Trump’s Straw Nazis: A Horror Story

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Introduction – Nothing is More Dangerous than a Discreet Nazi

People have been digesting the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and the sudden rise in overt racism and Nazi symbology. There are people saying “Heil Trump”, giving Nazi salutes, and spray-painting swastikas in alarming numbers. The US is a large, populous, diverse country, but there is clearly something of significance here beyond just a few ignorant teenagers with spraycans and emotional issues.

The overt Nazism is very disturbing. It was less than reassuring when Anne Coulter sought to tweet some perspective “Rachel shows FIVE PEOPLE at Richard Spencer meeting giving a Nazi salute. Call out the National Guard. Cf. Ferguson protests.” Then minutes later: “Total # of deaths connected to American Nazi Party in last quarter century: ZERO; Total # of deaths connected to Al Sharpton: 9 I know of.” Coulter might have chosen to compare exaggerated notions of a Nazi threat with, say, road fatalities or shark attacks. Instead she specifically cites examples that will provoke a fear of black violence. Instead of reassuring us, she shows that the overt Nazis are just the tip of an iceberg of frightening racists that includes her.

Equally unreassuring were Trump’s attempts to convey cherubic innocence and naïve confusion. Regarding what NYT’s Maggie Haberman referred to as “alt-right supporters” he said: “It’s not a group I want to energize. And if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why.” For students of history this may be especially unnerving because Nazi and Fascist leaders deliberately cultivated ideological followers who could organise and carry out acts of violence which were deniable and which the leaders could, if it suited them, condemn as excessive.

[I should explain here that I use the term Nazi even though I would usually only refer to regimes and parties by the term’s they use to name themselves. In this case, however, I cannot be bothered with writing “National Socialist” each time because nobody else does.]

But Nazis who openly wear swastikas are not and never have been the real threat in Western countries. For decades thinkers have warned us that fascism will come to the West in the guise of a return to normalcy (a claim that is actually part of the essence of fascism). The US is particularly scary because it tolerates and empowers fascism more than other Western countries. Trump, for example, won the votes of tens of millions after he had vowed to increase the use of torture and to murder the families of “terrorists”.

Trump has been given a gift, because he can choose to continue to embolden the street-thug Nazis or he can make a great show of rejecting and crushing them. He will probably do both simultaneously and by turns, but all the while the back-room Nazis, the crypto-fascists who don’t even think of themselves as fascistic, will grow in strength.

To get some perspective on how far the US has gone into overt and proud barbarity, take the example of Trump’s nomination of General James “Mad Dog” Mattis to the post of Secretary of Defense. To start with, there should be alarm bells ringing when the President elect is working a crowd at a victory rally by yelling “Mad Dog!” repeatedly. The most memorable of many quotes from Mattis may be: “Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

Mad Dog got his sobriquet from his military service. Dahr Jamail was in Iraq during both 2004 battles in Fallujah conducted by Mattis. Jamail makes it very clear that Mattis is a war criminal:

During the April 2004 siege, more than 700 civilians were killed by the US military, according to Iraqi doctors in the city whom I interviewed in the aftermath of that attack.

While reporting from inside Fallujah during that siege, I personally witnessed women, children, elderly people and ambulances being targeted by US snipers under Mattis’ command. Needless to say, all of these are war crimes.

During the November siege of Fallujah later that same year, which I also covered first-hand, more than 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. Most were buried in mass graves in the aftermath of the siege.

Mosques were deliberately targeted by the US military, hospitals bombed, medical workers detained, ambulances shot at, cease-fires violated, media repressed, and the use of depleted uranium was widespread. All of these are, again, war crimes.

At that time I broke the story of the US military’s use of white phosphorous, an incendiary weapon similar to napalm in its ability to burn all the way down to the bone.

Mattis is openly antagonistic to Iran and to “political Islam”. This led to Congressional Representative Allen West (R, Florida) sharing a “meme” on Facebook which pictured Mattis and read: “Fired by Obama to please the Muslims, hired by Trump to exterminate them.” Before Facebook took down the post it gained 50,000 likes and 10,000 shares. This is not about a few bad apples. West’s career, his election and his 2.5 million Facebook followers all give us a window into what is really going on in the US.

West has said that “Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion. It has not been a religion since 622 AD, and we need to have individuals that stand up and say that.” In 2010 Jen Phillips wrote: “West equates today’s Muslims with those of medieval Europe, alleging that if Muslims in the US are not stopped, we too will have to change our name like Constantinople.” He is also a self-confessed and proud torturer. In Iraq Lt. Col. West watched on as four of his men beat an Iraqi policeman on the head and body. He dismissed his men and then staged a mock execution, threatening to kill the detainee and then firing his sidearm next to the blindfolded man’s head. Under US Army Field Manual The Law of Land Warfare such coercion is clearly defined as torture. The seriousness with which the US Army takes such laws can be judged from the result – West was fined $5000 and retired with full pension benefits. The seriousness with which US people regard the lives and rights of others is clearly reflected in West’s successful political career.

The problem with extremists like West is not that they are in the majority it is that they are an accepted part of the political spectrum. As I will discuss further, the same was true of anti-Semites in Germany before the holocaust. Trump only has a 41% approval rating, which is amazing for someone who has yet to take office, but it is hard to take seriously those who oppose him any more because they want to have their exceptionalist cake and eat it too.

If there were approval ratings polls in Germany in 1932, Hitler would have also been below 50%. He was a polarising figure, and most people did not vote for him. The reason that Mattis, West and Trump succeed is that their opponents seem more interested in feeling good about themselves than about doing what is right. Many of them supported Clinton who, as we will see, is also insupportable. If people are not willing to stand up against the chauvinistic arrogance of US patriotism and exceptionalism then their opposition to Trump’s fascism is empty in both moral and practical terms.

To understand what it all means, I am going to present it as a horror novel spanning a hundred year; one with a chilling twist in the tail. I am not meaning in any way to make light of things. I am doing this to highlight that this is an informed argument based on solid inference: a logical progression grounded in history.

Certain commentators such as “Tyler Durden” of ZeroHedge were certain that Trump and his coterie are really trying to “drain the swamp” and sweep away DC corruption and more. As one breathless fantasist explained:

Drain the Swamp pertains to more than getting the corruption out of the system.

Bannon now has Trump’s full backing to destroy the UniParty, defeat the Globalists, banish the warmongers of the MIC and help the legal prosecution of the corrupt. This is the Revolution to end the domestic Tyranny and the global Hegemon.

In contrast, the blithe self-righteous liberal stance of NYT and its ilk is just as speculative and just as ideological. Perhaps one of the most significant medium term impacts of the 2016 campaign is that print journalism has descended to Fox/MSNBC levels of inaccuracy, with NYT, Time and WaPo liberally putting words in Trump’s mouth and making ludicrous claims about his ties to the Kremlin. This means that they have broken with generations of journalistic practice and the “North Korea Law of Journalism” (“editorial standards are inversely proportional to a country’s enemy status”) by telling barefaced lies about domestic politics when they normally only tell barefaced lies in international stories. Such lies are not the biggest problem though. The real problem is that the respectable media will selectively treat some utterances of Western politicians as being unquestionable truth. The result is a very distorted narrative, but we do not notice how irrational and fantastical it is because it is made banal by constant repetition.

To illustrate my point, if we take the ranting of the alt-right “revolutionary” above, once you look past the exotic terminology, the basic flaw in reasoning is that this person trusts Trump, a lying billionaire showman/fraudster with a proven record of betraying and fleecing anyone he can. You have to be very selective in your memory to think that Trump is going to oppose the growing corruption and concentration of wealth and power in DC, in the US, and in the world. However, contrast this for a second with the perfectly orthodox claim that Clinton seeks to bring peace and stability to the Middle East through a no-fly zone or some other initiative. If you really step back from the assumptions that surround us, that is a truly insane statement. Firstly, Clinton’s track record on peace in the ME and North Africa (dating back to her role in backing the Iraq NFZ, sanctions and Operation Desert Fox decades ago) is even clearer than Trump’s record of honesty and straight-dealing. Secondly, the US itself – however often it protests benevolent intent – has been acting in ways that promote conflict and instability in the ME since at least 1979. The fruits of US intervention are extremely obvious and monotonously predictable, repeatedly saying that it will be different this time has long since surpassed mere credulity and entered the realms of dangerous mental dysfunction. Thirdly, though everyone seems to avoid seeing it, if this was a strategy computer game or board game it would be immediately obvious that the US benefits from the conflict it brings about in the MENA region. The obvious conclusion is that the US destabilises and sows conflict deliberately.

If you ask yourself how the US would behave if they were intentionally maintaining instability it would look exactly as it does, right down to the protestations of peaceful intent. Logically, therefore, it is less doolally to say that Trump is fighting the evil tentacles of the Illuminati New World Order than it is to say that the US is concerned over the suffering of civilians in Aleppo, wants to promote democracy in Iraq, seeks to restore stability and prosperity to Libya, or is genuinely concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Luckily we do not have to rely on the things that pour forth from the orifices of politicians to make sense of events. When I say “luckily” I am using it in a special sense because once you strip away all of the illusions of Western benevolence the world is much bleaker and more alarming, but the longer we fail to face these realities, the worse things will become. This tale of horror I want to tell is a history of things going very badly for us all, and it did not begin in November 2016.

There are a number of places I could begin my tale, but I want to start as I mean to go on – with Nazis.


Chapter 1. Germany 1918-32 – A Paradise for Right Wing Violence

The violence and legalised illegality of Hitler’s Third Reich did not arise without precedent. Liberal and pluralistic Weimar Germany was, in fact, a very benign environment for proto-Nazi and Nazi violence. Social Democrat President Friedrich Ebert worked with the right-wing nationalist Freikorps militias to suppress a postwar socialist republic in Bavaria and socialist revolutionaries in the rest of the country. He would later retrospectively legalise the murders of thousands of leftists. This was one of 136 times he used “emergency powers” while President. Those same Freikorps carried the “Kapp Putsch” in 1920 which was not defeated by Ebert’s government, but by a mass popular uprising. Ebert’s successor Hindenburg was a conservative nationalist who also used emergency powers freely, including overriding the Reichstag. The judiciary throughout the Weimar period was unambiguously forgiving of right-wing political violence and repressive of the left. Most notably, a certain Adolf Hitler was given an extremely lenient sentence for his failed attempt at an armed putsch, turning what should have been a politically terminal debacle into a watershed in his rising career.

The German government was clearly a very right-wing government and that did not change when Social Democrats governed. Weimar Germany is not the first or last “democracy” to be offered the choice of those who talk left and govern right or those who talk right and govern right. Most Social Democrats and Liberals are rightists once in power, and some would say the same of Communists. History and contemporary politics also show that supposedly socialist regimes are just as susceptible as conservatives to vastly overestimating the threat of the real left and being complacent to the threat of the violent right.

In recent years the US has shown disturbing parallels with Weimar Germany. The executive has become the most powerful branch of government, able to carry out wars and extrajudicial executions; to conduct warrant-less mass surveillance; to suspend habeas corpus; and to militarise criminal and political policing. In the meantime the legislative branch, which is the most powerful in theory, is corrupted and subjugated by wielders of money and power and frequently deadlocks for supposedly ideological reasons. (This constant partisan warfare is quite an achievement when you think about it. Weimar Germany had proportional representation and legislators from the extreme right through to the Communists. The US has the least ideological variance in its 2-party system of any country I can think of. There is no question that many 1-party states have had as much diversity in their legislatures, yet the US with very little political diversity still manages to have bitter partisanship leading to “fiscal cliffs” and destabilising government shutdowns.)

The US has also seen a lenience against right-wing criminality and police violence accompanied by an excessive punishment of left criminality and the criminalisation of left dissent. It is abundantly clear that prosecutors and judges take a very permissive approach to police violence. On the rare occasions that juries decide these matters they often feel, or are led to believe by judge, defence and prosecution, that a claim to have been fearful is enough to justify considerable violence in self-defence without consideration of whether the fear was reasonable and the response was proportionate. I think the cases speak for themselves, like the recent mistrial over Walter Scott’s death. Then there is also the contrast between the fates of activists such as the Bundys in 2 armed stand-offs that resulted in 1 death and some relatively lenient sentences, and that of Philadelphia’s MOVE in 2 armed stand-offs that resulted in 9 life sentences, 11 members killed (5 of them children) and 65 neighbouring houses destroyed. Then there are the “Green Scare” victims whose political crimes (animal rights or environmental) were upgraded to “terrorism” leading to decades-long sentences.

Like all historical parallels, one should not read too much into specific details. No militias in the US have slaughtered thousands of leftists, but then in other ways, such as the persistent overtness of extralegal killings, undeclared wars, torture and indefinite detention, the US can be seen as already having more than a foot in the post-Weimar stage of this analogy.

Chapter 2. 3rd Reich 1933-38 – Ostensible Diversity

The early years of Nazi rule in Germany are a rich source of uncomfortable similarities to the 21st century US. As with the Weimar period, when we look at the first years of Nazi rule we tend to pick out the things that retrospectively we know foreboded the mass-slaughter that would follow. At the time, however, only a minority of alarmist types, mostly but not exclusively from the left, suggested that Nazism was especially frightening. Even the German Communists (probably because they had seen thousands murdered under a “Social Democrat” led government) initially viewed Nazis as being just another bourgeois but promisingly deranged expression of the bankruptcy and impending collapse of capitalism.

The really disturbing thing about early Nazi politics is that they managed to mobilise and energise with racism and hatred, but yet always left room for people who didn’t like racism and hatred to live in denial about it.

When Hitler became Chancellor most people expected him to just carry on as normal. He didn’t, but to most people it was just a series of events. You know, one thing after another each explained as purely relative to the events of that week. As the Nazis systematically eliminated rivals and seized control of the entirety of the state, the number of people truly alarmed by Nazism did not swell by as much as you might think. Instead, the abnormal became normalised. Political opponents were taken into “protective custody” and put in camps such as Dachau. Treatment probably depended on how important and defiant the prisoner. Some were released quickly, others were “shot while trying to escape”.

Hitler, by the way, was not greatly concerned about where people were on the political spectrum. He simply wanted to destroy all political forms of social power that he did not have absolute control over. This would come to include rival Nazis.

The result was that for most people Nazis were just the German governing Party, almost synonymous with government itself. Nazis who emphasised anti-Semitic views, for example, were part of the political spectrum just as they had been in the Weimar Republic. As a result, lots of non-ideological people joined the Nazi Party. In fact, even before Hitler’s ascent to Führership, members were diverse. Humans often like to fool themselves. Politicians know by instinct to leave people enough room to be idiots.

Despite some very glaring and repeated violently anti-Semitic speeches and writings by individual Nazis, at the time of the pogrom called Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938) most Nazis (including some of high rank) and the vast majority of Germans were opposed to the persecution of Jews. There is a strange tendency for people to tolerate, nod along and even applaud extremist rhetoric, admiring its emotional intensity, yet not really agree with the actual textual content. It has certainly often been true of fire-and-brimstone preachers. It is cathartic to watch passion, but unfortunately when it is political speech, such as Trump or Alex Jones, there are different levels on which it works. Different people are receiving very different messages. The same is true of Joe Biden’s speech which began with him asking the audience to “stop and think” but ended in final moments which amounted to jingoistic yelling. Most people seem to see it as a rejection of Trump’s extremism but Biden’s own extremism seems almost invisible to them, and that is a very dangerous situation.


Chapter 3. 3rd Reich 1939-45 – The Poison Surfaces

It was the War that brought the real essence of Nazism to the surface. As is so often the case, the guiding force of Nazism was not what most Nazis believed, but rather what the most extreme Nazis believed.

One alarming thing about the current “alt-right” is that they fit a similar pattern to the Nazi Party. All post-WWII Neo-Nazi organisations have highlighted extremist racial and nationalist politics. To be a part, you must embrace an overt politics of race. The frightening thing about the alt-right is that it is more like the original Nazi Party. Many alt-right people are in complete denial about the underlying racism and they are willing and able to overlook the fact that their movement attracts violent racists. For them Trump is the person who stopped the TPP and, unlike Clinton, was not openly campaigning on creating a no-fly zone in Syria which would have caused mass deaths and may have triggered war with Russia. To liberals that complain about racism they might reasonably answer that Trump actually disavows racism, but Clinton, in openly campaigning to bomb other countries, is a much deadlier and more real racist.

The alt-right are just a manifestation of a deeper and wider acceptance of racist violence. Clinton and Trump actually both sow and reap a deadlier racism, the general US belief that the lives of foreigners are not very significant and that the mass killing of other peoples is just business as usual. The US has created such a strong narrative of exceptionalism that, although the US public is usually consistent in rejecting anything presented as a new war, they accept perpetual war without question.

The Nazis left people room to be able to deny the full horrors of what was happening while also leaving them as much room as possible to support abstract and sterile principles that promote genocide. They didn’t ask people if they wanted to kill millions and million of Poles, Russians and Jews. They asked them whether they wanted to make Germany great again, while incidently scapegoating and stoking fears of the Bolshevik and the Jew. When Robert Jay Lifton interviewed doctors who worked at Auschwitz he found that though they had never expected Nazi exterminatory rhetoric to become a real programme of extermination, they felt that it had somehow prepared them for confronting the realities behind the verbiage.

The most important thing was that the Third Reich could count on ordinary Germans to carry out abominable acts when called upon to do so. The eponymous Ordinary Men of Christopher Browning’s historical account were a police battalion who were detailed to massacre Jews in rural Poland. 80 to 90 percent became mass-murderers when they could have chosen not to without facing punishment. Counterintuitively, this was not related to ideological fervour, but rather to habits of obedience. Germans had been made into a deeply authoritarian society.

Contrary to most people’s expectations, what we know of genocide is that it tends to be fostered by war, and that instead of being caused by extreme racial hatred it is more true that genocide causes extreme racial hatred, although, of course, the seeds must already be present. The US has the seeds of many forms of racial hatred and is now heading into a period where a minority that feels empowered in their racial hatred because they believe they have been validated by the Trump campaign. Just as concerning, though, should be the equivalent cult of personality towards Clinton. On pure factual grounds, because she has such a long political history, she was not a credible vessel of progressive ideals. However, a large number of people reacted to Clinton in an authoritarian manner, creating a false image of an immaculate icon of feminism, equality, solidarity and progress that was utterly at odds with her known public record. People even left signs on her street to thank her at thanksgiving time, though, if you think about it, it is very difficult to pinpoint what people are thanking her for. Her main qualification for most people may be that she is not Trump, and yet her major achievement of 2016 was to help get Trump elected.

The US has long been a particularly authoritarian country if judged by the RWA (right-wing authoritarianism) scale. More notable than its higher than normal median scores on the scale, is its skew towards extreme RWA scores. No single measurement can predict the destiny of an individual or a nation, but the US has a great potential for mass violence which has already found expression in massacres in Korea and Viet Nam. Behind this is a tendency to live in myth that is growing greater over time. For GI’s in Viet Nam the figure of John Wayne was important to a degree that is hard to grasp from our perspective, but the US is constantly re-imagining the macho hero with an almost demonic intensity.

Now the Demigod is not the cowboy, it is every person that dons a US military uniform. On the increasingly significant “Pearl Harbor Day” Trump tweeted about the thousands of “heroes who selflessly gave their lives”. This is a completely irrational way to characterise those killed in a one-sided surprise attack. This mythology incorporates a dangerous martyr obsession. Aggressive militarists, including but limited to the Nazis, are often steeped in hypocritical sentimentality. They wail and obsess over those of their own killers who fall to the violence of their enemies. The Nazis had Horst Wessel, but the US has legions to choose from: the Alamo; the Maine; Pearl Harbor; 9/11; Chris Kyle; the fictitious POW/MIAs in Indochina and their fictional rescuer John Rambo. In fact it is hard to escape the constant repetition stories, images and simple assertions of military sacrifice.

The Western world, as a whole, seems to be rapidly becoming more authoritarian. The “post-fact” nature of contemporary politics is a symptom of this. Whether this is purely the result of changes in technology or not, we are entering a time when belief is determined by group affiliation and deference to the position taken by a leader, rather than by reason or evidence. Globally we have seen a rise in anti-intellectualism and nationalist fervour. In some respects it is not just the US, but half of the world that is showing distressing fascistic tendencies.

Meanwhile the only prominent countervailing ideology that makes a claim to internationalism is neoliberalism. As I will show it is not internationalism, it is a Trojan horse for imperialism abroad and plutocracy at home. The false conflict against neoliberalism evinced by “populist” economic nationalists like Trump is no different than the fake isolationism shown by Bush and Trump. It is just a different PR approach to selling the same policies of war and imperialism, but I am getting a little ahead of myself….


Interlude – Old Lager in a New Stein

Much of the current symbolism and ritual in the Olympic games was created by Nazi ideologues and it remains with us today, echoing their idealised notions of nationality and physicality. It is quite creepy when you think about the Nazi minds and ideals behind the familiar Olympic rituals. I cannot help but think that the persistence of Nazism here is a token of something deeper and broader.

After WWII, pro-Nazi Western elites were still as powerful as ever, just a bit more circumspect. Ordinary people among the Western Allies had always been fairly solidly anti-Nazi and became far more so during the War. The rich and the powerful, on the other hand, had a much more sympathetic view, with many being unambiguously pro-Nazi. Without Western financial support it is doubtful that Hitler could have attained and consolidated his control of Germany. Western “neutrality” in the Spanish Civil War was also de facto support of the Fascist cause and helped Nazism.

Then the French and British betrayed their allies in Czechoslovakia by effectively gifting their country to Germany (Poland also took a slice of territory, after refusing to allow Soviet forces to cross Poland in order to defend Czechoslovakia). Perhaps the most grotesque aspect to this obvious Western ploy to foment war between Germany and the USSR, was the way they harnessed people’s fear of war and created a historical narrative of the Munich agreement representing ill-advised “appeasement”. Without being being betrayed by neighbours and allies, Czechoslovakia could not have been conquered by Germany. World War II as we know it could never have happened.

After the war the US and UK protected and recruited many Nazi war criminals with the OSS and SIS being key organisations involved in the “ratlines” that smuggled Nazis out of Europe. The US recruited Klaus Barbie, best known for his expertise in torture, and sent him to South America to help in anti-communist efforts. They also recruited Reinhard Gehlen, German head of counter-intelligence in Eastern Europe, who re-constituted his anti-communist intelligence network.

Anti-Semitism was no longer prominent, but the US military and intelligence organisations, and a significant part of the foreign policy establishment, were soon singing from a very similar songbook to that used by the Nazis. The ideology was a racially informed anti-communism: Russophobic; deeply racist towards Asians; unthinkingly and unquestionably white supremacist. The CIA was not just white dominated it was the province of rich Anglo-Saxons. Anti-communist campaigns in Latin America, the Philippines, Greece, Indochina, Korea and elsewhere were carried out with great brutality, with torture, and with massacres.

I have written about this previously in more detail but it bears repeating that Fascism and Nazism were not exclusive of liberalism, and the liberalism promoted by the US in the 3rd world was clearly fascistic. In Indonesia hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered to institute a US backed regime that was authoritarian and corporatist, and yet open to US capital and praised for being “moderate” and “liberal”. US clients like Nguyen Cao Ky and Ferdinand Marcos openly expressed their admiration for Hitler. The Argentine Junta targeted Jews for disappearance, torture, and death. Their security personnel were anti-Semitic and had pictures of Hitler in their torture chambers (where they used electrical and water torture techniques developed by US forces in Viet Nam). Milton Friedman stood shoulder to shoulder with Mussolini and Hitler in a country that where “nationalist” militarists in actual jackboots sold their own country to foreign capital.

The other side to this, as Michael Parenti has pointed out, is that Fascists and Nazis were actually free-marketeers. In fact in the Economic History Review Germá Bel explored the privatisations of the public sector in “National Socialist” Germany, the first of their kind. The Nazi Party, which repeatedly campaigned on promises to nationalise industry, was actually the first to indulge in mass privatisations of the sort that would later occur under Thatcher and Pinochet.

Nazi war, oppression and genocide were all explicitly undertaken for reasons of imperial expansion and control. In the Third Reich, the word “Reich” was explicitly used to mean empire. During the Cold War, US imperial activities replicated all of chauvinist brutality and the nationalistic and racially informed violence of Fascist or Nazi imperialism. There were no extermination camps with cattle trucks packed with those slated to die, but there were concentration camps. There were people lined up in hundreds in front of mass graves, shot, and thrown in with the dead and dying; and there were villages, towns and even entire cities of people incinerated by carpet-bombing. Perhaps we can agree that this was not as bad as what the Nazis did, but that is a bar so low as to be almost meaningless.


4. Cold War 1945-90: Schizoid home-front

Those who served in World War II went home determined that they would not be treated as poorly as those who came home from the previous World War. In the UK there was a landslide victory for Labour just 2 months after VE Day. During a very challenging post-War period of shortages and demobilisation, Labour created the NHS and a social welfare state that ensured that the vast majority of people had a reasonable quality of life.

In the US the “GI Bill” and a booming economy created an unprecedented upward mobility. In the US, UK and indeed globally an economic “golden age” coincided with a democratic spirit and expectations of fairness. Income and wealth became more widely distributed and many would argue (most prominently Thomas Piketty) that the drop in inequality was a major contributor the coincident economic growth and stability.

In foreign policy, however, extreme violence and brutality were commonplace and explicitly racist. For the colonial powers the violent repression of independence movements led to massacres, torture and the use of concentration camps. The violence of security forces in Algeria, Kenya, Yemen, Indochina, and elsewhere was horrific and undeniably racist. British “Tommies”, for example, did not hide their loathing for Arabs, Africans and Asians. While Clement Atlee’s Labour government made their own country less cruel, British troops were torturing in Aden and massacring in Malaya. When countries did win independence their former masters did as much as possible to wreck them, destabilise them, and leave them as dependent neocolonies.

In the US life was headed towards a consumerist idyll. Baby-boomer children would grow to become teenagers, and in doing so would create iconic narratives of ideal childhood and adolescence that still resonate today. Meanwhile the young men sent to occupy Korea were prolific thieves, murderers and rapists. Their “civilised” upbringings meant nothing when they were sent to garrison a country whose people they regarded as contemptible. Before the Korean War broke out in earnest tens of thousands of civilians were killed by US troops or US-led Koreans when suppressing uprisings in Jeju Island and southern districts. When war broke out, under US guidance politically suspect persons were massacred. First was the Bodo League massacre of up to 300,000 people registered for supposed leftism. Then in each town recaptured from communists throughout the peninsula many of those deemed to have collaborated were also killed. Massacres also continued in areas of guerilla activity. No one knows how many died in this manner, but the US was also carpet-bombing every significant North Korean town. They killed millions of civilians. Meanwhile, on the homefront (such as it was) people were listening to Perry Como and probably drinking chocolate malteds at milkbars with bobby-soxers. It was like a parallel universe.

There is yet another unsettling similarity here with the Third Reich. Hitler himself was a great believer in the ideal of not placing German society as a whole on a war footing and the regime managed to maintain the illusion for some time. In the post-War era this disconnection between a pacific and comfortable Western domestic population and bloodily murderous interventions in other countries became a social insanity. It created a weight of cognitive dissonance that over the years made young people, including some of considerable privilege, rebel. This would come to a head in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

US public opinion had actually turned very decisively against the Korean War by its end, but that did not create social upheaval. The US made a big mistake when fighting in Indochina because they vastly elevated the perception of risk and national involvement. People did not turn against the war purely because of the bodybags of US personnel returning home. Objections were varied and covered a range of political and moral grounds and certainly shouldn’t be reduced to a purely chauvinistic concern over US lives. The mistake the US regime made was in maintaining very high levels of recruitment and conscription. During the period of 1965-73, which to Usanians is the “Vietnam War”, more than 20 million personnel entered the armed forces. Of them, 5 million were sent to Viet Nam. Of them 500,000 served as combat soldiers. This vastly magnified the degree to which people felt that they were connected to the conflict personally. Very few people in the country would not have faced a realistic possibility that someone close to them might end up fighting in the War. 500,000 combat troops is actually quite a lot, and the other 4.5 million sent to Viet Nam were not necessarily safe from harm. It was almost like they were experimenting to see if a high perception of risk to loved ones might galvanise public support for the War. Their enemies in the People’s Army of Viet Nam (PAVN) and the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) were apparently concerned that this might occur and always concentrated on inflicting casualties on South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN).

Instead of galvanising the public in support of the war the sense of involvement sent the US into civil fracture and disruption. They learnt the lesson that any student of Roman history could have told them – you can’t use citizen soldiers for obviously imperial purposes, only for times when they really do believe in a threat to the homeland.

In contrast, using professional troops and local proxies the US had been able to militarily dominate the entire Western Hemisphere for over a century. Between 1965 and 1973 (just a small slice of ongoing interventions) they invaded the Dominican Republic; sent Green Berets to aid in the genocidal “counterinsurgency” in Guatemala; set up the ORDEN death squad organisation in El Salvador; overthrew the government in Chile; and supported a military coup in Uruguay. The level of death and destruction was not as high as in Indochina (where the US killed millions) but this was part of an ongoing interventionism. There would be moral objections, outrage and activism against these acts, but there was never the same threat of civil strife that was prompted by involvement in Indochina.


Interlude II – The Right-Wing Convergence

As the post-War power of the working class faded; as the Citizen Soldier proved to be useless for empire; as the Washington Consensus tightened its embrace of the hearts of Western technocrats and its grip on the throats of 3rd world peoples; as the Communist alternative seemed ever more bankrupt and hopeless; as all of this happened the elite and hegemonic politics of the West, if not the entire world, has coalesced a glob of ideological mucus. The glob extrudes pseudopodia such as a given political party that claims to be green, or nationalistic, or calls itself a Labour Party, but they are all part of the same glob.

Francis Fukuyama called it the “end of history” and he thought it was absolutely fantastic. Liberalism/neoliberalism is the ruling ideology of the whole planet. People might still have other ideas, but governments do not, they just have flavours.

The odd thing about liberalism is that when it is kept out of power it fights against tyranny in the name of liberty and justice, but once it is on power it support privilege and injustice. It is polluted with a fundamentally conservative core. By making private property inviolate liberalism ensures that there will always be a point where it admits to imperfection and injustice but claims that the cost of remedying such things is higher than the benefit.

Once we achieved the liberal utopia declared by Fukuyama liberalism became at once all powerful and, in another sense, utterly meaningless. Societies must be “managed” within tight ideological constraints. (Neo)Liberalism allows only grudging interventions in order to prevent deaths by starvation or having kids freezing to death trying to sell matches. Those who have the poor taste and judgement to be poor are expected to submit to control in the spirit of the Victorian workhouses. Freedom is for those who can afford it, those who need help must submit to additional regulation and must never receive more than the bare minimum lest they receive pleasure without having earned it. On the other hand neoliberalism is generally more favourably inclined when it comes to spending money on police forces, and it positively loves new prisons (especially private ones), security guards, and surveillance.

When they are in positions of power and influence it is hard to tell the difference between a liberal and a conservative. Take the liberal Henry Kissinger, for example; many call him a conservative but he never went through a conversion. Kissinger was and is an East Coast liberal, like Robert Kagan. Kagan is one of the most prominent neoconservatives and an avowed liberal. (Fukuyama was also a liberal neocon, but he left that club due to a belated attack of conscience.) Victoria Nuland, Robert Kagan’s liberal neocon wife, is an ally of liberal Hillary Clinton and helped engineer the coup in Ukraine under liberal Obama that has given overt Nazis the most power they have had since 1945. The labels have become almost meaningless.

In power liberalism militates against progressive democratic and socialist responses to change or crisis, but it is like a giant loophole for oligarchy, for plutocracy, for imperialism, and for authoritarianism. Right-wing ideologies merely need to transform themselves by adopting a meaningless liberal veneer, and the liberalism becomes the vehicle for their ideology. In truth, though, the espoused ideological distinctions are not really important any more. The glob of ideological mucus has a hard kernel of reality at its core. That reality is that the glob serves inequality. It concentrates wealth and power at all levels. The world it is making is neofascist, neoconservative, neoliberal and neofeudal. These things are not distinct any more. The very rich and very powerful feel beyond the reach of law. They feel they can and should buy and sell the lives of lesser people. They feel that government is the province of a type of aristocracy.

Steve Bannon has said that only property owners should be allowed to vote. Trump’s cabinet picks so far have featured billionaires and bankers like Steve Mnuchin. One of the billionaires, Betsey DeVos, said the following: “I know a little bit about soft money as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. …I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point.” Her brother is Erik Prince who is infamous for owning the mercenary army formerly known as Blackwater. Remember that Trump was running against the Washington insider.


Chapter 5. “Interventionism”, 1990-2016 – First they Came for the Iraqis…

In 1980 the US encouraged Iraq to attack Iran. They gave false intelligence to Saddam Hussein to convince him that Iran was in disarray after their revolution and that he could quickly seize territory. In the 8-year war that followed 1 million were killed. Whenever Iran had the upper hand the US would intervene to help Iraq. Secretly they also made deals with Iran which by an amazing coincidence helped Iran out when Iraq gained the upper hand. Some officials openly stated that US interests were served by the bloody stalemate. Following an attack by an Iraqi aircraft on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf the US used the pretext to enter into naval war against Iran.

When the war ended Iraq owed billions to its Gulf neighbours. It considered that it had been fighting to protect the Arab Gulf monarchies from the largely Persian Republican Islamist Iran. Within months of the end of the war, Saddam Hussein made it clear that he considered the US to be an enemy. Iraq’s creditors started putting the squeeze on Iraq. Iraq was caught in a Catch-22 situation because it could not sell enough oil to pay what was demanded without depressing the price to the point where it could still not pay its obligations. Behind the scenes, the US was encouraging the al-Sabbah ruling family of Kuwait to be bold and provocative. They gave them secret security guarantees. By keeping their guarantees secret the US deliberately avoided the very strong deterrent effect they would have had if known. Kuwait began the highly contentious practice of slant-drilling in an oil-field shared by both countries. As instructed by Washington, April Glaspie (who later did a fake mea culpa as if this were somehow her idea) gave an unambiguous guarantee of non-intervention to Saddam. Being suspicious Saddam took the unusual step of publicising the entire meeting with Glaspie. He then invaded Kuwait apparently feeling safe because he had video of a US Ambassador saying: “We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”

As soon as Iraq was in Kuwait, however, it was a completely different story. To begin with, the Iraqi regime may have been gesurprised that when they invaded Kuwait and killed Kuwaiti soldiers, they were not greeted as liberators (prior to thisKuwaiti anti-monarchist dissidents had sometimes called for unification with Iraq). The occupation by Iraq was undoubtedly unpleasant, but that unpleasantness was magnified into holocaust proportions by a PR campaign by the al-Sabbahs with CIA support and a US government acting as their megaphone. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International took a lead in promulgating unverified and largely false atrocity propaganda at a time when it was clearly building the case for war. The US created false satellite intelligence to convince the Saudis that Iraq was poised to invade them next and thus get permission to stage “Desert Shield”. They sought and received a UNSC resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq and they unleashed hell on the country: a nightmare that has still not ended quarter of a century later.

The “Vietnam Syndrome”, which meant that public and military opposition prevented the US from waging major wars, was no more. The US had chipped away at it in smaller acts of aggression like the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and the invasion of Panama in 1989. Now, as long as it steered clear of mass conscription the US could send its own forces in large numbers for major acts of conquest and genocide (“genocide” meaning war against people rather than war against an enemy military force). Moreover, it had the ability now to manage the information flows in such a way that the conflicts themselves became a sort of adrenaline rich entertainment that made viewers excited and gave a sense of patriotic righteousness.

Big actions, though, remained a source of ambivalence. Excite people’s interest too much and they start to pay too much attention to the issues involved. The attack on Serbia helped push the boundaries of blatant illegality, but young people were still wont to be discontented. The facts, once known, also tended to be really unsavoury and NATO’s pretences of righteousness, humanitarian intent and unerring precision did not hold up to scrutiny.

9/11 gave a new lease of life to imperialist slaughter, and the US has not wasted it. Once it has a war now, it will not let it go. They are playing for keeps. Once they have visited conflict and instability on a foe they can maintain it indefinitely. There used to be no such thing as a “failed state”. The closest thing would have been Lebanon during the Civil War, a country devised by the French Empire to be a weak constitutionally divided and sectarian dependency, that was destabilised by both Israel and the US. Now “failed states” are sprouting like mushrooms. And behind every single failed or seriously fragile state is some form of US intervention. Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yemen, DR Congo, Pakistan Libya, Iraq, Haiti, Syria all suffer directly from US intervention, but other places like Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda suffer from neocolonial dynamics that are just as much the responsibility of the US and its Western allies. In normal circumstances those countries that became unglued because of a massive invasion or regime change operation should slowly rebuild in the post-conflict years, but if you look at the highest scoring countries on the Fragile States Index you can see that they are continually getting worse. That is because there is no real post-conflict. Conflict does not end any more.

The desire to turn war into perpetual war is not new for the US. In Korea most of the War was a “stalemate” in which the US controlled the tempo. During this time there was a negotiation process which the US sabotaged in many ways while seizing every demand put forward by the Communists, however minor, and screeching incontinently that it was proof of Communist bad faith. In Indochina the US worked hard for decades to avoid, stall and subvert negotiations, arguably from 1950 until 1975, until finally the US Congress itself rebelled against the White House and Pentagon and refused to fund any further pointless and endless bloodletting by the US puppet regime in Saigon. These wars only ended because the enemy belligerents were strong enough to force an end. This may yet happen again in Syria, but perhaps one of the most saddening aspects of this is that for the targeted countries peace can only come at the price of authoritarianism. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, but this is not the place for me to argue for an anti-imperialist left-libertarian alternative. Realistically at this point people like the Syrians have no choice but to throw themselves on the mercy of the Syrian government and there is little doubt that they will happily do so if it means an end to war. Having that “choice” makes them luckier than some others.

I very much hope that Rojava can maintain its autonomy. I also support the non-violent resistance movement in Syria in its fight against oppression from both the regime and the rebels. But to those who say that there is a revolutionary alternative to Assad for Syria as a whole, and that I am betraying that by not calling for Western support for his overthrow, I would just like to point out that Saddam Hussein was a more repressive leader but his overthrow did not benefit Iraq. Not only that, the left-wing uprising against him in 1991 was far stronger and more popular than any rebel formation that might be called “leftist” in the current civil war. And what happened to that Iraqi uprising? The US betrayed the rebels and helped Saddam Hussein to destroy them. The reality is that if you cannot support leftists in a way that does not empower the West and/or Takfiri Islamists then you are not supporting the leftists at all. That is not an ideological opinion it is a recognition of unavoidable facts.

As I revise this the last rebel enclave is falling in East Aleppo and people are going into propaganda overdrive. There may be massacres occurring but our sources so far are dubious or already discredited propagandists. Patrick Cockburn had only recently pointed out that there are no reliable sources in East Aleppo, but the same paper that carried his piece just posted an article based on “social media” of activists claiming that they face “a genocide”. One of the viral massacre photos is actually from a music video. Max Blumenthal tweeted “The BBC’s sources in E Aleppo are the four most popular opposition accounts that tweet in English. One is funded by the State Dept.” (The sources are named in an embedded image.) In contrast, over more than a year I have seen a steady stream of photographs of dismembered and starving children from Yemen. The provenance of these pictures is not disputed, the suffering is slow and ongoing and therefore (like that of Palestinians) it is not as susceptible to fakery and exaggeration, but none of these so-called humanitarians has ever seemed to care about Yemenis. They want a dramatic cause that is facile and unharmful to their careers but allows them to feel self-righteous. That is why I feel considerable disgust at words such as Shaun King’s putrid hyperbole: “I often wondered how the Holocaust could happen while so many people watched & did nothing. Aleppo is a modern study in how that happens.” The deep seriousness with which he regards this “Holocaust” can be inferred from the fact that it is a lone tweet; one isolated tweet in the middle of a timeline dominated by the evidently more important topic of Kanye West.

Let me reiterate that I do not know what is happening in East Aleppo. What I do know is that it was inevitable that a “bloodbath” would be reported whether there is one or not. This propaganda will be used to foment war or justify sanctions that will kill Syrians. There is a chance that the Trump administration will launch the newer larger war in Syria that Clinton was tacitly promising, especially if some terrorist act provides a pretext. If not, however, Syria will slowly all be brought under government control. Unfortunately for Syrians they will find themselves in the position that Iraq found themselves in in 1991. Samantha Power has announced to the UNGA that 12 Syrian generals must face war crimes trials (just days before the UK parliament voted 439 to 70 not to hold Tony Blair accountable for lying to them in order to prosecute war against Iraq). When Syria’s UN Ambassador took the floor the US, UK and French walked out in protest before he had said anything.

More recently Power castigated Russia: “Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?” For anyone who recalls some of the appalling atrocities known to have been carried out by US supported “moderates”, including the beheading of a 12 year-old, this hypocrisy seems extraordinarily like Power has entirely lost her humanity entirely and become an expression of pure evil. Robert Fisk describes the rebels she supports as: “among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East.” Yet Power, in this post-fact world, can act as if she were the most moral and perfect human ever created, knowing that she will never be called out by Western media with her hypocritical finger-pointing. The US will use such accusations and their control of the media narrative to impose sanctions on the Syrian people while those who might stand in solidarity with Syria are kept at bay by their dislike of the Ba’athist regime, exactly as it occurred in the early 1990s. History doesn’t repeat, but imperialists like to re-use successful ploys, only tinkering as necessary.


Chapter 6. Clinton, Blair, Obama 1992-2016 – Ostensible Diversity Redux

Living in a pluralistic polyarchy or what we laughingly refer to as a “liberal democracy” becomes much less of a source of self-satisfied complacency when you examine just how narrow the ideologies of the political leaders are and note that they are quite out of alignment with the more diverse ideologies of the populations they are supposed to “serve”. I have previously written about our worrying tendency to destroy Straw Hitlers as a way of justifying the unjustifiable. The fact is that we don’t like to admit that Fascism and Nazism were not ideological monoliths and pointing to differing policy positions on, say, banking regulation is not a sign that the major parties in a polyarchy are actually an expression of democratic pluralism.

Clearly Democrats and Republicans do not represent the breadth of public opinion in the US by any means. On many issues they are jointly in clear opposition to the majority. Their political speech has some diversity, but their actual policies are in a very tight consensus that is not at all related to public opinion, nor to what people perceive themselves to be voting for.

Bill Clinton was meant to be a left-wing alternative to 12 years of Reagan and Bush. Toni Morrison said one of the stupidest things ever said in history calling Bill the “first Black president” because he publicly treated Black people with the same unctuousness that he lathered on people with different skin colours. It was a breakthrough on a par with “United Colours of Benneton” ad campaign, when it was suddenly realised that you could make money by hypocritically appropriating progressive politics. In reality Clinton pursued policies that increased inequality: he supported NAFTA; he enacted welfare reform that set up a “race to the bottom” dynamic which effectively pushed states into miserly, cruel and even economically self-destructive policies; he increased mass incarceration and signed the “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty” act, stating how much he approved of the limitation it placed in the ability of death row prisoners to appeal in court and thus “escape justice”. In cases like that of Troy Davis this has meant that belated exonerating evidence cannot be used to overturn a conviction and, as the US Supreme Court ruled, as long as the law was followed in gaining the conviction it is perfectly legal to put an innocent man to death. Davis was executed in 2011.

The continuation of the racist “war on drugs” establishes a key pattern in creating the fake pluralism in politics. Reagan and Bush had been very overt and loud in their anti-drug rhetoric. Under Bush it reached McCarthyite proportions with photo ops with kids denouncing their own parents for using drugs. When Clinton came to office everyone expected a change in direction from the sax-playing dude who admitted to smoking pot. Surely someone like that could not in conscience imprison people for doing what he had done with impunity? He was actually just the first of the a succession of three Presidents who have admitted to illegal drug use, and no they do not let the hypocrisy of their position bother them. They are politicians and increasingly I feel that they also view themselves as beyond the law. The point with Clinton’s war on drugs was that he continued to accelerate it. The only difference was that he didn’t wave around a white ten-gallon cowboy hat and yell “yee-haw” while promising to clean up the town. In fact, he switched to dog-whistle racism and played on fears, getting rid of Nancy Reagan’s prim moralisation and blurring the issue with the racially informed and fear-based law-and-order narrative that had always lurked underneath. This established a pattern by which politicians could capitalise on backlash against right-wing policies but then perpetuate those policies by merely not drawing the same level of attention to them. Another strong example of this is Obama’s deportation and “border security” policy. More people have been deported under Obama than any prior President and the Border Patrol and ICE now have a combined budget of $20 billion.

Then came Tony Blair. After 18 years of Conservative governments the theme song of Blair’s campaign went “things can only get better”. That is a ballsy way of not promising anything good, but still harnessing a false positivity in a way that foreshadowed Obama’s 2008 campaign. Claiming “things can only get better” does not actually suggest that your party intends to make any progressive change.

Economic “shock” practitioners sweep to power on a wave of panic and then wreak havoc on a society and its economy. They claim that it is analogous to a medical procedure, painful but necessary for long-term health. Then, when the pain of their attacks begins to fade they say “look its working”. It is like predicting that someone will develop a migraine and then hitting them in the head with a brick to “prevent” it and then claiming to have wrought a miracle once the bleeding stops and the pain fades a little. In a sense Britain’s “New Labour” only had to avoid overtly attacking the poor and working class for a couple of years for their campaign song to become prophecy.

After a while, of course, the underlying neoliberalism began to overtake New Labour’s unsustainable pretence of being a “Third Way” of market-friendly socialism. Private finance initiatives and public-private partnerships (PPPs) were not so much a compromise between nationalisation and privatisation as they were a way of giving the wealthy access to tax money and other unearned income (“rents”). They were scams of a sort, but the key is that they did not cause immediate suffering. New Labour were big on deferred pain. Their welfare reforms they laid the groundwork for much cuts under the 2010 Coalition Govt. and the 2015 Conservative Govt. The same could be said of their pro-finance policies, their response to the 2008 financial crisis, and the introduction of quantitative easing.

Under New Labour income inequality reached record levels in 2009-10, but that is a less important consideration than wealth inequality. In sharp contrast to the post-War years, wealth inequality has continued to rise at levels similar to the rise of income inequality under Thatcher. One reason that this is important is that throughout the world inflation has been affecting the spending of the poor more than that of the rich, so the income disparity is lower than the growing disparity in the material condition. One need only look at the costs of housing to know that the stagnant or declining incomes of lower income people actually understate the real growth in disadvantage.

The growing wealth inequality effectively indicates an upward redistribution of wealth. In the US and UK wealth inequality has steadily been growing since 1980 without noticeably changing when different parties or coalitions govern. Coinciding with this change is a neoliberal expansion of state coercive power and tightening of state social support which aggravates the loss of personal wealth. Effectively governments can forestall or accelerate the suffering caused, but the underlying change continues at a fairly regular rate.

Tony Blair was also a driving force behind the bombing of Serbia and the invasion of Iraq. He also eroded civil liberties. Yet many left-wing people still genuinely thought New Labour were credibly less awful than the alternative of staying away from the polls and letting the Conservatives back into power. Blair combined the 2 techniques that allow self-evidently right-wing people to occupy the position that would be taken by the left in an age of authentic politics. Those techniques are fake hope and blackmailing people into choosing the lesser evil.

Obama, of course, was the King of fake hope. In another example of brazen honesty, he did not campaign on real change, or meaningful change, or substantive change, he campaigned on “change we can believe in”. You know, the sort of change that brings Tinkerbell back to life. Change like closing Guantánamo, leaving Iraq, and ending the perpetual war.

Part of the camouflage that has allowed Obama to be the most successful conman of modern history is the constant and often completely insane blather of his right-wing critics. Nothing summarises Obama’s reign better than “Obamacare”. This is like a Blairite PPP taken to enormous and Byzantine extremes. It is not a compromise between two extremes, it is a way of exploiting an unacceptable situation to create another situation which is just as unfair and exploitative but blunts and delays the immediacy of the problem. It is another massive upward redistribution of wealth through giving tax revenue to private interests and creating new rents. It also shows how in practice (neo)liberal politics will happily contravene core liberal principles – in this case by forcing customers to buy products from a private vendor or face the coercive force of the state. This is actually a common product of the neo-liberal practice of privatising or subcontracting state functions, but in this case the money involved is a great deal more than, say, sitting a driver’s license test.

These false alternatives to the pro-corporate, pro-war, pro-inequality right-wing have had such effective PR that there is very little that a Thatcher, Bush or Trump could get away with doing that they could not. Hillary Clinton, however, really shifted the goalposts because she did not make much of a pretence of being any sort of leftist. Her administration would have had less overt militarists, but she herself was the more clearly hawkish of the 2 major Party candidates.

I do not think people are really offered alternatives in US Presidential politics, except in as much as a politician’s persona creates expectations that must not be transgressed too violently. That was why it was vitally important that Kerry no be allowed to win the 2004 election, because there was a serious expectation that he would end the Iraq War and the price of him not doing so would have been huge. With Clinton, though, there really are no expectations of that sort.


Interlude III: The Crooked Hillary Paradox

If you ever really believed that Trump intended to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s crimes then you need to re-examine everything you believe about politics. Even in more politically authentic times, politicians tend to view each other as peers regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on.

US presidential politics takes the normal disingenuousness of politics and elevates it to the level of farce. This occurs through the increasingly protracted and expensive process that begins with people announcing their candidacies nearly two years before the election. Then follows a bizarre spectacle in the primaries where people who are of the same Party do everything short of accusing each other of being the Antichrist. Then they either suddenly fall madly in love with their former enemy when the issue is decided, or they try to maintain fierce enmity but slowly back away from it because they have to re-establish the notion that they are on the same side. If it was pitched as a fictional melodrama no one would accept it because it is too unrealistic, yet journalists build their entire universe around taking the whole thing at face value. If one was to make a realistic fictional narrative of it you would probably have to suggest that 90% of the protagonists are lying 90% of the time. The central characters would, of necessity, only be able to succeed by an ability to maintain a sustained complex deception. In those circumstances the only people able to succeed in politics would be highly professional showpeople.

Much was made of Clinton’s lack of charisma in this campaign, but I think that that is largely a cover story for how much people are revolted by her insincere politics. She is a professional politician and she knows how to ingratiate and sell herself. She is probably not up to the same standard as Obama or her husband, but it is clear that she knows how to make the common folk feel special and to make them feel like she is really concerned about their well-being. The tears on election night showed that she does have cult appeal. I don’t think anyone cried when George H. W. Bush lost to Bill, to name just one example. There have also been “touching” reports of her meeting people whilst walking or buying books.

Trump is a slightly different kettle of fish, but he is a celebrity, a showman and a salesman. He also makes his money by selling himself. This is not dissimilar to being an unctuous glad-handing baby kisser, it just means that Trump doesn’t have to rely so much on sucking up to the peasantry. The point is that he is equally calculating. He also has a long-standing relationship with the Clintons. Trump believed Bill was a kindred spirit and he courted the couple with donations and bonding over golf. Some call the relationship “transactional” rather than genuine friendship, but that is neither here nor there.

After months of talking about “crooked Hillary” and rallies chanting “lock her up”, Trump ruled out appointing a special prosecutor immediately after being declared the winner of the election. This is significant, because he is using a crucial time and burning political capital to end calls for an investigation of alleged crimes by Clinton. This tells us that Trump was treating the campaign as theatre. His relationship with Clinton therefore seems much the same as that he has with wrestling impressario Vince McMahon. 9 years ago, after body slamming him and yelling a lot, Trump acted out a scene in which he “forcibly” shaved McMahon. Yet they still play golf together, and after Trump’s grandiose WWE style entrance to the RNC, Trump remarked: “Well, Vincent’s a good friend of mine. He called me, he said, ‘That was a very, very good entrance.’ But I didn’t want to do it a second time, because, you know, it never works out the second time.”

The net effect of Trump’s calls to investigate the Clintons has, in fact, been to virtually guarantee them impunity. In the mainstream media they really hammered home the idea that threatening to have an electoral opponent imprisoned is unacceptable. That is crap. It may be disturbing to have a bunch of Trump supporters yelling “lock her up” in hateful unison, but not one of those people was saying that she should be locked up for her politics. They all believe that she has committed serious crimes. The reason for that is that there is ample evidence that she has. The revelations in Clinton Cash are a prima facie case of “pay to play” corruption which clearly warrants investigation. The email scandals, no matter which way you slice it, saw Clinton at the very least perjure herself before Congress. And then there is Haiti. The scale of suffering caused by the Clintons wrongdoing in Haiti is on the level of crimes against humanity. Once again there is ample prima facie evidence of criminality that warrants investigation and prosecution.

As we prepared for a predicted Clinton victory the buzz about crimes and the possibility of prosecution had gotten to such a level that it seemed inevitable that President Elect Clinton would have been given a pardon by Obama so that she did not have old business hanging over her head as she entered office. It is very hard to see how things could have worked otherwise. Yet the way things worked was almost like a win-win situation for Trump and Clinton. Without Clinton, Trump could not have won the Presidency, but although she lost Clinton is by some magical process no longer the subject of legal scrutiny, at least for now. How is that for “transactional”?


Chapter 7a. Trump PEOTUS Nov 2016-Jan 2017 – The Rise of the Straw Nazis

For Trump, the alt-right, the Neonazis, the Klan and the swastikas are just props in his theatre. He played the baddy in a wrestling match called the 2016 election and, whether by design or by accident, he won the bout. Should we be reassured that Trump isn’t really earnest in his fomenting of violence and hatred? Is there an authentic Trump that will ensure that common sense and civility prevail? Is it a good sign that he is choosing such an establishment friendly team to make up his administration?

There is a video from Trump’s acceptance speech when Trump’s evidently tired son Barron is shocked into wakefulness by a loyal Trump supporter shouting “kill Obama!” When you incite hatred you are always playing with fire. European rulers of the Medieval and Early Modern era would often continually incite anti-Semitic envy for policy reasons, only to have to send in troops to quell the resultant pogroms (which kill and destroy valuable subjects, their property, and their enterprises). The Jews who were slaughtered would not have been comforted by knowing that the lord or monarch didn’t support their actual killing and would have preferred if it only went as far as spitting or the odd beating.

At least, you might think, we can be assured that Trump is a fake in that he isn’t going to start putting skinheads in uniforms. There is not going to be a “Trump Youth” organisation teaching children to hate and to sell real estate. It should be comforting, but I can’t help but feel that it is not enough. Trump is clearly and deliberately evincing little fascist tics, such as when he retweeted a Mussolini quote and then happily stood by his endorsement of it. That is not politics as usual, that is a deliberate provocation.

I have already mentioned the way Trump’s incitement of violent ideologues echoes Fascist and Nazi use of deniable and disposable thugs, but we can get into even more disturbing territory by pursuing possible parallels with Hitler. I am not saying that Trump is Hitler, I am saying that we are wrong to be reassured that he is not Hitler.

A common understanding of Hitler is that before he seized control of Germany (and then again before he launched WWII and exterminated most of Europe’s Jews) people did not take him seriously enough. That is undeniably true. They say that people thought he was not earnest in his hate speech and then they were surprised when it turned out that he was earnest. This, unfortunately, is not as simple as it seems. In fact, distinguishing what Hitler did and did not believe is not that easy. He was very consistent in trying to concentrate power in his own hands and he clearly wanted to strengthen Germany and he must have believed in eugenics. There a probably quite a few things you could pinpoint that he believed in, but I suspect that his grand vision was much simpler than people believe and much of what he said and wrote was in a more grey area where he did not necessarily distinguish between truth and falsehood. Most obvious was his business and finance friendly policy. He eliminated all ideological rivals, but would happily allow others to wield power and co-operated with the military, financial and industrial establishment (who were equally amenable until the war started to go badly).

Perhaps the most striking and disturbing thing about Hitler is that his attitude towards Jews was not as simple as his action and rhetoric would suggest. Writing in the Journal of Genocide Research (2:3 pp 411-30) Gunnar Heinsohn reveals that Hitler wrote to Martin Bormann: “We use the term Jewish race merely for reasons of linguistic convenience, for in the real sense of the word, and from a genetic point of view there is no Jewish race.” Heinsohn also points out that before he discovered and joined the clearly anti-Semitic Nazi Party in its early days, not only did Hitler leave no record of anti-Semitic sentiment but he did on some occasions show respect and admiration of specific Jews. Once he was in power though, hatred of Jews was his most powerful weapon. As Karl Schleunes wrote: “It was the Jew who helped hold Hitler’s system together…. The Jew allowed Hitler to ignore the long list of economic and social promises he had made to the SA, the lower party apparatus, and the lower middle classes. By steering the attention of these groups away from their more genuine grievances and toward the Jew, Hitler succeeded in blunting the edge of their revolutionary wrath.”

That is what scares the shit out of me, because someone like Trump could easily set in motion the same type of process. When people unleash a political dynamic they will adapt themselves to it rather than challenge it, even when it becomes dangerously dysfunctional. It is bad enough when this happens in the form of an economic bubble or metastasising corruption, but when fear and hate shape that political dynamic it is potentially disastrous.

Trump will probably make political capital out of repudiating overt Fascists and Klansmen, but in knocking down those straw Nazis he will give himself even more space to foment xenophobic fears and to stoke the resentments of those who think that the US is being pushed around, men are under attack, and/or white people are being persecuted. And while he is doing that, how much more militarised will the police become? What new wars will be launched? How much more extensive will mass surveillance become? How much more fearful will ordinary people become of political dissent, or flag-burning, or disrespect of authority? How many more civil liberties will be lost?

All that needs happen for the Trump Presidency to become a danger to humanity is for the power of the US government to become reliant on promoting the hatred of an enemy to forestall growing discontent.


Chapter 7b. Clinton PEOTUS Nov 2016-Jan 2017 – The Rise of the Straw Nazis

Almost everything I said about Trump is also true about Clinton. As the possibility of a Clinton and Democrat landslide seemed to become more likely she became ever more scary. Nor would her election have prevented the continuing rise of unabashed right-wing extremists. In a parallel universe where Clinton won there may have been an even greater explosion of misogynist, Nazi and racist actions. Her response would have been the same: repress the overt Nazis but keep transforming the country into a paranoid, nationalistic, authoritarian dystopia that would make any Nazi green with envy.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that some Trump supporters genuinely saw him as the lesser evil. I have written about this before, but it bears repeating that because of Clinton’s record in government, those who argued for Trump as the lesser evil generally had far more concrete and immediate evidence to back their claims.

Clinton is symptomatic of an establishment that is every bit as off-the-rails as Trump. In fact, either Trump or Clinton could only ever be the tip of an iceberg. The type of fascistic governance that Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism” has grown to the point where it is flipping over into the normal territory of fascism with leader worship; flag worship; political violence; intolerance; militarism; scapegoating of internal and external enemies; inequality in law; fraudulent elections; fearmongering about national and personal security; and obsession with crime and punishment. The thing that most distinguishes current US from historic fascism/Nazism is the continued embrace of pluralism and tolerance in gender, sexuality and lifestyle. That tolerance itself is fuelling a hateful backlash that might at some stage produce a Joe McCarthy-like figure and all of the liberal elites will fall in line with new norms of intolerance.

Meanwhile the “post-fact” nature of current politics is making the US public even less connected to any rational grasp of a just and ethical foreign policy. In the past, when launching wars against Laos, Cambodia, Libya, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and even tiny Grenada, the US would have to create complex fictions full of convoluted reasoning and numerous lies in order to justify going in to other peoples’ lands and killing them in mass numbers. Clinton, on the other hand, just said outright that she was going to impose a No-Fly Zone on Syria right in the middle of a live debate. Waging a war of aggression (namely war that is not in self-defence) is the supreme war crime, but it is actually a war crime to threaten to wage a war of aggression also. Clinton committed a war crime live in front of tens of millions of viewers and nobody seems to care.

I can understand how in circumstances of instability the US can get away with sending in its forces and ignore the protests of diplomats from the victim country, but I really think that a line is crossed when threats like this are treated as completely unremarkable. I think that people oppose war in general, and launching WWIII in particular, but rightly or wrongly I don’t think that Usanians really feel that they are personally at risk from war. They should be more worried because, like Trump’s, Clinton’s behaviour is not politics as usual. As I have said before, her NFZ claims made Trump’s wall claims look modest and extremely rational.


Epilogue – Welcome to Trumptopia

“I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way. They are in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.” – John Pilger

Even before taking office Trump is putting his stamp on domestic and foreign politics. In retrospect a pessimist might say that the election was about whether WWIII would be launched in Syria while trying to ensure that China remains neutral or whether it would be launched in the South China sea, while trying to ensure that Russia remains neutral.

Trump has already taken Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory” to new heights. By the time he takes office we will all have to be genuinely concerned (at least on some level) that a 3:30am tweet will be the first quantum event in a chain-reaction that will lead to nuclear annihilation.

Trump’s provocations of China are truly dangerous, but there has been considerable calculation and planning behind this. His call with Taiwan’s President was planned months in advance and, while the Obama administration makes insincere apologies through the ironically named Josh Earnest, it is a fairly obvious next step in the process of creating a threat to China that Obama began 5 years ago.

As John Pilger reveals (in the article quoted above) the US has serious plans for how to fight a war with China, and it shows no signs that it is accepting the new global economic realities. Trump tweeted: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!” The scary thing is that no one seems to think this is odd, let alone unacceptable. Trump has hundreds of millions of mirror-blind chauvinist nationalists behind him, totally incapable of imagining what it would be like if the situation was reversed.

When the US was at war in Viet Nam, protesters, including Vietnam Veterans Against War, would openly avow support for the National Liberation Front in South Viet Nam. People would chant “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh! Ho Chi Minh is going to win!”. That level of ideological and psychological freedom does not exist in the US any more. They have become exceptionally good at constraining what is acceptable thought and in co-opting dissent so that to “protest” a dissident must first wrap themselves in the flag and rap the praises of the founding fathers for a good couple of hours before suggesting that it is wrong to oppress people.

If it were the US alone that might be less alarming, but we seem to be all caught up in this madness. Countries that are far more closely tied to China than to the US, such as Australia and Aoteraoa, are happily obeying the commandment to aggravate and alienate their biggest trading partner. Western countries are so obsequious to the US that it barely possible to explain how hypocritical our government’s have become, or even to remind people what happened 5, 10, 20 or 50 years ago and how it might suggest that US foreign policy is actually insupportable and the US and its allies have no moral standing to criticise others. Even when the public do not buy into the insanity, as the Germans do not with regard to the wisdom of sanctioning and provoking Russia, their leaders do it anyway.

Meanwhile, Trump’s appointments are very alarming. They have been the one thing so far that really has made me doubt my previous conviction that Clinton was just as scary as Trump. (In the end I have to remind myself that “reasonable” people like Colin Powell, Wesley Clark, or Zbigniew Brzezinski kill as many people as overtly unreasonable people.) Trump has picked 3 Generals for his cabinet. General Flynn is most striking. His overt Islamophobia exceeds that of Mattis. He tweeted: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions… http://youtu.be/tJnW8HRHLLw” The video he links to, among other interesting things, seems to suggest that there has never been anything problematic in the history of relations between Christians and Jews, nor Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. It implies that religious violence is a purely Muslim phenomenon which is presumably the only reason that the US needs to send so many troops to countries with oil.

Trump has also followed in the footsteps of Fascist and Nazi populists by campaigning as the anti-establishment figure and then empowering the establishment, though now with him firmly at the top. Even before appointing Rex Tillerson the net worth of Trump’s cabinet after roughly half of the positions were filled was $14 billion. In contrast the first George W. Bush cabinet, which was at the time considered corrosively moneyed, was worth $250 million.

These are dangerously decadent times. A tweet from Trump wiped $3.5 billion from the share value of Lockheed Martin. This is doubly insane because Trump is not going to be able to alter the F35 contract and because if the whole deal wasn’t incredibly unsound Trump’s tweet would not have an impact. Trump’s tweet is 5 years too late to make a real difference and yet it still makes a real difference to the tune of $3.5 billion. The post-fact world reifies fiction, giving lies a magnified reality while the truth shrinks into insignificance. Ned Resnikoff believes that Trumps incessant lies serve the purpose of destroying the distinction between truth and falsehood. Lauren Duca makes a similar point, suggesting that Trump is “gas lighting” the entire country – a type of abuse where the victim is controlled through deception and isolation. But like so many other things this is not just about Trump. Many of those who dislike Trump and abhor his election are happily re-bleating the baseless CIA claim that the Russians changed the election result by hacking the DNC. These idiots, these sheep, seem to be totally unconcerned that by blaming a Russian “hack” they are endorsing the DNCs right to commit wrongful and anti-democratic acts in secret and they are saying that revealing those acts is an assault on democracy. Both Trump and Clinton are guilty of serious wrongdoing, but instead of examining their real crimes hordes of factionalised morons rant at each other about #Putin and #Pizzagate.

The US is a society that seems on the edge of disintegration or descent into much tighter authoritarianism and many other countries will be pulled in the same direction. The US empire is probably unsustainable, but even it it can be sustained it should not be. The problem is that the dying empire poses a huge danger. The people who have the most power in the empire have done horrible things to all of us, including friendly and allied nations. Client elites, even in the poorest nations, have done well, but not the people. Nor have the US people been treated well, and that is fuelling resentment. If the empire starts to fuel its dying embers with the resentment of its own people, and with the resentment of the right-wing and racist people of other Western countries then we are in big trouble.

We all need to do something about this and the answer is the same in all countries, including the US: We have to get rid of the fake left.

We have to stop tolerating those who forget principles even though we understand that the media will make them pay for remembering those principles. We have to stop giving a pass to those who promise only to be the lesser evil. We have to demand a politics that does not compromise and that does not allow itself to be bribed into abandoning our fellow human beings because they are distant and foreign. Get angry at politicians and make them accountable for everything they do and say. Demand an end to war and to militarism. Stop buying into narratives that make it seem normal or even humanitarian to kill other people in their own countries. If you think Nazis are bad and racist, then you must demand that Westerners stop killing people from poorer nations because that is the most brutal form of racism.

We have already paid a price for failing to stand in solidarity with victims of US war and genocide. All of us, including the ordinary people of the US, have allowed an elite to feast on flesh and blood and through that to make themselves our masters and to enrich themselves at our expense. We have been creating more and more wealth and working longer and longer hours while our societies become ever more unequal. We have made fools of ourselves by our selfishness and our fear of having to share wealth and burdens with those less fortunate. To use the Nazi analogy one last time, being the Kapos in the global ghetto is not the boon we might think when we are all headed for the same final destination.

Maybe the US and its allies will continue business as usual under Trump. They will keep killing people in faraway places. Inequality will continue to grow and very slowly we will have our rights eroded and our place in society whittled away bit by bit. We are on the cusp of a transformation where labour will no longer be crucial enough to the production that attracts spending and to continue will require some form of universal income. Unless politics goes back to responding to people’s welfare, life could become very bleak and minimal – neoliberalism taken to its ultimate “bare life” extreme of mere survival.

On the other hand, even worse things are possible and we need to become very active in opposing wars and any politics that promote hate violence and reaction.

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Nazi Zombies Ate Gloria Steinem’s Brain!

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(or Why US Politics Turns Ordinary People into Drooling Morons)

Nazi-zombies

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: when people decide to support a prospective candidate in the US primary races they are putting themselves in the position of defending the indefensible. The very nature of this politico-Darwinist death match means that once you pick your chosen leader you must reject all criticism and suppress all doubt. You must become aggressively defensive and you must, above all, prevent your own wayward brain from thinking those bad thoughts that weaken the image of the immaculate leader. Any chink in their armour will be exploited by the enemies that surround them. Loyalty must be automatic and unconditional. Vigilance must be constant.


Triumph of the Ill

Gloria Steinem caused some kerfuffle this week by saying:

“Women are more for [Clinton] than men are. Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, women get more radical because they lose power as they age.

They’re going to get more activist as they grow older. And when you’re younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

When you let it sink in the implications of what Steinem said are quite stunning in their utter stupidity. Here is a feminist icon suggesting that young women support Sanders only to impress or be with “boys”. As some have pointed out, this is a sexist generalisation that is disrespectful, demeaning and disempowering of young women.

Steinem apologised for being “misinterpreted” and clarified her position by contradicting herself entirely: “What I had just said on the same show was the opposite: young women are active, mad as hell about what’s happening to them, graduating in debt, but averaging a million dollars less over their lifetimes to pay it back.” Because she is not retracting her repeated contention “women are more conservative when we’re young and we get more radical as we get older” she seems to be quite happy to believe two contradictory things and just pick whichever seems right for the occasion.

Steinem also tacitly declares that supporting Hillary Clinton is an act of radicalism. This is demonstrably false. Clinton is a former First Lady, former US Senator, and a former Secretary of State. Clinton and her spouse are among the richest people on the planet and have been paid $153 million in speaking fees. Her own personal income for 2014 was $30.5 million. Clinton is arguably the most “establishment” person seeking candidacy – even more than J. E. Bush the (wannabe) Third.

So what makes Gloria Steinem spout nonsense and contradict herself? Aside from the general human idiocy in which we all partake, it is that most glorious of institutions: US presidential politics. More specifically it is the bipartisan electoral process which is formally and informally constituted of tribal factionalism, cult of personality, manipulative marketing campaigns, dog-whistle invective, incendiary rhetoric, buzzwords, patriotism, sentimentality and many other components. These components all have one thing in common; they bypass thought. They direct decisions and impel action through impulse, emotion and herd reflex. US Presidential electoral politics is the epitome any such electoral process. It is like other elections, but even more so. It is dominated by deception, manipulation and sentiment.

Throughout the history of politics, popular appeals have been divided into appeals to reason and appeals to unreason. Technology, scale, and the narrow control of mass media have conspired to bring a moment of near total triumph for unreason. The individual voter will be profiled and targeted with anything from the scale of the tear on the cheek of a pretty 5 year-old girl, to the roar of a stadium of roaring mass fervour. The result of such mass unreason is, among other things, an ostensibly political electoral system that is devoid of substantive politics. But it is also a totalising ideology. It tells people that it represents the entirety or near-entirety of the legitimate political spectrum. People in countries with multi-party elections for central government seem universally to accept that the breadth of political ideology is largely represented by the competing parties and that the space between the two (or more) camps is the ideological “centre”.

In reality, regardless of the political system, political elites are inclined to be elitist and authoritarian. They like to think of themselves as more enlightened and progressive than the reactionary masses, but by nature their “centre” is to the right of popular sentiment, sometimes drastically so.

We don’t have to settle for defining left and right in relative terms set by political elites. The left/right division has a clear historical basis and can be defined in absolute terms. In these terms we see that each person, each party and each ideology has left and right elements. There is no pure Left or pure Right out there. We can also see that Republicans and Democrats have always been broadly right-wing. (In other countries there were once broadly left electoral choices in Labour, Socialist or Social Democrat parties, but these have all since embraced broadly right-wing liberal/neoliberal policies, along with military nationalism and Western interventionism). Electorates are regularly presented with two right-wing alternatives, one of which is falsely labelled as “left”.


The Authoritarian’s Dilemma

There is incessant propaganda screaming over and over at people that if they do not partake in the electoral process they are deficient and delinquent and it is their fault that the government is crap. In the US, where everything apparently needs to be taken to self-parodic extremes, this spawned the “Vote or Die” movement.

Small wonder then, that people get involved in electoral politics. But instead of choosing a person who actually represents their own interests blended with their own sense of what is morally and ethically right, people choose according to irrational criteria. Citizens are lured by many things, but mostly by the deliberately fostered delusion that a particular candidate will in some way embody and be responsive to the will of that citizen. They are led to believe that the candidate wants what they want, sees things as they do, and will make the same choices that they would. Their candidate is a version of themselves, but a superior version. It is a sad and pathetic spectacle. It gets even sadder when a candidate takes office and the citizen must continually reassess their beliefs because the former candidate makes choices that must be right because they know and understand more.

People like that are referred to as “right-wing authoritarians”. This is a description used by some psychologists for a group of inter-related psychological tendencies which add to a desire for authoritarian leadership in politics, in the workplace, in religion, and in the domestic sphere. Obviously such people tend to be attracted to right-wing politics, but they can also be attracted to authority in left-wing or ostensibly left-wing politics. These people are authoritarian followers. They seek the certainty of strong leadership.

Party politics, or any form of popular politics, will always attract authoritarians. But in our time, if you are not an authoritarian you must become one just to participate. If you choose to support Clinton, for example, there is a ton of baggage that comes with it. Her wealth, her power, her history of warmongering, and the blood on her hands are a much bigger burden to her supporters than to her. Clinton is a media-trained expert hack who only ever faces comparative softball questions. Her supporters might find themselves asked to give real answers to justify Clinton’s record, and there are none. Judged by the standards of ordinary mortals she is pondscum and a war criminal. The best moral justification you can give for her is that she is deranged by power and hence has diminished responsibility.

Can anyone actually give a real defence of her actions in helping to bring war to Libya? She has the blood of thousands on her hands. Daughters, sons, fathers, mothers – real people who suffered and died, for what? So she could gloat like a demented crime boss: “We came, we saw, he died”? Would it be okay if it was a failed attempt to do good (if anyone can believe that), or was the plan destroy Libya and create yet another failed state of lingering suffering, violence and death so that US oil hegemony remained unchallenged by any strong nationalism or anticolonial internationalism? Murderously incompetent and arrogant, or murderously power-mad and Machiavellian? Either way, she cannot be defended if someone is willing to put things in those terms

Hillary supporters cannot even defend Hillary to themselves. They must lash out by delegitimising opposition. Steinem’s now retracted criticisms of of Sanders supporters were pure ad hominem of the vilest sort. She created a caricature, a generalisation about those who felt differently by imposing on them a personal trait. This is a technique used against feminists so often that you might think her scruples would have stopped her.

To take another example, it is impossible in moral and legal terms to justify the support that Hillary Clinton has given to Israel. Bear in mind that this is not solely about Israel’s 1967 occupation of land and its illegal settlements. As a UN signatory that shares responsibility for the initial 1948 seizure of Palestinian property and flight of Palestinians from the self-declared state of Israel, the US is obliged to find a “just and lasting settlement” to the plight of 1948 Palestinian refugees. Because the state of Israel is dependent on US support it can be argued that high-level US politicians are actually more culpable than high Israeli politicians without even having any false justifications of an “existential threat”. Clinton is responsible for Israel’s crimes in a very real sense.

This brings me to Bernie Sanders. He too is responsible for Israel’s crimes. As Thomas Tucker wrote in August 2014:

“Let’s not be fooled by any politician appealing to high ideals when they are in the business of war and empire.

Sanders not only defends military contracts that benefit his constituents in Vermont, he also joined the 100 to 0 vote in the Senate to give unalloyed moral and political support to the state of Israel during its most recent bombing campaign against Gaza.”

Someone also pointed out that criticism of Sanders foreign policy record is only half of the story. On domestic issues he voted “for continuing intelligence gathering without civil oversight; opposing local attempts in Vermont to impeach Bush II (however he advocates prosecuting Snowden in some capacity if he returns to the US!); …against ending offshore tax havens and promoting small businesses; …for legislation that extended and, in some areas, made fourteen provisions of the Patriot Act permanent and extended the FBI’s power to perform roving wiretaps and access certain business records; …repeatedly against the Brady Bill that mandated waiting times and background checks for firearms purchases.” What a guy!

How do you defend such a record? The same way you defend Clinton’s record. You yell. You employ ad hominems. You employ the “appeal to consequences”, another fallacy which goes something like this:

Q: How do you justify Sanders bloody militarism, pork-barrel cynicism, support for war crimes, support for restricting liberties and complicity in Israel’s occupation of Palestine?

A: Donald Trump!


March Of The Swivel Heads

Speaking of Donald Trump, everything I have written so far is about Democrat supporters. Would anyone be so silly as to think that Republicans are any better? In some respects Republican supporters have less need to be defensive of their chosen candidate because Republicans don’t try to hide their warmongering and racism, they simply embrace it with a patriotic exceptionalism beneath which is an unstated thuggish sensibility that says we are strong and we will crush those who transgress against us (transgression being subject to broad interpretation).

Republicans have the same situational factors shaping them into right-wing authoritarians, but the Republican Party has been quite a home for right-wing authoritarians for years, so in a way the fact that this has worsened to any degree is not much of a story in itself. The reason that we should fear the spread of right-wing authoritarianism is that once an authoritarian has chosen their leader they will be loyal regardless of any actions that leader takes. The structure and the discourse of electoral politics in the US (which is setting a standard for other countries) are such that people are forced into the position of becoming mindless shambling followers of each Great Leader.

People who support Obama, for example, have become as immune to reason and evidence as any George W. Bush supporter in 2008. Obama attracted those supporters with a very personal charismatic style, and his policy messages were overtly about emotions of hope and belief rather than a coherent platform based on an articulated ideology. (You won’t get anything different from US politics: Bernie, for example, has substantively replicated the style, shape and colour of Obama’s “Change We can Believe In” placards to create “A Future to Believe In”.) This is all great fertiliser in which to cultivate uncritical worship and obedience, but I think the real kicker is the way people have been conditioned to reject criticism of Obama by the constant unprincipled, unfair, untrue, hyperbolic and hysterical criticisms levelled at him by Republicans and other right-wingers. This ranges from the “Birther” movement to simple blatant and hateful racism.

The same can be said of Hillary Clinton. The whole Benghazi issue was turned into a type of fake witch-hunt against Clinton. This not only gave her a much need new layer of Teflon, but helped to conceal the stunning blatant illegality of US government acts that went far further than just Clinton and the State Department. Partisan badgering, real or fake, creates the sense that the person that supporters place their hope in is constantly under siege. Under the siege mentality it begins to feel dangerous to question anything about the Leader. Any admission against them can be exploited and abused and so you must steel your mind to perfect unquestioning loyalty.

Because it is a bipartisan framework and not a dictatorial one, this regime of leader worship differs in many ways from historical Fascist or Communist “cult of personality” regimes. The US regime blends aspects of that nationalistic “One Leader, One People, One Empire” style with a more fragmented style of right-wing factionalism akin to a milieu of organised crime interests that may co-operate, compete, or fight.

The Price of a Special Place in Hell is Worth It

Linked to the Gloria Steinem story has been a prominent story about Madeleine Albright. Albright once said that she thought that the “price” of 500,000 dead Iraqi children was “worth it”. She is also the Godmother to a cluster of humanitarian interventionists and liberal imperialists dominated by Clinton that is linked (by revolving door) to NGO’s such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Regarding support for Clinton, Albright said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” She used exactly the same words in 2008, for the same candidate. In fact she claims she has used the phrase for 40 years. That does not change the fact that she was equating failure to support Hillary with betraying one’s own gender, as if the election was a giant job interview and women had an obligation to give poor Hillary a shot. The extreme and hateful implications stand regardless of how “lighthearted” Clinton says they were.

Like the extreme rhetoric of Republicans, Albright’s words show a distinct lack of any brain activity. I am the last person to suggest that political elites are actually stupid, but they are deeply out of touch with normal life. Despite all of their focus groups and messaging specialists, politicians at this level are as tone-deaf as any inbred 18th century aristocratic dandy. Albright has angered people on many fronts, in many ways. The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz tweeted the blurb from a book specifically exploring the immense harm done to Iraqi women by the sanctions that Albright supported. She is damned by her own words, so to speak.

Albright and Clinton being who they are, much of the angry reaction has suggested that electing an elitist warmonger is not feminism if the warmonger happens to have internal genitalia and wear skirts. Rania Masri put it thus: “Feminism demands a critique of U.S. policies, both domestically and internationally. It demands a critique of all wars and all hegemonies and of all structures of oppression.”

Independently engaged people get angry, but most people blind themselves to the gulf that separates them from their political masters. The system continues because people foolishly believe that they have to choose within the candidates of the major parties, or they are effectively disenfranchised. The fear of one side makes people stampede into the other camp. Once again they are avoiding the process of thinking when making the decision to commit. They end up in positions that are morally and intellectually indefensible, but they can get away with it by only associating with like-minded fools and by snarling viciously at the unrealistic people who point out the immorality and/or foolishness of their choice.

When they have safety in numbers; when the harsh light of reality will not intrude; believers may debate within accepted bounds of disagreement. They are thus secure in the knowledge that no one will point out that they are all backing different naked emperors who are engaged in an unflattering unclothed brawl that is just as revolting in actuality as my metaphor suggests. That is when they say really stupid things. For example, in response to the fact the policies under Bill Clinton had a terrible impact on black people Madeleine Kunin said that “Bill Clinton was called the first black president.She followed by saying of Hillary “she’s been voted the most admired woman in the world, year after year, because people respect her.” I am not sure what world she is referring to, but it is not the planet Earth. In fact she is probably referring to a Gallup poll that asks “Americans” which woman they admire anywhere in the world. Kunin probably doesn’t understand the difference.

Not to be outdone Kunin’s debate opponent, Ben Jealous, said that “on the issues that Dr. Martin Luther King referred to as the ‘giant triplets of evil’—racism, militarism and greed—Bernie is the clearest and the most consistent.” Not only is that only true if you preclude third party candidates, but there is a piece of authoritarian lunacy hidden there in plain sight. If you care about what Dr King believed in, why endorse someone that he would never have endorsed? King might have forgiven the banal ways in which Sanders has soiled himself in the pits of DC muck, but he would never have tolerated Sanders embrace of militarism and empire. Perhaps the scariest thing is that people do not see this immediately. People seem to have forgotten what it means to have principles around the same time they forgot what it means for their country to be at war.

Kunin and Jealous would probably feel a need to pick a prospective winner because they are immersed in this sort of politics. “Relevance” is capital to such people, but ordinary folks are also drawn to power. People want to feel they are part of something. The fervour of manic Trump supporters is really only the shabby and slack-jawed version of the credulousness of Democrats who are seeking to be part of “history” by supporting the first woman president or the first black president. The mania is the same regardless of how noble the pretext.

Women who support Clinton in the belief that it is somehow feminist or will advance the cause of women in general are zombiefied. They brainlessly shuffle through an undead parody of a political process, immune to the ample evidence that in actions, rather than rhetoric, Clinton is not a great supporter of women’s rights. Nor can Obama supporters process the reality that his administrations have deported more immigrants than any others in US history; have slowly reconstituted the wars he was supposed to end; and have carried out the largest international assassination programme in history; and numerous studies over the years show that the vast majority of his victims are civilians.


Third Party Insurance

My concluding advice to US voters: vote for a 3rd party candidate in any election that you can. People mistakenly believe that votes do not count if your candidate is not elected. That is stupid. How many elections come down to just one vote? More to the point, how responsive to the voters are people once elected? Studies have shown that elected officials do not carry out the will of voters and that “mandate theory” is empirically invalid. A vote is only good as an official statement of your belief, so it is not “tactical” to compromise on beliefs. Quite the opposite. Voting for a 3rd party in the US (assuming that votes are recorded honestly) is a message to your fellow citizens. If enough people do it, then the usual plutocrats will be weakened when they campaign in 2, 4, or 6 years because they will have to forestall any emerging alternative. Furthermore, they are so entrenched and decadent that they may fail to quell a growing alternative despite the resources at their command. Then you will have a real choice.

Be smart. Do not put your faith in elected leaders. Vote 3rd party, then continue to fight for democracy in other ways. The current electoral process is not real democracy, it is the dance of the dead – the Nazi Zombie Shuffle.

US Rule in Occupied Earth (or Everything You Need to Know About Genocide, but Never Knew to Ask) Part 4: You Are Next

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Leunig - How to do it

http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/82288

direct link to mp3: https://ia801508.us.archive.org/12/items/20150817USRulePart4/20150817%20US%20Rule%20Part%204.mp3

Lemkin defined genocide as being a form of warfare, but instead of it being military warfare “against sovereigns and armies” it was war against “subjects and civilians”. We do not need to distinguish between the sort of internal “war” declared against a minority within a state and the sort of “war” that is waged against a foreign people. So, for example, the Japanese “3 Alls Policy” of “Kill all. Burn all. Loot all,” was genocidal because it was aimed at the Chinese people and was not a truly military scorched earth policy.

Lemkin focussed originally on occupied Europe, but he saw the same processes in the conquest of the Americas and he spent much more time studying and writing about genocide in the Americas than about Germany’s genocides in Europe. He characterised Indian reservations as being a form of concentration camp and symptomatic of genocide. As you can imagine, this sort of thing did not go down well in 1950s USA. He was unable to find publishers for his later works. As John Docker has said: “We can only mourn that Lemkin’s manuscript writings were not published as he hoped, for in them the inherent and constitutive relationship between genocide and settler-colonialism is strongly argued, given subtle intricate methodological form, and brought descriptively to life.” Lemkin died poor and comparatively obscure 1959. Only 6 people attended his funeral. Had he lived longer he would have recognised that the strategic hamlet programme in Viet Nam was also symptomatic of genocide and I am sure he would have made the leap that links genocide to all forms of imperialism, not merely settler-colonialism.

Whether related to settler-colonialism or not, genocide reveals itself best in military occupations because they allow the full panoply of genocidal behaviour to manifest. Lemkin saw genocide as a combination of ancient and modern practices. On one occasion it might be the visceral slaughter of a massacre, on another the dispassionate exercise of issuing papers that reclassify people as no longer having the right to live in their homes. One might reduce the food intake available to a people who have been previously deprived of subsistence resources, or create a policy of retaliatory violence. One might order a carpet bombing raid or institute a military doctrine of “force protection” guaranteed to cause mass civilian death and widespread terror. In short, genocide can manifest as wanton violence and destruction or targeted violence and destruction. It can involve policies designed to control, to destroy, to immiserate, to alienate, or to provoke.

Perpetrators of genocides like to claim that their actions are military in intent. Sometimes they are deliberately deceiving and sometimes they are wilfully lying to themselves. The greatest lie they tell themselves and others is that attacking the civilian population and its infrastructure is a valid way of degrading military strength. This is the lie that was behind of the “strategic bombing” of civilian areas in World War II and was used to implement the genocidal sanctions against Iraq. These are very instructive examples of genocide undertaken in the guise of warfare, yet, instead of looking at those I want to focus on counterinsurgency.

Imagine a materially and/or numerically inferior people who occupy land that you covet. You start taking their land by force and/or start using your superiority to coerce their departure through inflicting some form of pain. Eventually resistance will ensue. The resistance may or may not have been part of the plan, but it now becomes the excuse for ever greater violence against the people as such. War against a people as such is, by definition, genocide. When you deconstruct counterinsurgency programmes throughout history you will find that this pattern of genocide is common to many.

I already mentioned the Japanese “3 Alls” campaign. The excuse for this genocidal behaviour was that it was a way of combating the People’s Liberation Army which drew sustenance from the people themselves. Mao said, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” But the point is that the people wouldn’t have supported the PLA if it did not in some way embody their collective will. The Japanese, by contrast, were inimical to the Chinese people. Their occupation was already genocidal, if they hadn’t been strategically inclined to inflict destruction of Chinese people as such, then they would have dealt with any insurgency by actions, policing or military, that were restricted to the PLA itself. In fact, the genocidal strategic imperative was greater for the Japanese than the military strategic imperative because such “counterinsurgency” is inherently counterproductive militarily.

To put it in simple terms you win a counterinsurgency by winning the “hearts and minds” of the people and thus isolating the guerillas from the material support of the people and delegitimising them so that violence against them does not cause the people to hate you. But, if your strategic designs are against the fundamental welfare of the people themselves you cannot win their hearts and minds and so it is inevitable that when armed resistance arises the response, if you do not alter your strategic aims, will be genocidal.

It is no great secret that the way to win against an insurgency is to win the acceptance of the people and then treat the guerillas as a separate military or policing operation. The reason this is not done is not that people don’t know it, but because they cannot accommodate the will of the people even to the degree that would get them to cease supporting the conflict of armed resistance. In short, for demostrategic reasons they are enemies of the people and they are at war with the people. It doesn’t matter of it is a tribe of 300, or a nation of millions, the same applies. Just as the genocidal acts of the Japanese drove people into the arms of the PLA, the same pattern has been enacted throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia, and in Eastern Europe during the Partisan War. In fact, Hitler said: This partisan war has its advantages as well. It gives us the opportunity to stamp out everything that stands against us.” It is well worth remembering at this point that Lemkin described Hitler’s genocides as being “a new technique of occupation aimed at winning the peace even though the war itself is lost.”

Since the First Indochina War, the US has shown unmistakeable signs that it welcomes and even fosters insurgent resistance as a way to channel its military might into genocidal violence and destruction. Few people realise how much of the US effort in Indochina went into systematically attacking civilians without even the pretext of a nominal insurgent presence. They did this on the basis that the people themselves were the sea in which the guerilla swam. The entire Phoenix Programme, for example, was aimed at civilians. “Free-fire zones” were, among other things, designed to re-designate non-combatants as legitimate targets for death. Under this logic missions of mass death could be carried out without any hint that an actual combatant might be present. US personnel were also trained to view the people of Viet Nam through a hostile racial lens. That and the way the GIs were deployed created a systematic situational predisposition for US personnel to view the the people of Viet Nam to be their enemy. If the US had wanted it to, a fraction of the money they spent on fighting in Indochina could have been spent in ways that won the “hearts and minds” of the local peoples. But that would have empowered the people. The Vietnamese, for example, would have been very thankful and then have firmly continued to move towards reunifying their country and exercising self-determination.

The US now exerts more hegemony over Viet Nam by having visited genocidal destruction and lost the military struggle than it could ever have done by making the concessions needed to allow it to achieve military victory. The state of Viet Nam was far less damaged by US destruction than the people of Viet Nam. The war had actually left the country as a military powerhouse and regional hegemon. On the other hand, bottom-up development was crushed. When industrialisation took hold it was not some form of strategic development that empowered the proleteriat and the nation, it was low-wage light manufacturing for the benefit of Western multinationals and Western consumers. That is a profound strategic victory for the US empire.

Viet Nam’s ongoing weakness means that it is subject to the governance of the “Washington Consensus” institutions which use debt and trade to prevent development in a for of structural violence, but at least there seems to be little prospect of hostile military action from the US. Iraq, on the other hand, seems to be slated for an eternal grinding and inhuman violence punctuated by periods of mass slaughter. Iraq has become like Prometheus to the US Zeus. Zeus ordered his servants Force and Violence to chain Prometheus to a rock where each night an eagle would tear out his liver. This was partly in revenge for Prometheus tricking Zeus out of what Zeus thought he deserved to be given as offerings by humans, and partly because Prometheus, a friend to humanity, had given fire to humans. In many respects the analogy is chillingly apt. For the US, even backing successful coups in Iraq didn’t produce regimes that were willing to make sure that Iraqi oil wealth was used to benefit US hegemony, thus Iraq cheated the US out of its due.

Due to a combination of petroleum, geography, demography, culture and history the Iraqi people, as such, are indelible enemies of US empire. Even under Saddam Hussein oil resources were nationalised and oil profits went into national development. Iraq is too large to be a rich rentier state with a small wealthy citizenry and it is too small for the oil profits to be inaccessible by the bulk of the population as in Nigeria. This is a big problem for an imperial polity, ie the US empire, that specifically uses control of petroleum as a method of strategic hegemony.

The result is that if you want to see an almost exhaustive exemplar of genocide then you should look to what the US has done in Iraq. It has been, to paraphrase Lemkin, “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of [Iraqis], with the aim of annihilating [Iraq itself]. The objectives of [the] plan [are the] disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.” To outline the Iraq Genocide I can go through each one of Lemkin’s “techniques of genocide”. He enumerated these in Chapter 9 of Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, which, as you will recall, is where the term “genocide” originates. His descriptions of techniques of genocide can be very closely mapped to US actions in Iraq. And remember that this is the original defining document on what genocide actually is and you can go through it point by point and see how well it applies to US actions. The process is far too complex to detail fully here, but I will give a rough outline and hopefully you can use your own faculties and prior knowledge to fill in some gaps.

  1. Thee first technique of genocide was labelled Political – this would include the entire “De-Baathification” process; the period of rule by Paul Bremer; the suppression of mass demonstrations, of political dissent and of organised labour; the subversion of sovereignty; and the imposition of constitutional arrangements.

  2. Social – changing the legal structure; abolishing unionism; targeted killings of community leaders; fomenting sectarian division; disruption family social and economic life by targeting “military-age males” for disappearance or death. One of the biggest social impacts has come from the eliticidal killings of intellectuals and certain professionals such as doctors. This began with “Debaathification”, and then there were kidnappings, then the US instituted the “Salvador Option” and since that time intellectuals have often been targeted by death squads.

  3. Cultural – To paraphrase Lemkin by merely changing the word “regimentation” to “chaos” and the word “Poland” to “Iraq”: “Not only have national creative activities in the cultural and artistic field been rendered impossible by chaos, but the population has also been deprived inspiration from the existing cultural and artistic values. Thus, especially in Iraq, were national monuments destroyed and libraries, archives, museums, and galleries of art carried away.” Let me repeat: “…national monuments destroyed and libraries, archives, museums, and galleries of art carried away.”

  4. Economic – to quote Lemkin again: “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.” In 2013 Iraq passed the $100 billion US dollar mark for post invasion oil sales, and yet Iraqis still languish in poverty.

  5. Biological – in this category Lemkin discussed measures that the Germans used to lower birthrates particularly by geographically separating the men and women. The US has pursued policies which separate men from women en masse, but not to such an extent that it would affect the birthrate significantly. Bear in mind, however, that the physical and environmental aspects of genocide against Iraqis have also acted to reduce birthrates and may be even crueller than dividing families.

  6. Physical – Lemkin divided this into 3 subcategories: a) Discrimination in feeding – by 1998 it was calculated that 1 million had died because of sanctions imposed on Iraq. In infants particularly this was from a combination of disease and malnourishment. The perpetrators – the US and the UK – blamed the Iraqi government, but the rationing system in Iraq was as efficient and equitable as could reasonably be expected. In fact it cannot be denied that in this regard the Ba’ath government provided a far better and far less corrupt service than any large-scale service provided by the US government or any US contractor in Iraq. In reality, the deaths were the result of the deliberate withholding of essential nutrition and medications; b) Endangering of health – in addition to the sanctions preventing medications from reaching Iraq they also prevented medical equipment from being replaced. This was a slow torturous atrocity whose intentionality cannot be questioned. Then during the invasion and occupation US military forces systematically targeted medical personnel and medical facilities. This was something that Dahr Jamail was at pains to document at the time and compiled into an alarming report in 2005. Not content with merely bombing hospitals and systematically murdering health workers, the occupation authorities also used the same sort of destructive policies they used on economic assets – giving both US and Iraqi money to corrupt contractors who had been formally been made immune to both Iraqi and US law and were thus guaranteed impunity in advance. While facilities struggled to cope with mass violence and to rebuild that which was degraded during the sanctions period, Iraqi funds were misspent on lining the pockets of rich US contractors. c) Mass killing – the shocking results of the mortality survey in 2006, known as “Lancet2” or “L2”, have now been vindicated. As well as a very high rate of violent death L2 showed that up to 2006, where known, most people were killed by coalition forces and most people were killed by small arms. Total mortality in Iraq due to the invasion is above one million. If this is added to the fatalities caused throughout the previous 13 years the figure in considerably in excess of 2 million.

  7. Religious – Here I could cite the numerous attacks on and destructions of Mosques carried out by Coalition forces in the first few years of the occupation. But it is impossible to avoid mention of the sectarian and religious conflicts caused by the occupation. This is portrayed as something that is an endemic problem, but that is a complete lie. Westerners don’t seem to grasp how unusually blood-drenched Christianity is, and how sickeningly racist it is to project that peculiar tradition of violent intolerance onto others in order to avoid seeing Western culpability in fomenting bitter divisions. Just to be clear, it is not Christian theology that originated the violence of the religion, but rather the fact that it became the state religion of a thousand year-old empire that had the established habit of brutally killing those it considered to be ideologically heterodox. Indeed, Christians themselves had frequently been victims of this impulse. Once Christianity was bedded in to Roman politics it was inevitable that the Roman approach to heresy would reassert itself. Then the Church split, with Rome becoming the centre of a quasi-sovereign multinational “Papal monarchy”. This Western church found that its power was greatest when it was fighting heretics and infidels and it became addicted to bloody Crusades. These were not just to the Holy Land, but also included the brutal genocide of the Albigensian Crusade. After that was the Inquisition and then the Reformation set off the wars of religion which killed millions upon millions. That is not even to mention the indelibly Christian flavour of Western imperialist violence which continues to this day. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam all have violence in their past and present, but none have a history that compares to this. For that reason I get very angry when people talk about the sectarian violence in Iraq as being the result of some ancient enmity. Very little of the violence in Islam’s history has a sectarian origin. Western historians talk about Shi’a political participation in the original Sunni ruled Caliphate as being “political quietism”, but even that is projecting a Western standard coloured by things like the massacre of Huguenots in Paris. I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

  8. Moral – Lemkin wrote: “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.” I think that this is a subjective area, but I think that the imperial pattern that the US tries to replicate everywhere, including at home, is one of atomised consumerism. In Iraq’s case this meshes with the social, cultural and economic destruction mentioned above.

  9. Environmental – Lemkin did not have this category, but it seems now a salient and highly important technique of genocide. Lemkin had no environmental awareness, as such, because of the times in which he lived, but some people now use the term ecocide to refer to systematic environmental destruction and I believe that ecodide is best understood as being one of these techniques of genocide. In Iraq the US has systematically caused environmental degradation by destroying infrastructure and contaminating areas with toxins, radioactive material and unexploded anti-personnel ordnance. Perhaps the most well known pollutant is depleted uranium, but recent studies in Fallujah show that it is only one part of a toxic cocktail that causes birth defects and cancer. Practices like using burn pits have also created deadly exposure to toxins for both Iraqis and US personnel. Like Agent Orange, these are slow motion chemical weapons attacks, and like a gas attacks there is always some “blowback” onto your own personnel (for a war leader, sacrificing pawns is necessary to win the game). Like Agent Orange, the pollution will kill for generations, causing health problems and heart-rending grief. Worse than even Agent Orange, however, some of these pollutants will stay for as long as we can foresee – a legacy of death and suffering that is practically eternal.

The Iraq occupation was a watershed moment, but it was not an aberration. It was part of an increasingly genocidal imperial policy that has blossomed into a series of ongoing neocolonial postmodern holocausts. The US sows conflict and instability and ensures that there is never any conclusion. Through direct or proxy interventions the US has created one eternal warzone after another. There is now a string of destabilised states, many of them so-called “failed states”, whose people are denied any path to peace. The situation is proliferating: Yemen, South Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, western Pakistan and eastern DR Congo. These are the acute cases, but there are many other countries have a lower level of chronic violence and instability.

These spreading zones of violence are a new form of genocide that slowly effectuates “the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups”. Can it be said that the goal is to “annihilate” these nations? Yes it can, because the goal is to annihilate them as such. It is imprinted in the logic of the genocide. Because the violence provokes resistance, the logic of the genocide will demand unending violence. The violence creates its own strategic imperative for continuation while at the same time the institutions created to carry out that violence gain substance and a life of their own.

History will record the current era as a time of neocolonial slaughter much like the spasm of imperialist violence at the end of the 19th century – an increasingly mechanised blood-letting that foreshadowed the slaughter of World War I. However, genocide is not a discrete and absolute phenomenon. It is never the case that “a genocide” is committed in isolation. The current genocides have long historical roots. US “counterinsurgency” in the “Indian Wars”, in Latin America and in Asia, is cross-pollinated with South Africa’s “Total War” against its neighbours, and Indonesia’s genocides, and Israel’s invasions of Lebanon. This has created a system of in institutional knowledge rife with various techniques of Balkanisation and destabilisation.

By playing Hawks off against Doves, US imperialists create room for themselves to inflict unending violence without ever allowing the perception of control that a military victory would give. Retired General Mike Flynn believed that the US needed to use more military force to defeat IS but has also said: What we have is this continued investment in conflict. The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict.” This is a complaint that has gone right back to 1950, becoming particularly prominent during the 2nd Indochina War. Military officials try to explain that they are hamstrung and prevented from achieving military victory, but rather than taking their claims seriously they are written off as being overzealous madmen. The fact is that apart from some insane proposals to use nuclear weapons, the military types do have a point. Military decisions are avoided for the same reason that counterinsurgencies become counter-productive, because the real enemy is the people and a military victory would only hinder the strategic goal of crushing the people themselves.

It would also be wrong and artificial to separate genocidal wars abroad from domestic governance. The institutions of genocide that Germany created when it committed genocide in East Africa are considered important antecedents of the later genocides in Europe. But the first people that the Germans put in concentration camps were German political dissidents. The first Nazi mass killings were of disabled Germans. Military war, genocide, and the quotidian oppression of domestic governance partake from each other. In the US there is a long interplay between the criminal justice system and the genocidal attacks on peoples of other countries. This is inseparable from the past genocides of colonisation. Ajamu Baraka, writing on the recent death in custody of anti-police brutality activist Sandra Bland wrote “The struggle in the U.S. must be placed in an anti-colonial context or we will find ourselves begging for the colonial state to violate the logic of its existence by pretending that it will end something called police brutality and state killings.”

Mass incarceration, domestic torture, police killings, and mass surveillance are all institutions that feed and feed from genocide abroad. In this sense you can see that it becomes an impediment to argue that a given phenomenon is “a genocide”, instead we need to acknowledge that a phenomenon such as US mass incarceration is genocidal and not “a genocide”.

A famous quote from Martin Niemöller begins: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.” It ends: “When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.” That is the nature of genocide. If we do not find a way to end the genocidal interventions in the Third World our turn will come, and collectively it already has. An elite habituated to meeting obstacles with genocidal violence will enact it on their own people, and that has already begun. If an innocent Caucasian is brutalised by a US policing and mass incarceration system that is primarily aimed at people of colour, that does not make that person an aberration of collateral damage but rather an indication that those institutions will be used against whomever it serves. The divisions between some “Them” and some “Us” are lies. They mean nothing, but we are made to feel that the mass violence perpetrated by our governments on distant foreigners is no threat to us, and may even be to protect us. It is not true. Every death we allow to happen places us all at greater risk, places our loved ones at greater risk. And one day, when it happens where you live, those who might speak for you will be dead or silenced.

But speaking out now has to be an act of true revolt. Ours is an age in which there is no more crucial imperative than that of demolishing the lies of elite ideology. Western regimes are almost impervious to the opinion of the masses, so mass education is far less important than deprogramming the apparatchiks that populate our boardrooms, newsrooms, seminar rooms and lecture theatres. We do not need to educate the masses. What will they do when they are educated, be knowledgeably powerless? No, we need to enrage the masses and delegitimise the elites. Their intellectual and moral pretensions are hollow.

To do this more than anything we need two things. One is to rediscover the knowledge and analysis of imperial power, and the other is to understand that imperialist violence, including structural violence, is genocidal in nature. Elite Western ideology was struck a blow by the end of the Cold War. By the late 1990s analysis of “globalisation” had begun to merge with a new, and not exclusively Marxist or Marxian, interest in the US empire. By now this has been almost completely expunged. In its place we have the traditional dullard stance of those who, without ever having to trouble their brains for confirmation, take it as granted that the default approach of the US is to seek to create stability and spread democracy. Less Pollyanna-ish, but equally blind are those who view US foreign policy as a variety of “realism” in response to “national security threats” such as “Islamist terrorism”. Most infuriating of all are the opponents and critics of US foreign policy who are now dominated by beliefs that US foreign policy is controlled by the Israel Lobby and/or acts primarily in order to deliver profits to the military-industrial complex. These are not only tropes of repugnant apologism, they are fatuous ahistorical and anti-intellectual conceptual cul-de-sacs which make cogent analysis impossible. They clearly satisfy deep-seated psychological needs, but they mainly fulfil the role of concealing continuities and preventing people from seeing the true shape of US imperial interventions.

To illustrate the potency of the term genocide imagine how difficult it would have been for the US to justify its actions in Iraq, if academic and media interlocutors had seen the pattern of genocide in US actions. Currently continuity and intentionality are concealed by simply replacing and recycling varying excuses made to limitlessly amnesiac intelligentsia. No one steps back and asks whether the current excuse for genocidal violence actually makes sense in the larger picture. Saddam might invade his neighbours again? Bomb the water infrastructure! Saddam has WMDs? Starve the people! There is resistance to our occupation? Dismantle all of the economic infrastructure and destroy historic sites! Insurgency? Kill! ISIS? Bomb! Iraqis don’t love us? Bomb some, arm others, then arm the ones you bombed and bomb the ones you armed! If it wasn’t so horrifically serious, it would be a pathetic joke.

Understanding the genocidal nature of this violence is the only way to end the cycle of mutating rationalisations. If they can’t launch a bombing campaign with a lie about a gas attack, the next lie will come along shortly and eventually one will stick. Take Gaza, for example. Israel’s violence has been justified as being: “Because Hamas. Because rockets.” But already you can see the beginnings of a new trendier discourse being established, where it is the failure of Hamas to control Salafists that will justify future genocidal violence. “Because ISIS. Because rockets.” And when that wears out there will be another excuse. And if we don’t escape the parameters of discourse set by the idea that Israeli actions are related to security (whether you agree with them or not), then there will never be an end to potential excuses. While we debate the merits, they will kill more. And so it will continue.

To conclude, then, I hope that Anuradha Mittal learns what I have said here and I hope she decides that it is not a good idea to give a detailed hour-long account of a genocide and to baulk at using the word “genocide” itself. What she described was a people who were dispossessed, had their movement controlled, were cut of from the native soil that provided them economic and psychological health, had family lives shattered, were traumatised, were deprived of materials of culture and religion, had social networks destroyed or degraded, and finally had their history, their agency and ultimately their humanity expunged from the official state narrative of history. If that isn’t genocide then there can be no such thing.

I would also like Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian to reflect on the fact that they published a book in 2008 that specifically claimed that US personnel were systematically murdering Iraqis in large numbers, but never used the word genocide. Perhaps they can now see that they effectively orphaned their work and made it irrelevant by not giving the systematic killing its rightful context as being genocidal mass killing. To put the murders they talk about in any real context that relates them to the bombing, sanctions, economic destruction, social disintegration and civil war absolutely requires that the word and the concept of genocide be used.

The word must be used because the genocide continues in Sri Lanka just as it does in Iraq. The situation in Iraq is well known, but what Mittal describes is also alarming because the Sri Lankan government seems to use weakness to deepen persecution. They seem to have exploited the military weakness of the Tamil Tigers at the end of the civil war to conduct mass murder and they have used their victory to rewrite history to further denigrate the Tamils. That forebodes further armed mass violence. By the appropriate use of the term genocide, however, public alarm and discontent can be wakened. Once people actually grasp the meaning of the word it will be much easier for groups such as Tamils to awaken people and much harder for perpetrators to convince them to stay asleep.

Perhaps most important of all is the potential to cause a “revolt of the guards”. This is something that Howard Zinn famously advocated at the end of a People’s History of the United States and it is also something that Chris Hedges refers to frequently. The fact is that when people come to understand that they are engaged in a necessarily atrocious and criminal enterprise they are liable to stop. The concept of genocide can open peoples’ eyes to the cruelty in which they have become enmeshed.

But the power of the word does not end there. Many of the war resisters within the US military who acted against the genocide in Indochina used the term genocide to justify their actions, or refusal to act. It is a very powerful position to take, to say: “This is genocide, and I will not partake in genocide”. If someone says “this war is immoral” the counter-argument is that it is not for them to decide what is moral. But if you say “this is genocide” then any disputant is inevitably going to have to argue that it is not genocide and that opens up the discourse to discussions of human suffering as opposed to notions of threats and security and combat that dominate the discourse of war.

The fact is that there are clearly people out there who will actually argue that it is sometimes right to commit genocide. In that sense perhaps spreading a greater understanding of the term does risk “debasing the coin”. These people will crawl out of the woodwork, and then there will be a discourse of genocide and genocide-lite. Various reasons will be put forward that some genocide is tolerable, maybe necessary, and even, perhaps, sometimes a moral good. But most people will never buy into that. Genocide necessarily means deliberately inflicting suffering on the innocent. In practice military warfare also means this, but proponents can always argue that such suffering an unfortunate side-effect of an otherwise perfectly moral enterprise of destruction killing and maiming. When something is appropriately labelled and understood as genocide, the perpetrators have no place to hide. That is what we need.

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

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photographer-philip-jones-griffiths-in-vietnam-21-638

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.

The decadence of American Sniper

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“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero” – Bertolt Brecht.

Bertolt-Brecht.jpg

The US had Audie Murphy for a hero once, but they never made the same frenetic screeching that they now do about Chris “American Sniper” Kyle. In Murphy’s time enough people were touched by the horrors of war to know that deep down the notion of a “war hero” is irreducibly oxymoronic. Our notion of a “hero” is stripped of complexity and it is cartoonish; applying it to war makes as much sense as having a heroic cancer.

Manufactured heroes like Kyle are symptomatic of deep social cultural and political decay. Delusional myths are becoming ever more central to the functioning of the US state. Those who are not blinded by ideological fervour are systematically excluded from positions of power and influence in the private and state sectors. Sane people may remain in office, but sane actions are blocked, twisted, co-opted, reversed and/or simply drowned in the wider context of decadent insanity.

In the Bush era some of history’s worst mass-murdering war criminals effectively disguised themselves as fanatical ideologues, but ironically they left an empire stripped of its ability to function rationally. At best they bought their empire 15 to 20 years more life at the cost of more than 1 million Iraqi lives. But this is far from over, and the whole world, including the US people, will suffer greatly because of their actions.

Systemic dysfunction has become a global norm in the Western world and in its enslaved neocolonies. We have to face the challenges of global warming and the end of the petrochemical underpinnings of our economies with a bunch of deluded freaks running the show. Those who try to maintain reasoned professional conduct are also living in a type of delusion. Where evil giants ravage the land, they see only benign windmills. Active dissent, active rejection existing power, and active resistance are the only sane options left.

An Open Letter to an IDF Apologist at the BBC

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Ironic pic of Orwell at Big Brother Corp

After 10 years as a business reporter, Anthony Reuben is now the BBC News inaugural “Head of Statistics”. True to the spirit of 1984 he seems to take his role as being to remind people of such numerical truths as “2 + 2 = 5 fanatical Islamist terrorist Hamas militants”. In a report on what the statistics tell us about the recent fatalities in Gaza, he highlights the fact that a disproportionate number of young men are being killed. Another BBC report on Gaza casualties is quite shocking, but its impact is diminished by a link to Reuben’s article with the words “If the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate’, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women”

Someone else has already written an email to Reuben which is posted at the Media Lens message board. It covers some of the territory that I have, but I felt that I needed to add a few things in a missive of my own. I got a little bit carried away, but the result is heartfelt…

To Anthony Reuben,

I have to ask, just what sort of statistician are you? Surely one of the fundamental tenets in statistical thought is that correlation does not imply causation, yet without the implicit unsupported claim that a gender imbalance in fatalities indicates IDF discrimination, your article has no purpose.

When I write “no purpose” I really mean “no legitimate purpose”. It is a great propaganda point for Israel to use the deaths of “military aged males” to imply military legitimacy in their violence. Your work certainly goes a long way to helping the IDF promote its narrative. This means that you are helping them, and I hope you realise that you are therefore complicit in their actions.

Need I remind you that Srebrenica was primarily a massacre of “military-aged males” and that those who committed that genocidal act used the same excuse as the IDF? By itself that destroys the tacit premise of your article unless you also consider Srebrenica to be a legitimate military action. The fact is that it is normal that adult male civilians are targeted and murdered at far higher rates than women and children. There are a number of reasons why this is the case, including the psychology of those committing the murders. Military personnel find it easier to kill adult male civilians than others. Additionally, apologists such as yourself find it easier to muddy the waters over war crimes.

You breezily dismiss the issue of gender disparity in war casualties from other conflicts: “There has been some research suggesting that men in general are more likely to die in conflict than women, although no typical ratio is given.” With a flourish of misdirection, which seems to come naturally to the hack and the junk-merchant, you induce the reader to think that nothing of relevance is contained in the paper which you link to. You let people know that you have read it, but it really has nothing to illuminate the issue. However, the paper does establish that although there is a great deal of variation between conflicts, there is undeniable precedent for far greater numbers of male than female civilians being killed directly in conflicts. In other words, if you were half the statistician you claim, you would recognise that a disproportionate death rate amongst Gazan men is no evidence that more armed militants have been killed than Hamas claims, is not evidence that the IDF is practicing discrimination, and is not evidence that the IDF does not target civilians.

Moreover, the paper you cite is in itself too narrow in scope for the purposes of your article. There is relevant historical evidence which is denied by no one. Not one person who knows anything about the subject denies that there is a long standing practice of killing adult male civilians. It seems to be as old as human mass violence, and it is certainly as old as the phenomena we understand as war and genocide. It is a practice which falls under the category now given as “gendercide”. Like mass rape, the tactic of the mass killing of men is not merely aimed at the immediate victims, but is a genocidal tactic aimed at social cohesion. In a patriarchal society and/or one with high numbers of dependent children, the impact of killing a “military age male” – which is to say a “working age male” – is multiplied.

But perhaps the most important propaganda role you are playing is to access that moral and emotional numbness with which we have all been induced to view violence against young men. I have read many accounts of violence, and I will admit that the images that haunt me are those of violence against children. Yet I can also say that those who are close to the violent deaths of men do not view it with the equanimity that our public discourse accords the subject. These are human beings who love and are loved. They feel as much fear, pain, grief and guilt as anyone other human being in their last moments, whether they carry a gun or not. We project on to these dying men a sense that they are agents in their own deaths, as if war were some sort of shoot-out at high noon where every male carries a sixgun. The emphasis on “women and children” is an impulse of armchair humanitarianism by the insipid and the self-righteous.

Perhaps, to understand my point, you could watch and rewatch the video posted here of a young man being murdered by an Israeli sniper. Watch it and ask yourself, “what does my article say about this man’s death”? This is the death of a 20-29 year-old male, so if your article isn’t about this, then what on Earth is it about? I mean that seriously. Your holier-than-thou detached statistical conceits actually say nothing at all about the horrible death of this man except to suggest that somehow it doesn’t really count.

You are also making a big straw man out of the UN accusation of indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force. The real question is the systematic targeting of non-combatants. To date, Israel has targeted 7 UN schools being used as shelters. Fleeing civilians have also been targeted, as have rescue workers and UN personnel. This is based on 3rd party evidence and, quite frankly, only an idiot would give any credence to the IDF’s response to these accusations unless they were subject to cross-examination or were able to provide substantive evidence to back their claims.

But not only do you give unwarranted credence to IDF distortions, you are too lazy, stupid or evil to even check on the veracity of blatant lies. You quote an IDF spokesperson on the subject of Operation Cast Lead: “Hamas and Gaza-based organisations claimed that only 50 combatants were killed, admitting years later the number was between 600-700, a figure nearly identical to the figure claimed by the IDF.” This is a double lie. Firstly, I wouldn’t think it would be too much to expect a BBC reporter to look up what the BBC itself reported about claimed casualties after OCL: “Hamas has said 48 of its fighters were killed. The Popular Resistance Committee says 34 died and Islamic Jihad said it lost 38 men.” Hamas not claiming only 50 combatants killed, it is claiming that only 50 of its combatants were killed. Lie number two, just as easy to sort out by an internet search, is that Hamas or “Gaza-based organisations” have “admitted” to a figure of 600-700. No they haven’t. You are either wilfully being played for a fool, or you are deliberately deceiving your readers.

You also repeat that Israeli claim given exposure by your colleague back in 2009 – that “when militants are brought to hospitals, they are brought in civilian clothing, obscuring terrorist affiliations”. I love this one because you have to be a moron to believe it, but also at least a bit of a racist. There are really two options here, one is that when combat breaks out Gazan militants change into civvies on the rather Pythonesque logic that they will make the evil Zionists pay by seeking matyrdom in mufti [sic]. The other possibility is that these hate-filled fanatic terrorists are so rabid, so irrationally rational, so innately cunning and conniving, that when their comrades are wounded or killed their first response is to give them a change of clothing – presumably remembering to tear, incise and or burn the clothing so that it matches the flesh beneath. Hamas probably has special units of crack combat-tailors giving makeovers to the dead and dying. While they are working I imagine that the legions of Pallywood specialists are digitally altering stock footage and stills so that every rabid mass-murdering terrorist arrives at the morgue with pictures and video of their tender family life of caring for young children and sickly elders.

Your fatuous hypothesis is that the disproportionate fatalities of young males suggests that Israel is only accidentally killing civilians in the legitimate pursuit of “terrorists”, and that the IDF, in fact, is practicing discrimination. This is based on four things – ignorance, stupidity, self-satisfied arrogance and the blatant lies of an IDF spokesperson. By privileging statistical evidence as being of a higher order than mere anecdote you manage to suggest that the evidence of our eyes themselves is somehow suspect. This is vulgar scientism. The fact is that a single anecdote can sometimes destroy a statistical hypothesis. The different sorts of evidence provide different sorts of information, one is not inherently better at revealing an objective truth. Statistical methods are frequently abused to create distorted pictures. Statistics provided by belligerents about their own actions are more or less worthless anyway, but sometimes it is perfectly valid to dismiss a statistical account on the basis that it diverges far too much from the collected reliable anecdotes. For example, US figures on civilian deaths in the second assault on Fallujah are risible. Anyone who actually followed the eyewitness accounts of what was occurring at the time knows that these “statistics” are worthless. We know from accounts of US personnel that dead civilians were simply labelled “insurgents”. It is an old practice, perhaps best known from Indochina where it was referred to as the “mere gook rule”.

The “mere gook rule” was elucidated as being “if it’s Vietnamese and dead, then its VC”. The reasons for this were many and varied. People often cleave to the cliché vision of ambitious officers trying to outdo each other by claiming everything conceivable as a kill. Behind that, however, were far more important systemic causes. We do not talk about such things in polite society, but the fact is that the US war machine systematically targeted civilians on the basis that being in a certain location made you a legitimate target deserving of death. They overtly wanted to attack the civilian population in NLF controlled areas on the basis that they were VC “infrastructure”. But to do so they actually redefined them as being combatants. Hence William Westmoreland, that charming man, was able to confidently proclaim that no civilian had ever been killed in a free-fire zone, because he had defined free-fire zones as places where no people were civilians. So when William Calley described his reason for killing women as being because they had “about a thousand little VC” in them, he was actually just expressing official US doctrine.

I feel that I must point out here, in case there is any confusion, that contrary to what seems to be broadly taken as true at the BBC, powerful officials do not actually define reality. I know that this is hard for you to understand, but just because a US General says that the victims of bombing and shelling were all combatants, including the children, it does not make it true. There is a legal definition of “combatant” and international humanitarian law doesn’t actually rely on an honour system where the perpetrator owns up for any acts of naughtiness (and that includes Israel’s activities in Gaza). The Nuremburg Trials, for example, did not consist of a series of cleverly posed questions designed to trap German leaders into admitting that they had started a war and killed civilians. But while we are on that subject, it is always important to remember that every act of mass violence by the Germans was defined by them as an act of war against the “enemy” who were sometimes defined as being a “terrorist population”.

If a normal conscientious human being wrote an article about the gender and age characteristics of fatalities in Gaza, they might at least mention the very prominent fact that the US is now applying a gender and age specific version of the “mere gook rule”. Perhaps you have been sequestered under a rock for the last few years, but there has been significant mention in the news that the US automatically defines anyone killed in their targeted killings who is a military age male as being a “militant” until proven otherwise. “Militant” is such a great word as well because it gives people the impression of legitimacy, but it does not actually specify that the targets were combatants. A study of Israeli targeted killings some years ago found not only that they killed four times as many bystanders as targets, but also that 50% of the “militants” they targeted weren’t actually part of any armed activities. These militants were community organisers, political organisers and union organisers – you know, “infrastructure”.

To recap, then: a military aged male is not necessarily a combatant, but they are frequently targeted as such. This is known as gendercide. Targeting civilians in this way is often accompanied with official semantic approaches which seek to legitimate the targeting of civilians, but by nature any repudiation of legal definitions is in itself a war crime constituted necessarily of the systematic targeting of civilians.

Given everything we see of IDF personnel murdering helpless civilians, what seem to be targeted attacks on medical and aid workers – including UN personnel – and what seem to be deliberate attacks on UN facilities being used as shelters by displaced people, only an Orwellian freak could possibly go along with the idea that the UNHRC’s accusation of indiscriminate use of force is the real issue. Nor is the systematic targeting of civilians even the worst crime on evidence here. Israel is quite blatantly committing genocide as it is defined in law in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG), and under the UN Charter it is guilty of criminal aggression. Genocide is considered an “aggravated crime against humanity” which parties to the UNCG are obliged to act to end, whilst aggression was defined at Nuremburg as the “supreme crime”.

I bet you think you know what the word “genocide” means. I bet that deep down in your guts you know that it was never meant to describe the way Israel treats Palestinians. You probably can’t exactly say what genocide means, but you understand its essence and you know that it is offensive and obscene to cheapen the memory of the dead by debasing the coinage with such politicised accusations. Save your indignant spluttering. The legal definition of genocide is quite clear and taking actions aimed at destroying “in whole or in part” the Palestinian people is genocide by definition. The expectation that genocide should always be manifested as a discreet orgy of violence is a vulgar misapprehension. Genocide is frequently a long process of sporadic, chronic violence in the midst of ongoing persecution. In fact, the slow nature of the Israeli genocide is what makes it so much less ambiguous or uncertain than most other genocides. The rhetoric, the strategic imperatives, the tactic, the doctrines and the policies in this case all align to make this an open-and-shut case with none of the usual difficult issues of intentionality. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal not only found Israel guilty of the crime of genocide, but also found several named living Israeli officials guilty of genocide.

I know what you are thinking – you are thinking that the KLWCT is “political” and is motivated by “politics”. Let’s deconstruct that, shall we? In your twisted little world there is nothing “political” about the ICC which is an official body that just happens to spend almost all of its time prosecuting sub-Saharan African leaders who have angered the the US. Are these the worst war criminals in the world? No. Are they the worst war criminals in sub-Saharan Africa? No, not that either, certainly not on the basis of the numbers of victims killed. Apart from one token M-23 guy thrown to the dogs for the sake of appearances, the real crime of these people was that of defying Washington. The ICC, however, is “official”. In your grubby little corner of Oceania this means that it is not “political”. In the same idiom the US is an “honest broker” and John Kerry is a “credible authority”. In the real world, however, despite the involvement of Malaysian political figures, the KLWCT is constituted of independent scholarly and legal experts whose collective interest in the matter of Palestine is purely that of human beings who seek an end to injustice and suffering.

(Have you ever wondered about that? The way in which the pompous organs of the media reverse reality to say that the people who don’t have a vested interest are the suspect “political” voices, but the people who have immense power and money riding on the outcomes of events are considered at least respectable if not authoritative?)

The law may not be perfect, but often the fact that it is a codified standard which can be applied equally to each party is highly illuminating. Admittedly, by the time it reaches a court, international law is generally a selective disproportionate application of what amounts to victor’s justice. But we can independently examine issues in a legal light to get a good view of ethical dimensions of a situation. The question is this, in this instance who is the aggressor and who has the right of self-defence?

Israel claims the right of self-defence but what does Article 51 of the UN Charter actually authorise? “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” Well, the UNSC has indeed been apprised of this situation and has passed resolutions to restore international peace and security, but Israel will not comply with those resolutions. In order to claim the right of self-defence Israel would first have to relinquish all occupied territories, among other things. And that is a normal established understanding. An occupying force does not have a right to self-defence. Nor is it permissible to blockade a country and then “defend” against their armed resistance to that blockade. If these things were not true then you would have a situation where both sides can claim self-defence with each supposedly defending against the other’s defence.

I know that it is heretical to even think such thoughts, but what if we spent as much time talking about Palestinian rights to self-defence as we do about the non-existent Israeli right to self-defence? When you actually apply international law, Palestinians have every right to use the arms that are available to them in resistance. They are the ones subject to occupation. Israel and its allies have used the statelessness of Palestinians to obfuscate their right to self-defence, but in law you cannot deny rights to individuals on the basis of statelessness which means that they have “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” until such time as the UNSC restores peace.

That brings me to something that I find almost as upsetting as seeing the bodies of children killed by “the most moral army in the world”. Those who take up arms against Israel are not legally or morally deserving of death. Most of them will have lost loved ones to Israeli violence. Every one of them suffers under the illegal oppression of the occupation. Deciding to fight back with arms is not some irrational fanatical decision. Yet in our media these men are treated as violent irrational ciphers in a way which both draws on and perpetuates a racist conception of Arab men. Nobody ever puts a human face on these fighters. They are tarred with the brush of Islamism, with its heavy freight of misogynistic savagery, but many of them aren’t even Islamists and those that are have not committed the sort of atrocities which Westerners claim come naturally to Islamists. We should at least remember who is and who isn’t killing babies here – that is not too much to ask is it? It is the IDF who are committing atrocities, and those who take up arms against them have the legal right to do so. They also have the right to life. They don’t enjoy dying, as the British used to claim about Arab tribesmen. They don’t eagerly seek martyrdom. Like isn’t “cheap” to them, as Westmoreland said of “Asiatics”. Those tropes are the worst kind of vicious racism. These fighters are human beings, and their deaths are legally and morally acts of murder.

Surely this doesn’t mean that Hamas can just fire thousands of rockets into Israel killing civilians, does it? Well, actually it does. Killing civilians is illegal, but the responsibility and culpability belongs with Israel’s leadership under the current circumstances. At Nuremburg it was adjudicated that Russian partisans could not be criminally responsible for atrocities carried out because they were in turn responding to the war crimes of the aggressor. Some argue that this Nuremburg precedent seems to give carte blanche to members of any attacked group. Perhaps jus in bello law must be equally applied to all parties no matter what, as a principle of equality under the law. But even if you take that position, was Kenneth Roth of HRW right to assiduously condemn Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket fire when he recently discussed war crimes in Gaza? No. Roth is just being a scumbag. He is either acting as a propaganda agent to deliberately build a false equivalence, or he cares more about pandering and sounding “credible” than he cares for truth and justice.

Let me put this into some sort of perspective. It is, quite frankly ridiculous and wildly disproportionate to even suggest that we need to take steps over the supposed illegality of using insufficiently discriminating arms by factions in a besieged population when the harm to civilians is so much less that that caused to the civilians of the besieged population. Gaza’s rockets and mortars have killed 28 civilians in the last 13 years. [And don’t give me any crap about the wondrous “Iron Dome” – it didn’t even exist for most of that time and Theodor Postol has calculated that it does not work. It is a horrendously expensive PR ploy to maintain the deception that there is some sort of parity between Israeli and Palestinian violence.] Not only would it be a de facto abrogation of the Palestinian right to self-defence to restrict the weapons allowed to those that can only reach the enemy when the enemy chooses to come within range. Moreover, it is another point of law that you cannot accuse someone of a crime when you are also guilty of that crime. If Palestinian rockets and mortars are illegal then so are Israeli rockets and mortars – which kill more people. They share exactly the same properties of being inherently indiscriminate, as do air and ground artillery munitions. There is no qualitative difference between these inaccurate primitive rockets and any other explosives used around civilian populations except that they are a lot less deadly than most. This twisted and sick idea shared between Israel an the US that they can effectively exculpate themselves by saying – “yes, we kill more civilians, but we do it more accurately” is appalling.

The point is, though, not to say that Israel can’t accuse militants in Gaza of war crimes, but to say that none of us can. How can we, in countries that have shelled and bombed and killed so many, accuse Palestinian militants of anything? How could anyone from the US claim that Palestinian munitions are insufficiently precise and discriminating when their own government uses depleted uranium, cluster munitions, napalm, fuel-air bombs, white phosphorous, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam. The very idea that any Westerner can level war crimes accusations at an desperately poor and ill-armed besieged people for using the only primitive weapons with which they can reach their attacker is sickening and obscene.

I don’t like the rocket attacks. I don’t think Israeli civilians deserve death. But as Osama Hamdan pointed out, when they stop firing rockets, it doesn’t stop Israel from killing and blockading their people. How long do you sit doing nothing while people are killed and while the land, the little strip of a prison, gets ever closer to becoming irreversibly uninhabitable. (There is the Zionist genocidal intent – a realist’s Eretz Israel with a non-citizen Palestinian helots living in controlled West Bank enclaves, while Gaza is a post-apocalyptic pile of polluted rubble.)

If you have actually read this far, you might be marshalling answers with your little weasel brain. Please don’t bother. To put it politely, this letter is in the spirit of a condemnatory open letter. To put it more honestly, I don’t care what a toxic freak like you has to say in his defence. For forty years the dissident voices of our society have taken on this crippling notion that we should “engage” people in “dialogue”, as if our goal is to show people like you the error of your ways. But even engaging someone like you is to give validity to your insane world-view. What sort of callous freak actually goes out of their way to throw condemnations of IDF actions in Gaza into question? Do you wake up in the morning and think, “I know what the world needs, it needs more geeky smug reasons for not having to feel compassion and the desire to end suffering”?

So, frankly, I don’t care what you have to say for yourself. I just want you to know that you are hated. A person half a world away, who is very well educated about the issues involved, hates you for the simple reason that you are the enemy of humanity and your work promotes the suffering of innocents.

All the best for you and your hack friends in your future self-congratulatory endeavours,

Kieran Kelly

 

The Numbers Game: New Research Shows that US has Saved Millions of Iraqi Lives.

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[Warning: this is satire. I apologise for any confusion. If I offend anyone I want to make absolutely certain that they are the right people.]

In 2006 The Lancet published the second of two ideologically driven mortality “surveys” which claimed that the US had caused over 600,000 deaths in Iraq. This was followed by other such “research” conducted by those who made no effort to conceal their own political bias against George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Some of these organizations claimed to have found astronomical numbers of fatalities, even over a million. One of those who has led the fight to correct these subjective and biased studies is Jim Slobberdrib. For eight years Slobberdrib headed Applied Research Science Enterprises prestigious Iraq Death List project. More recently Slobberdrib has overseen a new study which, by applying newer and even less biased techniques and standards, has found that US actions actually saved many thousands of Iraqis who would otherwise have perished. Since the release of these explosive findings Slobberdrib has been very busy promoting the work by granting interviews to the media. Fortunately, however, he was able to take time out from all of that in order to grant me an interview:

KK: If I could turn first to your work with the respected Iraq Death List project – how exactly did you get the inspiration to start the project, and what were its aims?

JS: Well, it is funny how inspiration can strike at any moment. I was working for Blush, McLieberger and Koch, the PR firm, and, I don’t know, I… I must have been quite dissatisfied with the meaninglessness of it. So much so, I think, that my boss could actually tell even before I really knew myself. He told me that I needed something more meaningful in my life, a chance to give back. As it happened, he said, our firm had a relationship Applied Research Science Enterprises…

KK: A relationship?

JS: Yes, I think they shared office space in Kuala Lumpur or something. And they shared other things – you know, photocopying costs, long-arm staplers and so forth. They also had the same Human Resources department, funnily enough. It worked out quite well for me in the end, because it meant that I could just stay on the payroll despite suddenly and drastically and ummm…

KK: Boldly?

JS: Yes, yes, boldly. Boldly changing my career completely. Of course, there was a significant pay rise and I think that this shows that being daring and taking risks can be quite rewarding in that sense. The rewards are more than merely material, they are also monetary.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. Basically, I came up with the idea of doing a truly definitive body count in Iraq which would ensure that the Bush and Blair regimes were absolutely accountable for every single death of every single innocent but only if we could truly verify their innocence and their deadness. I believed utterly, then as now, that it would be wrong to hold someone accountable for abstract statistics, it is only when we can absolutely verify absolute innocence and absolute death that we can think of holding those in power accountable.

KK: So it was a sudden inspiration born out of an urgent humanitarian impulse?

JS: Exactly. They sent me along to meet the people at Applied Research Science Enterprises. They could also tell that I was stricken with a Humanitarian Impulse. They said it made me look troubled and intriguing. They mentioned that the main humanitarian concern in the world was probably the impact of the US invasion of Iraq and that people desperately needed reliable information to make judgements on the moral dimensions of the US action. I said something like: “Hey, wait a minute. If you guys are a research company, why not do some research about the effects of the invasion?” They were really impressed with my idea.

KK: So you didn’t have any directly training or experience as a statistician or epidemiologist or researcher of any sort did you?

JS: Yes, well, I think that this was the greatest strength that I brought to the job. I was an outsider, with a fresh perspective, not some stale old bean-crunching maths person. I wasn’t like The Count from Sesame Street being all mathematical about everything but losing sight of the human picture. I was there because of my Humanitarian Impulse and I could feel it getting stronger all of the time. Some people said I was becoming quite Bohemian. I even thought about writing a poem. I was the ideas man – the humanitarian ideas man. I could do the numbers too, if I wanted. I was used to it. In PR and marketing, we live by the numbers. I was never one of those people who actually makes the numbers, but I was around lots of numbers. Some of these numbers were really big numbers. I mean really big numbers, but they didn’t scare me. I can talk about infinity without getting scared.

KK: Walk us through what Iraq Death List actually did?

JS: Well, we collated reports of fatalities, but we would only actually include a reported fatality if it was independently verified by two Western media sources who had access to eyewitnesses of unimpeachable character. After that it was necessary for us to conduct our own independent verification to absolutely ensure that the eyewitnesses could be relied on.

KK: And then the first Lancet study came out in 2004. According to one of the researchers, they had initially expected that they might see an increase in mortality due to increased rates of disease or disruption to health and sanitation services, but instead they found that tens of thousands of people had been violently killed.

JS: Well, it just goes to show how political and unscientific they were. How are you going to show that someone died of disease because of the invasion? Did George W. Bush come up to them with a syringe full of dysentery or thyphus and inject them? A disease isn’t like a bullet. No one shoots someone with a disease. They were just going to count up some dead people and use some fancy number trick to say if was America’s fault. It’s like If I said that 78 percent of people who died of cancer died because they listened to rap music.

KK: But that wasn’t their main finding.

JS: Sure, but what they did was just as bad. They went around just asking Iraqis if anyone they knew had died and they just took their word for it that. These are Iraqis. They’re the ones who, I mean they’re practically the same people as… well, you know, they hate America. Of course they’re just going to say that the Americans killed my habeebi, or whatever. Hey, that reminds me of a joke a Marine told me: What did the Haji taxi driver say when he saw his child’s severed foot in the middle of the road?

KK: Umm, maybe just tell me later.

JS: Anyway, that wasn’t even the worst of it. They took those claims and then said that if these people said that their loved ones had died it must mean lots of other people had died well. They just made up all of these fictitious dead people. Completely made up. I don’t know how they thought they’d get away with this nonsense, but luckily we had our own definitive Iraq Death List and we could categorically refute their findings.

KK: So this is when you first began to clash with people like Gilbert Burnham and Les Roberts?

JS: Yeah.

KK: So, to set the scene, by this stage it is the end of 2004. A year and a half has passed since the invasion. What confirmed mortality figures did Iraq Death List have at this stage?


JS:
That’s the amazing thing, these jokers were claiming that 100,000 people had died but our confirmed fatalities were zero.

KK: Zero?

JS: Yeah.

KK: That’s quite conservative.

JS: Thanks. Well, anyway you can imagine how ridiculous these people looked, claiming that these nameless 100,000 people had died when we could show that there were no confirmed deaths at all.

KK: But surely some people must have died by this stage.

JS: People die all the time, but none of these deaths could be properly confirmed as being the result of US actions and confirmed as being real.

KK: Being real?

JS: Yeah. I guess one of the greatest challenges we faced at that point was the security situation. Our confirmation protocol is rigorous and we often found it impossible to deploy the hologram team to the areas in which fatalities were witnessed.

KK: Hologram team?

JS: It was vital that we assured ourselves that eyewitnesses had in fact witnessed real events, in those cases where eyewitnesses were considered sufficiently credible. We had to eliminate the most obvious possibility – that eyewitnesses had in fact witnessed only a clever projection made with hologram technology. But, there were often unacceptable risks in deploying the team.

KK: You mean that these alleged fatalities tended to occur in violent hotspots, in neighborhoods that were too dangerous to send a team into?

JS: I mean in deploying the team to Iraq. It was a very violent place…

KK: Despite having no actual confirmed fatalities?

JS: I know what I’m saying. Let’s not forget that American heroes were dying there every day. If we’d actually had a hologram team, we could never have risked sending them to the country.

KK: You didn’t even have a hologram team?

JS: Apparently it is difficult to find personnel who are appropriately trained and qualified to analyze this sort of technology.

KK: Because it doesn’t exist?

JS: Well, it is definitely cutting edge technology, maybe a bit beyond cutting edge. Anyway, one of our interns proposed a workaround and the “powers that be” decided that this was the way to go. It was decided that a quick trip to the morgue would serve to confirm that the dead were not holograms but in fact corporeal. I was against the decision. You know, I could understand the public relations aspect to it. People were thinking that zero fatalities was too low a figure. Edward Bernays understood this sort of thing. He invented public relations and he knew that ordinary people were very stupid. He called the average man “Dumb Jack” and he would have understood that “Dumb Jack” would never accept that the most scientific and objective measure of fatalities in Iraq was no fatalities at all. I understood the PR aspect of it, but by this time I had my scientist hat firmly on my head and my scientist hat told me it was all wrong.

KK: This was quite a dark time for you, wasn’t it?

JS: Yes, I did suffer from this sense of being conflicted. I was haunted by a recurrent nightmare. I would see “Dumb Jack” who looked just like my dad in his work coveralls. Then “Dumb Tariq” the suicide bomber would come along and decapitate my dad while singing “I Got You Under My Skin” in Frank Sinatra’s voice. Then me and “Dumb Tariq” would kick the head around like a soccer ball. Suddenly I’d realize that all along, every time I opened my mouth a stream of foul brown liquid would gush out, as if I was literally spouting liquid diarrhea. My therapist told me that it meant that when confronting trauma I became fecund with insight.

KK: “Fecund with insight”?

JS: Yeah, full of it apparently.

KK: But eventually you adjusted?

JS: Things got worse before they got better. My proposal that we initiate a capture and release program where Arabs would be banded and, if feasible, microchipped did not go down well. Detractors said that having such a program in the continental US would be of little use in determining death levels in Iraq. I tried to point out that this very same technique had been invaluable in studying declining numbers among Whooping Cranes and that the Arabs in question must themselves be migratory, otherwise they would not be in the continental US if the first place. I was widely pilloried for these ideas. I guess, in hindsight, that I should have talked them through with someone before calling a press conference.

KK: So if we move forward to 2006, and the release of the second Lancet study, widely referred to as “L2”. They estimated a very high mortality at this stage. In fact they estimated around 650,000 excess deaths, with 600,000 due to violence. What was the death toll according to IDL at this time?

JS: In approximate terms it was roughly around 3.

KK: Could you be more precise?

JS: It was 3.

KK: So there was an even bigger difference between your figures than there had been in 2004?

JS: In absolute terms, perhaps, but in percentage terms the gap had narrowed and I…

KK: Sorry, you say the gap had narrowed? What to?

JS: Well, a little over 20 million percent. That sounds a lot, but remember that in 2004 the percentage difference between our estimates was infinity. Infinity is much much larger than 20 million. 20 million is nothing compared to infinity. It’s like comparing, say, the size of a tennis ball with, umm, I don’t know, something infinitely bigger than a tennis ball.

KK: The universe?

JS: OK, maybe not that much bigger, but you get the point. I was very alarmed by the way politics had interfered with our science as if we should just compromise our methods in order to fit in with some antiwar malcontents and their made-up death study. Still, a difference of 20 million percent was just enough to show people once again that the Lancet study was dangerous nonsense.

KK: And now the Democrats in Washington started to take notice?

JS: Yes, they realized that our confirmed and undisputed body count was an invaluable weapon against the President. Of course, Republicans were not happy with me at that point. Senator Oren Stretchy (R-KY) physically threatened me with a yoghurt at a breakfast meeting. Bill O’Reilly said he wanted to chop me to pieces with his hedge-trimmer and feed me to his neighbor’s dachshund, but I think he might have mistaken me for Bernie Sanders’ cousin.

KK: And then, of course, that all changed when Bush actually admitted that your figures were correct.

JS: It was a great moment. Not just for me. Not just for IDL. But for the entire country. The President himself came out and admitted three innocent people had been killed due to his actions. He had saved us from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and from the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. He had finally brought the justice that would give peace to the restless souls of those lost on 9/11, in the Maine and at the Alamo. He had saved the lives of millions of Americans and the price he paid was to carry the burden of guilt forever for those innocent lives lost because of his actions. It was a great moment from a great leader.

You know, people like to compare Bush to Reagan or to Teddy Roosevelt, but to me his greatness transcends the parochial confines of US politics. If the great Winston Churchill and the beloved Mahatma Gandhi had through some miracle conceived a love child, that love child would be George W. Bush.

KK: This was, indeed, a great moment. Bush showed a humble and saintly side to himself that clearly moved people. But there were still those who questioned the actual figure of 3 killed, suggesting that it was on the low side. Perhaps if you gave more detail about IDL‘s methods. I mean, surely there must have been a lot more than 3 people confirmed killed in nearly 4 years of occupation.

JS: More “people” maybe. If you could call them that. But “people” could mean anything. “People” could be insurgents, or terrorists, or militant Islamic extremist fundamentalist Muslim militants. If you think those people are actual “people” then you go ahead and call them that. But you’ll excuse us if we don’t take the same stance. IDL was created out of a Humanitarian Impulse to definitively document the deaths of innocents so that the powerful can be held to account. You can’t treat the good killing, where we kill the bad guys, as being like the bad killing. In fact it should really be set up so that each good killing is subtracted from the number of bad killings.

KK: That would be another reason for saying that the US has killed a negative number of people. Sorry, I guess that is getting a bit ahead of your narrative.

JS: No, you are right though. The US has probably negatively killed much higher numbers of people than we outlined in our latest study. We should maybe revise our findings to take into account the negative killing aspect of killing bad guys. Sorry, where was I?

KK: I think you were about to outline the methods you used to make sure that you only counted the bad killing and not the good killing that we want our politicians to carry out.

JS: Oh, yeah. Right, you see the way I saw it was that we needed unimpeachable character witnesses who could testify to the goodness and innocence of the stiff. You see, one of the problems America faces is that its enemies don’t fight fair. They don’t wear uniforms. They don’t carry weapons. And they aren’t all military age males. You can’t even trust the kids and the babies. These people are so fanatical and so full of hatred that they sew explosives up into their own babies and then fire them out of modified mortar tubes. It was just the same in Vietnam. As one soldier said: The old men, the women, the children – the babies – were all VC or would be VC in about three years. And inside of VC women, I guess there were about a thousand little VC now.”

KK: Who was that?

JS: That was Lieutenant William Calley. He had a breakdown, like combat fatigue, and then they just persecuted him because they needed some sort of scapegoat. Luckily President Nixon knew a thing or two about being the victim of a witch hunt, and he gave him a pardon.

Anyway, so we needed a way to tell who were the fanatic insurgent terrorist Islamists. In a real country we would ask the priest or the preacher, but obviously we couldn’t ask Muslim priests. We couldn’t say that they needed the testimony of a Christian priest either, because that might seem insensitive. I still thought that a respected religious figure was the right sort of person to give this testimony. It finally came to me that the ideal religious personage, who was not objectionable and who commanded very wide respect, was an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk.

KK: So you would accept that someone who had been killed was, in fact, innocent if in life they had been known to an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk who was prepared to vouch for their character?

JS: Obviously there is a fine balance that must be achieved here, but we thought that our approach was very reasonable.

KK: And do you still think it was a reasonable approach?

JS: Of course.

KK: Despite what occurred near Kut al-Farraj in mid-2008?

JS: I’m not sure what you are referring to.

KK: Perhaps I can refresh your memory. August the second? A village near Kut al-Farraj? An airstrike using multiple 500lb J-DAM against farm buildings which US personnel described as “hardened”? Surely you must remember that the official IDL mortality count jumped overnight from 4 to 179? Does it ring a bell yet? The airstrike at the village where the Venerable Abdallah al-Bakr happened to live?

JS: Yeah. I’ll never really get that. How can someone called Abdallah be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk? Don’t you need to be Tibetan?

KK: No. Tibetan is also a type of Buddhism. Allen Ginsberg was an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk.

JS: Wasn’t he some sort of Nazi or Communist or something?

KK: You’re thinking of someone else.

JS: Look, our results were sound and the Kut al-Farraj incident only strengthened the validity of our results. It showed that our method was flexible and responsive.

KK: “Strengthened the validity”? Are you really still defending this now? You had assured people for such a long time that the definitive and absolutely reliable death toll was 4 and suddenly almost in an instant it jumped by over 4000 per cent! How can you possibly justify that?

JS: Look, as a layman you might not understand that the best and most definitive figure isn’t some sort of happy medium that corresponds with common sense and accords with a full holistic picture of the context in which the events occur, it comes from taking the most narrow, restrictive and conservative approach possible. For a layman that might seem outwardly to throw up anomalies, like overnight jumps in the figures, but that is exactly how we ensure that our figures are utterly sound and definitive.

And anyway, a 4000 percent jump is tiny compared to a jump of infinity.

KK: This isn’t even particularly relevant because the percentage jump is actually the least of the problems with the new tally.

JS: I know where you are going with this. I just want to say that we had been using a set statistical method for years. We produced the definitive mortality data using that method and as I said before just because the method throws up results which, to a layman might seem really stupid, that does not invalidate the method.

KK: You know what I’m going to ask. The 175 killed Kut al-Farraj in 2008 – were they people?

JS: Look these were 175 certified innocent lives lost. I mean, the word “people” could, you know…

KK: Were they human?

JS: Not as such.

KK: They were…?

JS: OK, they were ducks.

KK: They were ducks. Innocent ducks maybe, but they weren’t people.

JS: Well, from the perspective of an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk they actually are people.

KK: Alright, fine, they were innocent dead duck people. But that doesn’t alter the fact that after more than 5 years of brutal war, your official respected mortality figure was that 179 innocents had been killed of whom the vast majority, 175 out of 179, were, in fact, innocent ducks! 175 out of 179!

JS: Could you express that as a percentage?

KK: No.

JS: But you would agree that it is quite a lot less than infinity percent?

KK: If you keep this up, I am going to terminate this interview.

JS: Okay, alright. But you are really missing the most important aspect of this whole thing. The Venerable Abdallah al-Bakr had given names to every single one of the sadly departed innocent ducks, and we knew the names of the four humans. It is only because we know these names that we can honor these innocent lost lives. It is only because they are named and documented that we can give them a measure of justice. It is only because we know exactly who they are and the exact circumstances of their deaths that we can seek accountability or, at the very least, acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Those who die without us documenting and naming them died pointless deaths that made their whole lives totally futile and meaningless. They are nothings and nobodies.

KK: What about those people who have lost loved ones that you have not named? Aren’t they liable to think that you are a self-satisfied insensitive shithead who should have his face smashed in?

JS: Well, people do post that comment on my Facebook wall a lot, but really, I believe that in circumstances like these violence is not the answer.

KK: The whole “innocent ducks of Kut al-Farraj” incident caused quite a loss of confidence in IDL, didn’t it?

JS: We lost a lot of institutional support including that of some of the most prominent US lawmakers and congressional representatives.

KK: Isn’t that the same thing?

JS: No, I’m sure the lawmakers are the ones who write the laws, mostly lobbyists I think. Anyway, then they give the laws to the congress people who, I don’t know, I think they give it to the President to sign or something. Maybe they have to, you know, fight each other to get to the President with their favorite law. They must do something.

Anyway, the real loss, and it was a bitter blow, was the loss of support from some of the most respected foundations. Those guys have got real deep pockets. And do they know how to give a guy a good time? I did a dinner with Ford Foundation once – man, I was seeing double for a week afterwards. Oh God, yeah, I remember now – I had to go on a 4 week course of antibiotics and I had this discharge that I swear to God actually glowed in the dark. It really did!

KK: Right, umm, OK. I think we get the picture, although I am trying very hard not to get an actual mental picture. To get back to the loss of credibility, it must have caused a loss of confidence in the public also.

JS: I never had any confidence in the public.

KK: I mean, the other way around. The public lost confidence in you.

JS: Yeah, like we really cared. Look, I don’t think the public ever really supported our efforts. We took that as a good sign. Our work was clearly too scientifically valid for the layperson to grasp, but people in power could immediately see how useful it was. I think that this is the true test of rigor and validity. This is the way things are heading now. This is the future of science and research because it is usefulness to power that ultimately is the true measure of what is valid and true.

KK: OK. But regardless of that the “innocent ducks of Kut al-Farraj” did spell the end of the IDL project.

JS: Well, that was the foundations, like I said. Our parent company realized that the profits from IDL were on a death spiral downwards and decided to pull the plug before the rot set in. They told me that I felt like I needed a change and funnily enough they had this relationship with a publishing firm.

KK: And the resultant memoir was Slobberdrib: Saint or Savior? It did well?

JS: Yes it did extremely well. Incredibly well really. It was really really successful. Not so much in terms of sales. But it was an incredibly rewarding experience. It was really about the whole process, you know, like writing things and that sort of process stuff.

KK: There were also financial rewards. I believe that despite never having published a book before you were given a 2.8 million US dollar advance. How much of that advance have the publisher made back from sales of the book?

JS: As a percentage it would be about, umm…. Can you think of something that is 176 times as big as a tennis ball?

KK: And then things changed for you once again?

JS: Well I was in Jordan on location with the cast and crew of the new biopic Slobberdrib: Shake Hands with Satan – actually that’s coming out in the fall and it’s got George Clooney playing yours truly and that black guy from Homeland (did you know that he’s actually British?) Anyway, it’s got him playing my best buddy in military intelligence. It’s gonna be a hit movie. Anyway, so there’s me in Jordan, consulting for the film – telling Clooney how to be more, you know, like me, and I get this call…

KK: No, wait, wait, wait… I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need to clarify. You said Jordan, but you never actually went to the Middle East before?

JS: No this was my first visit. It’s pretty amazing, especially in the desert. It’s like, really sandy just like it is in the movies.

KK: The point I was trying to make, or ask maybe, is, why are they filming your life story in the Middle East when you were never in the Middle East?

JS: Oh yeah, I mean no. Yeah, no they decided that to make the story more accessible they would have my character as some sort of maverick humanitarian who struggles against the powers that be to save his buddies and to do the right thing. That’s basically me, but they gave me a slightly different back-story. In the movie I’m a bomb disposal expert who dedicates his life to protecting the innocent after the trauma of seeing a duck killed due to the callous indifference of a French rival bomb disposal guy. I kill the baddies and win the girl from the French baddy (who actually turns out to be Muqtada al-Sadr in a rubber mask – so I kill him too).

KK: So it’s more like some sort of fantasy version, not the humdrum reality of a guy working from an office in DC?

JS: I wouldn’t call it fantasy. There’s no dragons or orcs or whatever. They didn’t even use my idea about finding Aladdin’s lamp and rescuing the sexy Princess in those see-through culottes or whatever they’re called.

KK: OK, can we get back to the call you got in Jordan? Could I just guess that your employer had suddenly realized that you needed a drastic change in career?

JS: There’s no need to be facetious. It was actually the old crew from Applied Research Science Enterprises. New techniques and new approaches had been developed that virtually threw the whole issue of mortality in Iraq on its head. They needed me to come back to head a new study. This one would be far less restrictive than the last. It would be more of a totally inclusive survey of excess mortality.

KK: Like the Lancet surveys?

JS: No, not like those, obviously. They were political, we wanted to to do a survey that was purely scientific without all that politics. A recent study found that there were nearly 500,000 excess deaths in Iraq. As every reputable newspaper pointed out, this totally destroyed the findings of the Lancet studies. It absolutely blew those bastards out of the water.

KK: But surely these figures were much closer to the Lancet results than, say, your own results?

JS: Read the papers man! Don’t take my word for it. It just blew those bastards away. Totally discredited the washed up hacks. But we were still worried that there was some sort of political antiwar bias. Like I said, I don’t care if your politics are antiwar, but if you’re going to do science then, Brother, you gotta leave that shit at the door. You know what I’m saying? You can do science and say that lots of Iraqis died, but it becomes political when you say Americans killed them. That is just projecting your antiwar anti-America bias onto the figures. So even though some of the latest work to be done on Iraq suggests that lots of people died, over time we are seeing that less and less political bias is included in the figures.

KK: So it’s not political to say that Iraqis were killed by other Iraqis?

JS: No of course not. I like to explain it this way; back home we have a big problem with what we call black-on-black violence in the inner cities. Now, if you say a black man killed another black man that’s just saying something because it happened. It happens all the time. But if you say that a white cop killed a black man that’s political. You’re not describing a fact, you’re making a political statement. Now maybe if you’re wanting to run for mayor of, oh I don’t know, some black city, you might say a white cop killed a black guy. You might get lots of votes for saying that. But science isn’t about winning votes and there’s no room in science for politics like that.

KK: Reporters Without Borders put out a report about journalists killed in Iraq and it basically said that 83% of the killers of journalists were unidentified, but were enemies of the United States. Someone, someone who I actually know personally, criticized them for blithely characterizing unknown murderers this way without evidence. I think she even used the word “political”.

JS: Well, obviously that’s not political is it? Enemies of the USA hate our freedoms and hate our free press. My God, its the First Amendment – the First! Obviously our enemies kill journalists. Its dog-bites-man stuff. Perfectly non-political. Absolutely scientific. As for your friend – you know I think some people are so politicized they don’t even know what the word political actually means. Really, I could say some stuff myself about that Reporters Without Borders outfit and their so-called “report”. You know how they said that 9% of reporters were killed by US forces? Well, it turns out that two of those so-called “reporters” were insurgents on that film they put out with the helicopter shooting.

KK: You mean the Reuters employees whose deaths were shown in the Collateral Murder video?

JS: Buddy, they might have taken a paycheck from Reuters and done some journalism on the side, but those guys were fully-fledged one thousand percent insurgents. The Army even said they were insurgents. I’m pretty sure I saw that Collateral Damage thing and those guys were shooting rockets at our boys in the Apaches and then these reinforcements drive up using their own kids as human shields, and then they were just shooting off their AKs, a total killer frenzy. They were even shooting themselves just to make our boys look bad.

KK: Are you sure you actually watched Collateral Murder?

JS: I’m 98 percent certain. All I’m going to say is that if Reporters Without Borders researched those alleged Reuters employees they wouldn’t have found a single ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk who would testify that they definitely weren’t insurgents, and I bet the same is true of every one of those guys that our boys killed.

But going back to our new project, we saw our job as being to produce research a product that reflected a high mortality expectation, which we find a lot of the audience demands, but doesn’t have this distorted political component of US forces killing Iraqis. Our focus groups found that the best way to present the most credible results that the public would actually believe in (but were actually really really scientific and in no way political) was to have a very high mortality rate but to say that it was all brought about by Iraqi on Iraqi violence.

Things have changed a bit since the early days of IDL and that sort of approach wasn’t possible back then.

KK: Why is that, exactly?

JS: Well, you know, the whole invasion and occupation of Iraq was a very sensitive issue. There was a lot of misunderstanding. The President did his best to enlighten people. But even after Donald Rumsfeld explained all about “unknown unknowns”, a lot of people thought that Saddam’s WMD’s would either be found, or they didn’t exist. It’s just one of those “unknown unknowns”. He could have developed weaponized sand for all we know, and just left it in the desert to degrade into inert form. We will never ever know.

So the whole situation was very political, and I guess that is why the reporting was political too. For the first few years it was all about Coalition forces fighting against Iraqis. There was hardly anything about Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence. Maybe it’s not the journalists’ fault. They would wander along and than see a bunch of dead Iraqis and think: OK the US is fighting a war here, and war is hell, so they must have killed these guys. We now know, of course, that these Iraqis were almost certainly killed by other Iraqis. Iraqis kill each other all of the time, and the great irony of the situation was that it was only the mass-murdering genocidal maniac tyrant Saddam who, like Tito in Yugoslavia, stopped them from their traditional fratricidal violence. It’s like that British guy said a century ago, Iraqis “love fighting for fighting’s sake” and “they have no objection to being killed”.

I guess after that, you know from 2006 onwards, the news started to cover more and more Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence until that was all they covered. All of that political stuff about Americans killing Iraqis kind of faded away and we saw that it was all really about the same thing its always about – the same thing we see in movies and on TV – it was all about fanatical Islamists, terrorists, suicide bombers and cruel barbarians who chop people’s heads off.

KK: So the predictive programming of the entertainment media which unrelentingly pounds people with notions of Eastern barbarity and Western superiority made it natural for people to gravitate to this new narrative of incomprehensibly violent Iraqis who just kill each other for no reason that a civilized Westerner could ever really understand?

JS: Did you mean to say that?

KK: No, it just kind of slipped out. Do continue.

JS: Well, I guess I really have to confess now that I’d really got it all wrong earlier with the IDL. You see, you remember how I told you that there was good killing and bad killing? Well, that’s a perfectly good scientific way of understanding the difference between, well you know, the difference between good killing and bad killing. Anyway, it might be great science, but it’s not actually very mathematical. After talking it over with my people I came up with this great inspiration. Instead of good and bad killing, we should be talking about positive and negative killing in the mathematical sense. So when you positively kill someone there’s one less person in the world but when you negatively kill someone then there is one more person in the world. Now so there is no confusion let me make it absolutely clear that this is not about procreation. These are processes which we refer to as dekilling, or unkilling, or enlifing. This might be confusing initially, but when you enlife someone it means, well it doesn’t usually mean that there’s this person that you actually see that you’ve actually somehow enlifed. It’s more like say if there was a unit and at the end of a tour we calculated that they have killed negative 100 people, that means that by their actions there are 100 more people alive today than there would have been otherwise.

KK: Is that an indicative example. Would, say, a company have that sort of negative kill rate in a one year tour?

JS: Look, this is all new science and we really haven’t gone through the individual outfits completely yet, but our initial findings are phenomenal. We have some outfits that racked up huge negative kill rates. I even joked with a Sergeant from a mortar battalion that they should change their motto to “Life from Above”.

KK: Just so our audience understands, negative killing isn’t the same as killing bad guys? It’s not just another name for “good killing” is it?

JS: Oh no. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, negative killing is the sum total of all of those actions which are, in fact, life giving or life preserving. I need to emphasize again that this is not about procreation. The Pentagon would never countenance that sort of thing, not with Iraqi’s anyway. Like a lot of military outfits around the world they do have a long and proud tradition of having a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to sexual violence, but they really draw the line at fraternization. And they especially draw the line at there being a bunch of half-Iraqi half-White-Christian-American babies. I think you can see how that would not be in the interests of national security.

Negative killing is more about those things that save people from short or long term mortal threats. So, say, you might go into a house and in the confusion shoot dead one of the members of a family, but if by way of compensation you give the remaining family members a lifetime supply of chlorine tablets and that saves all eleven survivors from a deadly cholera outbreak, that means you’ve actually got a net negative kill rate of 10 people.

KK: So the negative killings come mainly from, say, civic action programs? From those outfits who build the wells and vaccinate the kids and have slogans like “we care, so you don’t have to”?

JS: Well, obviously that is a major part of the US military’s negative killing capacity. But our research has shown that often it in those activities that attract the most criticism from the bleeding-heart antiwar douchebags that actually have the greatest capacity to give life. Often people say our boys are trigger happy to the point of being a rampaging murdering horde. You have GIs just shooting up Iraqi cars just because they’re on the road, more or less, and people get wasted for almost any dumb reason. I mean, in 2005 we shot over one billion bullets during a period when our best estimates were that there were only 30,000 insurgents. That means we shot over 30,000 bullets for every insurgent in the whole country. That’s a lot of bullets, and those things are dangerous. It’s almost like you’d think that those guys who did the Lancet studies were on to something after all.

KK: Okay. I’m sure this is leading somewhere.

JS: Just hang on a sec, I’m getting there, but first you’ve got to think about the kind of firepower our grunts are packing these days. I mean a platoon of these guys could just about take out a city block as long as there weren’t any enemy soldiers or anything. Imagine you’ve got a mounted patrol. Every fourth GI has an M249 light machine gun. Every vehicle is mounted with maybe a .50 caliber machine gun or a Mk 19 grenade launcher which is like a sort of machine gun which fires 40mm grenades at a rate of about one every second. So, when this patrol hits an IED what they do is that they all just open up with all their weapons. Sounds like a recipe for a lot of dead civilians, right?

KK: If you say so.

JS: Well it’s true. Doing things like that does actually generate a positive kill rate, but have you thought about how much of a negative kill rate this could generate?

KK: Err…?

JS: Picture this: A cute little baby girl at home with mom. Mom’s proud of her beautiful first-born. Daddy’s out working his job at the office. It’s Friday, he’s planning on doing some renovations on the weekend and he’s going to drop by the Haji Home Depot after work. Mom’s feeding her beautiful baby girl from her firm young breast, little knowing that outside there creeps the dirty swarthy misshapen figure of an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist insurgent laying his filthy coward IED bomb. Mom puts baby down for an afternoon nap. Feeling good about herself she glances out through the window and waves to the friendly and handsome GI’s who wave back and make playful boyish remarks to each other about the beautiful young Haji woman. Then wham! The explosion throws mom back against the wall and she slumps unconscious. But oh no! What’s happened to baby girl? Unfortunately, Haji homes are flimsy, and Daddy hasn’t had the chance to fix up that sagging detached wall. The wall has fallen on baby’s crib! She has no air, and Mommy’s lying unconscious! Just then, like the ferocious thunder of freedom, the sound rings out of a couple of dozen really heavily armed red-blooded American boys letting loose with all they have. Just in the nick of time a .50 cal round punches a hole through the flimsy Haji wall and the baby is saved. What do ya think of that?

KK: It sounds a little umm… specific or, I don’t know, maybe a little unlikely.

LS: You might well think that. But remember just how many bullets we fired in Iraq – about a billion each year, right? Well if each bullet was the size of a tennis ball, then a billion bullets would be like infinity or even bigger.

KK: So, if you fire enough bullets at inhabited buildings you will save lots of lives by punching air holes in collapsed masonry?

LS: Well, were not completely stupid, you know. We do realize that there is a limited number of people who actually end up in the situation of being trapped under rubble without air, even during a US-led occupation. (We did actually offer an infantry regiment to China to shoot up the city where they had that last quake, but they declined due to security concerns.) Anyway, it’s not just about that, there are many other ways in which stray bullets can save lives. Picture now 36 year old Mohammed al-Derpderp. He’s just got that promotion he’s been after for years. He’s regional sales manager for the Haji vacuum-cleaner company. Finally, after all of those years of hard work he has his feet on the ladder. The only way is up. But, uh-oh! What is that on his neck? Could it be a pre-cancerous mole that is destined in ten years time to bring about poor Mohammed’s death in the most painful, degrading and lingeringly awful way possible? Why yes it is. Luckily he’s walking down the street one day and he’s coming up to where his uncouth Haji neighbours have left a pile of their shitty junk lying blocking a side road. Now, the nearby friendly US dismounted patrol heard AK’s firing earlier that day, so they know that the bad guys are around. They see the junk and they know it could have been put there by the bad guys. The leader decides that it’s time for some reconnaissance by fire. He tells his men to open up and they let loose steel hail like the volley of the titans! A round hits the wall near our friend Mohammed, it shatters and a searing fragment zips through the air slicing off the offending mole and cauterizing the wound to boot. Hey-presto and Allahu-fucking-akbar – 53 years later Mohammed al-Derpderp dies in bed surrounded by weeping relatives while from outside he can hear his great-grandkids laughing as they chase the Haji chickens around the dusty yard. Now that’s a happy ending.

KK: I see. So US forces have “enlifed” (if I have the terminology right) lots of Iraqis with stray bullets. Anything else?

JS: You bet there is. The list is as long as your arm. Airstrikes taking out dangerously substandard housing. White phosphorus sterilizing contaminated chicken. Fuel-air bombs taking out colonies of plague-bearing rats. We’ve found that people who have been exposed to toxins from our burn pits are significantly more likely to quit smoking, for example.

KK: So what does this all add up to, in terms of numbers of negative kills?

JS: Well, I haven’t even got to the best part yet. You see, we started thinking about what was the greatest threat to Iraqis, and you know what we came up with don’t you?

KK: Ummm.

JS: You’ll kick yourself. … Give up? Alright I’ll tell you – the biggest mortal threat to the life of an Iraqi is another Iraqi. You see now? That’s right, it’s just what we were talking about before. So we sat down and we calculated just how much risk Iraqis posed to other Iraqis. Are you ready for this? Yes? Alright. We calculated that over the average lifespan, taking all possible deadly acts and working out, conservatively, the likelihood that they would undertake such acts, we calculated that over the average lifespan the average Iraqi kills approximately 2.8 other Iraqis. You know what that means, don’t you?

KK: That means that every time you kill an Iraqi, you actually save Iraqi lives. Extraordinary.

JS: Well, once we realized that, it was a whole new ball game. We started looking way further back, right back to 1990. Do you know what we found? This will blow your freaking mind. We found that if you look at all the demographic data and look at the overall increased mortality form all causes there have been an excess of 4.6 million deaths. Because of our bombing and sanctions before our invasion and occupation, the good old US of A can take credit for nearly every single damn one of those Iraqi deaths! Conservatively, we can claim at least for at least 4 million of those deaths, which translates to us saving 11.2 million Iraqi lives. That means that we have saved the life of nearly half of every single Iraqi alive today by killing their neighbors and loved ones.

KK: Amazing. Well that seems as good a point as any to wrap this up. It just remains for me to thank my guest Jim Slobberdrib…

JS: My pleasure.


KK:
…and I’d also like to thank the National Security Agency for allowing us to publish their transcript of our conversation. Next week I will be discussing the issue of Palestine with a woman who sounds caring, but advocates genocide. Be sure to tune in.
Kieran Kelly blogs at On Genocide.