetual debt rollover (a phenomenon explored below) but it had, and still has, the unique privilege of paying its debt in its own currency.22 To reduce its liabilities all it had to do was induce a global surge in commodity prices, which it could achieve by creating a glut of dollars.23 At the same time, however, US financial and economic hegemony was widely considered to be on its last legs,24 a situation which should have been worsened by increased commodity prices and the damage thus done to the US and global economies. But the US Treasury and the New York and London banks were geared up for the massive increases in oil prices, and when the Nixon administration sent a senior official to the Treasury to explore ways of inducing OPEC to lower prices, he was ‘bluntly turned away’ and recorded, in a memo, that “It was the banking leaders who swept aside this advice and pressed for a ‘recycling’ program to accommodate to higher oil prices. This was the fatal decision…”25

By January 1974 oil prices had increased 400%, just as envisioned in the “scenario” outlined only 8 months earlier to the Bilderberg Group. Suddenly everyone needed US dollar reserves which had a very beneficial effect for New York banks and for London banks who traded the largest pool of “offshore” US dollars.26 Large oil companies made record profits, just as they would in later oil shocks including that created by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the previously risky North Sea venture became an instantly guaranteed moneymaker.27 Real economies suffered throughout the developed world and the degradation of US infrastructure accelerated.28 The impact on the “developing” world (as it might accurately have been called up until this point) was far more devastating. In India, for example, the balance of payments switched at from surplus to deficit at a stroke. “As a whole, over 1974 developing countries incurred a total trade deficit of $35 billion according to the IMF, a colossal sum in that day, and, not surprisingly, a deficit precisely 4 times as large as in 1973, or just in proportion to the oil price increase.”29 In the decade until 1974 developing counties saw economic growth of 5% per annum, about 2.5% above that of population growth.30 For the poorest quintile (20%) of countries, in per capita income, the period of 1980 to 200 saw an average 0.5% decline in economic activity, while the next two quintiles had lower economic growth than population growth.31

The poor states of the world plunged into ever more astronomical debt, growing from $60 billion in 1970 to $2 trillion in 1997,32 to $2.5 trillion in 2004.33 That is a 42 fold increase in 34 years. The trap is hideous. Private banks lend for high returns and when states default Western taxpayer money is given directly to these banks34 which is characterised as ‘aid’ to the stricken state, as mentioned. This is just an interventionist form of rollover, which must otherwise be arranged with the private banks, often at increased interest rates,35 because the debt is simply unpayable. In terms of ratio of external debt to exports, the figures are: 340% for sub-Saharan Africa; 202% for Latin America; and 121% for Asia.36 The situation mirrors that of many former belligerents after the First World War, debtors are forced to sell assets and commodities simply to service debt which, regardless, continues to grow. It is perpetually rolled over and ever increasing. The debtor countries are forced into antidevelopmental policies which further entrap them.37

While poor countries labour under this burden, the richest country in the world is also the largest debtor, but circumstances are very different for the US. As Hudson explains: ‘If the United States had followed the creditor-oriented rules to which European governments had adhered after World Wars I and II, it would have sacrificed its world position. Its gold would have flowed out and Americans would have been obliged to sell off their international investments to pay for military activities abroad. This was what U.S. officials had demanded of their allies in World Wars I and II, but the United States was unwilling to abide by such rules itself. Unlike earlier nations in a similar position, it continued to spend abroad, and at home as well, without regard for the balance-of-payments consequences.’38 Creditor nations were forced to buy low-yielding Treasury obligations.39 Oil producing countries, in particular, were forced to return their profits to the US and when Saudi Arabia and Iran considered by US companies they were told that this would be considered and act of war.40 OPEC was told that it could raise oil prices all it wanted, as long as it used the proceeds to buy U.S. Government bonds. That way, Americans could pay for oil in their own currency, not in gold or other “money of the world.” Oil exports to the United States, as well as German and Japanese autos and sales by other countries, were bought with paper dollars that could be created ad infinitum.’41

The US dollar predominance is reinforced by the proclivity of all US client states to spend large amounts of money on arms purchases from the US. As mentioned with regards to Iran, the figures for oil producing countries are very high, as Abbas Bakhtiar reveals: “From 1990 to 2004, Saudi Arabia, with a population of 21.4 million has spent a whopping $ 268.6 billion dollars on arms. …. One would have thought that with this kind of expenditure the Saudis would have felt safe by now. But apparently they don’t, or at least this is the view of U.S. and U.K., two major arms suppliers to these countries. But Saudi Arabia is not alone in this. Take the tiny country of United Arab Emirates. This country with a population of 2.6 million souls has spent $38.6 billion dollars for defence in 1990-2004 period.”42 /

The Saudi regime has obediently funnelled its wealth away from its own people, many of whom are desperately poor. Of course some Saudis are obscenely rich, just as client Maharajas and Nawabs were obscenely rich in the British Raj. The wealth distances them from their own people and makes them better puppets. Not only that, Saudi Arabia was completely essential in developing a global financial and economic hegemony which was used to dominate the entire globe. With help from Saudi Arabia the US was able to destroy the economic sovereignty of the entire Third World and to reverse the gains of independent nationalist post-colonial development which had occurred after WWII.

Now the Saudis are funding and arming Islamist terrorists like ISIS. But so is the US itself. In fact, both the US and the UK have very long histories of promoting Islamic extremism, not the least of which has been the incubation of the brutal Wahhabi régime in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a conduit for US destabilisation and genocide in the Middle East.

The real threat, from a US imperialist’s perspective, is that the Saudi royals would probably like to get off this death ride that is tearing apart the entire region. That is way the vilification has been stepped up several notches. The Saudis must know that the US public will back a war against them if any new terrorist attack in the US is linked to them once the US government, pretending to be forced against their own will, releases its report blaming Saudi Arabia for 9/11.

1John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, pp 27-8.

2Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War. New York: The New Press, 2003, p 63.

3Ibid, p 64; Frederick Logevall, “De Gaulle, Neutralization, and American Involvement in Vietnam, 1963-1964”, The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 61, No. 1. (Feb., 1992), pp 84-7.

4Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, p 65.

5Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003

6F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 102.

7Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 92.

8ISI is a set of policies adopted by many developing countries in the 1950s, including most Latin American states. ISI failed to lift the Latin American countries out of dependency and it was felt that a more radical change was needed (Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, pp 109-10). On the other hand, states which have successfully industrialised have all initially followed an ISI strategy which clearly plays an important role in creating capacities which can only be oriented towards exporting once they are able to compete. For example see Stephan Haggard, Byung-kook Kim, Chung-in Moon, “The Transition to Export-led Growth in South Korea: 1954-1966,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 50:4 (Nov., 1991), pp. 850-873 (the authors do not draw this conclusion themselves, having a different focus, but in my judgement it is implicit).

9For example that in Egypt, the ill-fated United Arab Republic (UAR), Iraq and Syria . As Nazih Ayubi reveals these Arab states are less notable for their cronyism than for their statist authoritarianism with government domination of economic activity and nepotism found in appointments rather than in ownership and profits (Nazih N. Ayubi, “Withered socialism or whether socialism? the radical Arab states as populist-corporatist regimes,” Third World Quarterly, 13:1, 1992, pp 89-105).

10Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 25.

11F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 128.

12Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 78.

13Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, pp 26-7.

14F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 148.

15Present at Saltsjoebaden [where the meeting took place] were Robert O. Anderson of Atlantic Richfield Oil Co.; Lord Greenhill, chairman of British Petroleum; Sir Eric Roll of S.G. Warburg, creator of the Eurobonds; George Ball of Lehman Brothers investment bank the man who some ten years earlier, as Assistant Secretary of State, told his banker friend Siegmund Warburg to develop London’s Eurodollar market; David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank; Zbigniew Brzezinski; the man soon to be President Carter’s National Security Adviser; Italy’s Gianni Agnelli, and Germany’s Otto Wolff von Amerongen, among others. Henry Kissinger was a regular participant at the Bilderberg gatherings.’ Ibid, p 149.

16Ibid.

17Ibid, pp 149-50.

18Walter J. Levy, “Oil Power,” Foreign Affairs, 49:4, July 1971, pp 652-668.

19Ibid, p 150.

20C. A. Joiner, “MATTI GOLAN. The Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger: Step-by-Step Diplomacy in the Middle East,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.1976, 428, pp 137-138.

21Ibid, p 137.

22Philippe Martin, “The Privilege of American Debt,’ Liberation, 6 February 2006. Retrieved 11 February 2006 from http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=357019.

23Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 299.

24Spyros Economides and Peter Wilson, The Economic Factor in International Relations, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001, p 79.

25F. William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Ulm: Dr. Bottiger Verlags-GmbH, 1993, p 152.

26Ibid, p 138.

27Ibid, p 151.

28Ibid, p 154.

29Ibid, p 155.

30Henry Kissinger, National Security Strategy Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth For U.S. Security and Overseas Interests, p 54.

31Ray Kiely, The Clash of Globalisations : Neo-liberalism, the Third Way, and Antiglobalisation, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005, pp 147-8

32Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium, New York, Ballantine, 1997, p 5.

33John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004, p xviii.

34Robert M. Dunn and John H. Mutti, International Economics (6th ed.), London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p 481.

35Ibid, p 465.

36Fantu Cheru, “Debt, adjustment and the politics of effective response to HIV/AIDS in Africa,” Third World Quarterly, 23:2, 2002, p 302.

37See above.

38Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (2nd ed.), London: Pluto Press, 2003, p 26.

39Ibid, p 28.

40Ibid, p 8.

41Ibid.

42Abbas Bakhtiar, “When will the House of Saud feel safe?: Saudi Arabia and Military Expenditure,” Information Clearing House, 6 May 2006. Retrieved 14 May 2006 from http://informationclearinghouse.info/article13509.htm.

The United States of Genocide

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Putting the US on trial for genocide against the peoples of Korea, Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Iraq and elsewhere.

The United States of America was built on a foundation of genocide against the indigenous peoples of North America. In fact, all successful settler colonial societies are founded in genocide. The process is one of dispossession – the erasure of one group identity and the imposition of another on the people and/or on the land. But genocide is not merely the foundation of the US nation state, it is also the foundation of the US empire. The US habit of genocide has not died, but has transformed. The US has become a serial perpetrator of genocide with the blood of many millions of innocents spilled in pursuit of imperial hegemony.

There is a fight going on for the very meaning of the term “genocide”. Western powers assert their right to accuse enemies of committing genocide using the broadest possible definitions whilst also touting a twisted undefined sense of “genocide” which can never, ever be applied to their own actions. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, apparently taking his cue from the US, is currently pushing for reform of the UN Security Council such that the veto power would be unavailable in cases of “genocide”. The UNSC is a political body and “genocide” will simply become a political term cited by powerful states to rationalise aggression against the weak.

Key notoriously said that his country was “missing in action” because it did not invade Iraq in 2003, reminding Kiwis that “blood is thicker than water”. If his desired reforms existed now, the US would probably have a UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force against Syria on the grounds of “genocide”.

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John Key – Prime Minister of Aotearoa (NZ); former Merill-Lynch Currency Trader

All of those who oppose Western aggression justified as humanitarian intervention under the “responsibility to protect” must stop burying their heads in the sand over this matter. This is a very real fight for the future of humanity. We can either learn and propagate the understanding that US imperial interventions are, by nature, genocidal. Or we can just pretend the word has no meaning; indulge our childish moral impulses and the lazy fatuousness of our scholars and pundits; and let Western mass-murderers use this Orwellian buzzword (for that is what “genocide” currently is) to commit heinous acts of horrific violence which ensure the continued domination of the world’s masses by a tiny imperial elite.

(An aside: apparently people like a pragmatic focus to accompany a call to action. So, am I making the most obvious appeal – that US officials be tried for committing genocide? No I am not. They can be tried for war crimes if people really think that “holding people accountable” is more important than preventing suffering and protecting the vulnerable. But it has been a terrible mistake to construct genocide as being an aggravated crime against humanity committed by individuals, as if it were simply a vicious felony writ large. This has played completely into the hands of those propagandists for whom every new enemy of the West is the new Hitler. The means by which genocides are perpetrated are the crimes of individuals – war crimes, for example – but genocide itself is the crime of a state or para-state regime. That is the proper target of inquisition and censure. Though the attempt was tragically abortive, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal recently began hearing charges of genocide against Israel. We need this sort of process to hear charges of genocide against the US. I fully support such efforts, but my real call to action is a call for thought, for clarity and for self-discipline. People are drawn to using woolly thinking over genocide, wishing to use it as the ultimate condemnation of mass violence without reference to any actual meaning of the term. We must not tolerate it in ourselves or others. We are a hair’s breadth away from the point where “genocide prevention” will be used by major Western powers to justify genocidal mass violence)

US “Wars” are Actually Genocides

Every major military action by the US since World War II has first and foremost been an act of genocide. I do not state this as a moral condemnation. If I were seeking to condemn I would try to convey the enormous scale of suffering, death, loss and misery caused by US mass violence. My purpose instead is to correct a terrible misconception of US actions – their nature, their meaning and their strategic utility. This understanding which I am trying to convey is a very dangerous notion with an inescapable moral dimension because the US has always maintained that the suffering, death and destruction it causes are incidental to military purposes – they are instances of “collateral damage”. But, with all due respect to the fact that US personnel may face real dangers, these are not real wars. These are genocides and it is the military aspect that is incidental. In fact, it is straining credulity to continue believing in a string of military defeats being sustained by the most powerful military in the history of the world at the hands of impoverished 3rd World combatants. The US hasn’t really been defeated in any real sense. They committed genocide in Indochina, increasing the level of killing as much as possible right through to the clearly foreseen inevitable conclusion which was a cessation of direct mass violence, not a defeat. The US signed a peace agreement which they completely ignored. The Vietnamese did not occupy US territory and force the US to disarm and pay crippling reparations.

There is no question that the US has committed actions which fit the description of genocide. Genocide does not mean the successful extermination of a defined group (there is no such thing as “attempted genocide”). It was never conceived that way, but rather as any systematic attack on “a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” Those who deny US genocides usually only deny that there is any intent to commit genocide. The UN definition of genocide (recognised by 142 states) is:

“…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The US has committed these acts many times over and in many different countries. Some people object that this is some watered down version of genocide that risks diluting the significance of this “ultimate crime”. However, bear in mind that the victims of US armed violence are not usually combatants and even if they are they are not engaged in some sort of contested combat that gives them some ability to defend themselves or to kill or be killed. They are helpless as they die of incineration, asphyxiation, dismemberment, cancer, starvation, disease. People of all ages die in terror unable to protect themselves from the machinery of death. Make no mistake, that is what it is: a large complex co-ordinated machinery of mass killing. There is nothing watered down about the horrors of the genocides committed by the US, and their victims number many millions. The violence is mostly impersonal, implacable, arbitrary and industrial.

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There are at least three specific times at which US mass violence has taken lives in the millions through direct killing: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the wars and sanctions against Iraq in combination with the occupation of Iraq. I refer to them as the Korea Genocide (which was against both South and North Koreans), the Indochina Genocide (against Laotians, Cambodians, and Vietnamese), and the Iraq Genocide (which took place over at least a 20 year period).

There are many ways to show that the US committed genocides in these cases. On one level the case is straightforward. For example, if the US commits acts of “strategic bombing” which systematically kill civilians by the hundreds of thousands, and it turns out that not only is there no rational proportionate military reason, but that US military and intelligence analysis is clear that these are in fact militarily counter-productive acts of gratuitous mass-murder, then by any reasonable definition these must be acts of genocide. The logic is simple and inescapable. I have written lengthy pieces showing in detail that these were large scale systematic and intentional genocides which you can read here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

For a long time I have tried to think of ways in which I condense this in a readable form. The problem in many respects lies with the necessity of overcoming misapprehensions. Genocide is an emotive topic, whilst people are very reluctant to read that those who rule in their name (with whom they sometimes actively identify) are in the moral vicinity of the Nazi leaders of Germany. Permeating every level of the discourse is the constant position (whether as the unspoken assumption or as the active assertion) that the US has never acted with genocidal intent. Intentionality is a topic in its own right, but to be brief I will point out that intent does not require that “genocide” be its own motive. If I kill someone because I want their watch, I can’t turn around and say it isn’t murder because I didn’t intend to kill them because I was really just intending to take their watch. It may seem a ridiculous example, but the discourse of genocide is so twisted that it is the norm even amongst genocide scholars. We keep looking for the people, the bloodthirsty psychopathic monsters, who kill people just for the fun of it and grab their watch afterwards as an afterthought. Unsurprisingly, we find those people among the leaders of those countries who oppose Western political power. Now that includes Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

The best way of demonstrating US intentionality is to demonstrate the consistency of their approach in different times and places. However, this is a necessarily exhaustive approach, so I have decided to take a different tack here. I wish to sketch a fragment of autobiography here – an outline of the process by which I came to my current understanding of the topic. I want readers to understand that I didn’t seek these conclusions out. I have had it made clear to me, by rather comfortably embedded scholars, that they think that I am being provocative out of ambition. It is a testament to the self-satisfaction of such people that they somehow think that being provocative is some advantage. Academia thrives on the journal-filling peer-reviewed “controversies” of rival schools and scholars, but they aren’t really keen on anything that might actually be of any interest to anyone else. The fact is that I didn’t seek this out and it certainly has not endeared me to anyone that I can think of. On the other, hand I have had people act as if I had smeared my own faeces all over myself for using the g-word with respect to Iraq, and I have had many metaphorical doors slammed in my face. As I hope the following will indicate, at least partially, I cannot but characterise US genocides as such and I cannot but view the subject of absolute urgent fundamental importance.

Coming to Understand

The Vietnam War loomed large in my childhood. I was five when it ended. I watched the critical documentary series  Vietnam: The 10,000 Day War when I was ten or eleven years old. During the 1980s Vietnam War movie craze I was sucked into that powerful quagmire of pathos and adrenaline – not to mention the evocative music. But even then, as a teen, I could not abide the apologism and the way in which American lives and American suffering were privileged. The US personnel were portrayed as the victims, even in films which showed US atrocities. I knew far too much about things such as the nature of the atrocities carried out by the Contras to find that sort of propaganda palatable. For one thing, I had read William Blum’s The CIA: A Forgotten History. This book (now titled Killing Hope and still available) doesn’t leave the reader much room for illusions about the US role in international politics. Perhaps if I had been a little older I might have been “educated” enough to be blind to the obvious, but I wasn’t. While most people managed to avoid facing the facts, I knew from this book and others like it that although the atrocities of the Soviet Bloc were substantial, they were dwarfed by those of the US and its closest clients. If Cuba, for example, has been repressive, then what words remain to describe the US installed regimes in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador, or Chile?

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How could one characterise a state that backed and created death squad regimes that massacred entire villages, that tortured children to death in front of parents? How does one describe a militarised country whose meticulously planned and executed bombing raids systematically visited untold death and suffering on innocents as an intended purpose. Any informed person who had an objective proportionate viewpoint could only conclude, as Martin Luther King Jr. had already concluded, that the US government and the wider US corporate state were “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Fred Branfman, who saw the results of US bombing first-hand in Laos, has more recently concluded that the executive branch of the US government is “the world’s most evil and lawless institution”.

So that is where I was coming from. On moral terms I could not have been more condemnatory of the US government. I considered the US government and military-corporate-intelligence complex to be the worst thing in the world since the demise of the Third Reich. I believed this on the basis that they had demonstrably brought about more suffering, death and destruction than anyone else. If someone had tried to claim that it was for “freedom” I would have laughed bitterly, thinking of the brutally crushed democracies and popular movements that were victims of the US. But if someone had said to me that the US had committed genocide in Korea and Indochina I would have most likely dismissed the claim as emotive overstatement. I didn’t actually know what the word genocide meant precisely, but I would still have seen its use as being a form of exaggeration. Implicitly that means that I took the word “genocide” to be a form of subjective moral condemnation as if it were an inchoate scream rather than a word that might have a consistent meaning. (You can’t exaggerate by calling something “arson”, for example. It is either a lie or it is the truth. Genocide is the same). However, “genocide”, as a word, has been subjected to the ideological processes (described so well by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four) which destroy the meaning of words. Here is how I put it in an academic piece:

Certain words are so highly politicised in their usage that, in Orwellian fashion, they are stripped of all meaning and become merely signals designed to provoke in impassioned unreasoning involuntary response. In this fashion ‘democracy’ means ‘double-plus good’ and the Party members1 respond with cheers and tears of joy. Equally, ‘terrorism’ means ‘double-plus bad’ provoking among Party members, ‘[a] hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer….’2 Genocide plays a starring role in an entire discourse shaped in such a way as to not only excuse but to facilitate the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Stripped of any actual meaning but given the significance of being the ‘ultimate crime’ it becomes a tool by which powerful Western states are able to threaten or carry out attacks against weaker states – attacks which are in themselves criminal and which in some instances are actually genocidal. The emotive misuse of the term genocide has become a powerful political tool. As Jeremy Scahill reveals after accusations of genocide by Arabs against black Africans, “even at antiwar rallies, scores of protesters held signs reading, ‘Out of Iraq, into Darfur.’” Scahill adds that, ‘[a] quick survey of Sudan’s vast natural resources dispels any notion that U.S./corporate desires to move into Sudan derive from purely humanitarian motives.’3

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What brought me around to using the term genocide was realising that there was no other word to describe what the US did in South Viet Nam. I had been aware that the vast majority of victims of the US military were civilians. It was commonplace to say that 90% of casualties were civilian. (Tellingly Western commentators, including those in the peace movement, would vouch that the figure of 90% civilian casualties was proof of how cruel and deadly “modern war” had become – as if US practices were some sort of universal standard and as if the fact that other belligerents did not produce such high rates of civilian death was not of any interest whatsoever.)

So, US violence mostly caused civilian deaths and the vast majority of those civilians were, in fact, subjects of the US installed puppet [sic] regime in Saigon. They were killing their own supposed allies. I have read all of the rationalisations for why the US thought it was a good idea to kill the civilians of their own client state, and they are all completely insane. I don’t even believe that killing the civilian populations of enemy countries is militarily effective and in that belief I am supported by the strategic analyses of the US itself going back to 1944. Killing the civilian population of an allied state makes no military sense whatsoever. Often killing civilians was rationalised in terms of counterinsurgency (usually crudely reversing Maoist doctrine about the relationship between the guerrilla and the rural population) despite the fact that it was recognised from very early on that the civilian deaths were recruiting and strengthening the enemy.

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That was the other striking thing about US activities in Indochina – they were systematically killing civilians without apparent purpose, but they were also undermining their own political and military efforts. This happened at all levels. As I was reading and coming to grips with this aspect of history, it seemed that exactly the same thing was playing out in Iraq. In 2003, as invasion loomed, I had initially expected that the US would conduct a fast vicious campaign particularly aimed at inflicting maximum damage to economic infrastructure. They would then leave, crowing about their surgical use of force and minuscule US fatalities. The US would continue to enhance the perceived legitimacy of its acts of aggression and would be able to use economic blackmail to exert neocolonial control. However, I was woefully naïve for believing that. In contrast, Paul Wolfowitz was  absolutely clear on this point – you cannot use normal neocolonial power on Iraq: “…[W]e just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.” Instead, the US invaded, occupied and then acted repeatedly and systematically in ways which would very predictably cause armed resistance, just as they had in Indochina. But without that resistance they could not have justified a major military presence and the proconsular rule of the occupation imposed on Iraq.

In 2006 I was able to devote quite a lot of time to the subject of genocide in Indochina as it was the topic of my Honours research paper. My initial understanding of genocide was pretty thin and one-dimensional, but it was sound in the given context. The most important aspect for me was that genocide matched means with ends. War is always a matter of uncertain outcome. To wage war is to wager (the words are cognates). Indeed that is why we use such terms as “wage” and “adventure” for military action. If memory serves, Carl von Clausewitz himself even wrote that a belligerent will never be able to attain their intended war aims because the war they pursue will itself change matters and impose its own realities. In that sense war is a gamble which will always be lost. Genocide is not a gamble.

I saw genocide as being an attack on the peoples of Indochina which avoided the uncertainties of waging military war. The maximal aim of the genocide was the eventual neocolonial domination of Indochina. It worked. In Viet Nam the war and subsequent US economic sanctions were devastating. By 1990 the per capita GDP was only $114.4 Under doi moi liberalisation, Viet Nam has achieved much greater formal economic activity (GDP), but only by submitting to the “Washington Consensus”, which means no price supports for staples such as rice, which in turn means that the real income of the poorest urban dwellers has dropped 5 Former US military commander in Vietnam Gen. Westmoreland characterised doi moi as proof of US victory.6 The point is, though, that genocide doesn’t need an end goal such as such as submitting to neoliberal WTO regulations and IMF conditions. Chomsky called Vietnamese poverty “a vivid refutation of the claim that the US lost,”7 Similar stories could be related with regard to Laos and Cambodia. Whether these nation states are considered enemies or vanquished vassals or friends is of no relevance, the weakness of their populations is a gain in relative power for the US empire, and empires intrinsically function on relative gains.

This is what I wrote in 2006:

…[A]clever strategist, where possible, matches means and ends, thus making results more predictable. In a situation where there is a stated end and a given means are employed and continue to be employed despite continued demonstrable “failure” and are then employed elsewhere under the same rationale with the same results – in such a situation it is possibly worth considering that the “means” are themselves the end. In the case of the Second Indochina War, I will argue the means were widespread general destruction, employed on as many of the people and as much of the societal fabric or infrastructure as was physically and politically feasible. If those were the means, I will suggest, they were also the end. The results are predictable. The dead stay dead.

As I would later discover, when he first coined the word “genocide”, Raphaël Lemkin wrote that “genocide is a new technique of occupation aimed at winning the peace even though the war itself is lost.” He also wrote: “Genocide is the antithesis of the … doctrine [which] holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians. In its modern application in civilized society, the doctrine means that war is conducted against states and armed forces and not against populations. … [T]he Germans prepared, waged, and continued a war not merely against states and their armies but against peoples. For the German occupying authorities war thus appears to offer the most appropriate occasion for carrying out their policy of genocide.”

(At this point I would like to urge people to read what Lemkin actually wrote when trying to describe genocide. It is not a time consuming task. You can find the chapter here.)

What I had found was that the US was maintaining the “war”. It helped to recruit its enemies, to arm them, finance them, and to supply them. Just as I was researching this, a book by David Keen was published about the “War on Terror” which claimed that it was a self-perpetuating endless “war system”. It focussed on clearly “counterproductive” actions undertaken by the US, belying its stated aims:

When it comes to war in other words, winning is not everything; it may be the taking part that counts. Indeed, as Orwell saw in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, certain kinds of regimes may thrive off energies and perpetual war. The irrationality of counterproductive tactics, in short, may be more apparent than real, and even an endless war may not be endless in the sense of lacking aims or functions.8

Keen never mentioned Indochina. The precedents he cited of were civil wars in Africa. However it was as if the idea of a war system was, in a sense, on the tip of people’s tongues towards the end of the US involevment in Indochina, as if they knew deep-down that the US was not trying to win the war. It seems almost the implicit subtext of Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths’ book Vietnam Inc. which by its title alone suggests an enterprise quite differently conceived than war. Even the orthodox political discourse (with talk of quagmires and a “stab in the back” story of brave soldiers hamstrung by politicians) hints at a war system. What the US did in Indochina was an absolute textbook example of what Keen was describing.

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As I found this way of understanding the past, I was also viewing events in Iraq with the same apprehension. What was occurring on a daily basis was very clearly indicating a parallel process. Captured weapons were dumped unsecured in the countryside. Efforts to secure borders (to at least impede the flow of weapons, resistance fighters and money) were systematically undermined. Just as in Viet Nam, diverted cash sloshed through networks of corruption and was available to resistance groups. People were driven into the arms of the resistance by the random brutality of US personnel, the murderous use of indiscriminate ordnance, and the systematic degradation of the civilian economic sphere. On top of this, the US fomented a civil war.

It is a pity that Keen did not know of the Indochina precedent, because what we know of it goes much deeper and reaches much higher than the what we know of the “War on Terror” (which Keen takes to include Iraq and Afghanistan interventions). Keen discusses various tactics and policies which are counterproductive. But it is not just the counterproductive things which sustain US enemies, it is the ways in which US leaders ensure that they cannot ever achieve a victory. This is what I wrote:

Numerous people, including Jeffrey Record9 and Harry Summers,10 have in effect suggested that the US lacked any winning strategy. In fact, what they had were three no-win strategies – strategies which did not, even in theory, have an end point at which a military victory would be obtained. These were the fire-power/attrition, the graduated response and the enclave strategies. The only strategy by which the US could have attained its stated objective was the pacification strategy, but this too was no threat because the pacification strategy was only weakly implemented while being misapplied, subverted, sabotaged and contravened – not least by the more vigorous application of the fire-power/attrition and graduated response strategies.

You can read all about thatstuffin detail if you want, otherwise you’ll just have to take my word for it. The US systematically ensured that it could never achieve “victory” in Indochina. Perhaps the most blatant example was the brutal genocide unleashed on Cambodia from 1970 until 1975. Not the “genocide” or “autogenocide” of the Khmer Rouge, but the genocide before that, without which there would never have been a Khmer Rouge takeover. Here’s a long excerpt from my Honours piece:

When the the US generated a war in Cambodia they had already had a great deal of experience in Viet Nam and Laos, and what occurred in Cambodia is, in many ways, a naked exposure of the logic behind the genocidal war system, less obfuscated because, ironically, Cambodia was a “sideshow” where it was not the details but the whole war which was kept obscure from the public.

Within a year of Lon Nol’s coup, as mentioned, the economy of Cambodia was virtually destroyed, not only by bombing, but also by US aid. Aid was channelled to the import of commodities and surplus US agricultural goods. It also underwrote the Cambodian government and armed forces: “By the end of 1970, the government was spending five times its revenue and earning nothing abroad.”11 Most of the population became reliant on US aid to eat, and rice supplies were kept at the minimum level needed to prevent food riots. By 1975, malnutrition was widespread and many children starved to death.12

Less than two months after the coup that brought Lon Nol to power, the US invaded Cambodia, along with ARVN forces. They did not bother to forewarn Lon Nol who found out after Richard Nixon had announced the invasion publicly.13 This invasion along US and RVN bombing and the civil war made refugees of around half of the Cambodian population.14 Lon Nol was outraged by the invasion and when later briefed by Alexander Haig (then military assistant to Kissinger) about US intentions he wept with frustration. According to Shawcross, “He wished that the Americans had blocked the communists’ escape route before attacking, instead of spreading them across Cambodia. … The Cambodian leader told Haig that there was no way his small force could stop them. … [Haig] informed Lon Nol that President Nixon intended to limit the involvement of American forces…. They would be withdrawn at the end of June. The the President hoped to introduce a program of restricted military and economic aid. As the implications of Haig’s words for the future of Cambodia became clear to Lon Nol, he began to weep. Cambodia, he said, could never defend itself.”15

As has been detailed, US actions, particularly in bombing, were directly responsible for creating the communist enemy which overthrew Lon Nol. The bombing between 1969 and 1973 took up to 150,000 lives.16 If averaged out, over 33 tons of ordnance were used to kill each Khmer Rouge insurgent.17 Despite the fact that Vietnamese pilots bombed any Cambodian they could, which aided only the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol acceded to a US demand that he request an increase in VNAF bombing in 1971.18

By May 1972, the Lon Nol regime had control of perhaps 10 per cent of the country and continued to lose territory which was thereafter fragmented into ever smaller enclaves.19 The result was by that stage foregone, and yet the war dragged on for three years with the greater part of the 1 million casualties occurring after that point.

In 1970, when Henry Kissinger briefed Jonathan “Fred” Ladd, who was slated to conduct the war in Cambodia, he told him: “Don’t even think of victory; just keep it alive.”20

When the US Congress finally blocked aid to Cambodia and South Viet Nam, it was with the belated realisation that such aid would not give any hope of victory or improve a bargaining position. Senator Mike Mansfield spoke out, “Ultimately Cambodia cannot survive…. Additional aid means more killing, more fighting. This has got to stop sometime.”21

It was pretty clear that the US was maintaining the situation of armed conflict in order to commit genocide. This was a comprehensive act of genocide which did not merely involve the systematic killing of the target populations, it also involved every other “technique of genocide” described by Lemkin. There was systematic economic, social, cultural, political, and religious destruction. There was the systematic and deliberate ecocidal poisoning of the land and people with defoliants. There was very raw brutality. People were slaughtered by bombs, but there was also murder, rape and torture on a scale beyond imagining. In one book co-written by Nick Turse he finds that when he sets out to find the site of a massacre in Vietnam it becomes like trying to find a needle in a haystack of massacre sites.22 In his next book Kill Anything that Moves Turse tries to show that haystack for what it is. The results would be hard to believe if they were not so well documented. I cannot reduce its contents here, I can only recommend that people acquire and read the book. It is a litany of slaughter that seems almost endless and through it all the command structure and the political structure provide the framework for the personnel to commit atrocities.

MERE GOOKS

This is not just about the choice of tactics – it is also about “grand tactics”, strategy, doctrine, and indoctrination. Psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton famously discussed “atrocity producing situations” as a driving factor behind US war crimes, and I believe we can now conclude these situations were deliberately created, not just because we have other evidence that atrocities were tacitly encouraged, but because the US went to great lengths to replicate these these “atrocity producing situations” in Iraq.

Why Genocide and Not War?

By the end of my honours thesis I was convinced that both the 2nd Indochina War and the “Iraq War” were “genocidal war systems”. Since then I have learnt a great deal more, and my thinking has developed a great deal more. I won’t bore you with the detail, but I came to realise the the “war system” appellation was largely redundant. Genocides are “war systems” by nature. Almost every perpetrator of genocide explains their violence as fighting war.

Genocide was a key means by which the US secured global hegemony in the post-WWII era. I learnt that Korea was also a case of US genocide. US actions there were as shocking, as deadly and as militarily nonsensical as they were in Indochina. Hundreds of thousands were massacred and hundreds of thousands incinerated. 25% of the entire population of North Korea was killed and we should not forget that many hundreds of thousands of the ostensibly allied South Koreans died at US hands or those of US commanded troops. The whole war became widely recognised as a pointless killing machine (described as “the meatgrinder”) while the US needlessly sabotaged and prolonged armistice negotiations.

16Bombing_onto_Pyongyang

I can’t explain in this space why Korea, Vietnam and Iraq posed such great threats to US imperial hegemony, but they did and the US successfully dealt with those dangers by committing genocide. These are successful uses of genocide to establish, deepen and maintain imperial hegemony, but we have wilfully blinded ourselves to their nature. Critics of US interventions have evidently been scared to entertain the notion that there was some successfully applied rationale to US behaviour. They have joined with the lovers of war, the nationalists, the racists and the fanatics in declaring over and over and over again the wrong-headedness and failures of US military endeavours. The victims of US genocide quite understandably prefer to see themselves as the plucky Davids that beat the Pentagon Goliath. These are all lies.

US forces storm into one house after another, claiming to be trying to kill flies with sledgehammers. Given that they have entirely demolished several houses and severely damaged many others; and given that they have been caught red-handed releasing flies into targeted houses; and given that they forcibly try to make people buy very expensive fly “insurance”; maybe it is time we consider that neither they, nor their sledgehammers, are concerned in any way with flies (except as a pretext).

Where people might once have been terrified that to suggest any cogent purpose to US actions for fear of giving credit to warmongers, we need not be so worried now. It is very clear that the US does not exert imperial hegemony for the sake of peace and stability, or even for the sake of the enrichment of the US and its people. They never protected us from the nefarious threat of communism and they don’t protect us from the nefarious threat of Islam. A very narrow group of imperialists who share a cohesive long-term hegemonic programme have successfully concentrated power and wealth levels of disparity akin to those in slavery-based economies. They have also created a neofeudal framework of privatised regnal rights. No doubt many of these people have noble intentions, believing that only by such ruthless action can they exert enough control to save humanity from its self-destructive impulses. Many elitists will openly express such opinions and we can certainly understand having concern over the future of the planet. But such people are, in fact, completely insane and they should be taken out of circulation and treated exactly like any other dangerous megalomaniac who believes that they are the new Napoleon. It is not the masses that are threatening the planet. It is not the masses who bring about wars. And though communal violence seems almost the epitome of the mob in action, I know of no genocide that did not result from the actions of a narrow elite.

The reason that we must view US genocides as being genocides and not wars is that we cannot ever understand the logic of their actions in any other way. People shy away from the term genocide and people react violently to what they perceive as its misuse. That indicates just how important it is. I mentioned Nick Turse’s Kill Anything that Moves which is an entire book devoted primarily to the systematic killing of non-combatants. He never uses the term “genocide”. In a work based on veteran testimony, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian explain that the very nature of the Iraq occupation is that of an atrocity producing situation and that US personnel have gone “from killing – the shooting of someone who [can] harm you – to murder. The war in Iraq is primarily about murder. There is very little killing.”23 They are talking about the systematic murder of civilians in small increments multiplied many times over, but they never use the term “genocide”. This despite the fact that US actions in Indochina have widely been adjudged genocidal and despite the fact that it was very strongly argued that the US and UK controlled sanctions against Iraq were genocidal. Ask yourself this: if someone was documenting the same thing being perpetrated by Sudan, or by Zimbabwe do you think the word “genocide” would be left out of such works?

Above all we must end the continuing fatuous nonsense spouted by security geeks (including high ranking military and civilian personnel) who seem to believe every exaggerated claim about threats from the Cubans, the Iranians, the Soviets, Al Qaeda in the Falklands (AQIF) or whomever. The morons with their clichés about “fighting the last war” will never ever tire of telling us how the US just doesn’t know how to do counterinsurgency. Really? The question must be, then how did they manage to remain so bad at counterinsurgency when they have spent more person hours on counterinsurgency and counter-guerilla warfare that all other states throughout the entirety of humanity added together? (I could list a few examples here starting with the Indian Wars, mentioning 200 years of interventions in the Western hemisphere, Cuba, Philippines, Pacific War, Korea and Indochina. Then there is also the institutional knowledge built and disseminated by “security co-operation”. Moreover, the US is trains many of the rest of the world’s military leaders to conduct counterinsurgency at Fort Benning).

The point is that you can’t understand what the US does through the lens of war. It is very satisfying, no doubt, for young liberal reporters to outsmart generals (who clearly have no idea how to fight wars because they are just stupid Republicans), but it is seriously delusional. There is an instant exculpation given when these genocides are misrepresented as wars. It is very, very important for perpetrators of aggression or genocide (or both) to conceal their intentionality. The UK government and Tony Blair, in particular, showed far more concern with convincing people that they themselves believed in their fictitious casus belli, than with convincing people that Iraq really did have pose a threat. All of the British media seemed to echo the mantra that you might not agree with Blair but, “no one can doubt his sincerity”. So for moral reasons, in order to end the impunity of the worlds worst war criminals, as well as for intellectual reasons we must grasp the nettle and begin using the term genocide.

Textbook Cases

There are many problematic areas in the subject of genocide. Sometimes it is hard to tell when war ends and genocide begins. It can be hard to tell where state repression becomes persecution and when persecution becomes genocide. Were not the Nuremburg Laws an epitome of what we now call apartheid? Is apartheid a form of slow genocide? Is there structural genocide? Should something only be called genocide if there are mass fatalities?

These are all important considerations and questions, but none of them are relevant here. The genocides I have referenced are absolute textbook cases of genocide. It is impossible to create a coherent and rational definition of the term “genocide” which does not include these genocides.

These genocides were more demonstrably genocidal in nature than the Armenian Holocaust. We should always remember that for the Turkish government, and for most Turks, there was no such thing as a genocide of Armenians. In their own eyes they were fighting a war against Armenian insurgents. Sound familiar?

1In Orwell’s allegory the ‘Party’ represented the ‘educated’ sector of society – people such as the central character Winston Smith, who worked as a journalist.

2George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Penguin, 1983.

3Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007, p 350.

4Hy V. Luong, ‘Postwar Vietnamese Society: An Overview of Transformational Dynamic’ in Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, pp 12, 14.

5Nicholas Minot; Francesco Goletti, ‘Export Liberalization and Household Welfare: The Case of Rice in Vietnam’ in American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 80, No. 4. (Nov., 1998), p 743. Minot and Goletti actually (to their own evident surprise) projected a slight overall drop in poverty, but they do so on the basis of changes in real income which do not take into account that rural persons are better able to acquire food without income expenditure. They also slightly underestimate the level of urbanisation – they use the 1990 figure of 20 per cent, when by the time of their writing the figure was over 23 per cent (Michael DiGregorio, A. Terry Rambo, Masayuki Yanagisawa, ‘Clean, Green, and Beautiful: Environment and Development under the Renovation Economy’ in Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam: Dynamics of a Transforming Society. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, p 189.) and do not account for future urbanisation. Michel Chossudovsky suggests that the Vietnamese did, in the actual event, become considerably poorer (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty and the New World Order. Shanty Bay, Ontario: Global Outlook, 2003, p 168).

6Marc Jason Gilbert, “Introduction”, in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 26.

7Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture. Boston: South End Press, 1993, p 30.

8David Keen, Endless War? Hidden functions of the ‘War on Terror’. London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2006, p 51.

9Record, “How America’s Military Performance…”, in Gilbert (ed.), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, p 117.

10Harry G. Summers Jr., On Strategy: A critical analysis of the Vietnam War. New York: Presidio Press, 1995 (1982), p 103.

11William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia. London: Fontana, 1980 (1979), p 220.

12Ibid, pp 317-9.

13Ibid, p 149.

14Sorpong Peou, Intervention & Change in Cambodia: Towards Democracy? Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000, p 127.

15Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

16Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996, p 24.

17Ibid, p 19.

18Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

19Ibid, pp 254-5.

20Ibid, p 169.

21Nigel Cawthorne, Vietnam: A War Lost and Won. London: Arcturus Publishing, 2003, p 213; Westmoreland, ‘A Look Back’.

22Deborah Nelson, The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth about U.S. War Crimes, New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 127.

23Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, New York: Nation Books, 2008, p xiii.

The Korean Genocide Part 4: War or Genocide?

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The Korean Genocide Part 4: War or Genocide?

(In Part 3 I presented matters relating to the opening of “major hostilities” in late June of 1950. I eschewed conclusions because of the unanswered questions around events. However I believe that it would be possible to present the case that the US was the instigator of these events due to the circumstance which surround the events (even if those events are themselves are difficult to discern). There is no smoking gun, as such, but there is a very strong case. The US desired this “war”, they had foreknowledge of the timing of its outbreak, and the window of time in which the US could benefit (by forestalling the impending conquest of Taiwan and the looming collapse of the Rhee regime) was very, very, narrow by this point. The US was actively deceptive in claiming to be unprepared to intervene, yet the rapidity of the deployment of the US Navy to the Taiwan Straits, and the instantaneous commitment of troops to Korea showed that planning and decision-making had taken place already. There is also a clear flurry of secretive activity by US officials and personnel leading up to the outbreak of hostilities as well as inter-client activity between the Guomindang and the Rhee régime. Lastly, though the unpreparedness of the ROK Army can be explained as a deliberate softening in order to draw forces into the equivalent of the “centre”, nothing on Earth can explain the depth of DPRK unpreparedness. And, as Sherlock Holmes tells us, when faced with choosing between the unlikely and the impossible, the unlikely must be true. )

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The period which begins on 25 June 1950 and ends 27 July 1953 is conventionally termed “The Korean War”. A war of three years, as with wars in general, is almost inevitably going to be described in narrative terms and there are good reasons for this. Peoples’ lives were utterly dominated by major discreet events with distinct chronological placements – significant military actions; a front which swept south then north then south in the initial stage and then a completely different stage with virtually no such movement; notable political events; notable massacres; notable bombing raids. The Korean people were living through the “interesting times” referred to in the apocryphal Chinese curse – times when the narrative of “major” historical events is actually the most important factor in shaping the lives of the masses.

A narrative has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning describes a status quo. The middle is a series of transformative events which follow an initiation event which disturbs the status quo. The end is the establishment of a new status quo. This is all convention, of course, and it is understood that the beginning and end points are static only in terms relative to the defined boundaries of the middle – boundaries of both chronology and of type when including or excluding transformative events. What then should one expect from a narrative of war? More to the point, what would one expect the end to look like? Innumerable examples of war narratives end (by any reckoning) in a manner which accords with Clausewitz’s description of the nature of war. From the Punic Wars to the World Wars, they end with one side imposing its political will on the other, at least to some extent. Before World War II, stalemates were broken when one side gained the advantage. Only very small wars would actually end with a stalemate in place. The Korean War simply does not fit that aspect of the war narrative. The very simple trick of looking at the end of the narrative, one can already discern that the events of 25/06/1950 to 27/07/1953 are more likely to conform to a narrative wherein the “middle” is characterised by genocide rather than war.

In politico-military-strategic terms the end results of the Korean War are insignificant in terms of the scale of military action. There was no regime change. There wasn’t even a change in the balance of power on the peninsula except a growth of deterrence. If anything the war acted to stop change at this level, to halt transformative events and reimpose a more stable form of the status quo ante as if to defy the rules of narrative. However, on another level the transformation was profound and shocking. Around 10 percent of Koreans, or slightly more, were dead. In the DPRK about 2 million civilians and 500,000 military had died according to Halliday and Cumings.i That is more than one of every four human beings exterminated in a three year span. Others give lower figures, but still produce shocking mortality rates such as 1 in 5, though there is the ever-present confusion of specifying only “casualties” without distinguishing killed and wounded. One estimate is that one ninth of North Korean civilians (1,000,000 people) were killed in air raids alone.ii Additionally, according to Stueck,[i]n property, North Korea put its losses at $1.7 billion, South Korea at $2 billion, the equivalent of its gross national product for 1949. North Korea lost some 8,700 industrial plants, South Korea twice that number. Each area saw 600,000 homes destroyed.”iii The urban destruction in the DPRK was unparalleled before or since,at least 50 percent of eighteen out of the Norths twenty-two major cities were obliterated. A partial table looks this:

Pyongyang, 75%

Chongjin, 65%

Hamhung, 80%

Hungnam, 85%

Sariwon, 95%

Sinanju, 100%

Wonsan, 80%.”iv

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Pyongyang

Within months the US had run out of military targets and in less than a year they were running out of significant civilian targets and began bombing the countryside.v

The US also bombed south of the 38th parallel, when the KPA occupied areas or when there was guerilla activity. Hundreds of thousands were also massacred, almost exclusively by US and right-wing formations. Millett observes that[i]t is no accident that Koreans often compare themselves to Jews, Poles, and Irish.”vi In the ROK there is even a word, han, which specifically denotes the repressed and accumulated grief and rage that was produced in those who loved ones were killed by the regime but who avoided even mentioning the departed, let alone grieving their loss, for fear of being killed themselves.vii If this level of trauma is present in the ROK, one can only imagine the level of psychic devastation in the DPRK.

From the point of view of narrative, then, it would seem from the end point of the narrative arc that the middle, the crucial transformational events which are the stuff of traditional history, would be more likely to take the form of genocide than that of war. It’s not quite that simple though. It cannot be denied that there was a war going on. Baudrillard could not claim that “the Korean War did not happen”, although one might observe in events embryonic forms of the sort of “simulation” that led him to claim “the Gulf War did not happen”. What one can say is that in the narrative of war US actions often seem to be difficult to explicate, especially if its role in peace negotiations is incorporated. Claims of US naivety, idealism, stupidity and arrogance are all deployed to explain US actions, along with analyses of domestic political matters and inter-élite conflict. This sort of approach is no different from that used with respect to Indochina, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many sites of lesser US involvement which would include most of the very long list of US interventions. In contrast a narrative of genocide requires no such explications. Indeed, it is almost eerie that events unfold as if smoothly following a predetermined plan of genocide, notwithstanding that prosecuting genocide does not require the precision of prosecuting war and is thus not subject to uncertainty and reversal in the same manner.

Before narrating the events of the front line, it is worth describing the genocidal character of US actions in rear areas, which is ultimately a more fundamental defining characteristic of what occurred than the battles at the front. As Cho writes:

Targeting a civilian population would be a strategy that the U.S. militaryperfectedduring the Korean War, leaving three million people, or 10 percent of the population, dead. The horrors that began to unravel on the Korean peninsula on June 25, 1950, were already reminiscent of a future of U.S. military domination in Asia, flashing forward to images of napalmed children running through the streets….viii

It is worth contextualising US and ROK atrocities by making a comparison with Communist atrocities. Firstly, it is worth noting that the Chinese are not linked to massacres. Their treatment of POWs was far from what one would hope, and yet far better than that meted out by other belligerents. During 1951 the Chinese even took over custody of nearly all Western prisoners due to concerns over their treatment at Korean hands and were mostly at pains to treat them reasonably (in fairly grim circumstances) and protect them from the vengeance of Korean citizens.ix The Chinese example alone should be enough to belie completely any apologistic discourse which seeks to suggest that the sort of atrocities committed by the US were some innate by-product of the type of war fought.

North Korean atrocities differed form those of the US and ROK in three ways. Firstly there is the matter of scale. Cumings estimates that KPA atrocities were about one sixth compared to around 100,000 dying at the hands of ROK security forces and right-wing paramilitaries.x It may be that Cumings is being conservative with both numbers here, but if we assume from this a figure of 17,000 victims of Communist atrocities then it becomes more like one tenth or twentieth if one accounts in addition for US massacres and ROK massacres in captured or recaptured territories. If one factors in the civilians who died under US aerial bombardment the figure becomes less than 2%.xi

Secondly, there is the matter of authorisation. As Dong Choon Kim writes:North Korea’s Kim Il Sung strongly emphasized the prohibition against civilian killings, which seemed quite natural because the [KPA], as a revolutionary army, had to win the hearts and minds of the South Korean people.”xii Kim Il Sung also condemned revenge killingsxiii which were rife at the village level with reciprocal atrocities occurring as territory changed hands.xiv Furthermore, though the killing of POWs on or soon after capture was common, KPA officers at all levels strove constantly to end these murders.xv The authorised atrocities were restricted to the murder of political prisoners after a show of formal legal proceedings. On an individual level this is no less an atrocity than the same act carried out without the pretence of a trial, perhaps more so especially if confessions are produced through torture. It does, however, greatly restrict the scale of murder to a more individual rather than mass event. It also restricts the nature of the victims. Children, for example, would not be subject to this violence, nor generally would the apolitical, nor those without some significant form of political power.

This brings us to the third factor, the matter of discrimination. Communist atrocities particularly targetted specific individuals.xvi This was true of both authorised and unauthorised atrocities. Even surrendering soldiers and POWs are specifically “enemy combatants” who, by their nature, are or have been involved in conflict. The agency of, say, an infantryman may be virtually non-existent (outside of the fantasies promoted by recruiters), but that makes them pawns, not bystanders. There is no inherent moral difference between murdering a soldier and murdering a civilian, but there is a distinct difference. It is almost inevitable that military personnel are viewed as enemies, but enmity towards civilians, if defined innational, ethnical, racial or religious”xvii terms, is at the very least a prerequisite for genocide. Arguably it might be said that any mass killings and/or major destruction under this condition is definable as genocide in line with Lemkin’s definition of genocide as being “against populations”.xviii

Leaving aside the POW issue, given the conditions under which the Communists committed atrocities, it seems reasonable to accept Cumings’ implicit figure of roughly 17,000 civilians killed. This means that the US and ROK forces under US command killed more than 50 times as many civilians as the Communists.xix That is a substantive difference, not only in moral terms. Behind this massive disparity is a mountain of corpses. Explanations are given which rely on the atomisation of various forms of massacre, an artificial separation of methods and circumstances of mass slaughterpanic at the advance of the KPA; fanatical anticommunism; racism; superior firepower; and the USairpower fetish”. The disparity, however, gives lie to this because at every turn the Communists opposed the mass killing of civilians while, as will be shown; each instance of US/ROK mass murder was the result of policy. The disparate levels of atrocity mean exactly what they should suggest at first glanceone side was fighting a war, the other was committing a genocide.

To begin with the UN side of the frontline, the most well known massacre carried out by US personnel was that of No Gun Ri. This occurred from 26 July to 29 July 1950, that is to say over the space of about 3 days. The massacre began when refugees fleeing across a bridge were strafed and mortared. This much is not disputed.xx Controversy arose over the circumstances soon after the massacre rose to prominence in 1999. A narrative was promulgated throughout most of the US media thatthe incident took place because the military was ill-trained and ill-equipped during the early stages of the war”xxi with the result thatthe No Gun Ri story became sanitized as just another anecdotal war story that asks to be forgotten.”xxii In fact it is well documented that the US had on numerous occasions been directly ordered to open fire on refugees.xxiii According to the BBC: “Declassified military documents recently found in the US National Archives show clearly how US commanders repeatedly, and without ambiguity, ordered forces under their control to target and kill Korean refugees caught on the battlefield.”xxiv On 26 July, the day the massacre began, a letter from the US Ambassador to the ROK detailed to the State Department the US Army’s plan to open fire on refugees if they did not heed warning shots.xxv However, warning shots do not seem to have played a role in these events. According to the ROK Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRCK) in 2007:

On July 25th, 1950, Korean villagers were forced by U.S. soldiers to evacuate their homes and move south. The next day, July 26, the villagers continued south along the road. When the villagers reached the vicinity of No Gun Ri, the soldiers stopped them at a roadblock and ordered the group onto the railroad tracks, where the soldiers searched them and their personal belongings. Although the soldiers found no prohibited items (such as weapons or other military contraband), the soldiers ordered an air attack upon the villagers via radio communications with U.S. aircraft. Shortly afterwards, planes flew over and dropped bombs and fired machine guns, killing approximately one hundred villagers on the railroad tracks.xxvi

That is the context, which became a centre of controversy (albeit specious controversy) which in turn managed to leave most people with the impression of some sort of panicked response by US personnel who were not coping. The reader may well be wondering how this could possibly address all of the issues involved in a 3 day long massacre, a period longer than panic or unpreparedness could possibly account for.

After the initial attack, the refugees fled into a culvert and a tunnel beneath the bridge. US forces set up machine guns at either end of the culvert and tunnel. For over three entire days the machine gunners killed those who tried to leave, killing, according to the TRCK, an additional 300:xxvii‘There was a lieutenant screaming like a madman, fire on everything, kill ’em all,’ recalls 7th Cavalry veteran Joe Jackman. ‘I didn’t know if they were soldiers or what. Kids, there was kids out there, it didn’t matter what it was, eight to 80, blind, crippled or crazy, they shot ’em all.’xxviii Soldiers with small arms would, as time passed, approach the culvert to pick off any survivors. A survivor, 12 at the time, said:The American soldiers played with our lives like boys playing with flies.”xxix Bruce Cumings believes that there was a concerted effort to ensure that there were no surviving witnesses.xxx

We know these events occurred because of eye-witness statements, both those of survivors and those of 35 veterans who corroborate these events.xxxi Further corroboration exists in the bullet holes that remain to be seen, though plastered over, in the culvert and the tunnel to this day.xxxii Eye-witness testimony is the central evidence of these occurrences. Even the journal Archival Science is forced to concede that documents are supplementary, corroborating details rather than constituting an account.xxxiii This is true for all the massacres that occurred south of the 38th parallel. The orders that set the machinery of death in motion may be documented, but the events were not. The substance of eye-witness testimony, however, has been borne out by the mass graves to which witnesses were often able to lead investigators.xxxiv

No Gun Ri was not isolated. Over 60 further such massacres at US hands have been reported:

For example, on 11 July 1950, the US Air Force bombed the peaceful Iri railway station located far south of the combat line and killed about 300 civilians, including South Korean government officials. US warplanes also bombed and strafed gathered inhabitants or refugees in Masan, Haman, Sachon, Pohang, Andong, Yechon, Gumi, Danyang and other regions. Roughly 50 to 400 civilians were killed at each site and several times of that number were severely wounded. In dozens of villages across southern South Korea, US planes engaged in repeated low-level strafing runs of the ‘people in white,’ In the southeast seaside city of Pohang in August of 1950, US naval artillery bombarded the calm villages and killed more than 400 civilians. In addition, another fifty-four separate cases of attacks equivalent to No Gun Ri are logged with South Korean authorities but have not yet been investigated.xxxv

The one salient point that is repeated most often by veteran pilots is that they were told to target thepeople in white”. White clothing was the normal and traditional Korean attire, the most common form of dress among the rural majority.xxxvi But No Gun Ri is symptomatic of more than just the systematic targeting of refugees, it also shows the gratuitous violence of individual soldiers fuelled by racism. Hungarian reporter Tibor Meray described US personnel shooting Koreans for sport at the time and stated that neither the KPA nor the ROKA could compare to US forces in brutality.xxxvii In Viet Nam years later, a veteran of the Korean War told Philip Caputo:I saw men sight their rifles in by shooting at Korean farmers. Before you leave here, sir, youre going to learn that one of the most brutal things in the world is your average nineteen-year-old American boy.”xxxviii

The racist violence of US personnel had begun during the occupation. Here it is worth contrasting again. Soviet troops had entered Korea as conquerors, war weary, barefoot, and brutalised. They stole, they raped and they killed. After dark they had to travel in groups of no less than three to avoid reprisals from enraged Koreans.xxxix But the official reaction was swift. Their superiors stamped out such behaviour in a matter of weeks and the damage in relations began to heal.xl In contrast, Koreans greeted the US occupation warmly,xli but after 3 months of occupation Hodge reported that hatred of US was increasing,the word ‘pro-American’ is being added to ‘pro-Jap’, ‘national traitor’ and ‘Jap collaborator’.xlii This wasn’t just the result of US policies, but also of the behaviour of the occupation forces:

By December 1945 most of the specific acts with which the US command contended as the occupation proceededopen expressions of disrespect toward Koreans, lack of care in avoiding Korean pedestrians while driving American military vehicles, offensive advances toward Korean women, looting and larcenywere common.xliii

When thereplacements” arrived, conscripts taking over from Pacific War veterans, things got worse – “they lacked the training and discipline of their predecessors in the Army while possessing all the provincialism and sense of superiority of their older comrades, if not their dehumanizing experience in fighting the Japanese.”xliv Western reporters at the time found that racist contempt was the norm and that insurmountable alienation was more or less universal.xlv I cannot provide a full analysis of Hodge’s response, but it was inadequatelong on rhetoric (such as letters of exhortation to the troops), short on efficacious measures (such as widespread curfews and bans of off-duty personnel or rigorous prosecution of the more common offences, which were not necessarily minor). The fact that a commander with an entire machinery of military discipline at his disposal chose what amounted to begging his personnel to be nice shows that he was (as many have pointed out) a battlefield commander unsuited to the task of running an occupation. The fact that neither subordinates nor superiors did anything about his inefficacy, however, shows a fundamental disinterest in improving the behaviour of US personnel, a lack of will which supersedes in relevance any lack in capability on Hodge’s part.

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Racist violence was fully unleashed once the War was under way. Just as the Germans had conflated Jewishness and Bolshevism, the US in propaganda and military indoctrination conflatedAsiatic”-ness and Communism.xlvi Instead of reserving animus for combatant enemies animus was directed atgooks”, which meant all Koreans regardless of combatant status, political orientation, or gender. It is true that risks vastly differed for different locales and statuses, but it is also true the every single Korean faced at least some risk of being killed by US forces and local allies were not an exception (a circumstance also seen in South Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and any other place where US forces are directly deployed). A US correspondent wrote that it wasnot a good time to be a Korean, for the Yankees are shooting them all”, while a British war correspondent recorded that GIsnever spoke of the enemy as though they were people…. …[E]very man’s dearest wish was to kill a Korean. ‘Today… I’ll get me a gook.’xlvii

When US forces went north of the 38th parallel massacres also occurred. Details are, of course, sketchier, with DPRK officialdom being an unreliable source. However, as Dong Choon Kim points out:While it must be acknowledged that the North has politically exploited such claims, the facts on the ground force us to not discount their veracity.”xlviii In one instance an estimated 35,380 people in Sinchon were massacred but whereas the DPRK leaders claim that US personnel committed the massacre, it was in fact ROK paramilitary police and militias who were sent north (by the US) in the tens of thousands.xlix

Although subject to commands from the Rhee regime, ROK security forces were ultimately under US command.l The US military may have been involved in formulating the “special decree” which initiated widespread massacres south of the 38th parallel, but there is no doubt that it was the US which initiated the massacres by ROK security forces north of the 38th. An order was issued toliquidate the North Korean Workers’ Party”, a mass movement which had 14% of the DPRK population as members. Mass arrests were to be followed by the production by the US ofblack lists”, the unstated purpose of which is easy enough to guess.li A partial list of occasions when the US has provided clients with lists of persons who the US wishes dead due to their political beliefs or activism includes: Guatemala, 1953;lii Iraq 1963,liii 2002-3,liv 2005-7;lv Indonesia 1965;lvi Indochina 1950-75;lvii Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, and Ecuador mid-1970s (Operation Condor);lviii Latin America 1982-91lix (note that in the latter two instances most targets were not directly chosen by the US, but under guidelines created by the US). It is pretty easy to establish that these murders are eliticidal in nature by looking at the nature of the victims. They target leading intelligentsia and students, unionists, and peasant organisers. In Viet Nam, for instance, the US even invented the termViet Cong Infrastructure”. PradosdefinesthemasashadowynetworkofVietCongvillageauthorities,informers,taxcollectors,propagandateams,officialsofcommunitygroups,andthelike,whocollectivelycametobecalledtheVietCongInfrastructure(VCI).”Sympathizers”werealsocounted.lx The victims are very clearly non-combatants. For example, in William Blum’s survey of US interventions (Killing Hope) there is no index entry given forunionists”,subversives” ordissidents”; however, quite tellingly, one can get a fair idea of the approach to such individuals through looking up the entries ontorture, US connection to.” Out of 14 entries there are three relating to interrogation;lxi three where armed activists/guerillas/insurgents were tortured alongside unarmed political activists;lxii and 7 entries where only political dissidents are mentioned as victims.lxiii

We don’t know how many died in massacres north of the 38th parallel, but we do have some idea (very roughly) of how many died in mass executions in the south. Of 30,000 political prisoners at the outbreak of war almost all were disposed of (except for 7000 fortunate enough to be imprisoned in Seoul).lxiv This was the tip of the iceberg. An estimated 350,000 people were enrolled in the Bodoyeonmang (National Guidance League, NGL). It was putatively an organisation for monitoring and rehabilitating left-wing activists, but up to 70% of its members were simply apolitical peasants.lxv In a series of enormous mass executions (evidenced by mass graves which, again, provide grim proof of eyewitness testimony) somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people were slaughtered (some estimates go as high as 300,000).lxvi In Taejon, for instance, 4000-7000 were executed, and when the town was recaptured the mass graves were used as propaganda under the false claim that it was in fact the Communists who had committed the atrocity.lxvii Probably those US personnel and Western reporters who saw the bodies believed it to be true (after all the Communists were the savages) but the massacre had in fact been attended by US officials.lxviii

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Victims at Taejon. Note, I found this picture at a site which replicates the lie that communists committed this massacre. Of 48 photos in this 2010 retrospective 4 are depicting communist atrocities (or claim to be) while only 1 depicts an ROK/UN atrocity (below).

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In recaptured territory, as in the North, many deemed politically suspect due to their activities during the DPRK occupation were liquidated. In the Seoul area, for instance, 50,000 were killed by one estimate.lxix In addition, civilians in areas where guerillas operated were at risk of being murdered throughout the war. Counterinsurgency often meant slaughtering civilian men, women and children deemed by geographical criteria to be supportive of the guerrillas. In Guchang, for instance,several thousand civilians, including babies, women, and elderly, were killed during the operations named ‘Keeping the Position by Cleansing the Fields….’lxx The US was also using airpower against parts of the countryside deemed inimical. From 5 January 1951 the US began the wholesale use of napalm against villages deemed to be willingly or unwillingly providing some form of support for guerrillas. As Suh Hee-Kyung writes:The objects of the bombings now included not only military targets but also civilian homes and towns suspected of harboring communist guerrillas and/or North Korean soldiers. Especially in areas that the North Korean Army and the Chinese Army had invaded, the U.S. Army applied a ‘scorched earth policy’ even if the targeted area was residential.”lxxi On 25 January 1951 Lt. General Edward Almond (commander of X Corps) defended the bombing in terms paraphrased by Cumings as,the local population was being killed, true, but the meager population remaining appears sympathetic to and harbors the enemy.”lxxii

The US also began its bombing campaign in the North. Most of the 1 million tons of US ordinance dropped from the air in the War were used instrategic” bombing in the North.lxxiii It is fair to say that in this small and highly urbanised half-country, this tonnage caused a greater degree of destruction than in any other time and place in human history (not counting single cities).By 1952 just about everything in northern and central Korea was completely levelled. What was left of the population survived in caves, the North Koreans creating an entire life underground, in complexes of dwellings, schools, hospitals, and factories.”lxxiv The rough consensus figure is that 1 million civilians died from the US bombing campaign. As Cumings notes:

The United Nation’s Genocide Convention defined the term as acts committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” This would include “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” It was approved in 1948 and entered into force in 1951 – just as the USAF was inflicting genocide, under this definition and under the aegis of the United Nations Command, on the citizens of North Korea. Others note that area bombing of enemy cities was not illegal in World War II, but became so only after the Red Cross Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Wartime, signed in Stockholm in August 1948.

Kim Dong Choon is cautious about the subject of genocide, despite writing in the Journal Of Genocide Studies:As we usually label genocide when the shooting and strafing were aimed at a certain race or community with clear cut boundaries and characteristics, America’s military actions towards Korean civilians may not be regarded as a genocidal incident. ([Interjects in endnote]However, as Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre argued when they established a ‘War Crimes Tribunal’… the ‘genocidal intent’ of war may be identified even when official military policies may deny such an ambition.)lxxv Of critical importance, however, is the fact that the US soldiers killed civilian refugees lacking even a modicum of self-defense, including women and children, even when no North Korean soldiers or grass-root guerilla forces threatened them.lxxvi This needless caution on Kim’s part is saddening. The US (and the ROK forces under US command) systematically killed civilians in various completely different circumstances, and they did so under orders from the very top of the chain of command. One need only to glimpse through the various levels of mortality produced bystrategic bombing”, “counterinsurgency”, and mass executions to see that, taken as a whole, this was a staggering amount of death and (perhaps more importantly) a staggering amount of co-ordinated labour employed in causing mass civilian deaths. The level of proof required here is, in fact, far lower than that required to label the mass killings in Rwanda or Cambodia as genocides. Likewise, the economic and social destruction wrought in the North was so comprehensive that it can only be matched by the most widely acknowledged genocides.

There is more. By deliberately drawing out the negotiations for an armistice while instituting a strategy ofattrition” the war, although a very real war, was made primarily an engine of genocide by the US. In this it became a progenitor of later genocidal war systems. To illustrate this evolution it is necessary to trace the progress of the war. The narrative produced is, like that of the origins of the war, distinctly anomalous at points. In the framework of war, as it is generally understood, such actions were difficult to explain and caused alarm among allies, US personnel themselves, and even US political leaders. The US public, on the other hand, simply hated the war and it destroyed the Truman presidencyTruman holding the record for least popular President on record (with 77% disapproval) until the advent of George W. Bush.lxxvii But while from a military perspective many US actions seemed counterproductive or at least completely pointless it should be remembered that the narrative ends with the US having won for itself every single advantage that it could have won, at least from an imperial perspective. The previously fragile division of Korea was now stable and consolidated as was the US client regime in the ROK. Each half of the peninsula was tied more firmly in dependency to its superpower patron. Taiwan was saved from unification with China, while the infant PRC was greatly retarded in its development. The US was now in a state of enduring militarisation, armed with both the weaponry and the ideology which would allow the US to exert coercive imperial power over most of the globe. From this perspective an outright military victory would have been considerably less attractive, not least because US interventions would rely on the (false) implication that the Communist Bloc posed a military threat to the US.

Korea is not particularly suited to blitzkrieg, it is narrow and hilly with poor roading generally at the bottom of valleys, and a climate which makes operations of any sort difficult. Carter Malkasian describes it as suited forstrong in-depth defense”, by which he means using elevated positions of the sort which would be so bloodily contested later in the war. Inexplicably, however, the ROKA commanderwanted to contain any North Korean attack at the 38th Parallel and rejected a planned withdrawal to stronger positions, such as behind the Han river. The 38th Parallel was on comparatively flat ground, lacking ridges or river-lines on which to form a defensive.lxxviii That is to say, such a stance is inexplicable unless it is explained, like so much else must be, as a deliberate softening of ROKA defences.

After capturing Seoul, the KPA waited about a week, apparently awaiting artillery and other supplies, before the next concentrated offensive.lxxixLacking detailed plans for operations south of Seoul, North Korean forces had been slow to proceed beyond the Han River.” On July 5 the KPA fought their first engagement with US forces, who did have anti-tank weapons but were nevertheless defeated. “American combatants had inadequate firepower to resist Soviet-built tanks, and North Korean soldiers were not intimidated by opponents simply because their skin was white….”lxxx On the contrary, the KPA continued to push, over-running an entire US division when Taejon was captured a week later. It took only until August 1 for the KPA to reach a point less than 50 km west of Pusan.lxxxi By this stage the KPA faced superior numbers 92,000 (47,000 of them US) to the 70,000 it could bring to the front known as the Pusan perimeter.lxxxii Only a tiny chunk of the peninsula was unconquered, but more critical for the KPA than being outnumbered was the fact that they had never prepared for this. They could not replace casualties, communications were still far from desirable efficacy, and their stretched supply lines combined with US air and naval power to make resupply difficult.lxxxiii As Malkasian explains the chance to end the war quickly was slipping away: “Better American bazookas and heavy M-26 Pershing tanks had arrived that could counter the T-34s. The North Koreans waited until 3 September to make their major assault in the Second Battle of the Naktong Bulge. However, by then North Korean strength was ebbing. With only 98,000 men, they faced 180,000 UNC soldiers.”lxxxiv

On September 15 the US X Corps made a bold and extremely well executed amphibious landing at Incheon, the port adjacent to Seoul. The DPRK expected this move but had little choice but to throw everything they could at the Pusan perimeter (in the abovementioned Second Battle of the Naktong Bulge).lxxxv It seems apparent, however, that the DPRK had prepared for withdrawal, and for troops who were cut-off to become guerillas in the hills.lxxxvi Nevertheless, this was a terrible defeat for the KPA who were more or less routed from the South, sustaining heavy casualties and equipment losses. UN forces broke out of the Pusan perimeter on September 23. Seoul fell on the 27th after bitter fighting which caused many civilian deaths.lxxxvii Only around 25,000 KPA reached the 38th parallel before UN forces.lxxxviii

The KPA continued retreating and X Corps pressed northwards. The 38th parallel, crossing which had been condemned as an act of aggression by the UNSC was, little over 2 months later, of no significance. An “imaginary line” as MacArthur put it,lxxxix the same phrase being used soon after by the US ambassador to the UN.xc (Malkasian claims that UNGAR 376, passed on October 7, authorised UN forces to proceed north of the 38th.xci The two major problems with such a contention are that a) by October the 7th UN forces were in places already more than 100 km north of the 38th and b) the resolution says no such thing.xcii)

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The US rationalised crossing the 38th as a measure to prevent further aggression, but then changed to the annunciated aim of military unification.xciii The Chinese openly avowed that they would respond militarily to a march on the Yalu with PLA Chief of Staff (on Sept 26) and Chou En Lai both telling the Indian ambassador for conveyance to the US. US intelligence agencies claimed, however, to have believed otherwise.xciv When China entered the war, the US reacted at first as if nothing significant had happened then, after suffering defeats in October and November, as if a large portion of the PLA had crossed the border en masse:

As American forces rushed pell-mell back down the peninsula, observers at the time wondered why they were moving so fast, often breaking contact with an enemy not necessarily pursuing them. On December 15 a British military attaché wrote, ‘The withdrawal continues without any major enemy pressure. There were no signs of defense lines being used to halt the enemy march; it looked like a phony war, or a great hoax.’ British military attachés said in early December that the numbers of Chinese were quite exaggerated, with very few confirmed contacts with the Chinese ; furthermore, it was often impossible to judge the nationality of enemy units. The number of Chinese POWs being taken did not indicate huge numbers of troops.xcv

So yet again US led forces were inexplicably retreating rather than using the defensibility of the hilly terrain, this time back to the 38th parallel in what was known as the “Big Bug-Out”.xcvi Hyperbole exploded in Washington. This was the longest retreat in US military history, but it became transformed into the greatest defeat in US history leading to panic in the corridors of power and many very serious moves towards the use of atomic weapons.xcvii This even went as far as the transfer of necessary bomb components to Japan and Guam.xcviii The “Big Bug-Out” didn’t merely facilitate a vastly heightened level of threats from the US, it also gave a boost to the racist propaganda deployed on Western peoples, particularly those of the US. Hollywood films (more likely to be about the Pacific War than the unpopular Korean “police action”) featured scenes “of marauding Oriental troops; of bearded, unkempt American fighters inhabiting alien hovels in alien lands and dauntlessly improvising devices and designs as they go.”xcix Public affairs programming on television was unabashedly infected by official propaganda. One NBC programme was produced out of the White House by a presidential aide, who used it to declare that[t]he barbarous aggression of the Chinese hoards [sic] in Korea is not only an attack upon the forces of the United Nationsit is an attack upon civilization itselfit is an effort to destroy all the rights and privileges for which mankind has fought and bled since the dawn of time.”c

In coming months China really did commit massive numbers of personnel (officiallyvolunteers”) to a series of offensives, perhaps 400,000 by mid-January.ci The KPA and the Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV) managed to advance about 100km south of the 38thby the end of January, but by February UN counteroffensives had pushed them back across the Han and Seoul was evacuated after massive casualties on 14 March.cii The KPA and CPV continued to mount offensives, but shortages and heavy casualties inflicted by UN forces brought them inevitably to a stop.ciii

Seoul had by this stage changed hands 4 times. As UN forces retreated in January they more or less destroyed the port at Inchon and burnt down large parts of Seoul, just as they had on retreating from northern cities.civ As the UN was preparing to re-enter the city, US air and ground artilleryblasted” the city.cv Indeed, one neglected aspect of the war was that during the mobile phase (which, as has been shown, seemed a little artificial at times) all but some small pockets of the countryside were swept over at least once by the battlefront. In addition to the 1 million tons or ordnance dropped by US aircraft, US guns fired a total of 2.1 million tons of ordnanceon a peninsula less than four-fifths the size of New Zealand the US used 43% as much explosive power as it did in the entirety of World War II.cvi Massive amounts of Korean property were destroyed by UN scorched earth policies and by the profligate use of artillery in addition to the massive bombing campaign.

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In late December 1950, General Matthew Ridgway took over command of the 8th Army which faced the KPA/CPF offensives. In April he was made Supreme Commander of UN forces.cvii From the first he created an offensive spirit and tactics to match. An infantryman put it thus:We were there to kill Chinese. That’s what they told us. The army was done with retreating. General Ridgway was in charge now, and he wasn’t a retreating general. We heard it every day from the officers. ‘Fix ’em, find ’em, kill ’em.’ We went out every day and we attacked. Seems like that’s all we did was attack. We hardly ate. We hardly slept. We just attacked.”cviii

The doctrine under which this occurred was referred to asattrition”. On the surface it seemed to have a military logic, at least in the time from January to March of 1951 in which the Communists were conducting major offensives and the UN conducting counteroffensives. In Malkasian’s words Ridgwaysought to wear down their manpower. To do so, superior UNC firepower was to be exploited to the maximum effect. The hallmark of Ridgway’s doctrine of attrition was his directive to his subordinates to maximize enemy casualties while minimizing those of the Eighth Army. Given the daunting Communist numerical superiority, conserving casualties was absolutely crucial.”cix

Implicit in the logic of this “attrition” were three concepts which as yet had no terminology, but would become central in later genocides – “body count”, “kill ratio”, and “force protection”. To understand let us contrast this “attrition” with attrition as it was understood previously by theorists such as Clausewitz. When Clausewitz wrote of a “war of attrition” he referred to the gradual wearing down of strength through the requirement of movement which fatigued personnel and caused supply problems.cx Attrition is primarily a function of ‘war of manouevre’ with the center of gravity here being lines of communication.cxi In the World Wars attrition was notably aimed at and achieved by the deprivation of strategic resources – the single most successful way of reducing the military strength of an adversary which was based so firmly in productive capacities. In Korea this sort of attrition was achieved by stretching supply lines, and this certainly provides one explanation for the two major retreats by ROK/US/UN forces. Interdiction was also a way open to the US to cause attrition. The US interdiction campaign during the Korean War was only very modestly successful. The main challenge to it was the fact that Communist forces used a far smaller tonnage of supplies than UN, or more acutely, US forces. They ran, as it were, on the smell of an oily rag.cxii Bear in mind, however, that the CPV were poorly equipped and the Communists lacked the ability to supply sustained offensives of more than about 14 days,cxiii but as the war progressed their diversified logistical operations supplied ever greater amounts of materièl to the front.cxiv (Communist logistics may have been robust and decentralised, but there was no Ho Chi Minh Trail, and one gets the inevitable impression from the partial success of the interdiction campaign that the Communists would have been highly vulnerable to a programme of interdiction which was as profligately supported as the “strategic” bombing and the “meatgrinder” version of attrition described below.)

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My point, and I will return to and illustrate the point, is that the Communist forces had to be more vulnerable in their materièl inferiority than in their numerical superiority. This is true notwithstanding the early Chinese belief that “deception, stealth, and night fighting would enable their poorly armed soldiers to overcome Western technological and materiel superiority.cxv With offensives severely limited by logistical concerns the Communists could only hope to chip away slowly at UN positions, but there was nothing to stop the UN from using its superior firepower to regain ground as proved to be the case in early 1951. Malkasian writes:

Ridgway’s first use of attrition was successful. [CPV commander] Peng [Dehuai] launched the Third Phase Offensive in sub-zero conditions on 31 December 1950. Although Ridgway was forced to abandon Seoul, his withdrawal stretched the Communist supply lines to breaking point, forcing Peng to call off the offensive. Ridgway was anxious to seize the initiative. On 15 January 1951, he mounted a reconnaissance in force, Operation Wolfhound, followed by a full-blown counteroffensive.cxvi

Others agree that it was the logistical difficulties that ended Chinese offensive actions.cxvii After the failure of the Third Phase Offensive, Peng returned to Beijing to inform Mao that the Communists could not win the war because supply lines had reached their maximum length.cxviii

Apart from the withdrawal during the Third Phase Offensive, however, Ridgway’s “attrition” had little to do with exploiting and exacerbating logistical weakness. It was about killing. After the capture of Seoul Ridgway ordered a limited offensive north of the 38th to establish the “Kansas Line” on high ground, but his whole doctrine was more generally to avoid taking territory or holding positions at the expense of casualties, while at the same time inflicting as many casualties as possible through the offensive “attrition” that became known to soldiers as the “meat grinder”. This involved staging attacks purely aimed at inflicting as many casualties as possible.cxix This was “limited war”. In fact, near the start of the “Big Bug-Out”, only 12 days after the Chinese entry into the war, and only 8 days after threatening the use of atomic weapons, Truman publicly abandoned the goal of military unification.cxxLimited war” meant, therefore, killing as many people as possible while maintaining a military stalemate, bearing in mind that bombing and massacres were ongoing.

Mao, however, was not to reach the same conclusion as Peng regarding the impossibility of significant military gain until the failure of the Fifth Phase Offensive which came to a halt because of a lack of food and ammunition. The hungry and ill-armed CPV troops were panicked by the inevitable counteroffensive and the UN advanced somewhat north of the Kansas Line, and then stopped.cxxi Neither side was trying to win the war now, and the Chinese also began using “attrition” in the sense of trying to inflict disproportionate casualties in terms relative to total numbers available.cxxii Perhaps it made slightly more sense for the numerically superior force to engage in this behaviour, but in the broader picture it was really just playing into the US hands, allowing them to maintain deadly conflict when there was really no military purpose in the killing.

Whether one dates it to the end of the Fifth Phase Offensive or the end of the subsequent UN counteroffensive, the stalemate phase lasted more than twice as long as the mobile phase of the war, and cost more lives. The stalemate was characterised by “see-saw” battles, wherein the same ground was taken and retaken many times overcxxiii in a manner akin to the mindless butchery of World War I. But this time, off centre stage, civilians were dying in numbers much greater than the battlefield deaths and a bitter guerilla war was fought with napalm and atrocities.

Cease-fire negotiations began on 10 July 1951 and continued for just over two years. One writer characterises them thus: “Throughout the duration of the negotiations U.S. leaders produced harsh ultimatums rather than workable bargaining positions, thereby presumably obviating any form of enemy flexibility.cxxiv The Communists tried to maximise the propaganda value of the talks, setting things up originally to give an impression of the UN being there to sue for peace,cxxv and they were able to capitalise on US dishonesty by the use of dissident Western journalists.cxxvi Early on armed Chinese troops paraded bymistake” through the demilitarized area. They had mortars and machine guns, but the Chinese claimed that they were military police (MPs).cxxvii The US, however, made even more drasticmistakes”. On August 22 the conference site was bombed and strafed by aplane of unknown origin but flying from the south”.cxxviii In September the UN apologised for twoaccidental” attacks the second of which took the life of a 12 year old.cxxix According to Halliday and Cumings, the Communistsclaimed that these were deliberate attempts by sectors of the US military to sabotage the talks at key momentsand possibly to assassinate communist delegates. At the time the USA denied most of the charges. The official US military history later acknowledged that the USA carried out a large number of violations, including strafing and bombing the neutral zone and bombing the communist negotiators’ convoy en route to the site.”cxxx

If I were to characterise, very roughly, the nature of the negotiations it would be something like this: Often the Communists didn’t take the negotiations that seriously because the US positions were themselves so extreme as to render seriousness difficult. Nevertheless, on a number of issues the Communists would make major concessions, although with minor face-saving conditions. US officials would then vastly exaggerate the significance of such conditions and a compliant Western news media would follow the official line that it was in fact the Communists who were demonstrating a lack of good faith. The US was the only UN party at the talks and their British allies were frustrated and blamed the US rather than the Communists for the lack of progress in talks. They also believed that US military actions, publicly rationalised as being designed to force the Communists to negotiate in earnest, actually caused the Communists to harden their line.cxxxi When talks stalled over the issue of POW repatriation, the UK Foreign Office again held US intransigence to be the cause. From their Korea desk J. M. Addis minuted with words such asrapid and unexplained changes of front on the main question and a policy of stepping up demands after concessions have been madehas not contributed to removing the suspicion that undoubtably exists on the Communist side that the Americans do not sincerely want an armistice.”cxxxii

A compromise proposed by the PRC wherein POW’s who did not wish to be repatriated could be interviewed by a neutral country was scuppered by the US bombing of 5 power stations on Yalu undertaken without consulting the British. Omar Bradley claimed it was apurely military operation” designed to apply pressure for negotiations.cxxxiii The proposal had been a major concession by the PRC because the 1949 Geneva Convention Article 118 made repatriation compulsory without exception. At the outbreak of war the US (a ratified signatory) and the DPRK (a non-signatory) announced adherence to extant Geneva Conventions (the PRC, a non-signatory, made such an announcement in 1952).cxxxiv Additionally, while within in the camps their were many who wished to defect, others were coerced by right-wing elements by threatened starvation and torture sessions.cxxxv

On the 13th of May the US began a series of bombing raids against DPRK dams. Timed just after the laborious work of rice transplantation, before plants had taken root, the resultant floods cause utter devastation. The bombing of the Toksan dam, for example,scooped clean 27 miles of valley” with floodwaters reaching and inundating large parts of Pyongyang. Many thousands must have drowned.cxxxvi Both stores and people were made more vulnerable by having been driven underground. But the direct mortality may be less significant than that which was to follow due to the destruction of the rice crop. As a US intelligence report puts it:The Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of this staple food commodity has for the Asianstarvation and slow death.”cxxxvii

An armistice was finally signed on 27 July 1953, but Korean suffering was far from over. Today one is accustomed, for very good reasons, to contrasting the impoverished and repressive DPRK with the wealthy and democratic ROK. One might think that the massive destruction and proportionately far greater death in the DPRK would leave them much worse off than those to the South. On the contrary, however, the people of the ROK were in fact worst off. The US was determined that the ROK should be a Third World state producing primary goods only.cxxxviiiIn 1961, eight years after the end of its fratricidal war with North Korea, South Koreas yearly income stood at $82 per person. The average Korean earned less than half the average Ghanaian citizen ($179).”cxxxix They were ruled by a US client who allowed the US to dictate economic policy and then blamed him for the policies they themselves forced on the ROK.cxl The US pursued a policy of keeping de-industrialisation,cxli it destabilised the ROK economy even during the war,cxlii it caused destructive inflation,cxliii used coercion to get the ROK to effectively abdicate economic sovereignty in 1952,cxliv and when people were starving to death due to these policies, the US repressed reports of this and created false statistics claiming that ROK citizens ate more food than they had before the war.cxlv As Tony Mitchell observes, the poverty and dependency thus created acted to increase US power, US control.cxlvi

In 1961 the new military dictatorship forced the US to accept a programme of economic nationalism in the ROK, something which was probably only possible because of the existence of the DPRK. Nevertheless it is a testament to the destructiveness of the antidevelopmentalist economic regime forced on poorer states by the US that it was not until at least the mid-1970s that ROK living standards caught up with those of the DPRK, reaching an average $1000 per capita per annum income in 1977.cxlvii

In terms of repression, the torture and killings under military rule have been discussed, and it was only with great sacrifice and bravery that the South Korean people seized democracy from below in 1987. North Korea also remained a dependencyso much so that the collapse of the Soviet Union destabilised the heavily industrialised and petrochemical dependent agriculture required in a state which is sorely lacking in fertile land. This led within a few years to devastating famines precipitated by flooding.cxlviii

For US imperialists the Korean War must be counted as a resounding success. Koreans were weakened and divided into two dependencies, China weakened and tied more firmly to the USSR, Japan and Taiwan were both strengthened economically but yet made increasingly dependent on the US. The US inaugurated an interventionist imperial military system, complemented by economic, ideological and political power, which allowed it almost free rein to intervene in any state outside of the Soviet Bloc up to and including full-scale military interventions where such a thing was practicable.

What had happened to Korea can be understood in those terms used by Lemkin to subdivide elements of genocide. They had suffered genocide in the physical, social, economic, political, cultural and moral senses, leaving out only the religious and biological elements which complete Lemkin’s enumeration. The trauma lasts even to this day, even south of the “demilitarized zone” (DMZ). The suffering, the loss and grief, the crushing of the national hopes of an oppressed people, the social disintegration, the loss of heritage, the millions of dead – these were not unfortunate by-products, these were not “collateral damage”, they were the means. The US had conducted a successful functional genocide, and its very success was to bring about repetition.

iHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 200.

iiChristopher Coker, Humane Warfare, London: Routledge, 2001, p 2.

iiiStueck, The Korean War, p 361.

ivCumings, The Korean War, p 160.

vCoker, Humane Warfare, p 80.

viMillett, The War for Korea, p 4.

viiGrace M. Cho, HauntingtheKoreanDiaspora:Shame,Secrecy,andtheForgottenWar,Minneapolis:UniversityofMinnesotaPress,2008, p 82

viiiCho, Haunting the Diaspora, p 75.

ixHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 180.

xCumings, The Korean War, p 202.

xiThe figures on which this is based are discussed below.

xiiKim,Forgottenwar,forgottenmassacres…,p537.

xiiiCumings, The Korean War, p 186.

xivKim,Forgottenwar,forgottenmassacres…,p529.

xvCumings, The Korean War, p 187.

xviCumings, The Korean War, p 202.

xviiSee Appendix 1.

xviiiLemkin, Axis Rule, p 80.

xixFigures for civilian deaths at US and ROK hands are given below. I have not encountered any suggestion that other United Nations forces committed atrocities on a scale which would change the proportions by inclusion or exclusion from the total.

xxJudith Greer, “What Really Happened at No Gun Ri?”, Salon, 4 June 2002. Retrieved 17 November 2010 from http://www.salon.com/2002/06/03/nogunri_2/.

xxiSuhi Choi, “Silencing SurvivorsNarratives: Why Are We Again Forgetting the No Gun Ri Story?, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 11:3, 2008, p 373.

xxiiIbid, p 367.

xxiiiCharles J. Hanley and Martha Mendoza, “US Policy was to Shoot Korean Refugees”, Associated Press, 29 May 2006. Retrieved 17 November 2010 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/29/AR2006052900485.html.

xxivJeremy Williams,Kill ’em All’: The American Military in Korea, BBC, updated 17 February 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/coldwar/korea_usa_01.shtml.

xxvCharles J. Hanley, “No Gun Ri: Official Narrative and Inconvenient Truths”, Critical Asian Studies, 42:4, 2010, p 589.

xxviIbid, p 590.

xxviiIbid.

xxviiiWilliams, “Kill ’em All….”

xxixCumings, The Korean War, p 167.

xxxIbid, p 168.

xxxiWilliams, “Kill ’em All….”

xxxiiValerie Perry, LookingforNoGunRi,KyotoJournal,49,2001.Retrieved15November2011fromhttp://www.kyotojournal.org/kjencounters/NoGunRi.html.

xxxiiiDonghee Sinn, “Room for archives? Use of archival materials in No Gun Ri research, Archival Science, 10, 2010, pp 117-40.

xxxivKim, “Forgotten War…’, p 534.

xxxvIbid, p 523.

xxxviStueck and Yi, “An Alliance Forged in Blood…”, p 192.

xxxviiCumings, The Korean War, p 158.

xxxviiiPhilip Caputo, A Rumour of War, London: Arrow, 1978, p 137.

xxxixStueck, The Korean War, p 20.

xlAndrei Lankov, From Stalin to Kim Il Song: the formation of North Korea, 1945-1960, London: C. Hurst, 2002, p 6.

xliStueck and Yi, “An Alliance Forged in Blood…”, p 185.

xliiCumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 198.

xliiiStueck and Yi, “An Alliance Forged in Blood…”, p 190.

xlivIbid, p 194.

xlvIbid, pp 195-6.

xlviBrewer, Why America Fights?…, p 142.

xlviiKorea, p 88.

xlviiiKim, “Forgotten War…”, p 531.

xlixIbid, p 536.

lIbid, p 532.

liCumings, The Korean War, p 195.

liiIbarra, “The Culture of Terror…”, p 198.

liiiTariq Ali, Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of Iraq, London: Verso, 2003, pp 87-8.

livMax Fuller, “Crying Wolf: Media Disinformation and Death Squads in Occupied Iraq, GlobalResearch, 10 November 2005. Retrieved 16 April 2006 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=FUL20051110&articleId=1230.

lvMichael Moss, “How Iraq Police Reform Became Casualty of War”, New York Times, 22 May 2006; Max Fuller, “Silence of the Lambs? Proof of US orchestration of Death Squads Killings in Iraq”, GlobalResearch, 14 March 2007. Retrieved 16 April 2007 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=5081.

lviPeter Dale Scott, “The United States and the Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-1967”, Pacific Affairs, Summer 1985, pp 239-264.

lviiFrankL.Jones,‘Blowtorch:RobertKomerandtheMakingofViet NamPacificationPolicy’,Parameters, Vol.35,No.3 (Autumn2005),p104;Prados,The Hidden History of the Viet Nam War,pp204-5.

lviiiRoger Morris, “Donald Rumsfeld’s Long March”.

lixStokes, “Why the End of the Cold War…”, pp 583-4.

lxPrados, The Hidden History of the Viet Nam War, pp 204-5, 210.

lxiBlum, Killing Hope, pp 38, 226, 279.

lxiiIbid, pp 128-9, 200-5, 239.

lxiiiIbid, pp 72, 116, 171, 219-21, 232, 359-61, 375.

lxivKim, “Forgotten War…”, p 533.

lxvIbid, p 534.

lxviIbid, p 535.

lxviiCumings, The Korean War, p 173.

lxviiiIbid, p 175.

lxixKim, “Forgotten War…”, p 536.

lxxIbid, p 532.

lxxiSuh Hee-Kyung, “Atrocities Before and During the Korean War”, Critical Asian Studies, 42:4, p 579.

lxxiiCumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 295.

lxxiiiKolko, Century of War, p 404.

lxxivCumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, pp 295-6.

lxxvKim, “Forgotten War…”, p 542, n 31.

lxxviIbid, p 532.

lxxviiCumings, The Korean War, p 149.

lxxviiiMalkasian, The Korean War, p 20.

lxxixHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 82.

lxxxStueck, The Korean War, p 47.

lxxxiMalkasian, The Korean War, p 24.

lxxxiiHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 82.

lxxxiiiStueck, The Korean War, p 48.

lxxxivMalkasian, The Korean War, p 24.

lxxxvIbid, p 26.

lxxxviHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 97.

lxxxviiMalkasian, The Korean War, p 29.

lxxxviiiStueck, The Korean War, p 86

lxxxixMichael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (4th ed.), New York: Basic Books, 2006, p 118.

xcCumings, The Korean War, p 23.

xciMalkasian, The Korean War, p 29.

xciiUNGAR 376, The Problem of the Independence of Korea, 7 October 1950. Retrieved 24 November 2011 from http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/059/74/IMG/NR005974.pdf?OpenElement.

xciiiWalzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p 118.

xcivCumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, pp 283-4.

xcvIbid, p 287.

xcviMalkasian, The Korean War, p 36.

xcviiCumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, pp 289-91.

xcviiiIbid, pp 292-3.

xcixMarilyn Young, “Hard Sell: The Korean War” quoted in Steven Casey, Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950-1953, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, 19501953, p 221.

cBrewer, Why America Fights, p 159.

ciHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 144.

ciiIbid.

ciiiMalkasian, The Korean War, p 45.

civHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 141.

cvIbid, p 144.

cviKolko, Century of War, p 404.

cviiI am not going to delve into the ‘controversy’ of MacArthur’s dismissal, except to point out that one possible interpretation was that MacArthur would have been very unlikely to have supported the stalemated ‘attrition’ strategy – the ‘meatgrinder’ – that was to be employed for the rest of the war.

cviiiMalkasian, The Korean War, p 38.

cixIbid, pp 38-9.

cxClausewitz, On War, 8.1, p 264.

cxiSee for example discussion of those times when a belligerent does not seek a decisive (or any) engagement, 7.16.

cxiiBilly C. Mossman, The Effectiveness of Air Interdiction During the Korean War, Arlington: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1966. Historical Manuscripts Collection, file number 2-3.7 AD.H.

cxiiiIbid, p 5.

cxivIbid, pp 16-7.

cxvMalkasian, The Korean War, p 30.

cxviIbid, p 39.

cxviiHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 144; Stueck, The Korean War, p 232.

cxviiiHalliday and Cumings, Korea, p 144.

cxixMalkasian, The Korean War, p 40.

cxxStueck, The Korean War, p 138.

cxxiMalkasian, The Korean War, p 45.

cxxiiIbid, p 46.

cxxiiiIbid, p 48.

cxxivRon Robin,Behavioral Cod