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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US Rule in Occupied Earth (or Everything You Need to Know About Genocide, but Never Knew to Ask) Part 3: Lemkin’s Logic

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greedchains

Audio: http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/82190

or direct link to mp3: https://ia801508.us.archive.org/16/items/20150811USRulePart3/20150811%20US%20Rule%20Part%203.mp3

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/on-genocide/20150811-us-rule-part-3

The misuse of words is a key way to ensure that the ideological hegemony of the powerful is not disrupted when they commit acts that ordinary people find abhorrent. In 1946 George Orwell wrote “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.” A couple of years later he famously satirised this as “Newspeak” – a language of journalists and intelligentsia which systematically stripped the language of all meaningful terms, replacing them with good, bad, plus-good, plus-bad, double-plus-good, and double-plus-bad. A key aspect of using a concept of double-plus-bad or double-plus-good is that it cannot be argued against because it doesn’t have a concrete definition. We do this in a low-grade level as human beings because we are lazy and proud. We like to impress and to win arguments by using buzzwords in the place of thought. But at the higher levels of discourse (at the double-plus-bad and double-plus-good level) the use of language becomes systematically controlled in a way that shows clear purpose.

The higher one’s social ranking, the more constricted and controlled one’s vocabulary and hence thought. In part this is due to conscious propaganda manipulation coming from government and corporate interests which have long targeted “opinion leaders” with propaganda and left the messaging to “trickle down” (in the words of the US Government’s “Vietnam Information Group”). Orwell satirised this as being a “Party Line”, portraying it as a centrally coordinated effort, but what he was really suggesting is that the system functions the same whether there is a “Politburo” giving orders or not. The point is, that the ideology is internalised and the elites become their own and each other’s thought police. That was what Orwell analogised as being constant surveillance and inescapable broadcasting. The constant unstoppable nagging of the television and the inescapable omnipresent surveillance in 1984 were allegories for the internalised orthodox ideology.

The actual centralised dissemination of ideology is relatively crude, as the comparative failure of the Vietnam Information Group illustrates. The decentralised co-optation of elites is more subtle, more profound and more robust. It harnesses people’s imaginations, but more importantly it harnesses their ability to avoid imagination and thought. In real life what this may mean is that a word that does have a definition, has that definition suppressed and people use the word as if there was no actual definition at all. An obvious example is the word “terrorism”.

The word “terrorism” is used in a manner that has little to do with any actual stable definition. Originally terrorism referred to advocating the use of terror during the French Revolution. It was actually put forward as a way of minimising state violence because the emphasis on generating terror would maximise the disciplinary effects of violence. In other words, if you scare the shit out of people you don’t need to kill as many to make them all behave the way you want them to. It’s an old idea, of course, just named and given a post-enlightenment rationalisation. That form of terrorism is still very current everywhere that there is a military occupation. More broadly, though, terrorism came to denote a warfare technique where violence is used to terrorise the general population as a way of exerting pressure on a state power without having to inflict military defeats. As a technique of asymmetric warfare it has an obvious appeal, but it is usually counterproductive and a gift to your enemies. Indiscriminate attacks, like the terror-bombing campaign waged by Britain against Germany, tend to consolidate public support behind government and military leaders.

In real terrorism, the regime that rules the target population generally benefits. Moreover, ever since there has been the asymmetric use of terror, state regimes have labelled all asymmetric warfare as terrorism. In fact they have lumped in as many actions of their enemies under the category of terrorism as possible and, without exception, this is done as a way of garnering support for their own acts of terrorism, which they call “policing”, “security operations”, “counterinsurgency” or “counterterror”. The use of the term “counterterror” is quite interesting because it allows states to overtly signal to their personnel that they are to use terror tactics, but it has enough linguistic slippage to provide deniability.

In propaganda discourse terrorism is never something that stands alone, you tie it to other things like ethnicity and religion. The Germans of the Third Reich were not induced simply to hate distinct groups of people. Their propaganda system, just like ours, conflated various plus-bads and double-plus-bads to make them all seem like a great interlocked multifaceted double-plus-badness. Criminals were bad and perhaps deviants, sexual deviants who were decadent, devolved creatures, Jews or Jew-like, who are all lefties, socialists, Communists, and they want to destroy Germany. So the enemy was the criminal-queer-Jew-decadent-racial-deviant-Commie. If someone was shown to be one, they were tainted with all others. And if they were demonstrably not homosexual, for example, it didn’t matter because there was a more profound way in which they actually were – they embodied the real essence of the category rather than the mere outward form. And even though the Nazis related all of this to racial and cultural hygiene, the fact is that the most common immediate excuse for using violence against these Chimerical enemies was terrorism.

Germans used the concept of terrorism for exactly the same reasons as it is used now:

1) Because regimes like to pretend that terrorism threatens the stability of the entire society, notwithstanding that actual terrorism does not generally destabilise regimes, even if it disrupts society.

2) Because each individual will feel that they could be a victim. Terrorists are not going to stop to ask your political opinion before they kill you. This makes people feel as if they are on the side of the government because they share a common enemy.

3) Because calling people terrorists provides the all important sense of reciprocity that makes state violence against the “terrorists” seem justified. Britain, France, Israel and the US have all, just like Germany, used the label of “terrorism” to denominate entire populations as being terroristic in some essentialised way. This is used to make genocidal violence and terrorism against those populations seem justified.

In one of the most striking examples of late, Israel has just passed a law giving themselves permission to force feed hunger strikers in the manner practiced by the US and recognised elsewhere as torture. Telesur reports that security minister Gilad Erdan explained: “Prisoners are interested in turning a hunger strike into a new type of suicide terrorist attack through which they will threaten the state of Israel.”

Once upon a time, academics would have at least kept in the backs of their minds the notion that terrorism was a politically misused term. However, instead of that translating into publicly railing against the hypocritical misuse of the term by Western terrorist governments, their public contribution would tend to be along the lines of reminding people that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Like most fatuous clichés, this has the advantage of seeming thought-provoking whilst, in fact, being thought-killing. That was the typical liberal educated view – not to actually attempt to put things into a robust linguistic framework that could facilitate real analysis, but to imply that it is all a matter of opinion anyway.

As bad as that sounds, it all changed for the worse after 2001. Suddenly there was a boost for academic “security” specialists. People who had perhaps been more marginal in terrorism studies and security studies found that their way of defining terrorism (by taking the people they wanted to call “terrorists” and working backwards) were suddenly more prominent. The response from more level-headed academics was, of course, to immediately concede the middle ground to them and allow them to set the agenda. This meant that state terrorism, which was never incorporated into “terrorism studies” anyway, was now unmentionable. The idea that no definition of terrorism should prejudicially exclude a certain type of perpetrator is apparently alien to respectable scholars. Dissenting academics turned to “critical security studies” and the new “critical terrorism studies”. But these are self-marginalising positions which by their very names tell us that practitioners do not study a thing, but rather study the way that thing is discussed. The existence of something like “critical terrorism studies” necessarily embeds an orthodox “terrorism studies”. In practice, this provides a dual academic track wherein those who question what they are told voluntarily concede the greatest authority to those who are more inclined to parrot what they are told.

To force those who use words like “democracy” and “terrorism” to only do so in accordance with robust fully contextualised definitional criteria would be to deprive potential aggressors of a potent tool against thought. This is just as true of the term “genocide”, but there is an additional significance to the term. A true understanding of genocide will do more prevent its misuse as a way of eliciting a desired uncritical emotional response. This is because genocide differs as a concept in that understanding genocide will also strip away ability for perpetrators, especially repeated perpetrators such as the United States of America, to conceal the immorality of their intents as well as their actions. The meaning and applicability of the term genocide not only belies the rhetoric of moral righteousness, wherein the US strikes for freedom and to protect the innocent from evil-doers, but also the equally repulsive rhetoric of blunders, of inadvertence, and of self-driven systemic dysfunction. Applying the concept of genocide to US foreign policy reveals a conscious systematic intentionality in a project that very few people would consider morally acceptable. But to apply the term genocide, we need to recover the original meaning, which is to say a stable meaning that does not contradict itself and can be reconciled with historical usage.

To understand what genocide means it is best to trace the thinking of Raphael Lemkin, who invented the term. Lemkin was a Polish Jew who was passionate about history. When he was a teenager the Armenian holocaust had a huge impact on him. This was understandably emotional but was also a profound intellectual impact. He saw in these horrible events something related to the history of the persecution of Jews and the violence of pogroms. He became a lawyer and in the 1933 he advocated that new international laws be passed banning acts which would be considered crimes against the law of nations. He proposed two new international crimes which were, in brief terms, killing people on the basis of their ethnic, religious or national identity (barbarity”) and the destruction of items of culture, places of worship and so forth (vandalism”). Amusingly, his collective term for the crimes of “barbarity” and “vandalism” was “terrorism”.

Lemkin’s genius was not, despite his intents, in naming a crime but rather in naming a strategic behaviour. It would be better if genocide had never been thought of as a crime. Genocide is something that the powerful do to the weak and, despite the mythology, legal remedies do not work between parties of highly disparate power. Whilst people like to claim that laws are an equaliser that provides the weak with a tool to fight the powerful, that is not the historical experience of criminal law nor of international law. Power includes the power to police and enforce law and the power to defy law, thus the law must always be obeisant to power. Admittedly, one can theorise a society wherein a social contract made all people equal before the law, such as posited by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but in practice that would have to be a society with no significant hierarchical differentiation. The hegemonic group in any society has always used different forms of law, including criminal law, against lower classes and ethnic minorities or, when desirable, women, the LGBT community, religious groups, or people who hold undesirable political opinions. Law, in short, is inescapably predisposed to be a tool of the powerful against the weak. That is not to say that people cannot use the law for the benefit of the weak, but that is a function of individuals working against the general inclination of the system.

The limits of laws can be be demonstrated by a counter-factual thought experiment. Imagine that Lemkin had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in 1933 and that the current UN Genocide Convention had been signed and ratified by all countries including Germany in 1933. Would that have impacted the passage of the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935? Well it didn’t stop South Africa instituting draconian “Pass Laws” in 1952, so one would have to say no. In fact there is no way in which our historical experience of the UNCG seems to suggest it would have constrained Germany in any way at all. By the time people in Allied countries were reacting to German genocides with demands for action, their governments were already at war with Germany. Moreover, their excuse for not acting against the infrastructure of extermination was the over-riding need to win the war, and argument that would not have been altered by the existence of a genocide convention. On the other hand, in 1938 the existence of a genocide convention might have strengthened Germany’s claims that ethnic Germans were being persecuted in the Sudetenland and given more legitimacy to the Munich Agreement which gave Germany the Sudetenland and left Czechoslovakia nearly defenceless against future German aggression.

That is why it is actually a pity that Lemkin was a crusading lawyer, because his great insight was in inventing a theoretically rich term which was the crystallisation of considerable historical knowledge. The breakthrough he made was to realise that the violence he had called “barbarity” and the destruction he had called “vandalism” could be reconceptualised as a single practice called “genocide”. This is absolutely fundamental to understanding what genocide means.

Here is how Lemkin introduced the subject:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be 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. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.

“The following illustration will suffice. The confiscation of property of nationals of an occupied area on the ground that they have left the country may be considered simply as a deprivation of their individual property rights. However, if the confiscations are ordered against individuals solely because they are Poles, Jews, or Czechs, then the same confiscations tend in effect to weaken the national entities of which those persons are members.”

So Lemkin’s first example of an act of genocide is the confiscation of property from “Poles, Jews or Czechs….” This is a concept in which mass violence against people’s physical bodies is only one facet of a larger practice. In other words, when the Canadian government admitted recently to committing “cultural genocide” they were not truly apologising, but using slimy evasive apologetics. There is no such thing as “cultural genocide”, there is only genocide. Pamela Palmater introduced her reaction thus: “What happened in residential schools was not ‘cultural genocide’. It wasn’t ‘language genocide’. And it wasn’t ‘almost genocide’. What happened in residential schools was genocide. Canadian officials targeted Indians for assimilation and elimination purely for economic and political reasons.”

When Palmater wrote that she was merely introducing an extended argument, but she made a much more revealing comment about the nature of genocide when speaking on Democracy Now!:

“I know there was a focus on culture and that people were abused and beaten for speaking their language and culture, and they were clearly denied their identity. But for many of these children, upwards of 40 percent, they were denied their right to live. And that goes far beyond culture. Think about at the same time the forced sterilizations that were happening against indigenous women and little girls all across the country. Sterilization has nothing to do with one’s culture, but, in essence, the one’s right to continue on in their cultural group or nation-based group. The objective was to get rid of Indians in whatever way possible. Culture was one aspect of it, but also denying them the right to live or to procreate was an essential part of this.”

The key sentence is: “The objective was to get rid of Indians in whatever way possible”. Palmater knows that that does not mean the literal extermination of every single person that is even nominally Indian. What it means is erasing Indians from the places that they are not wanted at that historical moment. As Lemkin wrote, “Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor’s own nationals.This can be achieved through killing, assimilation, immiseration or dispossession. This can be achieved through transmigration – the ancient Assyrians, the Atlantic slavers, and the Soviet Union all uprooted populations to weaken them by taking them from their native soil. Equally, mass settler migration to the US, to Aotearoa, to West Papua, to Tibet or to Palestine imposes a new “national pattern” on the land.

The connection to native soil has profound personal aspects that might be considered spiritual, cultural or psychological, but let us not ignore the more immediately physical and concrete factors. Uprooting people utterly destroys their economic independence and can seriously degrade social interconnections that help provide the essentials of life. Thus, the famous susceptibility that colonised people have to Old World diseases has often struck when they are forced away from the land on which they rely for sustenance. People use the excuse of a purely biological fact (namely, the lower efficacy of immune response in populations that have not had generations of exposure to certain pathogens) to conceal the degree to which those who die of disease are often outright murder victims. When those who survive are relocated it may be to camps, ghettos, or reservations that provide little for independent existence. In fact the genocide perpetrator will place them in a subordinate and precarious position, exerting as much control over them as possible whilst creating the greatest degree of appearance that the victim population are separate and autonomous. Once again we are referring to the position of included exclusion, but with the pretence that the situation is the inverse – that the victims are autonomous and choose their own situation. All of this makes victim blaming much easier and allows further genocidal depredations to take place should the perpetrators discover the need for further dispossession.

This is what is facing a number of Western Australian Aboriginal communities currently. These communities are dependent on government supplying services, as are we all, but the cost of supplying services to Aboriginal communities will no longer be subsidised by the federal government, and the WA state government is refusing to make up the shortfall. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.” That could be said about any rural community because they all cost more to provide services to. In fact, mathematically there must always be places that cost more to provides services to than the average, and this same Western Australian government has just announced that it will be spending $32 million to upgrade rural water facilities that happen to be in the electorate of the Minister for Water.

Abbott’s words are particularly incendiary, though, because even if these are the traditional lands of the people living in these communities, when you look at the whole picture of colonisation in Australia the most heavily populated and resource rich lands are now all full of the descendants of settlers. The places that Aboriginal people can most easily maintain cultural autonomy and cohesion are those that were economically marginal to the early settlers, and those places were generally more marginal and sparsely by the indigenous people for the same reasons. Moreover, there is the fact that continued occupation of traditional lands might lead to the granting of native title. (You might think that 40,000 years is long enough to justify any such claim, but in legal terms let us not forget that until 1967 Aboriginal people were counted as wildlife not humans.) Some of these communities might be economically underdeveloped, but they do happen to be adjacent to large amounts of mineral wealth. Many put this latest attack against Aboriginal communities in the context of the 7 year old “intervention” in rural Northern Territories communities. As John Pilger has documented in the film Utopia the intervention was based on lies and seems more to do with exerting control over lands that are a potential source of strategic mineral wealth.

If official Australia is trying to dispossess Aboriginal people as such from land over which they want to exert control it is genocide. However, I do not want to overemphasise the significance of “ethnic cleansing” in a way that replicates the over-emphasis on mass murder that is more common. As scholar John Docker puts it, Lemkin took great care to define genocide as composite and manifold”. Acts of genocide are interrelated and interlocking events that create a network though space and time. Genocide against Aboriginal peoples has at various times and in various places meant extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, theft, fraud and impoverishment. Famously the genocide of Aboriginal peoples also involved the “stolen generation” of abducted children taken from Aboriginal parents and raised by “white” Australians.

The UN Genocide Convention specifically references the “forcible transfer” of children. This came from Lemkin’s observations of the Germanisation of other Caucasians. Lemkin and all those who contributed to the wording of the Genocide Convention would have had this sort of “denationalisation” in mind. Even though the abduction of Aboriginal children was occurring at the time that the Convention was written, I don’t think the people of the time really thought that it would apply to different “racial” groups, or at least those with generally distinct appearance. Regardless of the rhetorical equivocations on the subject, nobody thought that Aboriginal children would become white because they were raised by white parents or in white institutions. It was not a transfer into the hegemonic group, it was a transfer out of connection with others of the victim group. In fact, taking children was and is a way of trying to create that which all wielders of political power are innately inclined to want. They want to create human husks, cyphers who act only according to the stimuli given to them. Taking children functions in the same way that transmigration or concentration functions. It strips agency and magnifies the power of the perpetrator over the bodily existence of the victims. It is intended to also provide control over the mental existence of the victims, usurping their decision-making and imposing the “rationality” of the perpetrator.

There is a lot to unpack here. Genocide is actually the expression of a desire for complete power, a fantasy which is not unique to genocide at all. People become pure objects to be moved and used at will. Their own independent existence and agency is nullified even to the point where if it is determined that they are to die it is achieved with the mere flick of a switch. This sort of power cannot be achieved without exerting destructive violence. For individuals torture might be used to produce “learned helplessness” in order to exert this sort of power over them. Genocide aims to exert this power over defined groups who are connected by familial relations. As with torture, the power relation that it creates and the violence in which it is expressed, become the ends as well as the means.

I will relate this all back to mass murder and systematic annihilation in Part 4, but first let me mention race. Race and racism are social constructs but the important thing to realise is that racial discourse does not generate genocide. It may provide fertile ground, but the seed itself is from elsewhere.

Genocide has a dynamic relationship with racism or other forms of group hatred. A significant part of that is the systematic inculcation of hatred in a perpetrator population. This is a very old part of warfare and genocide, generally signalled by leaders who promulgate atrocity propaganda. This propaganda might be a story about soldiers killing babies, or it could be about how the enemy leader’s great-great-grandfather murdered an honoured ancestor. The idea is that the intended perpetrators will view any of the intended victims as somehow linked to the crime in some essential way. The violence of warfare and/or genocide naturally fuels the sense that membership in a group makes one guilty of the crimes of any of that group. In the former Yugoslavia it has been found that ethnic animosities were generated by acts of genocide, not the other way around. This is true whether the animosity is towards perpetrators or victims. If you are part of a group that is perpetrating genocide you will have a driving need to hate the victims. This is because we are socialised in such a way that to see some from our group as the “bad guys” in relation to the Other is like an act of painful self-mutilation that hurts, maims, and causes social death.

The point is that genocide is not an expression of racial hatred as such and it does not conform to the logic of racial thinking. If you believe that some undesirable trait or stain is carried in the “blood” in accordance with racial theories, it makes no sense to transfer children from the victim population. Hitler appeared to be conscious of this at least in the case of Jews. In a letter to Martin Bormann he wrote: “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. Present circumstances force upon us this characterization of the group of common race and intellect, to which all the Jews of the world profess their loyalty, regardless of the nationality identified in the passport of each individual. This group of persons we designate as the Jewish race. … The Jewish race is above all a community of the spirit. … Spiritual race is of a more solid and more durable kind than natural race. Wherever he goes, the Jew remains a Jew.” This is the other face of the coin revealed by Palmater in the quote above: “The objective was to get rid of Jews in whatever way possible”, not because of some special singular property of Jews but because of the entire multiplicity of everything that created the group identity of Jews.

With Native Americans in Canada and with Jews in Germany the object was to efface a group as such in order to allow the expansion of the hegemonic national identity. For Hitler this was philosophically linked with group will, but the same conclusions can be reached by your average prosaic greedy white supremacist who wants to get their hands on mineral resources, votes, or an expanded tax base. But Hitler’s genocidal activities and intents did not stop at the borders of Germany or Greater Germany. He wasn’t just attacking an internal minority he was also attacking ethnic and national groups outside of Germany’s borders for the purposes of imperial expansion and he was doing so using the same process – the process of genocide.

We have so overemphasised the concept of genocide as being an attack on an internal minority that even genocide scholars write about Jewish victims of German genocide as if they were a German minority. For Lemkin’s memory this is doubly abusive because he was a Polish Jew, as were half of the Jews killed by Germany. Lemkin’s prime exemplar of genocide, when he coined the term, was Poland. He mentioned many victim groups, including Jews, but the most commonly cited group he used to demonstrate “techniques of genocide” were the Poles, as such. He understood that Jews were slated for annihilation, but genocide had to be shown as a much broader phenomenon.

In genocide what is attacked is the sum of all of those things that make the victim group a group. We don’t have a term for this thing. At the risk of creating confusion I am just going to label the entire collection of inherent connections that provide a group identity its “demotic” and I think the unique essence that is created can be referred to as the “demotic idiom”. I do this to ground the terms by reference to the complex, but concrete, phenomenon of language. I also wish to make reference to demos because genocide is a strategic response to demographic circumstances. Genocide can be thought of as a demostrategic phenomenon.

So the demotic of the group is what is attacked in genocide. It is aimed at the victim group – the genos – as such. Thus the demotic is all of those things that make the group the group as such, and those things contribute strength and richness to the demotic idiom, which is, of course, unique. This would be individual and collective property, folklore, places of worship, sports stars, social welfare programmes, poets, statuary, language and public transport infrastructure – to name just a few random things. For convenience I am going to ignore weaknesses and say that anything that contributes in any way to the group identity as such is part of the demotic and is therefore potentially a target of genocide. You can attack an entire group by killing a single poet, for example.

Lemkin didn’t really quite understand the implications of the breadth of genocide. Instead of what I refer to as the demotic, he referred to a “biological aspect” to what had previously been called “denationalisation”. He specifically referenced the fact that Hitler viewed biology in essentialist terms: “Hitler’s conception of genocide is based not upon cultural but biological patterns. He believes that ‘Germanization can only be carried out with the soil and never with men.’” Therefore there is a contradiction here between the public Hitler of Mein Kampf and the private Hitler, confessing to Bormann that he doesn’t actually believe the literal truth of those words.

In fact, there is no “biological aspect”. Genocide is in that sense a misnomer. What Lemkin had mistaken for biological was actually the familial aspect of the demotic. Racial ideology and differences in phenotype notwithstanding, a genos is actually a social construct. It is a socially constructed demographic entity and it is reproduced primarily through child-rearing. The family is where language, customs, and the simple fact of self-identification are passed to the individual by their parents and other relatives. Moreover, even beyond the fundamental inscribing of group character on the individual, without which the group would not even exist, the familial interconnection carries through in later life. Connections with family form the closest social bond. Almost always individuals share group membership in the genos with those relatives with which they share the most significant social bonds. Inevitably, then, the familial interconnections correspond with biological structure and genetics and are the most significant sustenance of the demotic idiom.

Genocide scholars emphasise the fact that it is the way that perpetrators define the group that is important, not the way victims self-identify. Here is where we run into what seems to be a problem, because perpetrators tend to define victims in biological racial terms. However, it may be that someone’s life is spared on the basis that they do not display the “racial” characteristics by which the perpetrator claims to identify the victim group, but then again it might not. Ultimately the racial hygiene pretensions of some genocide perpetrators must be treated as hollow because the biological pretensions of racial discourse are hollow and unstable. No genos can actually be defined by “race”. The nature of human diversity is such that even the originating defining character of a genos is unstable. In fact, the hard defining lines that may form around a genos tend to be in reaction to racism, persecution and genocide. It is these things that prevent pluralistic integration.

I feel that I am drifting away from the central points about genocide, even though the problematics of identity are very important. Getting back to the demostrategic logic of genocide, there are several prominent motives for committing genocide, but in reality they are not as distinct as we might think. A settler-colony that wishes to cleanse the land of the indigenous is ultimately trying to achieve the same thing as an imperial power that wishes to crush and insurgent people which is much the same as a nationalist state that wants to erase a discordant minority and exert greater control through uniformity. The point is that all of these are undertaken by visiting destruction on the demotic idiom in the form of violence against the people and the destruction and degradation of those aspects of existence which collectively provide substance to the group.

Continued in Part 4: “You Are Next”.

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.

Will the US Succumb To Another Bout of Usanity?

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A white male in a uniform brandishes an assault rifle, pointing it directly at peaceful protesters and journalists: “I will fucking kill you!” When asked his name, he responds “Go fuck yourself” earning himself the hashtag #OfficerGoFuckYourself

No one threatens the policeman, but his stance and his wide eyes betray his hyper-alert state. People stroll behind him without offering any sign of confrontation, but his adrenaline is pumping. He is in the grips of Usanity, and for him the world is suddenly full of threats and offenses.

http://youtu.be/8zbR824FKpU

Usanity is like a weaponized version of aggrieved white male entitlement syndrome. #OfficerGoFuckYourself has clear symptoms of both conditions. But Usanity is broader and more profound. Usanity is that syndrome which grips an entire diverse nation, the most heavily armed on the planet, and turns it into that cop with his rolling eyes and gun pointed: “I will fucking kill you!”

Lots of people are writing about the militarization of the US police, but the focus has often been on hardware. The police in the US, and many other countries, have also been induced to feel that violence is the appropriate response to an ever growing number of situations. Any challenge to authority, including questioning orders, is treated as grounds for physical coercion.

This actually follows a similar transformation in US military personnel. Some former military are pointing to the ways in which the police in Missouri and elsewhere are far less disciplined than they. But their own record of killing civilians in in similar encounters is astounding and shocking – yet it is almost entirely ignored and unknown.

Like the police and the military, the wider US population has been subjected to the forces that breed Usanity. It is a powerful mix of a sense of fear, a sense of being besieged, and a special sense of grievance. The grievance is that of a giant attacked by vicious, irrational, fanatical imps, but also that of a father facing defiance that cannot be ignored. Bill Maher exactly embodied the attititude with a special misogynistic twist when he tweeted: “Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who’s trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.”

A Nation of Cowards?

In the book Mainstreaming Torture Rebecca Gordon asks if if the US has become a “nation of cowards”. Allowing that the US is too diverse “in all its multicultural, polyglot glory” to be categorized so unitarily, Gordon goes on to discuss the growing tendency to accept and approve of torture, assassination and surveillance as ways of combating the threat of terrorism. Those who thought that waterboarding suspected terrorists was wrong dropped from 82 percent in 2005 to 55 percent in 2012. Those who thought that assassinating suspected terrorists was wrong dropped from 33 percent in 2005 to a mere 12 percent in 2012.

Fear of terrorists is only one aspect of this. People who visit the US are often struck by how fearful people are of many things – strangers, criminals, germs, and their own government to name but a few. More than other Western countries, people in the US have been bombarded with a sense of peril. This sense of endangerment is good for selling drama and it is good for selling newspapers, but it is even better for selling domestic and foreign policy.

The extravagant fears of the Cold War sold both authoritarianism at home and intervention abroad, and so it has remained to this day. People were told that the US was fighting in Viet Nam so that they wouldn’t have to fight in San Francisco. Then people were told that Cuban tanks would roll across the Rio Grande and, finally, that the smoking gun could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

In a way, these ridiculous hyperboles are really a way of convincing people that the act of exaggeration implies that there is a real threat. As Robert Fisk points out this is why there is now such silly talk about ISIS: “Apocalyptic.” “End-of-days strategic vision.” “Beyond anything we have ever seen.” “An imminent threat to every interest we have.” “Beyond just a terrorist group.” “We must prepare for everything.”

At the same time that fear was becoming such a crucial political tool for supporting repression at home and oppression abroad, fear was also becoming entrenched in the US military. In World War II US military authorities had taken the unusual decision to be permissive of fear, rather than to try to encourage fearlessness. Over the coming decades, though, this attitude would be exploited and twisted. US personnel were deliberately made fearful and that fear was weaponized. The fear became a major tool to break that barrier which stops ordinary people from becoming killers.

Circle the Wagons!

In both Viet Nam and in Iraq US personnel were made to feel that they were surrounded by a hostile and dangerous population. They built massive military bases that were like self-contained towns or cities. They were made to feel that there was a constant risk of attack outside of these zones of safety.

In Viet Nam, some areas were bad enough to be considered “Injun country”, but even in places like Saigon there was a sense that any Vietnamese could potentially be a source of sudden violent death. From reading dozens of personal accounts, most GIs seem to have heard and believed stories of young children killing US soldiers. They were constantly told that you couldn’t tell who was an enemy and who was a civilian. Most still believe to this day that the “Viet Cong” didn’t have uniforms. They thought that the guys in uniforms were all North Vietnamese “invaders” and that the VC wore the “black pajamas” which all of the rural population wore.

As it happens, local militias on both sides did wear the normal black farmers clothes. Sometimes local allies were killed when US personnel who were new to the country mistook them for the enemy. More often, however, this led to the deaths of rural civilians. Admittedly, most US personnel in Viet Nam never saw, let alone partook in, a lethal atrocity or even the accidental killing of civilians. The bulk of civilian deaths in Viet Nam were caused by US shelling and bombing. However, there were also many thousands killed by US small arms. Nick Turse’s book Kill Anything that Moves establishes without any doubt that massacres by US personnel were appallingly common. Many more will have died when GIs reacted out of panic – reacted out of that sense that everyone was the enemy.

The sense of vulnerability among US infantry must have been horribly exacerbated by the common tactic of sending patrols out in the deliberate hope that they would be ambushed which would then allow the enemy to be attacked by artillery. There are claims that this practice saved US lives, but it made the men on patrols feel like live bait and ultimately meant that the enemy always chose when and where to engage. It meant that booby traps became one of the leading causes of casualties, which caused huge anger because GIs knew that locals must often have known the location of the traps – once again increasing the sense that they were at war with an entire people and the sense that they must always be on guard. GIs were being trained in what was called “reactive firing”, where they were conditioned to pull the trigger in certain circumstances as an automatic process – without cognition.

In Iraq, there were less massacres than there were in Viet Nam. Fewer people would have been killed by bombing and shelling. And there is no doubt that many civilians lost their lives to the actions of enemies of the Coalition forces. But indications are that an absolutely extraordinary number of Iraqis were killed by US small arms fire. The numbers are so high that they demand consideration.

In 2006 a mortality study was published in the Lancet estimated excess deaths in Iraq based on cluster sampling. The furor over the estimation of total excess deaths through violence has prevented us from coming to grips with what the study indicated. The most common cause of violent death (56%) was gunfire. Where known, the cause of violent death originated from Coalition forces 57% of the time. Given that hundreds of thousands died of violent causes, this means that at the very least tens of thousands of Iraqis were shot dead by Coalition troops.

Many accounts from Iraq, both from US personnel and from Iraqis, highlight the risk to civilians of being killed due to the paranoia, confusion and insecurity of US personnel. This has become normalized in the sense that people tend to think of this as being in the nature of military occupations. That is not the case. When the Germans occupied France they were very ruthless and brutal, but they didn’t kill ordinary people going about their daily business. Children could go to school and adults could go to work. Workers would not be shot for failing to stop at an unmarked “traffic control point” that had been set up without their foreknowledge. Farmers wouldn’t be killed for carrying shovels.

By official doctrine the US (openly flouting international humanitarian law) deliberately displaced the risks of violence onto the civilian population of Iraq. Under the doctrine of “Force Protection” personnel were encouraged to ensure their own safety at any cost. Even the Rules of Engagement (which were uncertain, contingent and subject to frequent change up until 2007) were undermined by the final proviso that the ROE did not in any way prevent a GI from taking lethal action if they felt threatened. Even though it fomented hostility and, in the long-term, greater overall danger to US forces, personnel early on the the occupation were all but officially told to shoot first and ask questions later. Many people commented at the time that US forces making a very dubious short-term gain in security were killing innocent people, committing war crimes, and ultimately ensuring that more, not less, US personnel would die.

Moreover, in Iraq, even more so than in Viet Nam, there was often no real attempt to create secure areas. Instead of pacifying and securing areas, the US was in both cases obsessed with finding, fixing and killing enemies. This effective made both countries into giant battlefields with no frontline. Then they would send their own people out into this environment, having assured them that the populace hated them and that half of them were actively trying to kill them.

When Iraqis were killed because they did not know that they were supposed to stop some arbitrary point or in some other way violate unknown rules supposedly designed to protect US personnel, those who killed them would, quite naturally, place the onus of responsibility on the victims themselves for having undertaken the acts which forced the GIs to shoot them. Logically, they should really have been blaming the military and political leaders who had just used them as a weapon with which to murder civilians, but what would you expect people to tell themselves and each other when they have just killed innocent people? Of course they are going to remind themselves that they had no choice but to shoot, that it was the victims’ actions which forced their hand. But then, there were those who were callous about such things, such as the officer who proclaimed after the a family was killed for approaching a checkpoint too quickly: “If these fucking hajis learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen”; or the helicopter gunner on the infamous Collateral Murder footage who, having shot two children, said: “Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

The situation for the broader US population is also one of feeling besieged. Successive governments in the US have gone beyond the cartoonish vilification of Soviet Communism and the Global Communist Conspiracy. Now they like to suggest that everyone hates or potentially hates the US, and they try to make it come true by their actions. Under the Bush administration, especially in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, US citizens all throughout the world were met with hostility.

We’re Number One!

Without a doubt the ugliest side of US culture is their collective sense of superiority. But it also the most pitiable in some respects. The US is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the history of humanity. Its contributions to literature, music, arts and the sciences cannot be denied. There must barely be any people on the planet who have not derived pleasure from US films. Yet there is a sense of insecurity about their strident pride, as if they have something to prove. They fear that they might be, in Richard Nixon’s words, a “helpless giant”, and feel that those who are defy them are deserving of violent correction. But the real trap of Usanity is not just that sense of righteous fury, it is the sense that you cannot just walk away – you can’t let go of the crazy woman’s wrists or she will attack.

Once again, there is a direct parallel between the indoctrination and situational emplacement of the police, the military, and the entire country. In the military, once upon a time when an army captured enemies they might march them in columns with a guard for every ten prisoners or more. To secure them they might simply take their weapons and make them walk with their hands on their heads. I sometimes wonder if young people seeing seeing such scenes in a World War II film would think that they are inauthentic and somehow anticlimactic.

Of course imperialist wars are a little different and far less humane. In Korea, US troops felt that for security reasons captured guerrillas had to be stripped naked (or nearly naked if they were women) and marched though town. In Viet Nam it became imperative that the diminutive and unarmed captives have their hands tied and be blindfolded. In Iraq zip-ties and hoods were considered utterly indispensable. It is as if you need to be sure that your trained and heavily armed men aren’t attacked by unarmed prisoners because, as we all know, life is so cheap to these people that they will sacrifice their own lives to attack even if there is only a minute chance of inflicting damage on their captors.

Partly these processes of stripping, blindfolding or hooding were designed to dehumanize the captives. One of the most important ways of maintaining psychological distance is to prevent eye contact. When you are committing unjust acts, it is quite important that your victims be dehumanized. If US personnel in Iraq were constantly confronted with the fear, confusion and grief of their captives it would have broken down barriers and caused much larger numbers to question the rightness of their actions in Iraq.

More importantly these procedures are part of a system of exerting control. In Iraq prisoners were actually referred to as “persons under control” or “PUCs”. The emphasis on control was to make the GIs feel that everything that they did not control was a hazard. They were sometimes ordered to effect very close control over the movements of PUCs even down to such things as which way their heads were facing.

Sometimes the procedures used on PUCs as supposed security measures were simply ways of instituting positional torture, forcing the captives into positions that can often quickly become agonising and beating them for moving out of those positions. Even if this were not the case, the very situation is almost guaranteed to cause abusive treatment. If a GI who does not speak Arabic is to force a captive to take comply to close control, they must almost certainly use physical coercion – especially if gestures are unavailable because the captive is hooded. Repeated deviations from the requirements will be met with increasing levels of violence. Even though the GI might rationally understand that the PUC might not comply for perfectly innocent reasons, they have been so situated that in emotional terms every deviation feels like an act of deliberate defiance that requires, as well as justifies, violent correction.

Of course, how could the US authorities have foreseen that referring to people as PUCs, hooding them, and sending them along chains of custody like anonymous punching bags would lead to incidents of abuse referred to as “PUC-fucking”? I mean, who would guess? All I can say is that if you wanted to design a system which would encourage the maximum level of abuse, torture and murder without actually having to order personnel to commit those acts – this is exactly what it would look like.

Increasingly the US police are subject to similar pressures. They already have a common indoctrinated sense of being rightful and righteous authorities who, by nature of their very vocation, must restrict the actions of the citizenry. They are trained to feel apart from others, and to view them with suspicion. When they too are filled with the paranoid fear and the sense of being besieged then their need to control can become manic and violent.

Cops have always struck out at those who defy them, but now things are becoming far more lethal due to new ways in which they are trained and deployed. The ever growing number number of armed raids in the US are now mostly (70%) conducted to serve search warrants for suspected drug offenses. In these “SWAT” raids there is very little discrimination in the way the police treat people – be they suspects, victims, bystanders young, elderly, ill, or disabled. They must be made compliant and controlled. Just as with the Iraqi PUCs, any deviance is treated as dangerous. This attitude has spread to daily policing activities when officers feel confronted.

It is true that like military personnel, the police are often endangered. But once again these procedures are not specifically discriminating, so they are not aimed at those who pose a danger, but at those who are not compliant. The police often think highly of themselves, they are the authorities, and they are armed and dangerous – people must comply. People must comply without delay and without question. To do otherwise is to invite violence.

http://youtu.be/j-P54MZVxMU

Only 4 miles from where Michael Brown was killed Kajieme Powell was also killed. He was shot dead 15 seconds after police encountered him as he paced agitatedly near them with his hands at his sides telling the police to shoot him. To the shock of onlookers, they handcuffed him after he was dead. They kept guns trained on him after he was dead and in handcuffs. The man who filmed everything with his phone didn’t feel threatened by Powell at all, but the police by their acts are suggesting that even dead and in handcuffs Powell is some form of peril – a supernatural unrealistic threat.

The entire US is subject to the same horrified fantasy. The “war on terror” has made them into the self-appointed world police. They are not being allowed to turn and walk away from Iraq.

People generally don’t want the US to send troops, but they seem to think that dropping bombs on people is almost the equivalent of doing nothing. It is funny, because when one bomb went off at the Boston marathon it was quite a big deal to people in the US, but dropping hundreds on other people is apparently nothing of particular note. In the US media discourse it is almost as if bombing is a minor and reluctant act of charity: “We are not saying we’re responsible for the rise of ISIS, but we feel bad for the Iraqi people and so we are prepared to drop bombs on people in order to help them out at this difficult time.”

But ISIS has shown themselves only too willing to play the role of the crazed violent woman that needs slapping. Just when it seemed that nothing could get people in the US to back another major action in the Middle East, ISIS decides to stiffen US resolve by releasing a video showing the beheading of a US journalist and threatening to bathe the US in blood.

Now the people in the US are suddenly in that #OfficerGoFuckYourself headspace. They are angry that someone defies and mocks their beloved country, but also offended and belittled by the failure of ISIS to recognise their ability to unleash a fury of violence. Suddenly the “liberals” are writing and liking comments about how they need to finally kick that al-Baghdadi’s ass once and for all. And when they say “kick al-Baghdadi’s ass” they must know that that will mean killing lots and lots of people who are not al-Baghdadi.

The US people have their gun raised, will they shoot? I would not be the first to say that once again US violence can only give the illusion of greater security, but it will visit suffering and death and only increase the insecurity in the long term. Yes, they are armed, and yes, they are being defied, but pulling the trigger will not help. Sometimes you just have to accept doing nothing.

After this many repetitions of the same pattern, how can people continue falling for the same tricks? What good came from killing Ghadaffi, or Saddam Hussein, or arresting Milosevic? But we have been here before. The US media picks a Hitler-of-the-month and whips up the fury of anger over their defiance. The country staggers and swaggers in wide-eyed mania: “We will fucking KILL YOU!”. And eventually they get their guy. Months or years later. After how many deaths? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?

And then, mission accomplished, they all chant “U S A! U S A!” And the world waits for the next bout of Usanity.

“Collateral Murder”: Evidence of Genocide

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In Iraq, you can’t put pink gloves on Apache helicopter pilots and send them into the Ultimate Fighting ring and ask them to take a knee. These are attack pilots wearing gloves of steel, and they go into the ring throwing powerful punches of explosive steel. They are there to win, and they will win.” Lt. Col. Chris Wallach

The video known as “Collateral Murder” is strong evidence of genocide being carried out by the US against the people of Iraq. Hidden in the horrors of its brutality is a rich historical record revealing an armed force which systematically targets and kills non-combatants. The events shown are war crimes violating the principle of non-combatant immunity in numerous clearly illegal ways including attacking those rendering aid to the wounded. They are also evidence of genocide because there are clear indications that these war crimes are representative of enshrined procedures. They indicate that the ambiguities of the US Rules of Engagement mandate the systematic mass murder of civilians when applied by US personnel. They indicate something of a tactical, strategic and doctrinal approach that radically violates the fundamental obligations to distinguish between civilians and enemy personnel and the combatant status of enemies. Finally they indicate something about the way in which the US indoctrinates its personnel in a way guaranteed to create murderers.

Lt. Col. Wallach was the commander of the aircrew. He recently said: “Ultimately, my combat pilots at the scene did the best they could under extreme and surreal conditions.” However, we now know that the only incident to occur before we are able to see what is occurring was a report of small arms fire being heard. If there is a surreal aspect to any of this it comes from the minds of the aircrew and those who command both air and ground forces. I am going to go through exactly what it is that the gun camera footage shows. It shows a massacre of non-combatants, followed by the murder of rescuers, and finally a more obscure sequence which definitely involves another murder of rescuers.

Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said of this footage: “You’re looking at a situation through a soda straw, and you have no context or perspective.” Therefore, after describing exactly what is shown, taking into account exactly what is known and exactly what is not known from the footage, I will provide that context that Gates calls for. But the context does not, or should not, counter what our eyes and ears reveal to us. On the contrary, the very evidence that apologists like Gates and Wallach produce to show that the aircrew were legitimate in their actions is in fact evidence that their behaviours are not isolated. This is very strong evidence that by the manner in which, in practice, the US defines “hostile intent”; the manner in which it practices its doctrine of “force protection”; and the manner in which it indoctrinates and situates its forces, the US was systematically murdering non-combatants. In this case killing non-combatants inextricably means killing civilians. Placed in the context of more than two decades of direct and indirect destruction of Iraq in social, political, biological, economic, cultural, ecological, and physical terms, this systematic killing is clear and compelling evidence of genocide. Those who insist that this is merely warfare join the vast ranks of genocide perpetrators, deniers and apologists who insist that other genocides were warfare with inevitable, if regrettable, instances of civilian death.

As I have written elsewhere, all of the common claims of genocide deniers are regularly applied to US “military” actions, but they tend to be overlooked as they are so pervasive that they are seldom examined or challenged. Ultimately denial of US genocide relies on people having a vague notion that genocide involves actions like the mass gassings at Nazi death camps. But the word genocide was coined by someone who did not know at that time about the mass gassings and who applied the word to far more that the Nazi project to exterminate Europe’s Jews.

Genocide??

So, what exactly is genocide? The man who coined the term, Raphäel Lemkin, was a Polish Jew and a legal scholar. Impelled by knowledge of the Armenian Holocaust as well as the history of state sanctioned or controlled pogroms against Jews, Lemkin devoted much of his life to understanding mass violence against ethnic populations. In 1933 he proposed that there be an international law which, among other acts, prohibited acts of “barbarity” and “vandalism”. “Barbarity” was conceived as violence against members of a “collectivity” on the basis that they were of that “collectivity” and “with the goal of its extermination”. “Vandalism” was the destruction of the “cultural or artistic heritage” of a “collectivity … with the goal of its extermination”.

The German occupation of most of Europe was the horrific crucible in which Lemkin synthesised “vandalism” and “barbarity”. He recognised a greater process of which they were both part – the process he called “genocide”. Genocide was “a war not merely against states and their armies but against peoples.” Extermination, or the intent to exterminate, was no longer a requisite. The occupant could impose a “national pattern” onto the land, once it was cleansed by killing or forced migration, or onto the people themselves. And despite knowing that Europe’s Jews were slated for complete annihilation, Lemkin’s examples of genocide included such things as forcing the people of Luxembourg to take German names. His most common exemplar of genocide was the treatment of Poland – a comprehensive and systematic genocide in which killing people was only one of many forms of genocidal destruction.

I think it is important that we realise that the fluidity of identity does not allow for actual extermination to be undertaken as a project. Genocide is a schizophrenic undertaking full of bizarre contradictions such that it cannot truly be said that the Germans attempted to exterminate the Jews, or even Europe’s Jews. The Germans had immense difficulties in even defining who was Jewish for a start. They said Jews were a “race” but ultimately they relied on confessional identification to define them. As Yehuda Bauer wrote: “One can see how confused Nazi racism was when Jewish grandparents were defined by religion rather than so-called racial criteria.”(1) As well as the fact that many with Jewish heritage would inevitably successfully evade detection, in the Nuremburg Laws (and later when deciding who to kill at Wannsee), exemptions were made on various criteria, such as being a decorated war hero. However defined, there were Jews in the German military(2) and there were Jewish civilians living unincarcerated in Berlin when Soviet troops arrived.(3)

Mischling exemption application

“Half-Jew” Anton Mayer. Such photos accompanied applications for “exemptions”.

So, as the Genocide Convention outlines, genocide is an attack on people, rather than states, with the “intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such….” Lemkin referred to these collectivities as having a “biological structure”. There is a genetic interconnection involved here, but that does not mean that Lemkin believed in Nazi racial theories or any racist or racialist notions. The most evident proof of this is the inclusion in both his own work and in the Genocide Convention the practice of “transferring the children of the group to another group”. If genocides were truly about racial hygiene and racial hatred that would hardly be a recognised component, would it?

If it is not about race, then what is it about? Though he never articulated it, the answer stared Lemkin right in the face and he obviously grasped it at an unconscious or intuitive level. If we refer to one of these collectivities as a genos, what ties the genos together is not “biological interrelation” but rather personal interconnection and, most particularly, familial interrelation.

Genocide is about Power not Hatred

I want to outline a simplified cartoon narrative, just to illustrate a point: In feudal Europe mass violence was used in acts of war or banditry which were only distinguishable from each other by scale and the rank of participants. A Baron might conquer the demesne of another Baron just as one King might conquer the realm of another King. In relative terms the peasants of the demesne or the realm might have had very little concern over who exactly ruled. The change in rulers would not be akin to a foreign occupation as we would currently understand it. By the time of Napoleon, however, it was beginning to be a little different. People had started to develop a national consciousness. The national genos associated itself with a territory of land and aspired to a nation-state polity based on that (often rather generous) sense of territorial entitlement. By 1871, the inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine were quite unhappy at being made German. Nationalism would become the dominant political ideology for the entire twentieth century. The multinational and largely interchangeable feudal ruling class was gone. This was not an unprecedented situation, but it was something that Europe had not faced for since the times of Charlemagne (well, in reality it had, but I’m still in cartoon generalisation mode here, so bear with me).

There are many ways in which an external imperial power might exercise hegemony over the territory of a national genos in various ways, but they are limited by the strength of national feeling and, perhaps more importantly, the hegemony cannot be stable because national sentiment might at any time cohere around demands for the end to imperial hegemony. A transnational quasi-imperial system of governance has arisen specifically to limit economic sovereignty, for example. There are good arguments to be made that this is in itself genocidal and that the poorer nations of the world are subject to “structural genocide”. The carrots and sticks of global governance, however, do not apply to nation states that are reasonably populous, but more generously resourced, with a strong potential for industrial development. If they have a national consciousness that does not allow foreign dominance, which includes rule by those who are not loyal to the national genos, then there is no military way of establishing dominance. It is not the sovereign that is the problem, it is the people, hence the recourse to genocide.

War or Genocide?
If genocide is “war against peoples” how can it be distinguished from normal war? If we go back to German conquests in World War II, it is quite easy to distinguish between primarily military operations in the West and the largely genocidal actions in the East. The conquest and occupation of Western Europe was undeniably brutal but (leaving aside the genocide of Jews and Roma) German actions, including the killing of innocents, were taken as a means of countering physical threats to German forces. In the East, by contrast, inflicting starvation was more for the purposes of cleansing land of unwanted inhabitants than for feeding German troops. Security was the excuse for massacres, not the reason for massacres. When armed resistance began behind the advancing German front in the East, Hitler himself said: “This partisan war has its advantages as well. It gives us the opportunity to stamp out everything that stands against us.”(5)

As a general rule of thumb, then, one might look at a conquest and occupation and ask: does this more resemble what the Germans did in Belgium or what they did in Poland? For anyone acquainted with the comprehensive and widespread nature of destruction inflicted on Iraq during the occupation – destruction which was economic, political, cultural, moral, intellectual, social and environmental as well as physically deadly to Iraqis – the answer is all too clear. More Poles died than Iraqis, but to say of that the US occupation of Iraq was not as bad as the German occupation of Poland is to say very little indeed. The Germans wanted to go much further in a shorter time than did the US. They wanted to extinguish Poland as an entity. In contrast the systematic destruction of Iraq began 23 years ago with sanctions and bombing. 7 million Poles died in less than 6 years – most were killed directly. Around 2.5 million Iraqis have died, perhaps more – roughly half through violence and half through malnutrition and disease. Despite this, the similarities are more striking than the differences. Much like the German view of Poland, US policy elites (such as Joe Biden, Peter Galbraith and the Council on Foreign Relations) openly talked of “the end of Iraq” – proposing a partition which would be the destruction of Iraq as a nation-state.

What does the Collateral Murder Video Reveal?
Along with the bigger picture of comprehensive and manifold destruction that is the Iraq Genocide, it is possible to see indications of genocide at a smaller scale. If there are two types of war – genocide and military war – then which sort involves the systematic killing of civilians? The Collateral Murder video leaves many unanswered questions, but one thing it does show is that the killing that occurs is indicative of more widespread behaviours.

1) Are the Victims Combatants? Are they Armed?
The footage we see is from one of two participating Apache helicopter gunships. The call-sign of the gunship, or rather its “Aerial Weapons Team”, is Crazy Horse One Eight. The voice of the gunner who shoots is distinguishable throughout. He is controlling the gun camera and we can see what he sees. Further, it is clear from the fact he refers to things indicated by his sights that someone else, presumably the pilot, is seeing the same video feed and using it to make judgements. This is very important because the viewer can tell that they did not make a positive identification of weapons when initially claimed as, even with the benefit of going through one frame at a time, it is not possible to make a positive identification of weapons. It is also possible to tell that they are lying frequently about what they can see.
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Our first view of the first group of victims (Pic 1) shows over a dozen men who are clearly acting in a casual manner. In general they are progressing but here is also milling and conversation going on amongst them. Two of them have visible shoulder straps. These are from cameras and they look like cameras considerably more than they look like weapons. They identify one other “weapon” which is inflated to the claim that there are “five to six” armed individuals. Pic 2 and the frame immediately preceding it show a long object that could easily be mistaken for an RPG (rocket propelled grenade launcher). However this is not what the gunner will later claim is an RPG and having viewed the entire footage it seems almost inconceivable that the object is in fact an RPG.
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In Pic 3 we can see the object that the gunner claims is an RPG. It is a camera. It looks a lot more like a camera than an RPG. The reader is invited to review the footage starting at about 00:02:30 and determine whether they think it is feasible that the gunner has made a “positive identification” as required by the ROE (rules of engagement). As for the long object that looked a little like an RPG we can see in Pic 4 that it is now being used like a crutch. In our next fleeting glimpse it looks fairly insubstantial, lending some credence to the speculation that it might actually have been a tripod. There is no visible RPG tube later. Mention is made by ground forces that they believe there might be an RPG round under a body, but bear in mind the only claim that there was an RPG was of something we know for certain was a camera. Further, if it had been an RPG it would pose no threat to the gunship which was far beyond its effective range and too fast to be effectively targeted by a weapon designed for use against armoured ground vehicles. One writer described it as like trying to hit a wasp with a slingshot. And then there is the unexplained statement by the gunner: “Yeah, we had a guy shooting – and now he’s behind the building.” Someone responds as if he was referring to something else (30 minutes earlier small arms fire was heard in the area but its source never identified – that is the only evidence of hostile activity in the area at this point) but the context seems to suggest that he is saying that the “guy shooting” was journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen who may well have been “shooting” his camera.

An hour after these events we do see armed individuals – after an unexplained 30 minute gap in the footage. Before I turn to that, however, I would like to turn to the elephant in the room which seems utterly absent from discussions of whether or not the group of victims carried weapons – that is the fact that so many are quite clearly unarmed.
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Pics 5 and 6 show armed men. The two men in pic 6 are not visible for very long, but one in particular is so obviously armed that it is quite unmistakeable. Likewise with the US personnel in pic 5. Uniforms aside, the fact that they carry long arms is very distinct. The demeanour and behaviour is clearly different also. The visibly armed men in both instances move in a purposeful manner, often briskly, and they pay attention to those in front. When Namir Noor-Eldeen was aiming his camera lens at the gunship his companions were just standing around having a chat. The gunships were clearly both seen and heard by the men. The gunner who will soon murder these men is quite able to see that they are in no way preparing for an engagement. Though two carry cameras and one a long object, it is clear that all others are plainly unarmed. Here is the ICRC’s (International Committee of the Red Cross) one sentence heading describing “Chapter 1, Rule 1” of customary International Humanitarian Law: Rule 1. The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.”
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In the second attack the two armed men from pic 6 seem to have entered a building. After that this is heard from the gunner [G] and what is almost certainly the pilot [P] of Crazy Horse 18:

31:21 (add 26 seconds to get time on Wikileaks video) …[P] So there’s at least six individuals in that building with weapons.

31:30 [G] We can put a missile in it.

31:31 [P] If you’d like, ah, Crazyhorse One-Eight could put a missile in that building.

31:46 [P] It’s a triangle building. Appears to be ah, abandoned.

31:51 [G] Yeah, looks like it’s under construction, abandoned.

31:52 [P]Appears to be abandoned, under construction.

31:56 [P] Uh, like I said, six individuals walked in there from our previous engagement.

The footage shows nothing of these armed men in the building. The entrance is obscured for 30 seconds and then the gun camera is pointed at the sky for a further minute. When it swings back we see two unarmed men entering the building. Moments later (pic 8) we see another unarmed man walking in front of the building just before the first hellfire missile hits where he stands. 

2) Targeting Rescuers

Rescuers are specifically targeted in the first engagement and seem to be specifically targeted in the second. In the second the footage shows three rescuers (indicated by arrows in pic 9) have arrived after the first missile strike. The gun camera swings away before the second missile is fired. (The camera shows a rectangular reticule while a round dot seems to indicate the point at which the weapon systems are aimed. These are kept aligned at most times but it is very interesting to trace the separation and realignment of these that occurs during this second engagement. It certainly seems conceivable that the camera is deliberately trained away from the aim point of the weapons at times in order to conceal visible events.) While target is out of view we hear:

36:49 Firing.

36:53 There it goes! Look at that bitch go!

36:56 Patoosh!

37:03 Ah, sweet.

37:07 Need a little more room.

37:09 Nice missile.

37:11 Does it look good?

37:12 Sweet!
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Pic 10 shows some people who were passing and tried to rescue the wounded Reuters worker Saeed Chmagh. A man runs ahead of the van to the victim. Never at any stage do any people or the van give any indication that they are approaching the dead, and yet:
07:07 Yeah Bushmaster, we have a van that’s approaching and picking up the bodies.

07:14 Where’s that van at?

07:15 Right down there by the bodies.

07:16 Okay, yeah.

07:18 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly uh picking up bodies and weapons.

07:25 Let me engage.

07:28 Can I shoot?

07:31 Roger. Break. Uh Crazyhorse One-Eight request permission to uh engage.

07:36 Picking up the wounded?

07:38 Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage.

07:41 Come on, let us shoot!

07:44 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse One-Eight.

07:49 They’re taking him.

07:51 Bushmaster; Crazyhorse One-Eight.

07:56 This is Bushmaster Seven, go ahead.

07:59 Roger. We have a black SUV-uh Bongo truck [van] picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.

08:02 Fuck.

08:06 This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. Engage.

08:12 One-Eight, engage.

Note firstly that they are being dishonest when talking about “bodies and weapons” but that the pretence is fairly thin. When asked “Picking up the wounded?” the voice I have identified as [P] replies “Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage.” Then the gunner’s voice says with some agitation, “They’re taking him.” They know full well that they are targeting innocent rescuers and others who hear their radio discussion must also have known.

To properly contextualise this we should look at the US propensity for “double tap” strikes. In it’s use of drones the US has for years been conducting delayed second strikes on targets for the express purpose of killing to who attempt to rescue or treat the wounded. These practices have continued until now despite massive negative publicity, and despite the fact that such actions are war crimes.

This practice can be further contextualised. The sanctions imposed on Iraq caused very, very serious degradation to Iraqi health system, including the hospital system. This worked in conjunction with the malnutrition caused by the sanctions and caused hundreds of thousands to die prematurely, particularly infants and children. During the occupation the degradation of Iraq’s hospitals continued even further. Dahr Jamail produced a report in 2005 that detailed a shocking situation. The ability of the Iraqi medical establishment to attend to the urgent needs of the Iraqi people was abysmal. Most of the urgent medical needs were caused by US actions and the near total disablement of Iraq’s health system was also caused by US actions. Among those who were unable to access adequate care were those wounded by the US. Among the most prominent, and certainly most dramatic, causes of degraded medical care were direct attacks on medical personnel, on clinics and hospitals, on ambulances and on civilian rescuers.

It seems clear from the audio of Collateral Murder that it is normal to target rescuers. Even though the rescuers in the van were nothing but people stopping to help, and the aircrew had no reason to think otherwise, they are clearly transformed into combatants in the delusional world of the gunner, particularly when he utters those chilling words: “Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

3) “Delightful Bloodlust”

The pretrial testimony of Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning), which was smuggled out of a courtroom in May 2013, became most noted for the phrase: “delightful bloodlust”. It is an unusual usage and clearly Manning wished to make people think about what he was saying and to draw attention to the “delight” shown by the killers. There is delight shown. There is eagerness to kill and there is pleasure shown at killing the completely helpless victims. But there are also notes of strain and mental compulsion. The transcript printed above clearly shows the extreme agitation that having to wait for permission to kill more people causes. One can certainly here it in the gunner’s voice when he says “Come on, let us shoot!” In the minutes preceding this is a sequence of events which even more clearly show the “delightful bloodlust” of the Aerial Weapons Team.

Perhaps the most harrowing and disturbing part of Collateral Murder is not either of the times where we can see them mowing down innocent civilians, nor the two visible instances of missiles exploding and killing what seem to be innocent civilians, but the time the camera spends tracking a wounded victim – Reuters worker Saeed Chmagh. The speakers exaggerate when they say he is crawling. What we see is someone too badly wounded to crawl. His suffering is so readily apparent, like his helplessness and his desperation, that it is shockingly offensive when we here:

06:33 Come on, buddy.

06:38 All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.

What weapon do they expect Saeed Chmagh to pick up? How could they possibly expect someone too badly hurt to even crawl to pick up a weapon? What do they suppose he would do with a weapon? If you ask these questions you begin to realise the degree to which gunner is subject to an irrational delusion. He is unable to see a human being. If he saw a human being he would immediately realise that a human being in that state, and in those circumstances, is not going to pick up a weapon no matter how hard you wish him to do so. He might just as reasonably been begging for him to turn into a twelve-point buck. What the gunner sees is a target. He wants to kill the target because he has been trained to believe that is the most meritorious act possible – one which will earn him applause from superiors and peers, and bounteous admiration, if not envy, from the civilian community back home. In order to be able to kill the target the must be able to indicate that certain criteria have been met.

The US has long sought to create military personnel who kill discriminatingly but without volition. In World War II US studies led by Brigadier General S. L. A. Marshall found that only 15 to 20 per cent of riflemen would fire at the enemy in an engagement:

And thus, since World War II, a new era has quietly dawned in modern warfare: an era of psychological warfare — psychological warfare conducted not upon the enemy, but upon one’s own troops. Propaganda and various other crude forms of psychological enabling have always been present in warfare, but in the second half of this century psychology has had an impact as great as that of technology on the modern battlefield.

When S. L. A. Marshall was sent to the Korean War to make the same kind of investigation that he had done in World War II, he found that (as a result of new training techniques initiated in response to his earlier findings) 55 percent of infantrymen were firing their weapons — and in some perimeter-defense crises, almost everyone was. These training techniques were further perfected, and in Vietnam the firing rate appears to have been around 90 to 95 percent. The triad of methods used to achieve this remarkable increase in killing are desensitization, conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms. (6)

The result of the strength, intensity and sophistication of US military indoctrination is to make US personnel into killers and the sort of military code which other nations historically use (not necessarily successfully) to prevent their killers from becoming murderers is largely absent. The US military does not mandate killing innocents, instead it redefines the concepts of innocence, of combatant status, and even of civilian status. For example, in 1969 the top US commander in Viet Nam, Gen. William Westmoreland, claimed 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.(7) In Iraq the most disturbing manifestation of this must be the use of the term “bad guys”. This is infantilisation taken to the point of complete insanity. This all-pervasive term (used throughout the chain of command, and used in official documents) maintains the projection of a Hollywood narrative onto real events of violence and, perhaps more importantly, means that personnel do not have to reflect on the nature of their victims.
This is the opening paragraph of the introduction of Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian’s book Collateral Damage:

Troops, when they battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza, or Vietnam, are placed in “atrocity-producing situations.” Being surrounded by a hostile population makes simple acts such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke dangerous. The fear and stress pushes troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. The hostility is compounded when the real enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy, and hard to find. The rage soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed over time to innocent civilians, who are seen to support the insurgents. Civilians and combatants, in the eyes of the beleaguered troops, merge into one entity. These civilians, who rarely interact with soldiers or Marines, are to most of the occupation troops nameless, faceless, and easily turned into abstractions of hate. They are dismissed as less than human. It is a short psychological leap but a massive moral leap. It is a leap from killing—the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm—to murder. The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing.(8)

There are two things that must be added to that. One is that the US military is very good at making its personnel want to kill. Killing becomes a matter that defines the identity of the GI. In the US military culture the combatant identity and, to be frank, the sense of manhood is linked to killing. Acts of killing are, as mentioned, lauded and rewarded with everything from badges to beer to R and R leave passes. Commanders, like General Mattis, tell personnel such things as: “It’s fun to shoot some people. You know, its a hell of a hoot. I like brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So its a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”(9) The results can be seen in reports such as Neil Shea’s “Afghanistan: A Gathering Menace” which shows a norm of violent, racist and angry men among whom mass murderers are bound to arise. Even back in the US the prevalence of serious violence is alarming. In 2009 David Philipps investigated an infantry brigade stationed in Colorado Springs whose murder rate was 114 times as high as that of their community (he also published a book on the brigade in 2010).

More important even than the strong desire to kill is the fact of the “atrocity producing situations” in which US personnel are placed. The term was coined by Robert Jay Lifton with regard to US actions in Indochina. Naturally it has lent itself incredibly well to biased apologism. If a Japanese psychiatrist had implied that Japanese atrocities in China had been “produced” by “situations” it would undoubtedly be condemned. In fact at the individual level it is the situational factors more than the indoctrination that cause personnel to commit murders and other atrocities but, just as with military mass rape, the most important thing to understand is that these situations don’t simply arise but are created by doctrine and strategy and shaped by tactical practices. Both Japanese and US personnel were immersed in “atrocity producing situations” because the “military” strategy pursued in Manchuria, China, Indochina, and Iraq was a genocidal strategy.

US practices have ensure that US personnel are as alienated from the civilian population as possible. The dividing lines between civilian and combatant are deliberately and systematically blurred. They are manipulated into a sense of enmity with the local population. Threats are more prevalently defined in racial, ethnic, national, political or religious terms rather than military status (which might include arms, training, rank, or membership in a given military or paramilitary formation). No areas, or few areas, outside of bases are made secure from attack. The result is that the entire occupied country of people homes and farms and workplaces becomes viewed as a battlefield and all the people of it become threats. Far from the traditional approach of military organisations seeking to quell or overcome fear, the US military seeks to enhance fear and to channel using “reactive firing”. The fearfulness of US personnel was one of the things that Iraqi’s found surprising and noteworthy. Even US reporter Dahr Jamail wrote that he “marvelled at how scared they were, despite being the ones with the biggest guns.”(10)

Along with the irrational fear was the very real fact that US personnel were often gratuitously put into circumstance where they really were risking their own lives if they were not prepared to kill civilians. For example, they might be deployed to unmarked traffic control points (TCPs) which civilians had great difficulty in even being able to see (imagine how easy it would be at dusk to miss the presence of personnel in camouflaged uniforms at an unmarked TCP) but at the same time left the US personnel extremely vulnerable to suicide bomb attacks.

Fear may or may not be considered a factor in the actions of the murderers in Collateral Murder but it does shape the situation in which they are acting. The US doctrine of “force protection” is explained as being a result of the extreme US aversion to casualties.(11) (I should further refine this to say aversion to battlefield casualties. The US is not averse to producing its own psychological casualties or toxicological and radiological casualties. There widespread exposure to Agent Orange in Indochina, and in the “Gulf War”, when the US had 114 personnel killed by enemy action, an utterly astronomical 250,000 of 697,000 who served contracted Gulf War Syndrome. Apart from exposure to burning oil wells the causes of Gulf War Syndrome, which are understood to be multiple, are the result of US actions. A recent report has detailed the horrific impact of the reckless use of burn pits by the US military which once again illustrates a fundamental lack of concenr for the health and wellbeing of their own). The US officials and commanders may genuinely fear the negative publicity that battlefield casualties might cause, but the actual doctrine of “force protection” becomes a blatant war crime in its application:

A reactive, ‘‘kinetic’’ strategy has lowered the threshold for the use of violence and, in many cases, transferred risk from soldiers to civilians. Particularly in areas designated as hostile, hard-charging house raids, belligerent street patrols, and tense checkpoints make up for a shortage of soldiers on the ground and direct violence away from soldiers and toward civilians. Defying virtually every theory of counterinsurgency, military officials have pursued force protection even at the expense of mission accomplishment. (12)

Transferring risk from soldiers to civilians is a war crime in itself. If you read, for example, the tactical choices made in the Second Battle of Fallujah under the rationale of “force protection” they become a clearly genocidal when applied in a city that still had many tens of thousands of civilian residents. What now seems most poignant is that not only was white phosphorous use to clear bunkers in “shake ‘n’ bake” fire missions (a war crime) but also depleted uranium munitions were used when there was a belief that armed resistors were using walls for cover. One “lessons learned” report from Fallujah II mandates tactics that would almost amount to annihilating all human life in a piecemeal manner: always fire into every room when clearing and always use fragmentation grenades. Use 120 mm tank shells on all buildings before approach. On any enemy contact, burn the place down or use c4 plus propane to create suffocating fuel-air explosive. Marines also used large numbers of demolition charges and thermobaric weapons which cause “concussions, collapsed lungs, internal hemorrhaging and eardrum ruptures.”(13)

This is the background to the events of Collateral Murder and in it we can see common themes. The first is that the “combat” is not some exchange of violent acts, but a one-sided act. In the past the word “combat” would not have been applied to such actions which, depending on one’s moral stance, might have been described as slaughter, murder, assassination or butchery. The second is that, in practice, the transfer of risk is extreme and clearly criminal. Despite seeing nothing that was definitely a weapon, the gunner “positively identifies” six AK-47s and then “positively identifies” a camera as being an RPG launcher. Following this the crew simply murder outright some people who stop to aid the wounded. Afterwards, those killed were designated as insurgents.

The “hostile intent” or “hostile action” which would trigger killings under the Rules of Engagement (ROE) varied widely, and it is clear that even at the time of Collateral Murder when there was a clear single document of “Rules of Engagement” the practice was far more liberal but also clearly codified (and once again a clear war crime). Veteran testimony demonstrates that “hostile intent” or “hostile actions” could be seen in wearing certain clothes, being out after curfew, carrying binoculars or a camera or talking on the phone. The film The Hurt Locker is an extraordinarily offensive collection of some of the rationalisations under which US personnel murdered civilians, presented as if all of these fantasies were in fact real even when they are clearly ridiculous and risible.

4) Lies

One of the most interesting things about Collateral Murder is the lying that goes on. Initially Wikileaks released an edited version of the footage and enraged opponents released extra footage which “proved” that Wikileaks was distorting reality by omitting those parts which show that the aircrew were responding to serious threats to ground forces who had come under fire. Then Wikileaks released all the footage that they had and it was clear that far from giving a context of armed conflict, the aircrew were just inventing things and saying them on air. We’ve already seen them conjure 6 AK-47’s and an RPG launcher from thin to non-existent visual evidence.

When a van appears they claim it is picking up bodies for no apparent reason. Then apparently they are “picking up bodies and weapons” despite a lack of any indication that they are doing so or that there are actually any weapons to be retrieved. The gunner then seeks permission to fire, perhaps on this basis, and does nothing to correct the distortion that was created even when it is amply clear that the targets are fully engaged in trying to rescue Saeed Chmagh and not collecting bodies nor weapons.

And then there is this:

11:11 Hey yeah, roger, be advised, there were some guys popping out with AKs behind that dirt pile break. 

11:19 We also took some RPGs off, uh, earlier, so just uh make sure your men keep your eyes open.

It is such a bald and bold lie that it almost makes one question one’s own eyes. They seem to be lying to the ground forces, but I’m not entirely certain that that is logical. I believe that the ground forces were close to the scene throughout the previous action and thus would have heard that there was no small arms fire (if that is indeed what was being claimed). As for the meaning of the second line it is ambiguous, clearly, but it is obviously part of the warning. The question is whether the lies are really addressed to the ground troops or whether they are more for the sake of recording for posterity and to aid in future legal situations.

5) Killing Journalists

One of the salient aspects of the loose application of the ROE with regard to “hostile intent” is the fact that it clearly causes disproportionate deaths among journalists. Iraq was the deadliest war ever for journalists. In the first three years 71 were killed, more than the 63 killed in Vietnam, the 17 killed in Korea, and even the 69 killed in World War II. The BRussells Tribunal counts a total of 352 Iraqi and 30 non-Iraqi fatalities among media workers up until December 2012. Other reports suggest less, but all reports agree that the majority were killed in a targeted fashion by unknown groups. I would invite the reader to read analyses such as this report by Reporters Without Borders which states that “at least 16 journalists” were killed by the US and then goes on to give details of 15 presumed killed by the US which does not even count the 3 Al-Jazeera staff killed in April 2003. Given that we know that the US considered actions common to journalists to be evidence of “hostile intent”, given that we can see in Collateral Murder that US personnel will seek and receive permission to engage journalists engaged in reporting, and given that we know the US was behind death squads who were killing dissidents, intellectuals, and inconvenient people, does it seem at all acceptable to state that only 16 (or 22) were killed by the US while 83% of deaths were caused by unknown parties who, despite being unknown, are described as “resisting coalition forces and Iraqi authorities”?

It is much more reasonable to draw the inference that directly or through proxies the US was engaged in an unprecedented series of journalists’ murders. If it should also be true that their enemies (who owe their existence to the US occupation) are also guilty of an unprecedented campaign of journalists’ murders, that does not alter the basic truth about US actions. Given that this is the case, it may be that the gun camera footage is actually showing a targeted murder of media personnel. If you saw the footage with the sound turned off that is exactly what you would conclude is occurring in the first ten minutes. Perhaps, given the amount of lies being told, that is what is deliberately concealed. This would resolve a number of outstanding mysteries. It would explain the desperation to kill Saeed Chmagh, first when begging him to pick up a weapon and then when waiting for permission to engage when he is being rescued. It would explain why the gunner gets so agitated waiting for permission to fire when there seems a possibility that the wounded man might be rescued. It might help explain why the other speaker in the same gunship (whom I think of as the pilot) seems to be censoring himself when he says things such as “This is Operation, ah, Operation Secure” (which sounds as if he had meant to say something different and rethought). It might also give a partial explanation for the circumstances which he was commenting on, the sudden rapid appearance of large numbers of ground forces whom had evidently been in waiting nearby and had been told: “Hotel Two-Six, you need to move to that location once Crazyhorse is done and get pictures.”

If it was an assassination deliberately made to look like something else, then it would certainly make it less valuable as evidence of genocide but I thought it would be irresponsible not to mention the possibility. There are mysteries and questions regarding this footage. One source of uncertainty is the unexplained 30 minute ellipsis. The entire sequence which follows is equally mysterious. We cannot really discern what is occurring but the shot of the two seemingly unarmed men entering the half-built building is suggestive of another possible assassination. They certainly appear as if going to meet someone in the building.

Conclusion

Leaving aside the possibility that this was this footage shows targeted killing missions, what is shown is the application of rules and policy based procedures which involve the murder of noncombatants and the targeting and murder of rescuers. The real context of these event is that after 12 years of genocidal sanctions the US invaded and instituted an occupation regime that furthered instability, made reconstruction impossible, created a violent insurgency and then created a bitter sectarian civil war. Of particular significance is the tactic of attacking rescuers, one which is being applied elsewhere. This is an appalling way of psychologically attacking and traumatising the entire genos terrorising those who would act out of humanitarian impulses and giving the entire population a sense of helplessness and utter impotence. On these counts what is shown is evidence of genocide.

This footage reveals an aircrew for whom mass-murder is part of their job. The gunner is eager to the point of desperation to kill men who pose no evident threat. Put within the context of US military indoctrination and the way in which US practices create “atrocity producing situations” this is also evidence of genocide. This can occur with or without racial hatred. Indeed, the violent racial and religious hostility which exists in the US military (descending from the highest levels) is merely useful for the purposes of genocide in the same way the fanatical nationalism and military chauvinism are useful for the purposes of genocide.

Iraq is potentially one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. It has the longest history of any nation. Before reaching the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of it had exported $100 billion in oil and yet it still struggles with shattered infrastructure. Electricity generation is less than half that which was generated before 1990. It remains unstable and vulnerable. By committing genocide the US empire has effectively quelled a threat to its imperial hegemony for more than a generation. Michael Leunig drew a cartoon that explains exactly how to do it:
Leunig - How to do it

(1) Yehuda Bauer, “The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, 1933-1938,” excerpt from A History of the Holocaust, New York: Franklin Watts, 1982. Reprinted in Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, p 345.

(2) There were about 150,000 “Jews” in the German military. The vast majority were “Mischlinge” (“part-Jews” who would be slated for extermination if detected in Poland, for example) were but there were at least a few completely Jewish personnel including at least one who was religiously observant.

(3) Vasili Grossman (a Soviet war correspondent) wrote of: “Thousands of encounters. Thousands of Berliners in the streets. A Jewish woman with her husband. An old man, a Jew, who burst into tears when he learned about the fate of those who went to Lublin.” Illustrating not only the capriciousness of a system of mass murder which saw a higher percentage of German Jews survive than Polish Jews, but also the lingering doubt of knowing but not knowing the fate of “evacuees”.(4)

(4) In this, as in so much else, the German Judeocide serves as an extreme example of the insane schizophrenia common to genocides. Genocide, in its essence, is the province of “shoot then cry”. It is nation building with napalm. For every ten hamlets you destroy you build a well and call yourself humanitarian. It is the madness of starting a “quit smoking” campaign in Iraq in 2004 when US personnel were killing hundreds each day. It is, in Fred Branfman’s words“U.S. Ambassador to Laos G. McMurtrie Godley III… moving happily through a Lao refugee camp, friendly and genial to the survivors of his mass murder…” [from personal email]. Branfman went on to write: “…- one cannot imagine a Nazi acting similarly at Aushchwitz. I do think it’s important to understand the new age we have entered in which human beings are mere blips on a radar screen, of no more importance than cockroaches or flies, to U.S. Leaders.” All true, of course, but the Germans did, in even more grotesque ways, evince the same forms of cognitive dissonance. For example, they made a propaganda film about how good life in the Warsaw Ghetto was. They made anti-Soviet propaganda out of the massacre of Poles in Katyn while they were themselves massacring many more Poles, and anti-British propaganda about the famines which British policies created in India while carrying out the same policies to the same effect in occupied Soviet territory. The German people somehow knew, but didn’t know that Jews were being killed in mass executions. They knew, but somehow didn’t know, about the conditions inside the concentration camps.

Our desire to make the Judeocide somehow unique and totally unrepeatable and unrelated to other genocide is as dangerous as it is understandable. (Not that Branfman is subject to that delusion. He wrote that after witnessing the effects of the bombing in Laos: “Without any conscious decision on my part, I immediately found myself committing to do whatever I could to try and stop this unimaginable horror. As a Jew steeped in the Holocaust, I felt as if I had discovered the truth of Auschwitz and Buchenwald while the killing was still going on.”)

Unfortunately, Branfman is wrong to so distinguish between German hatred and US callousness on two grounds. One is that hatred of coloured people in general and East Asians in particular was not in short supply. Anti-Semitism has deep roots, but white supremacy is powerful, sharp and so prevalent that it goes almost unnoticed. Hatred of “Gooks” had been further inflated by the Phillipines War, the brutal Pacific War, and the Korean Genocide. The second is that hate, whether in the Judeocide or in the Indochina Genocide, is of secondary importance. Those who actually undertook to kill millions of Jews, the actual planners of the Endlösung (“Final Solution”) took the same attitude as those who killed hundreds of thousands of Laotians. They pursued concrete strategic objectives (as they phrased things) and the Jews were no more than inconvenient unpeople. The public rhetoric of extermination expounded by Hitler and other German leaders seems ultimately to have little proven concrete relevance to high level policy. One of the most chilling realisations I have ever had is that from the outside there is nothing much to distinguish those who plan the systematic mass killing of civilians by high-altitude bombardment and those who plan the systematic mass killing of civilians by gas. I don’t want to overstate this (there is certainly room to infer a different mental state among Nazi mass murderers) but for me there is no longer the comfort of believing that if we avoid trappings like brown-shirts, the Fuhrerprinzip and militarised mass rallies we are safe from committing crimes akin to those of the Third Reich.

(5) Geoffrey P. Megargee, War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006, p 65.

(6) Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York, Boston: Back Bay Books, 1995, p 251.

(7) James William Gibson, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam, New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000 (1986), p 135.

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

(9) Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, p 409.

(10) Dahr Jamail, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2007, p 48.

(11) Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p 58.

(12) Thomas W. Smith, “Protecting Civiliansor Soldiers? Humanitarian Law and the Economy of Risk in Iraq”, International Studies Perspectives(2008) 9, p 145.

(13) Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, pp 403-4.

The United States of Genocide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US “Wars” are Actually Genocides

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

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

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

(a) Killing members of the group;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming to Understand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what I wrote in 2006:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vietnam_Inc_(Philip_Jones_Griffiths_book)_cover_art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MERE GOOKS

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

Why Genocide and Not War?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Textbook Cases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12Ibid, pp 317-9.

13Ibid, p 149.

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

15Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

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

17Ibid, p 19.

18Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

19Ibid, pp 254-5.

20Ibid, p 169.

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

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

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

The Obscenities of the Great War

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The killing, mutilation and gas poisoning of millions of soldiers on both sides had broken taboos and decisively blunted moral sensitivities. Auschwitz cannot be explained without reference to World War I.” – Yehuda Baueri

World War I brought about great political and strategic changes. We acknowledge the political and strategic links joining World Wars I and II, but we seldom acknowledge the link of trauma that ties the brutalities visited on the combatants of the first war to the systematic mass killings of civilians in the second. The impact of the Great War echoes strongly through the generations, but to understand its impact we need to remind ourselves of the conditions endured by combatants. This was like a holocaust of young men, a multinational holocaust which even enemy states shared in common. It was one of histories great obscenities akin to a genocide or the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade, and it sowed the seeds of even greater future suffering.

The factors acting to derange the senses of the front line troops began even before enlistment with unrealistic, romantic and chauvinistic expectations of violence, combat and war;ii masculinity;iii and the martial prowess of their nation.iv As to the Great War itself, they genuinely expected it to be “over by Christmas”.v They, and those who were to remain home, felt that war would cleansevi and unite societyvii – renewing lost values and providing an “escape from modernity”.viii

In training troops were intentionally degraded, brutalised and stripped of individuality.ix Perhaps more importantly their training did next to nothing to prepare them for the realities of the front line, and very little to help them fight or survive.x

On arrival at the front they were confronted with overwhelming noisexi and disorientation in time and space,xii producing an immediate and lasting sense of befuddlement.xiii They had to contend with stench, filth, mud, vermin and, above all, cold.xiv They were constantly fatigued from hard labour at or behind the front line,xv they suffered chronic sleep deprivation exacerbated by the reversal of day/night patterns of activity in the front trenches.xvi They were malnourished in the field, and many had been malnourished in earlier life.xvii They were extremely prone to physical disease and were often treated punitively, cruelly or callously on falling ill.xviii They were starved of any, even basic, strategic informationxix and deprived, by physical realities, of a visual or tactical understanding of their situation – living in what Leed refers to as the “labyrinth”.xx Winter suggests that these factors caused “mental depression and physical sluggishness… from… lack of sleep combined with a total lack of information, which added to the lack of a sense of purpose.”xxi Their lives were expended with what can only be described as great profligacy. In these circumstances the front line soldier inevitably came to see some actions of military superiors and politicians (and by association the “home”) as either gratuitously idiotic or insane,xxii or as intentionally murderous.xxiii

The three greatest factors impacting the combatants’ psyches were the prevalences of fear, immobility and death. Leed emphasises the impact of immobility, contending that it destroyed any sense of identity as an “offensive” soldier.xxiv Psychiatric casualty rates certainly reflect the impact of static warfare.xxv This is most clearly illustrated by the fact that rates were lower during mobile war phases despite higher death and injury rates.xxvi On a more basic level than that of identity, however, soldiers were exposed to danger, provoking fear and adrenal response, and prevented from the active defence that both self-preservative cognition and biochemistry demanded. It is only too reasonable to expect that in these circumstances they would become neurasthenic and, as Aldington hinted, begin to morbidly fear fear itself.xxvii They were also constantly confronted with manifest death, the importance of which is shown by the centrality of encounters with corpses in both memoryxxviii and in the way combatants framed and interpreted the meaning of the war.xxix Killing could prompt guilt (although it should be remembered that only a small minority of infantry soldiers would have killed anyone). The loss of comrades could be a source of grief which, because of the necessarily close bonding of military units, caused “a large vertiginous emotional drain, and… a seemingly endless process of mourning.”xxx Combatants were radically desensitised, losing their normal reactions to both death and decay.xxxi Leed describes an instance where a soldier is blown by a shell onto the rotten stomach of an enemy, causing the excreta and rotten entrails of the corpse to enter his mouth – a single incident that illustrates the violation of profound values which confronted soldiers.xxxii The most damaging aspect of the confrontation with death was the reminder of one’s own mortality. In a war where front line soldiers were only too aware that they had little or no agency in their own self-preservation, each corpse represented the viewer’s own death save for a small sliver of fate or fortune. All agency and the disbursement of death was relegated to technology, the war-machine,xxxiii the soldiers were “unprotected by anything but cloth”.xxxiv They could not physically defend themselves and took refuge in superstitions talismans ritual and spells,xxxv largely abandoning established religion which offered only post-mortem salvation.xxxvi

The above is but a short list of some of the more prominent aspects of the front line that served to alienate and to enact profound psychic changes. These are two faces of the same coin – the war altered combatants but it was a “silent teacher” imparting a “secret which can never be communicated”.xxxvii Walter Benjamin noted that returning soldiers had “grown silent – not richer but poorer in communicable experience.”xxxviii The incommunicability of experience could make home leave unbearable because by itself it could be so intensely alienating.xxxix

The “silence” of the front line soldier was exacerbated by their lack of a military “offensive” identity.xl Soldiers are meant to be killers, shooters, attackers – they are trained as such and people, even today, believe it is their role. This derangement is not merely one affecting the popular imagination and popular culture, but is entrenched even in the scholarship of the subject. Joanna Bourke opens An Intimate History of Killing with the sentence, “The characteristic act of men at war is not dying, it is killing.” However, although she seeks to include the imaginary in constructing the meaning of war to participants, the point is not sustained even by her own selected evidence and although she deals with the fear of death she does not draw a link between it and the interpretation of the act of killing.xli Denis Winter makes the point that “danger was the most crucial trigger of aggression and sustainer of it….” Thus death precedes and shapes the act of killing.xlii Also in his reconstruction of the experience of battle it is fear of death that preconditions the soldier so intensely that its release leads to an immediate sense of euphoria, but also of detachment and unreality, which could change into positive enjoyment.xliii As discussed below this can have seldom been linked to killing in reality, and the sequence would suggest that the killing imaginary, and the narrative conventions of killing, are the product of the fear of death and a way of reclaiming agency after profound feelings of helplessness. Bourke herself cites an example of euphoric sensations and coital associations, identical to those that she suggests are associated with killing, deriving from a situation of danger where there was no remote possibility of the subject killing anyone, nor did he envisage or imagine doing so.xliv Similarly David Grossman is utterly insistent on seeing an erotic aspect to the act of killing when, if the only evidence by which to judge this is that offered by Grossman, there is more to be gleaned about the predispositions of Grossman and Bourke than any true erotic element to killing.xlv

Whether eroticised or not, the fascination with the ground soldier’s lethal agency, their acts of killing, seriously interfere with our ability to understand the soldier’s situation and the long-term effects of immersion in this situation. In fiction it is hard to find an infantry protagonist who does not kill an enemy soldier at some stage. However in reality, most front line soldiers were not killed, and 58 per cent of deaths that did occur were caused by shellfire.xlvi Of the remainder snipers, machine-guns, accident, disease, gas, aircraft and other causes would have accounted for so many that, given the relatively even matching of forces, only a tiny percentage of infantry could have actually killed someone with rifle, bayonet or grenade. The role of the infantry was not to kill but to occupy space. This is a source of cognitive dissonance to the soldier who has been instilled with an “offensive” identity, but also a source of cognitive estrangement from civilians and the values of a “society at war”.xlvii

The front and the home were also polarised in their attitudes towards the enemy. Civilian hatred towards the enemy was frequently a source of bitter anger for those serving at the front.xlviii The front line soldiers tended to lack hatred towards the enemy and often felt identification or even empathy.xlix To Stevenson this arose from the fact that they were all “trapped in a killing machine by pressure from above”.l The hatred of the enemy, and the pro-war patriotism of the home front was a source of bitter alienation in itself,li greatly aggravated by a blithe ignorance of the horrors facing combatants and a frequent expectation that the soldier should conform to preconceptions and be actively desirous of combat.lii The home front’s enthusiasm for slaughter was not simply a matter of estrangement of perceptions and beliefs, it made them part of the “killing machine”, as much a part of the apparatus as the staff officers in the rear lines. Some soldiers felt that civilians were responsible for maliciously and knowingly sending young men to die for their own profit or enjoyment, deceiving them as to the nature of military life and the reality of war.liii To Sassoon war was a “dirty trick” on his generationliv perpetuated by the “callous complacence” of civilians.lv There was not only bitterness but immense disdain directed at the older generation.lvi Remarque writes of their “moral bankruptcy”, his protagonist is “forced to conclude that our generation is more honourable than theirs.”lvii It was strongly felt that those staying behind were profiting from suffering and death of the front line troops, be they “profiteers” or armaments workers.lviii

Even more acute than the anger felt towards elders was that felt towards women.lix Some held that they derived positive enjoyment from young men’s sufferings. Aldington went so far as to write that the news of a son’s death was “almost wholly erotic” to a mother and that “all the dying and wounds… [from] a safe distance… gave [women] a great kick….lx More commonly women were blamed as active recruiters, although not entirely without reason.lxi

Psychologically the world was primed for an unprecedented turn towards genocide. We cannot forget that the experiences of Great War combatants were diverse, but at the same time we would be extremely foolish not to acknowledge the singular historical significance of the unprecedented sharing of such extreme conditions among tens of millions of young men. Never before have so many from so many nations shared so much with each other that they did not share with the rest of humanity. The reactions were also diverse among returned servicemen. An societal embrace of pacifism was a natural reaction, often shared by veterans, but other brutalised men were all too ready to don the uniforms of paramilitary police or fascist militias. The resentment of civilian impunity worked its way into military doctrine. Three early advocates of mass aerial bombardment were Giulio Douhet (Italy), Hugh Trenchard (Britain), and Billy Mitchell (US). Douhet and Trenchard argued against the distinction between civilian and combatant, Mitchell was an advocate of incendiary bombing, and all three argued that mass bombing of urban areas would shorten wars, preventing the horrors of drawn out trench warfare.lxii Thus, even without recourse to Nazi racial theories, it became quite normal in some circles to think that the mass-murder of civilians was a normal and desirable part of warfare. The callousness with which war leaders had used young men in the Great War sowed the seeds of genocidal brutality for the next generation of war leaders. These leaders would lay waste to entire countries and collectively slaughter tens of millions of civilians.

iYehuda Bauer, A History of the Holocaust. New York: Franklin Watts, 1982, pp 58-9, quoted in Eric Markusen and David Kopf, The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing: Genocide and Total War in the Twentieth Century. Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: 1995, p 30.

iiMichael C.C. Adams, The Great Adventure: Male Desire and the Coming of World War I, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990, pp 71-2.

iiiIbid p 30.

ivEric J. Leed, No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in World War I, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979, p 40; J.G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies 1914-1918, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, p 37.

vDenis Winter, Death’s Men: Soldiers of the Great War, London: Penguin, 1979, p 32.

viMichael C.C. Adams, The Great Adventure: Male Desire and the Coming of World War I, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1990, p 61.

viiLeed, No Man’s Land, pp 44-5.

viiiIbid pp 58-72.

ixWinter, Death’s Men, pp 41-3. The destruction of individuality was also ipso facto the destruction of identity, or more specifically civilian identity, which was, in theory replaced with a less individual identity as a soldier. The problem, as we shall see, is that a soldier identity, as everyone understood it and as the military attempted to instil it, was totally untenable in the conditions of trench warfare (see below).

xIbid pp 36, 39-40.

xiLeed, No Man’s Land, pp 126, 131.

xiiIbid pp 124-5; Winter, Death’s Men, p 101.

xiiiWinter, Death’s Men:, pp 82, 226; Leed, No Man’s Land, p 21.

xivWinter, Death’s Men, pp 95-8.

xvIbid p 86, David Stevenson, 1914-1918:The History of the First World War, London: Penguin 2004, p 185; Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture, pp 76-8.

xviDenis Winter, Death’s Men: Soldiers of the Great War, London: Penguin, 1979, p 100.

xviiIbid pp 30, 102; Jock Phillips, Nicholas Boyack, and E.P. Malone (eds), The Great Adventure: New Zealand Soldiers Describe the First World War, Wellington: Allen and Unwin, 1988, p 9; Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture…, p 60.

xviiiWinter, Death’s Men, pp 99, 201-2.

xixFuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture…, pp 62-4.

xxLeed, No Man’s Land , pp 77-80.

xxiWinter, Death’s Men, p 100.

xxiiIbid, pp 213; Leed, No Man’s Land, p 99.

xxiiiLeed, No Man’s Land, pp 106-7.

xxivIbid 180-6.

xxvJoanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare, London: Granta, 1999, p 249. See also note 8 above.

xxviStevenson, 1914-1918, p 215.

xxviiWinter, Death’s Men, p 133. Winter paraphrases Aldington as suggesting that men were ‘horribly afraid of seeming afraid’, however it is a reasonable inference to suggest that, given the risk of death or insanity that uncontrolled fear brought, they truly did fear fear. Such safety as there was against shelling required immobility, which required the control of fear. Again there are resonances with Catch-22.

xxviiiIbid p 181.

xxixIbid p 206-8. There is also the strong, if not cliché, narrative convention of the encounter with an enemy corpse prompting a realisation of the humanity of the enemy. For example, Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, London: Vintage, 2005, pp 153-9, wherein the protagonist is also confronted by a protracted death at his own hands.

xxxLeed, No Man’s Land, p 210.

xxxiJoanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, p 77.

xxxiiLeed, No Man’s Land, p 19.

xxxiiiIbid pp 29-33.

xxxivJohn Keegan, The First World War, New York: Vintage, 2000, p 273.

xxxvLeed, No Man’s Land, pp 127-8; Winter, Death’s Men, p 118.

xxxviStevenson, 1914-1918, p 215.

xxxviiCharles Carrington quoted in Leed, No Man’s Land, p 12.

xxxviiiIbid p 209.

xxxixStevenson, 1914-1918, p 212.

xlLeed, No Man’s Land, p 113.

xliBourke, An Intimate History of Killing, pp 1-3.

xliiWinter, Death’s Men, p 216.

xliiiIbid, pp 179-81.

xlivBourke, An Intimate History of Killing, pp 150-1.

xlvDavid Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, New York: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 1995.

xlviStevenson, 1914-1918, p 184.

xlviiLeed, No Man’s Land, p 110.

xlviiiIbid 106

xlixIbid p 107; in contrast Winter perceives more hatred, or rather ‘dislike’, but suggests that it seems to have been linked to the degree of danger and to have rapidly disappeared in time of truce, (Death’s Men, pp 209-13).

lStevenson, 1914-1918, p 92.

liWinter, Death’s Men, p 167.

liiFuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture…, p 17.

liiiAdams, The Great Adventure, pp 125-133; Leed, No Man’s Land, pp 206-7

livAdams, The Great Adventure, p 133.

lvLeed, No Man’s Land, p 207.

lviIbid p 74.

lviiRemarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, p 9.

lviiiLeed, No Man’s Land, p 206; Adams, The Great Adventure, p 116; Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture…, p 60; Winter, Death’s Men, pp 167-8.

lixAdams, The Great Adventure, p 108.

lxIbid p 128. Women were psychologically mobilised for the war effort and part of this was an effort to consciously indoctrinate them into viewing the death of their loved one’s as a positive sacrifice and a source of satisfaction. It seems unlikely that women were quite so thrilled at losing their sons as Aldington suggests, but the very existence of widespread propaganda to that effect makes Aldington’s viewpoint seem less extreme. See Nicoletta F. Gullace, The Blood of our Sons: Men Women and the Renegotiation of British Citizenship During the Great War, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002, p 63.

lxiDavid Stevenson, 1914-1918:The History of the First World War, London: Penguin 2004, p 292; Nicoletta F. Gullace, The Blood of our Sons: Men Women and the Renegotiation of British Citizenship During the Great War, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002, pp 3-4, 53-60, 81-3.

lxiiEric Markusen and David Kopf, TheHolocaustandStrategicBombing:GenocideandTotalWarintheTwentiethCentury, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press, 1995, pp 201-2