The Shame of Anzac Day

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In Aotearoa (New Zealand) and in Australia we observe Anzac day, commemorating the first landings at Gallipoli in 1915 on April 25. The Dardanelles campaign that followed this landing was 8 months of futile slaughter that ended in complete withdrawal. In the century since the sense of loss and the rightful condemnation of the vicious military folly were always muted and buried under tales of honour and national pride, but now we are forgetting altogether. In our fatuous nationalistic self-love we are telling our children that the war was a noble endeavour. History is being rewritten in the most offensive and disgusting manner and we need to finally confront the fact that Anzac Day should be a day of shame, not of pride.

After the Armistice in 1918 people began in many ways to commemorate the war. The event and monuments are solemn. Tombs or tomb-like memorials and plaques listing the fallen became commonplace. Events were also solemn. The Anzac Day service that we observe here in Aotearoa is based on funeral rites. Much of the memorialisation implicitly or explicitly promised to struggle against further war and bloodshed. For many this had been the war to end war, and that was the only meaning and consolation they could find in the futility of the carnage that had occurred. At the same time nationalism and the need to find positive meaning to soften grief shifted people from mourning the loss of lives to honouring the sacrifice of lives. But sacrifice implies that something was gained. Increasingly our commemoration of events that should fill us with deep shame has become an occasion for mistaken pride. We have forgotten the ugly truths of the Great War. Even though wars are happening now in which we have moral, if not material entanglement, we are as foolish as the people of 1914 who thought the War was a romantic adventure and would be “over by Christmas”.

We need to remember the forgotten truths, some of which were buried right from the start. To begin with, there is the fact that large numbers of British people actually opposed the war. On August the 2nd 1914 there was a massive antiwar rally in Trafalgar Square, London. The Manchester Guardian reported that it was “far larger, for example, than the most important of the suffragist rallies”. On that very day the British government decided to go to war. 4 cabinet ministers and one junior minister resigned and the government seemed in danger of falling, but on the 4th of August Germany invaded Belgium and Britain officially declared war. They now had the pretext of protecting Belgian neutrality, though they later violated Greek neutrality in the same manner. In truth, for Britain and for us, this was a war for Empire.

Less than 4 hours after Britain declared war Lord Liverpool, the Governor General of New Zealand, stood on Parliament steps in Wellington are read a proclamation from the Emperor King George. We were ordered to war. Many New Zealanders were wildly enthusiastic but the voices of those opposed to war were never heard. There was no debate and, as a country, we had no voice in this matter.

Young men who had no idea what they would face clamoured to volunteer. 2 years later conscription was introduced and about one third of the men sent overseas from Aotearoa were conscripts. Whether conscript or volunteer, though, the lives of military personnel during wartime are a form of regulated slavery. When ordered to die, they must die. New Zealanders died in numbers that can be hard for us to grasp. It was not lawful to act in the interests of self-preservation regardless of what you thought of the futile slaughter and stalemate that lasted for years on the Western Front. 23 New Zealanders were killed by firing squad for desertion.

April 25 is Anzac day. For both Australia and Aotearoa the formation of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was an occasion of national maturation, but we have always been too polite to admit that our national spirit developed in a very ignoble disdain for the weakness of ordinary Britons. For ordinary soldiers the Anzac spirit came from embarking thinking of themselves as somewhat inferior Britons, but on arrival discovering not only a commonality of culture between the two countries, but also a new sense of self for each. Far from being inferior, the Anzac troops soon developed the belief that they were superior to British soldiers and developed a degree of contempt for them and their murderous officers. British soldiers were physically and mentally weak for the simple reason that the British working class was the most malnourished in Europe. 50% of British military aged men were not even considered fit for military service. The Anzacs thought that they lacked strength, endurance, morale and initiative. That contempt for the less fortunate is how they overcame their sense of colonial inferiority.

As a result of the relative individual weakness of the British troops, British commanders used Canadian and Anzac troops as shock troops throughout the war. Because of this personnel from Aotearoa were over 50% more likely to be killed in the war than their British counterparts.

After three years of often horrific fighting – including the Battle of the Somme which left 2111 New Zealanders dead and 5848 wounded – New Zealand’s military effort culminated in the Third Battle of the Ypres, better known to us as Passchendaele. On the 12th of October 1917 New Zealand forces were ordered to advance in muddy conditions into machine gun fire. On that day alone 800 Kiwis died. Over all, the 3rd Ypres cost New Zealand 1796 lives. In a letter home Private Leonard Hart wrote:

Dozens got hung up in the wire and shot down before their surviving comrades’ eyes. It was now broad daylight and what was left of us realised that the day was lost. We accordingly lay down in shell holes or any cover we could get and waited. Any man who showed his head was immediately shot. They were marvellous shots those Huns. We had lost nearly eighty per cent of our strength and gained about 300 yards of ground in the attempt. This 300 yards was useless to us for the Germans still held and dominated the ridge.”

He also wrote about seeing British wounded who were abandoned by their commanders:

“These chaps, wounded in the defence of their country, had been callously left to die the most awful of deaths in the half frozen mud while tens of thousands of able bodied men were camped within five miles of them behind the lines.”

After Passchendaele the New Zealand Division, worn down by horrible misuse and deprivation, was as broken and lacklustre as their British comrades.

Indeed, the conditions faced by all frontline troops of all nations in the War were enough to break any normal human being. On arrival at the front they were confronted with overwhelming noise and disorientation in time and space. They had to contend with stench, filth, mud, vermin and cold. They were constantly fatigued from hard labour at or behind the front line. They suffered chronic sleep deprivation exacerbated by the reversal of day/night patterns of activity in the front trenches. They were malnourished and extremely prone to physical disease, but were often treated punitively, cruelly or callously on falling ill. They were starved of any, even basic, strategic information and and were frequently blind and helpless as death and danger stalked them or exploded all around them. Their lives were thrown away by others as if they had no value. 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, or even as intentionally murderous. This was not entirely irrational as many of the commanding officers of Britain and Europe were known to loathe the men they sent into battle. However, along with hatred of those in the rear echelons, frontline soldiers often developed a hatred for women and older men. Some even imagined that women were rejoicing in the slaughter of their own sons.

Deaths in the Great War were often lingering, agonising and horrific. That is the norm for the violence of death in war, yet the technology and the conditions of the fields of battle made this even more so in World War One. Only a lucky few died clean deaths, and many who died slowly would have died unattended, alone with their grief, fear, pain and loneliness. Others might have been dragged away by brave stretcher bearers, only to end up living with horrifying incurable mutilations. These men with lost limbs, crushed joints or incinerated flesh would live in chronic pain, often as beggars.

The sense of helplessness common to soldiers seems to have been a major factor in causing acute psychiatric casualties. Men would break down completely in various ways and there was considerable risk that such people would be tried in a court martial and even shot. Others were sent for treatment and for the first time, but not the last, military psychiatrists struggled with the fact that their job was not to make people better, but to make them effective again and send them back into the situation that was destroying them. We now know that those acute psychiatric cases were the tip of the iceberg. Post-traumatic stress disorder generally develops over many years or even decades. The war created an epidemic of family violence and alcoholism that wreaked havoc on the homefront, but did so behind closed doors.

Some of the men brutalised in the War became violent official or unofficial paramilitary squadrists. The notorious “Black and Tans” sent by Britain to Ireland were largely veterans of the Great War.

Similarly the Fascist and Nazi militias that became active throughout Europe were originally veterans. The violence of fascism was born in the trenches. Like the Spanish Flu that killed up to 50 million people, no mutation of ideology could have been so virulent and so deadly had it not been cultivated in the brutality of the Great War. This is what led to another 60 million dead in the bombed cities, on the battlefields, and in the gas chambers of World War II. As Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer tells us: “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.”

The violence that sprang from the Great War did not end when the next war ended in the nuclear incinerations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The British Empire had devoted fully 25% of its troops to fighting in the Middle East, and in doing so it directly set in motion events that are still causing death and destruction through war as I speak to you now. Men and women are fighting and dying right now, be they volunteers or conscripts. Bombs are dropping on civilians whose homelands may not have known real peace for 2, 3 or even as much as 5 decades.

The British effort in the Middle East was a war for oil. While France pleaded for help and saw one half of her young men die in battle (one half of all French men between the ages of 20 and 32 were killed in the war), but Britain ignored the desperation of her closest ally and invaded first Turkey and then Iraq. They treated their allies very badly. They betrayed their Arab allies by signing the Sykes/Picot agreement that carved up all of the Arab Middle East for Britain and France. They then betrayed the French by redrawing the boundaries of that agreement to put further distance between French territories and the oilfields that were the British goal. Then two days after an armistice that was supposed to end hostilities between Turkey and Britain, a British force invaded Mosul vilayet in what is now northern Iraq. After nearly two weeks of fighting they secured the area and now they had established control over every known source of petroleum in the Middle East. They created the countries of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen and more. In a year or so the British were dropping poison gas on rebellious Iraqi villages.

That is the empire that New Zealand soldiers died for. That is the future that their sacrifice brought us: burning cities, mass graves and wars that now seem destined to simply continue in perpetuity, as if the very idea of peace is lost to us. If we want to honour their memory, we cannot lie to ourselves about the crime perpetrated on them – on all of us. This country sent 10% of its population overseas. We lost less than countries like France, Serbia or Austria (where many civilians starved to death) but look at an atlas. Those countries had little choice. What madness made us do this to our young men? In economic terms alone we crippled ourselves, wasting years of development, not for a worthwhile cause, not even for empty gains, but to help make a world that was much much worse for our efforts and our loss. It is a hard pill to swallow, but it is worse than if they had died for nothing. That is the truth, and if we want to honour their memories we have to work to end the suffering that still follows in the wake of their deaths. Those people who are dying right now in the Middle East are most often dying from arms made by our allies in the US while US and UK based oil companies reap record profits on a new tide of blood. We were craven and wilfully blind to the immorality of the British Empire, but we still provide intelligence, diplomatic and military support to their equally immoral successors. Is that too political? Well war is political and if you don’t talk about politics you cannot talk sensibly about war.

When the Great War was first commemorated it was in the spirit that we must never let this happen again. Antiwar sentiment was the norm, not least in the RSA. In 1922 if you bought one of the first red poppies sold here, you were donating to an organisation that was committed to peace. Now, I fear, we have forgotten the lessons of two world wars and Anzac Day is increasingly nationalistic and militaristic. This is not a day for pride. Pride is the greatest offence against the memories of the fallen.

The Choice

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You are at the edge of a canyon. Below you is a procession of thousands upon thousands of gagged people marching forward, their hands behind them in steel handcuffs. The sun mercilessly beats down on you and on the marchers causing real pain and distress. From your vantage you can see that they are marching to a cliff and to their certain deaths. You have been yelling and screaming to warn them, but your voice is distant and it is growing hoarse. It is never completely hopeless because occasionally people look up. Sometimes small groups together follow the gaze of someone who has heard you yelling. You wave frantically.

This has gone on for hours that seem like centuries.

When people see you their reactions vary. Some shrug in disbelief or denial. Others panic. Those who panic understand that they face death but instead of giving them salvation, all you have done is add more suffering to their last moments of helpless torment. Some manage to scramble out of the press of bodies to outcrops or scraps of shelter that vary in their levels of discomfort and precariousness. Some of those who stop try to gesture warnings to marchers with head and eyes. Others try to shield themselves from the merciless sun. After a time of watching hundreds marching by, many of those you warned decide that you must be wrong, or at least that all the other people might be right. They rejoin the death march, relieved to once again be going with the flow. The marchers have been promised that shelter and freedom lie ahead of them. They may be sceptical about that, but all you can offer is struggle and suffering.

There seems little hope. Your skin blisters and your voice is nearly gone.

There is a pool of water. Sometimes you leave the cliff edge to quickly drink. If you didn’t your voice would already have given out. There are also materials around to with which you could build a shelter. You would love to just build that shelter. You could even build a shade that kept the sun off the marchers as they pass your section of cliff. One time you splashed water on the marchers and they loved it. It was genuine joy. You could be sheltering yourself, alleviating suffering, and providing genuine happiness instead of giving only the bitter curse of impotent truth. It is the obvious thing to do.

The problem is that the pool of water gives the best view of people dying.

When they reach the cliff people try to scream through their gags. Some marchers turn on others, kicking and butting. Some are simply paralysed with fear. Many, perhaps even most, secretly thought that this might come and they go to their deaths hating themselves for not having fought back. They fooled themselves and now they realise that they should have paid any price to avoid this fate – for them and for their loved ones. No one at the cliff will thank you for having once splashed them with water.

You could build a screen to block the view of voiceless death and suffering, but you couldn’t live with the screen.

If you close your mind, then your acts and the choices you make will be part of the concealment of the truth. If you can’t bear to bring joy or alleviate suffering without denying the truth, then your acts will perpetuate the lie that sends people to their deaths. You will be complicit in mass murder.

The only answer to the cliff, is to keep screaming.

You know that there is just a small chance that enough people will stop marching and will accumulate at the sides of the canyon. Or maybe enough will look up and see you at one time. Enough to make a real difference. Then….

…Things could go very badly. It could create a stampede. The death might be worse than the cliff itself. Maybe that might be worth it if it ended the death march for good, but there is no guarantee that the march won’t just start again after the stampede. Marchers will go right over the bodies of the trampled if they have to. It only makes them more resolute and narrow-minded in going forward.

On the other hand….

…If the marchers can fight fear, if they can hold firm despite the discomforts of the canyon, a ripple of refusal might travel back right through the march. The marchers aren’t stupid. Most harbour serious doubts about the march, but they have no access to other voices. They have no access to each other’s voices – except for incoherent grunts, tweets, status updates, and moans. That is the only thing that gives power to the distant shouts of a lone lunatic.

They don’t like the source, but deep down many marchers feel that the screeching wierdo might be the only one who is being honest with them.

Once they stop the death march, they will realise that they have no choice but to bear the sun while they work together to get rid of the gags and handcuffs and try to find or make ways out of the canyon. Not easy tasks, but better than marching enslaved in the blazing sun to certain death.

It is not much hope, but it is hope. So you can’t quit.

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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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”.

US Rule in Occupied Earth (or Everything You Need to Know About Genocide, but Never Knew to Ask) Part 2: Days of Revolt

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Audio: http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/program/82160

or direct link to mp3: https://ia801508.us.archive.org/34/items/20150808USRulePart2/20150808%20US%20Rule%20Part%202.mp3

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/on-genocide/20150808-us-rule-part-2

Chris Hedges “Days of Revolt” [not directly related]: https://vimeo.com/135629801

[Below is a transcript which is about 95% complete and which contains links to some material that is cited in the commentary]

I ended Part 1 by castigating those who seek justice and redress from authorities like the ICC. This is not an era in which forward progress can be made through existing institutions. I am not against meaningful reform but working towards it has now become a form of rear-guard action in a war that the people are losing. Those who wield power in Western societies have become far too good at wielding power. They are not meaningfully opposed or moderated, and that means that they will continue down a path of social destruction, even at their own expense.

If it makes it easier to swallow, the point I am making is actually very closely linked to a point that Chris Hedges has been emphasising in the last few years. Actually it is more than one point, really, because Hedges is promoting revolt and he is saying that this age is one that needs rebels – true dissidents. He is fond of citing Václav Havel and sentiments he conveyed such as this: “The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public, he offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin — and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.” This resonates with the earlier quote from Dr Thiranagama cited in Part 1: “Objectivity, the pursuit of truth and critical, honest positions, is crucial for the community, but is a view that could cost many of us our lives.” Neither sentiment leaves room for sugar-coating the truth or leaving out parts of the truth on the grounds that they are confrontational, or may alienate potential allies. Moreover, they do not allow one to decide that others do not have the intellectual capacity to grasp the whole truth and must be spoon-fed half-truths and white lies calculated to bring support to the cause you think is righteous.

The other key thing about real dissidents is that they don’t think that they can convince the powerful of the error of their ways. It is actually quite disturbing that the voices we hear criticising power are dominated by a privileged tone that projects shared interests and innate benevolence onto people such as Clinton, Obama or Kerry. Whether people overtly state this belief or not, it is inherent in any discussion that suggests that if the powerful could only be brought to see things from our perspective they would end their harmful practices. It is the equivalent of an Auschwitz inmate trying to persuade a guard that the Nuremburg Laws were both immoral and against the interests of Germany. The guard is unlikely to want to hear what you are saying, but if you do manage to persuade them where does that leave you? Or him? It is also a type of fallacy.

To assume that our leaders act with the best intentions is generally treated as being more conservative and intellectually credible than to suggest otherwise. In fact, to do so is to impute motive. It is a bankrupt practice and it is automatically applied selectively in such a way that enemy regimes are assumed to act with ill-intent whilst our leaders are presumed to mean well at least for their own countries if not for humanity as a whole.

The most common argument used to deny that the US has committed genocide is that there was no intention to commit genocide because US leaders have no such intent. Those who use such arguments do not look for evidence of intentionality any more than they would look for evidence of unicorns, because they already know that that evidence doesn’t exist. If you confront them with the fact that there is, say, more evidence of US intent to commit genocide in Cambodia than there is of Khmer Rouge intent to commit genocide, they will be upset because they know that the words and acts that seem to indicate US intentionality are a misrepresentation of the actual inner processes of US officials, but the words and acts that suggest Khmer Rouge intentionality are revelations of their true nature.

In the final analysis, though, whether our leaders are monstrous psychopaths or normal people trapped within a monstrous system is irrelevant. In fact, this is a false dichotomy between agential individuals and mere cogs. Whether or not one considers Western leaders to be demonically evil they must accommodate to the degree to which the regimes in which they function are diseased and criminal. For example, a President of the United States, a US Secretary of Defense and a US Secretary of State must all commit war crimes in order to function within a system that requires it of them. The same can be said of the UK Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Minister of Defence. Even should someone in that position have a change of heart, like Robert McNamara did, they could never be trusted to set things right because they cannot help but live in denial. Likewise, as Chris Hedges points out, there is no longer any point in putting faith in individuals or groups to work to reform the regime within its power structure. In a recent talk with Truthdig editor Robert Scheer, Hedges specifically references Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and says: “…we’ve got to stop placing our faith in particular individuals. That’s just not how power responds. Power responds when it feels threatened.”

Hedges points out that working within the system is not an avenue to change, and closing it may seem negative, but it is actually a source of hope. It is unfortunate that it takes severe crisis and dysfunction to bring this point about, but it is only once people stop placing faith in fantasies that they can act in their own interests. We have seen in the US that faith placed in Barack Obama was taken as unconditional, because there were no electoral alternatives for people who aren’t hateful or stupid. Depending on your viewpoint this has either freed or forced Obama into being a tool of elite vested interest while making enough rhetorical obeisance to public will to keep the shabby and translucent façade of democracy from collapsing into a pile of dust. This is why, paradoxically, our political elites would act with more humanity if we treated them as being baby-eating reptilian invaders from outer space because then they would feel constrained not to act like baby-eating reptilian invaders from outer space.

Just as we cannot elevate heroes to effect transformation it is also true that we cannot transform by debasing villains. Modern states with their Inquiries and Commissions and Committee Investigations have developed a huge amount of expertise in channelling justified outrage into ever-decreasing spirals of ever narrower objection. These processes end with the anticlimax of a drivelling pseudo-apology: “We’re sorry because we tried to bring too much freedom to the world and we messed up because we we’re too damned democratic and our vicious free press stabbed us in the back.” The model resembles the appalling Frost-Nixon interviews where David Frost went out of his way to systematically absolve Nixon of every one of his truly momentous crimes. But every porn production must have it’s cumshot, and after hours of this fellatio Nixon ejaculates: “I let the American people down”. And what a powerful confession that was! A little bit like John Wayne Gacy apologising for bringing disrepute to the amateur clown fraternity as if that was his only crime: “I let the clowns of this great land of America down”.

In this vein, when modern Western states do take actions against their own personnel they follow these rules:

  1. Unless there is an inconvenient senior officer who could do with being taken down a peg, like Janis Karpinsky, ensure that you choose as few people as possible from as low in the hierarchy as possible.
  2. Decontextualise and minimise the crimes. Maintain above all that they are aberrant isolated acts not linked to anything broader. Their isolation shows that they are the exception that proves the rule of our fundamentally benevolent nature.
  3. Portray the accused as victims of the brutality generated by the savagery of their victims’ society.
  4. Give as lenient a judgement as humanly possible.
  5. Reverse the judgement with a pardon or reduction in sentence as soon as humanly possible.
  6. Milk the proceedings as much as possible to provide “proof” that yours is a society of laws whilst tacitly or explicitly reiterating that the genesis of the crimes lay in the unwanted contact with the unlawful and brutal society of the victims.

But going back to the shell game of will-they won’t-they criminal proceedings, Israel has this procedure down to a fine art. And like all truly brilliant acts of public diplomacy, this practice exerts a disciplinary influence on both supporters and opponents of Israel’s foreign policy at home and abroad. Israel can keep Palestinian human rights activists running on a treadmill that they can’t justify leaving because there is always hope that a judicial process will provide some small relief from the greater tides of injustice. But it is some time since Israeli courts have done anything significant to constrain the Israeli occupation forces, which includes the courts themselves, and they barely do anything to constrain Israeli settlers either.

There is also a broader problem that is encouraged by Israel or the ICC dangling the prospect of criminal convictions in that it helps obscure the systematic criminality of the occupation. The recent news of the death of 18 month old Ali Dawabsha has highlighted what Ali Abunimah describes as a “hypocritical display… [of] crocodile tears”. By unreserved condemnation of a singular act, Israel’s leaders quite clearly intend to create a false image that acts to obscure the greater systematic violence. The problem is not just that Zionists use this technique, but that anti-Zionists end up being drawn into doing exactly the same thing in slightly different circumstances.

For example, Charlotte Silver of the Electronic Intifada has reported that an Israeli, Lieutenant Colonel Nerya Yeshurun, was recorded ordering the shelling of a medical facility. Of course it must be reported when such evidence comes to light, but this tends to become what I would term “over-proving”. Not only did we already have eyewitness reports from Palestinians and international observers of such crimes, but Israeli personnel had already confessed such actions to Breaking the Silence.

As it stands, it is good that supporters of Palestinian human rights can point to this recording as being symptomatic because it shows that few Israelis consider it wrong to commit war crimes. On the other hand, if the focus becomes pursuing the punishment of Yeshurun on the grounds that he is a blatant war criminal and the prima facie evidence is impossible to ignore, then you get into very bad territory for the cause of Palestine.

Every erg of human energy that activists put into trying to get Yeshurun punished will be worse than a waste. Focussing on the one criminal risks entering an endless spiral of diminishing convolution. It will produce a discourse that combines screeching to the converted with a naïve belief that you can somehow shame your enemies into admitting that they are actually the bad guys. At the same time every bit of focus on Yeshurun’s blatant crime will devalue the clear testimony of Israeli whistle-blowers, of international observers and, above all, the voices of the Palestinian victims themselves. Perhaps even worse it will devalue the shared consensus experience. The media coverage of Operation Protective Edge in many countries was sufficient for most people to see that the narrative construction of a “conflict” is a farce. Despite the unusual number of Israeli casualties, what people saw and felt in their guts was a one-sided slaughter. Yet that comprehension is being eroded by a continuous miscontextualisation and the focus on individual crimes only furthers that diminishment of the greater truth.

And the odd thing is that the gut response of the uneducated layperson is a more sound legal opinion than than the mediated educated opinions of the mealy-mouthed weasels who function as international jurists. As long as Israel maintains its occupation and/or blockade of Gaza they cannot justify their actions under Article 51 of the UN Charter as being self-defence. That is true even if Gazan militants commit war crimes. That means that every single Palestinian killed by Israel outside of Israel’s borders, whether they are an armed militant or not, has been murdered. You can make a very good argument that even Palestinians who are killed inside Israel’s recognised borders are murder victims, because the Palestinians’ actions are still legitimate self-defence. This all means that by selecting certain individuals and prosecuting them you are inevitably suggesting that murder is legitimate if it is carried out in a certain manner, but not legitimate if it is committed while breaking other rules. You can see why I think that this is problematic. I am concentrating on the practical political realities here, but even in sentimental terms what does it mean to go after Yeshurun? What does it mean for the memories of those children murdered at the behest of Israeli officers and politicians who were careful enough not to be recorded ordering personnel to commit obvious war crimes? Where is their “justice”?

The mass murders committed by Israel are also part of a larger process of genocide. As with the Tamils a slow process of genocide will sometimes incline the perpetrators to commit acts of acute mass violence to weaken resistance to ongoing low-grade state violence and structural violence. Some Israelis, with a kind of schizophrenic and unnerving honesty, refer to this as “mowing the lawn”.

There are distinct genocidal similarities between Israel’s occupation of Palestine, Sri Lankan occupation policies, and US interventions in a number of countries both currently and in the past. However, the real reason that I bring up Israel here is the issue of the ICC, which bears some further attention still.

Earlier I posted a long condemnation of the ICC which was also a condemnation of those who are promoting an ICC investigation into Israel’s most recent crimes. I can’t really summarise the thousands of words I wrote on the issue of the ICC and Israel, but one key relevant point is that the “Rome Statute” states “a case is inadmissible where… [t]he case is being investigated or prosecuted by a State which has jurisdiction over it, unless the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution.” Immediately this places jurisdictional decisions in the realms of political judgement which inevitably favours the powerful over the weak. It is worth considering what that actually means in effect. It means that facts will exert one sort of influence in the form of a discourse of ideas and information, and it means that vested power will exert influence by shaping that discourse. If we view such a process as a contest between power and truth, the first thing we must take into account is the impact of “soft-power” on perception. This is used to ensure that public perception of the truth is muddled, uncertain and contested. When the powerful commit mass violence “soft-power” is used to minimise the perception of suffering caused, but the more crucial task is to conceal intentionality.

Once the manipulation of perception creates the widest possible room for debate in public, then in private the hard-power and the covert power are used to bribe, threaten, blackmail, subvert and co-opt both individual persons and institutions up to and including entire countries. Thereafter the powerful can be sure that officials will take the least action possible, which is quite likely to be no action at all. If a country like Sri Lanka or Israel wants to ensure that occurs it may choose to pursue its own prosecutions using the six rules I outlined above which will then enable the ICC to claim that the perpetrator country is rightfully exercising jurisdiction. Naturally this will be lapped up by journalists and bureaucrats alike, who so dearly love the tautological perfection of what is, to them, the best of all possible worlds. They will then convey this unto the public who will be split between the reassured and the nonplussed, whilst independent observers will rage ineffectually about the fact that we are drowning ourselves in our own smug bullshit.

I know that many people on reading this might think that this is all an extremist’s opinion on tactics, but that there are other equally valid opinions. To them, my opinion is likely to be seen as an expression of anti-authoritarian hatred or even the spiteful envy of one who is justly marginalised. But this is not a matter of opinion at all. The historical record is so clear that the only possible way one could advocate ICC involvement is through wilful ignorance to both the ICC’s record and the entire history of prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Equally, to hold that an elite international judicial body will dispense “justice” that is not desirable to US and European imperial interests is almost laughably intellectually lazy. It is not a secret that rising within the hierarchies of international bodies is a highly political process combining both elements of diplomatic horse-trading for some positions with a need for high ambition and the requirement that personnel be the discreet and disciplined insider type. No one in their right mind should think that the selective processes and the situational factors which constrain the behaviour of personnel at the court would ever allow them to become worthy of any level of our trust. In fact they are worthy of contempt and condemnation because, whatever their self-righteous pretensions, they profit in material terms, and gain very high social status, by taking a key role in a monstrous imperial project that has visited mass violence and immiseration through structural violence on hundreds of millions of people.

It is vital that national and international functionaries be forced to confront the injustices that they perpetrate. That is the most important fight in the world today. Part of that fight is the fight to expose the suffering brought about and the fight to humanise victims. The other part, however, is the fight over contextualisation. Contextualisation is the most crucial issue. It is important to a degree that simply cannot be overstated, because miscontextualised human suffering becomes the fuel for ever more massive crimes of mass violence such as aggression and genocide.

Every atrocity that happens in the world today is being interpreted according to an updated version of the ancient chauvinistic binary categorisation of civilisation and barbarity. We are civilised which means that when barbarians kill other barbarians we must kill barbarians to save barbarians from their own barbarity. When we kill barbarians our intent, if not our actions, must be civilised because we are civilised. It can be true of any self-identified group, but it is most acute and most stoutly defended amongst Westerners who have deep reserves of chauvinism – a sense of exceptionalism that is almost impenetrable.

There are so many ideological components to Western chauvinism that it is hard to portray the entire phenomenon accurately. I propose that we think of it in terms of being a complicated, schizophrenic and contradictory form of “white” racism. I am, of course, acutely aware that African Americans, for example, can expound this racism and no one should downplay the fact that Barack Obama embodies this racism. Nevertheless, the concept of an entity called the West arose at the same time as the concept that there were people who were in some manner “white”. In practical terms the two are inextricable because no matter how imprecise our concept of what white people are, and no matter how expansive our notion of the West is, it will always be that of a hegemonically “white” culture. Because Western Europe experienced a technologically and culturally driven explosion of imperialism that saw them impose domination on people who on average were generally darker, sometime pronouncedly so, an idea of whiteness came about, even though it was very arbitrary in terms of actual pigmentation.

Western chauvinism actually came to combine ideas of progress, capitalism, Christianity, atheism, liberalism, democracy, freedom, humanism and humanitarianism among others, but I choose to emphasise racism because it is so easy to see due to the fact that it is literally constructed as a matter of black-and-white. For that reason it becomes possible to see that whenever we essentialise any notion about the West, such as the idea that it has liberal democratic norms, it is actually a dog-whistle racial reference.

To put it in simple terms, Eurocentrism and US exceptionalism are expressions of white supremacy. That means that they inherently propound the inferiority of non-white people. If we claim that the West embodies values or so-called “norms” of, say, “democracy”, we are of necessity saying the inverse of the non-Western world. Not only does this require a completely distorted reading of history, but it is inevitably racist. Because the concept of the West cannot be disentangled from a concept of whiteness, the implications of making such statements are to reinforce notions that white people are civilised and non-white people are barbaric.

Moreover, because of the need to selectively overlook the atrocious violence of Western imperialism, Western chauvinism (or “Eurocentrism”) is inescapably a form of racism that fuels double standards. It fuels doublethink, it fuels cognitive dissonance, it fuels the vicious contradictory fanaticism of the white-hatted mass murderer of indigenous peoples whose only explanation for such brutality is that he must have caught it like a contagion from the unnatural contact with savage peoples. And thus Westerners construct an ideology in which they themselves are the victims of their own acts of mass murder.

The struggle that must be undertaken, therefore, is to counter this massive agglomeration of ideology with the following understanding – the savagery is in the act, not the actor. Yet at every level in every society since the invention of agriculture, the powerful have always tried to ensure that they are not judged by their deeds, but rather by the good intentions that they assure others they have. From the boss of a small business, to the ruler of an empire we are always enjoined to see things from their perspective and to accept a priori their fundamentally benevolent motives.

Continued in Part 3: “Lemkin’s Logic”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pyrrhic Victory or Defeat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destroying Cambodia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass Murder in Viet Nam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some quotes from Lemkin that are apposite:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genocidal logic or Military Illogic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do they stack up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A or B?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] Gilbert, ‘Introduction’, p 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 238.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[30] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 64.

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

[32] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 19.

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

[34] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 140.

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

[36] Shawcross, 1979, p 151.

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

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

[39] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 249.

[40] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 254

[41] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 220.

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

[43] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 149.

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

[45] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 163.

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

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

[48] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 186.

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

[50] Shawcross, Sideshow, p 169.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[81] Appy, Vietnam, p 242.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[103] Summers, On Strategy, p 168.

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

[105] Tucker, Vietnam, p 150.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[119] Appy, Vietnam, p 365.

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

[121] Appy, Vietnam, p 350.

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

[123] Appy, Vietnam, p 358.

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

[125] Tucker,Vietnam, p 152.

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

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

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

[129] Appy, Vietnam, p 452.

[130] Appy, Vietnam, p 375.

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

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

[133] Appy, Vietnam, p 107.

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

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

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

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

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

[139] Tucker, Vietnam, p 131.

[140] Appy, Vietnam, p 543.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ICC Will Only Hurt the Palestinian People, Part 2: These People are Warmongers and We Should Revile Them

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In Part 1 I discussed various things relating to the International Criminal Court. With all its humanitarian rhetoric, the actions of the ICC have consistently been a source of injustice and suffering. Moreover it has been the enemy of truth – perhaps the greatest crime because it can perpetuate suffering for generations to come.

Part 2 deals with, among other things, the undue deference paid to those who professionally don the mantle of humanitarian. These are not great humanitarians, quite the reverse. Just as hierarchies of “knowledge” can produce ignorance so can “humanitarian” hierarchies militate against humanitarianism. By analogy, if I want to hear a cogent perspective on US foreign policy I would almost be better off heading to the pub and looking for someone in the mood to be candid than I would be in heading to a foreign policy think-tank. Equally, once professional “humanitarians” have internalised the idea that they are inherently moral, it is pretty easy for them to neglect morality altogether.

I feel that it is constructive to cultivate contempt and anger at those who are more-than-comfortably well off because of their role within agencies of dysfunction and harm such as the ICC. At the same time I am aware that critics of people within institutions often personalise criticism – not as insults nor ad hominem critiques, but as a presumption that a mistaken intellectual stance must be the result of bad intent. Obviously, I am not saying that we should extend the benefit of doubt to Obama or Kissinger or Power. Sometimes, even if people believe that they are doing the right thing it is not relevant. Pol Pot thought he was doing the right thing, but so what? For people with less executive power, though, it is generally counterproductive to attack their motives.

My answer is to cultivate contempt for the collective, and respect for the individual. Self-satisfaction is destroying the intellects of people who succeed in many walks of life, and none of us plebs should continue to feed that.

Preventing Peace

When an accused criminal is the demonised leader of a Third World state, there can be no compromise according to the pundits. Only prosecution to the utmost extent of the law is acceptable, even if innocent people must die to achieve this.

When official villains, certified by the US State Department, are up for prosecution we enter Oppositeland. War is peace and the rule of law means lawlessness. The pundits enter a cop-show fantasy where law is not an imperfect instrument of ethics, but a tool of righteous justice. The rule of law doesn’t mean abiding by the law even when the results are not to your liking, but it now means breaking the rules to ensure that the bad guy is always punished. For example, in How America Gets Away with Murder, Michael Mandel pointed at the “absurdities” of Western newspapers touting the triumph of the “rule of law” after Slobadan Milosevic was illegally extradited from Serbia under extremely political circumstances.

The bloodlust and the self-righteousness can lead to a lot worse than subverting sovereignty and bringing the law into disrepute. Hard lines on “the end of impunity” are a potential enemy of peace both indirectly and directly. Take the case of Charles Taylor. He ended a civil war and left the country when he was offered exile in Nigeria. The US Congress soon voted to offer a $2 million bounty on Taylor. Richard Falk criticised his later capture, prosecution and conviction on the ground that it was selective prosecution serving US political ends: “…when the application of international criminal law serves the cause of the powerful, it will be invoked, extended, celebrated, even institutionalised, but only so long as it is not turned against the powerful. One face of Janus is that of international justice and the rule of law, the other is one of a martial look that glorifies the rule of power on behalf of the war gods.”

There is hypocrisy, and the direct intervention of neutralising enemies through the courts, and the implicit threat to other Third World leaders that if they do not run their country according to US wishes they may end their lives in a prison cell far from home. But in some ways, those things are not the worst of it. The worst thing is that the next Charles Taylor will look at his future and weigh whether to concede defeat in war and flee the country. Remembering Taylor, he or she will decide instead to fight to the death and thousands of others will die as well.

That is an indirect way of promoting conflict, but ICC indictments can be used to more immediate warmongering effect. Shortly before NATO started an air war against Libya in 2011, the UNSC instructed the ICC to investigate Libya (despite the fact that the US, Russia and China refuse to be subject to the ICC themselves). The probe centred on the killing of political prisoners in a prison in 1996. As Phillippe Sands pointed out at the time the very existence of the investigation made a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Libya less likely. Indictments for Muammer Ghadaffi, his son Saif al Islam and his brother-in-law came less than two months after NATO bombs killed another of Ghadaffi’s sons and three of his grandchildren. Both flight and negotiation became impossible. The indictment ensured that fighting would continue – meaning that people would continue to be killed and maimed.

Given the timing and the political nature of the decision to indict in the midst of war there are really only three possible reasons for the indictment. One is that US and European leaders wanted to make a salient demonstration to the world of what happens to leaders who they dislike and they don’t care how many Libyans are killed in order to make that demonstration. (In retrospect the Panama invasion of 1989 can be seen as such an operation, and the best estimates of Panamanians killed in “Operation Just Cause” are in the thousands.) The second possibility is that the same powers were actually desirous of conflict in Libya as a divide-and-control strategy whereby independent development is curtailed by ongoing destabilisation and ever-renewable civil strife. This would be entirely fitting within a pattern of interventions which has sown conflict and degraded central governance in dozens of countries. The third option is that both of the previous options are true in varying degrees.

Colonisation by NGO

Palestine is one of a number of societies rife with NGOs. Mandy Turner has shown that the “liberal peacebuilding” practiced by these NGOs is a colonial practice and a contemporary “mission civilatrice”. Israel’s colonial practices are “at the expense of Palestinian self-determination”, but Western-backed “peacebuilding” is “at the expense of a development strategy for national liberation”.

The “liberal peacebuilding” prescription of “neoliberal policies of open markets, privatization and fiscal restraint, and governance policies focused on enhancing instruments of state coercion, ‘capacity building’ and ‘good governance’” is simply neocolonialism. These are the practices developed by the British and imposed wherever possible on colonies, former colonies and parts of the formal empire. Once upon a time it was called “liberalism” now it tends to be called “neoliberalism”, but it amounts to the same thing – colonial control that ensures both dependency and impoverishment. The main difference here, and in other neocolonies, is that the former colonial power does not have an exclusive concession and the exploitation and expropriation (which may be of donor money rather than indigenous wealth) is a multinational Western project.

In short, while Palestinians are concentrated into fragmented reservations by Israel’s settler colonial project, within those patches an additional burden of neocolonial servitude suppresses independent development. But as Turner also indicates, part of the neocolonial NGO dominance is the delegitimisation of violent resistance: “…the ability to decide whether someone is or is not a ‘partner for peace’ and thus act on this decision is unequal. This phrase, therefore, made Israel’s attempts to control Palestinian political elites seem innocuous. It also allowed donors to believe that funding and working with Palestinian elites regarded by Israel as being ‘partners for peace’ would assist their mission of supporting the peace process. In its application this paradigm has variously meant Israel justifying cutting off revenue transfers to the PA, arresting and detaining democratically elected Palestinian politicians, extrajudicial executions and military violence. It has also been used by donors to justify cutting off aid, reverting to ‘bad governance’ practices, and supporting regime change. It has been, in effect, the discursive framework that has bound the two practices of control together and has given them common purpose.”

One Person’s Terrorist is Another Person’s Legally Elected Political Representative

Building on Turner’s work another legal scholar, Vicky Sentas, gave this talk on “peacebuilding as counterinsurgency”. Her focus is on the listing of the Kurdish PKK as a terrorist organisation, but the logic applies equally to Palestinian armed resistance formations given that they all have been or could be declared terrorists on the basis of their resistance activities. The terrorist listing is even worse than politically motivated accusations of war crimes or crimes against humanity because it prejudicially criminalises people on the basis of belonging to a designated terrorist entity. If you delegitimise resistance or insurgency on the basis of acts designated as “terrorism” than all personnel become “terrorists” regardless of their own actions.

Of course the main use of the term “terrorist” in the last 100 years has been as a way of delegitimising armed violence from non-state actors. Our elites work hard to avoid any suggestion that terrorism might actually refer to the intentional use of terror per se, because that would inevitably mean that the greatest terrorists are the most powerful states. Noam Chomsky’s famous assertion that we ignore the “wholesale” terrorism of militarised states and concentrate on the “retail” terrorism of armed non-state entities doesn’t really suffice. “Terrorists” means people with weapons or destructive implements who we don’t like and who we can get away with labelling as “terrorist”. Whether they actually practice the use of terror is not relevant. Anticolonial rebels were called terrorists; the resistance to German occupation in Europe were labelled “Bolshevist terrorists”; the Viet Minh and later the National Liberation Front were labelled “Communist terrorists” from which came “Charlie Tango” and hence “Charlie”. The only difference is that now we have an international regime, subject to US hegemony, which makes this political, and inherently oppressive, act into a internationally legalistic one.

The idea of terrorism itself is a way of implying that the organised armed violence or property destruction of a group is illegitimate as being criminal and outside of the behaviour of combatancy. The old-fashioned approach was to suggest that belligerent parties such as insurgents must be treated as combatants. After the cessation of hostilities the victor could legitimately label the defeated foes as traitors and deal with them as such. This is hardly perfect and does nothing to prevent victor’s justice and judicial massacres. On those grounds some might think that it is a pointless distinction to make. But there is a certain sense that if the belligerents were criminals en masse because terrorism is a crime, then they would properly be dealt with by the normal policing and judicial processes of the state in question. If the response to an organised challenge is military violence, paramilitary violence, counterinsurgency, “counter-terror”, political violence and or political terror, then you are in a situation of armed conflict and the enemy should be treated as a combatant, at least for the duration.

Anyone who has Followed the Thread of This Article to This Point…

deserves a medal. But they also might be asking: “Hang on, surely joining the ICC will strengthen Palestinian claims to statehood and make their resistance more, not less, legitimate.” I wish it were so, but it is unfortunately more accurate to say that those countries that are subject to the ICC may find themselves in the same situation as Palestinians if they face aggression or occupation. They may find that politically determined accusations about the manner in which armed resistance is conducted or internal conflict is dealt with are used to delegitimise all resistance either informally or formally through the enforcement of terrorist listings.

Bear in mind, too, that entities like the US and Israel have a long-standing habit of conflating armed and unarmed resistance activities. In Viet Nam the US coined the term “Viet Cong Infrastructure” (VCI) to designate people who had sympathy for the National Liberation Front and the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF). The term Viet Cong had already conflated combatants and non-combatants who opposed the Saigon regime, now the VCI designation worked in the same way as a “terrorist” or “VC” designation, legitimising deadly violence as if the victims were combatants yet denying the rights accorded to combatants. VCI were the prime target of the notorious Phoenix Programme. Unlike actual NLF officials or PLAF personnel those fingered as VCI, often by tortured suspects, were easy to abduct or kill at their homes.

A similar mentality is even applied now domestically in the US, with the designation of “material support for terrorism”. This sounds like it could only mean substantive support for actual terrorism such as providing money or materiel to suicide bombers. In practice the case of the Holy Land Foundation 5 shows that it is political designation intended to conflate the crime of thinking the wrong thoughts with unlawful acts of violence. The victims of that judicial persecution are serving sentences of up to 65 years for sending money to charities allegedly controlled by Hamas. They were not accused of funding terrorist activities, but of sending funds to a terrorist entity.

The HLF5 defendants are claiming that they were entrapped because they tried to get a State Dept. list of approved charities, but were denied. The point of the exercise is to create a political language in which giving charity to orphans is “terrorism”. This accompanies an ongoing exercise to “rebrand” military violence, including killing civilians, as “humanitarian”. The most important thing to remember is that this has worked. If you put “holy land foundation trial” into a search engine that does not anticipate your desires (such as duckduckgo), you will find that their conviction was a victory against Jihadi terrorism and the plot to enforce Sharia in the United States of America.

This illustrates that we are really faced with two possible ways of dealing with the overall issue of armed mass violence. We can either accept the Nürnberg precedents and the UN Charter. This would mean that war is illegal, all people have a right to life and that the aggressor is culpable for all loss of life and suffering. The UNSC would be able to authorise legitimate military action, but it could only do so in accordance with the UN Charter, which can only mean acting as a collective defence against an aggressor. This is a highly imperfect system and many bad things can happen to people that this particular system does not act to prevent or discourage. On the other hand, this system outlined does not actively facilitate atrocities, while the alternative does.

The system that is favoured by the US, and ultimately promoted by the ICC, is one in which the armed violence is legitimate if carried out by lawful combatants in a lawful manner. Unlawful actions by lawful combatants are not legitimate, but they are a side-issue of individual criminality. In contrast, unlawful acts committed by unlawful combatants are the retrospective rationale for justifying unlawful status and all resistance by unlawful combatants is unlawful. In other words, might makes right. Lawfulness or unlawfulness depend entirely on the ability to control perceptions. The powerful are allowed to commit mass violence against the weak, and the resistance of the weak will make them the perpetrator and justify the acts of the powerful.

Israel’s Persecution Complex

The ICC’s significance is inevitably that of a public relations exercise. Even the “end of impunity” enthusiast must readily admit that the Court’s function is not to provide specific deterrence but to create general deterrence (supposedly by ending impunity). In fact, there is no evidence or concrete reasoning that would support that claim, but it has a veneer of rationality. This isn’t a matter of common ignorance, this is highbrow ignorance for superior idiots only, but even on these terms the putative general deterrent effect is the result of managing perceptions. Thus even the supporters know that ICC activities are a form of display, and their trial are inevitably show trials.

Because the ICC is one big politicised PR exercise, legalistic analyses of the ICC are less important than discursive analyses. I have concentrated on the ways in which the ICC is part of the ongoing process of creating an international political discourse of “good guys” and “bad guys” in which the powerful control the language, the conversation and thus, ultimately, the perception. This is a thought control process aimed largely at the intelligentsia. But in the case of Palestine, ICC membership will further another project of thought control – that of the Great Israeli Persecution Complex.

Historically Jews have suffered a great deal of persecution. In Europe during World War II this persecution became something that truly defies words. Even at a time when unspeakable acts and unimaginable suffering were the experience of many millions throughout the world, the fate of Europe’s Jews stand out. The German concentration camp, slave labour, and extermination camp systems, and the mobile civilian mass-murder systems, exceeded all historical precedents of cruelty. I do not write that lightly and I am not forgetting Potosí, nor the Atlantic slave trade, nor the victims of Japanese occupation, nor the Ukrainian Terror Famine, nor any of the other great obscenities of humanity. Jews were not the only victims, by any means, but in some respects they were the key and exemplary victims.

If Zionism had ever been purely a response to persecution, perhaps the lesson of the Shoah might have been commit to opposing all acts of genocide. It would be an anticolonial movement. But Zionism was never purely about an enduring escape from persecution. It has always accommodated a combination of nationalism, colonialism, racism, chauvinistic religious belief, and Imperial power politics. In addition we must account for the role that greed and love of power play in all political movements that provide outlets for them. Thus, inevitably, the response to the Shoah was not an organic response that would reject all genocidal cruelty, but an exploitative one by a existing system of power hierarchies whose human components seized on the emotional and political capital provided by the murder of millions.

The historical persecution of Jews and the Shoah actually have very little to do with the realities facing Israel. I am not saying that there has never been persecution of Jews in the Arab world, nor that anti-Judaism is no longer a matter of concern in Europe or elsewhere. These are complicated issues which I cannot get into here. I will confine myself to pointing out that when the Argentine junta was detaining Jews and sending them to camps where they were sometimes tortured in front of pictures of Hitler, and many were killed, the Israel’s government sided with the neo-Nazis, not against them.

But when it comes to the occupation of Palestine, the exploitation of past persecution is the gift that keeps on giving. The ICC will provide an ongoing opportunity for the Zionist regime to harp on about how the entire world hates Jews on a regular basis. It will be like the Goldstone Report on a loop track.

To refresh your memory, the Goldstone Report was slanted against Palestinians. Richard Goldstone, the lead author, is an avowed Zionist despite his history of opposing apartheid. This was a fact finding mission, not a judicial inquiry, but it should still have addressed the question of aggression. Instead it misleadingly affirmed Israel’s right to self-defence. Noam Chomsky characterised the report as being pro-Israel on those grounds. It was also disproportionate, devoting considerable wordage to Palestinian militant activities, when if weighted by deaths caused Palestinian activities would barely get a mention.

Goldstone had watered down some aspects of the report against the wishes of his co-authors, yet on its release the Israeli government lead a chorus of Zionists, neocons, white supremacists and Islamophobes around the world that shrieked like stuck pigs. They claimed that the whole thing was part of the giant world-wide conspiracy of the Jew-hating UN. Goldstone later strengthened these cries by undermining the report with his name on it. All three of his fellow authors issued their own contrary statement, but hardly anyone heard about that.

This is another one of those inversions of reality, this time in three steps rather than two. When Operation Cast Lead was occurring the raw images tended to show the truth – a helpless besieged people were being attacked in a one-sided slaughter. But if you try searching “goldstone report bias” in duckduckgo you have to scroll down a great deal to find anything that counters the notion that the report was biased against Israel, and I don’t even know how many hits you would get before the first one that suggested a pro-Israel bias.

Even anti-Zionist outlets like Electronic Intifada devote their attention to decrying Goldstone’s later betrayal and defending the Goldstone Report against accusations of anti-Israel bias and completely neglect to show the important ways in which the report was unreasonably and unfairly biased in Israel’s favour. That, far more than the report’s actual contents, is the contribution of the report to posterity and our understanding of Israel’s actions in Gaza. Expect more of the same.

Binyamin Netanyahu has just succeeded electorally by taking a “hard line” and playing on fear and racism. The Great Israeli Persecution Complex has become part of an ever-intensifying spiral of extremism where each new crime necessitates a more insane world view. The world increasingly sees the bare injustice of the genocidal project of Zionism in Palestine. The response within Israel and for their fanatical supporters, who are increasingly confined to the US, is the paranoiac vision of a world of savage “anti-Semites” who oppose Israel out of hatred for Jews.

In reality the international community and the UN greatly favour Israel at the expense of Palestinians, including the diaspora. The UN was Israel’s midwife (the father of the child, Britain, decided that it was not desirable to be present at the birth). The UN has acted to shield Israel from the consequences of realising the human rights of Palestinians. It is a complicated story which can be found by scrolling halfway down here or you could just watch Vera Gowland-Debbas here and here. In short, what it means is that every single member of the United Nations, meaning your government, has a specific moral and legal obligation to act to secure the long absent rights of the people of Palestine. They have failed to do so for 66 years and the only reason for not doing so is the potential negative impact on Israel. No country has any such obligation to Israel nor, especially, to the “Jewish state of Israel”. Individual Israelis have the same human rights as we all have, but the state of Israel has no rights which can override the human rights of millions of Palestinians.

They Walk Among Us!

And who will stand for Palestinian human rights? Our over-privileged and well-tailored liberal apparatchiks advocate that the world’s problems will be solved by meting out white-man’s justice from on high. Self-appointed as God’s gift to human rights, in reality these individuals act to reproduce the most cruel and destructive imperialist violence. They perpetuate the most deadly circumstances of direct mass violence and of structural violence. These are the clerics of Hernán Cortés (“Cortez the Killer”) singing hymns to the righteousness of his bloodletting. They share their apparently capacious catholic faith with overtly hawkish liberal interventionists and neocons, but in reality this is a narrow orthodoxy fitting the requirements of “ostensible diversity concealing actual uniformity”.

Many people have come to realise that “neconservatives” are just a subset of “liberal interventionists”. The fact that highly prominent liberals have always been part of the neoconservative movement, and the fact that they both have identical “moral” facets of foreign policy prescription should have made more people realise this earlier. Still, even now most people are blind to the fact. This is an understandable result of the manner in which these ideologies are presented to people as contending and the manner in which the ideologues criticise each other. The political “debates” between various foreign policy factions in the US are nothing but frenetic, and ultimately unbelievable, theatre. The rhetoric clashes, but the exceptionalist interventionism matches – as do the concrete deeds.

For me it is no stretch at all to see some prominent “humanitarians” as blood-drenched imperialists. As soon as I read Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell I knew she was exactly as she now appears to us all. It doesn’t take a genius, it just takes actual thought. The neocons themselves considered her book a must read. And she is far from alone.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been described as having a “revolving door” relationship with the US State Dept. Amnesty International (AI), in addition to a long history of providing atrocity propaganda to support US interventions, has been implicated in helping a US regime change plot in Eritrea, along with HRW. The US State Dept in 2011 seems to have specifically funded a joint AI/HRW delegation to Eritrea as part of a destabilisation plan. Many of the people within these organisations are dedicated and well-meaning, but the seem oblivious to the malevolent nature of those running things. The clearest example is Save the Children, whose employees were shocked and appalled at the decision by their superiors to give Tony Blair a “global legacy award”.

What shocks me is that people are actually surprised to find that the folks who run big NGOs are power-loving elitist scumbags. I feel like I’m the guy in the movie They Live who has what Slavoj Žižek describes as “critique of ideology glasses”. When wearing the glasses he sees, among other things, that most rich and powerful people are hideous and foul creatures who are the enemies of humanity.

I am not suggesting here that all rich and powerful people are literally malevolent parasites from another species. What I am suggesting is that their humanity is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if they are loving parents or kind to animals. It doesn’t matter if they spend at least 20 hours each week washing the feet of lepers. In our unequal society even charities are often dizzyingly steep hierarchies; the dynamics of power, and the group dynamics of elite psychology, mean that with some exceptions these people might just as well be bloodthirsty baby-eating reptiles from outer space.

People reflexively defer to the authority of these “successful” people, because they are programmed to believe that advancement within a hierarchy comes through merit, while at the same time they project their own disinterested humanitarian values on to these people. What I see is what I saw in Susan Power, Tony Blair and Barack Obama. These people are happy to take selfies with Bill Clinton, or share a stage with Henry Kissinger. When they debate a neocon like Robert Kagan it is in an atmosphere of mutual respect, if not admiration. The only powerful Westerners who they don’t love are those who actively play the vicious villain, like Donald Rumsfeld, and even then that is entirely contingent and will change as soon as that villain is reinvented by a PR firm and a couple of journalistic puff-pieces.

People like Susanne Nossel (head of PEN, former executive director of AI USA, and warmonger) should only provoke disgust and anger in anyone who really cares about human rights. It is completely irrelevant if they don’t understand why we hate them and if their precious feelings are hurt. They have drunk so deeply from the well of Western hypocrisy that the only thing that can remain true within them is the love of power. The political powers and functionaries that control the ICC are no different. Some may be perfectly well-meaning, particularly if their involvement has simply followed logically from their area of legal expertise, but most are liable to be slime in human form.

The idea that human rights are advanced by a political process of choosing individual designated criminals and punishing them with maximum possible fanfare is likely to appeal to the worst fake humanitarians. Imprisoning people is not a humanitarian pursuit. A true humanitarian is more concerned with emptying prisons than filling them. Moreover, someone who really cared about justice would want to see a stronger International Court of Justice – able to rectify interstate injustice, not spend billions of dollars on prosecuting a handful of cherry-picked expedient pre-fab demons.

I happen to think that many of the people involved in the ICC are most likely to be horrible self-righteous bastards, but even if many of them are deeply concerned humanitarians it does not change the institution. Hans von Sponeck recently said on Democracy Now! “There is a new chief prosecutor in The Hague. And we are now—in mid-April, on the 18th of April, in fact, the War Crimes Commission will meet yet again in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for the second, and hopefully last, draft submission of this documentation to the International Criminal Court.” Obviously there is no harm in handing reports to the ICC, but why bring up the new prosecutor? In the context which he gives the implication is that there is a prospect of the ICC indicting US officials. Does he believe this? Does he identify with the ICC officials and project his own benevolent intents on to them? Is he confused about the difference between the way people act in the real world and, say, the way they might present their desires at a social occasion?

That is why I hang my head in despair when I hear someone as admirable as Dr Francis Boyle discussing the ICC as if Palestinians have nothing to lose, as if the worst of their worries is simply that the ICC will be unable to act on their behalf. In his own words, Boyle “advised President Abbas to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court….” And, because I know that Boyle an intelligent and caring man, from my very bowels comes the unstoppable question: “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

Conclusion

Inevitably the ICC will do everything possible to seem as if it is responding to public pressure to prosecute Israeli crimes, but it will not prosecute Israelis. It will be biased in favour of Israel, but that will be represented as being even-handed and objective by some, and as being biased against Israel by others. Many supporters of Palestine will be sucked into defending the ICC against accusations of bias.

Palestinian leaders will be threatened with ICC prosecutions both publicly and in private. This will deepen the already profound constraints and controls imposed on them by Israel and the US. This may be enough to erode the ability to resist armed mass violence by Israel, such as the resistance to “Operation Protective Edge”. That conflict was once again a one-sided act of mass-murder, but armed resistance caused enough IDF fatalities that there must have been some deterrent effect. That deterrence will be eroded if Palestinians do not feel able to use armed resistance.

Already Palestinians are beaten with the stick of the Hamas terrorist designation. On the other hand Al Jazeera‘s “Palestine Papers” illustrate that Palestinian Authority leaders are compromised in other ways. I draw the inference that Israeli actions such arresting legislators or the 2002 siege of Yasser Arafat’s compound were ways of creating threats which are levers with which to control PA leaders. The PA leaders might not be traitors as much as they are responding to the political realities of the world that they live in. The ICC will provide more ways of threatening and controlling some Palestinian leaders while turning the other into outlaws. It is all bad news for Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the goodhearted people of the world will be drawn into a narrative of atrocity calculus. The criminality of all Palestinian resistance will be arranged alongside the criminality of a few Israeli bad apples. When all eyes see mounds of Palestinian dead, we will still have our thinking obfuscated. The victims will be made to seem the criminals. The ICC will turn up the volume of the conversation which avoids, at all costs, trying to examine the deep historical issues of justice, and instead yells stridently and chest-thumpingly about the criminality of the “bad guys”.

Meanwhile Israel’s leaders will exploit the empty threat of ICC prosecutions against them to deepen the sense of the whole world is hostile to Jews. Israelis and Western Zionists will be deafened to criticism of Israel’s crimes, slipping ever deeper into the lake of Kool-Aid beneath the mirror surface of which lies Oppositeland.

The ICC is nothing but bad news for Palestinians.

The ICC Will Only Hurt the Palestinian People, Part 1: Brer Bibi’s Briar Patch

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Part 2

I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”

And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home. – “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” retold by S.E. Schlosser.

I had hoped to be writing of his legacy, but sadly Binyamin Netanyahu is here to stay. Nevertheless, one thing is clear even from the flip-flopping Israeli premier, and that is his strenuous objection to Palestinian accession to the Rome Statute – the treaty governing the International Criminal Court. But all is not as it seems. The ICC is no real threat to Israel, nor its occupation, nor its illegal settlements and creeping annexation, nor the slow genocide of the Palestinian people. Bibi is playing the role of Brer Rabbit – “Please don’t throw us in the ICC briar patch” – safe in the knowledge that the only people likely to be hurt by ICC thorns are the Palestinians.

A Move Against Israel?

Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have supported Palestine signing the Rome Statute – a treaty which will make Palestine subject to the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is part of a tactic to establish statehood for Palestine be the establishment of de facto state credentials within multilateral institutions.

I am unsure what sort of fantasy land people inhabit, but supporters of Palestine seem, on this issue, to have decided that black is white and up is down. Their positivity relies on the potential for the ICC to become something which it currently is not, and the potential for Palestine to make use of this future development in some way which would currently be symbolic but somehow maybe might someday be more than symbolic in some manner that we cannot yet foresee. On the negative side of the equation we have the immediate reality that Palestinians are now subject to prosecution by the ICC and Israelis are not.

Just to make sure you get that: becoming signatories to the ICC means that Palestinians are subject to prosecution, not Israelis.

Yet Netanyahu and the US State Department are acting as if Palestinian accession to the Rome Statute were a move against Israel. It can only mean that Israeli and US leaders are deliberately objecting to the Palestine ICC membership as a way of giving credibility to a move which might otherwise greatly alarm supporters of Palestine. Netanyahu is trying to make us all think the the ICC briar patch is his greatest fear, but the ICC is certain to work against Palestinian interests. As I will detail below, the ICC is a tool of neocolonial oppression by design; it will embed a double standard which favours the powerful over the powerless in general, and Israel over Palestine in particular; it will fuel Israel’s self-justifying claims of persecution; and will continue the ongoing imperialist work of undermining the sovereignty of all nations which defy Western domination.

The (New) Scramble for Africa

The ICC throughout its existence has been a political tool of neocolonial oppression aimed specifically at the former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa. 60% of its funding comes from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, the former colonial powers in Africa. Naturally this gives them considerable control over the Court, but it is also under the direction of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Of the 5 permanent UNSC members two have themselves signed and ratified the Rome statute – the UK and France. Between them the British and French empires once ruled half of Africa, with Britain additionally exerting informal hegemony over other areas such as the Belgian Congo.

Normally even critics of the ICC acknowledge the “noble” sentiments and hopes with which the ICC was launched in 2002. I believe that to be a load of crap. The people behind the ICC are not noble at all. Anyone can fall to ignorance or false hope, but those actually involved are highly privileged elitists whose self-deception is only exceeded by self-righteousness, self-regard and self-congratulatory selfies. That may seem harsh, but my condemnation is not gratuitous, as I will explain later.

All 36 indictments issued by the ICC have been against Africans. People act as if its record thus far is some unfortunate aberration which will be rectified, but the politicisation is systemic. David Hoile has written an large comprehensive volume (Justice Denied: The Reality of the International Criminal Court) detailing things that are wrong with the ICC. I cannot do justice – so to speak – to this work, but here is a small sample from the introduction:

The court has claimed to be “economical”, yet it has cost close to a billion euros to conclude one deeply flawed trial. … The court has claimed to bring “swift justice” but it took several years to bring the first accused to trial for allegedly using child soldiers. … The court claims to be fighting impunity, yet it has afforded de facto impunity to several serial abusers of human rights who happen to be friends of the EU and the USA, and granted de jure immunity to non-member states such as the USA.

In the ICC, one has a court whose judges are appointed not because they are the best legal minds in the world, but because of squalid vote trading. Some are appointed because it is a cosy retirement job; some are washed-up politicians; some are diplomats; some use the court as a waiting room before greater things; others are appointed because their governments pay the ICC a lot of money; and some don’t even bother to show up for work because something better came along. We have judges making critical rulings on very difficult issues of law who have never been lawyers, let alone judges. We have judges who have pressed for legal indictments on the basis of what they have seen on CNN. We have judges who cite classical Greek mythology to justify prolonging Africa’s civil wars rather than to put peace before selectively retributive European law. We have judges who are political activists with little practical experience beyond abstract sloganising. And we have judges who have taught law in classrooms without any courtroom experience whatsoever.

The ICC has produced witnesses in several trials who recanted their testimony when in the witness box, admitting that they were coached by non-governmental organisations as to what false statements to make. We have seen prosecutorial decisions that should have ended any fair trial because they compromised the integrity of any subsequent process. We have seen trials stopped because of judicial decisions to add new charges halfway through proceedings. And most telling of all, the court brought into being in 2002 to punish the most serious crimes in the world, the most grave of which being waging a war of aggression, has consciously avoided meaningfully addressing aggression – managing to postpone any action for at least another decade. It has turned a blind eye to the invasion and occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan by Western military forces.

It certainly can be argued that there are plenty of indictable people in Africa, but indictability is not guilt. We tend to think that prosecutions of African “war criminals” are justified by the inevitability of their guilt, but these are political actors, and politics distorts narratives. What is more, evidence of guilt seems far less relevant to ICC decisions than political concerns. In global terms the cases pursued are not in any way the most urgent in terms of the gravity of the accusations nor the weight of evidence. For example, though it is difficult to summarise, the situation with regard to Kenya makes it very clear that ICC personnel are willing to act with shameless disregard for real issues of justice.

After elections in 2007 Kenya was wracked with communal violence. An estimate 1300 people were killed. The loser of the election was Raila Odinga. He disputed the election and violence followed. Most of the victims were supporters of his opponent. Raila Odinga is the most prominently pro-Western leader in Kenya – a supporter of neoliberalism and foreign investment. It was very clearly Raila’s claims of election fraud which triggered the violence, and I will repeat here most of the victims were supporters of Raila’s opponent. Despite this, the ICC has charged members of both sides as they were at the time. The indicted are charged with being indirect co-conspirators by having organised networks in advance which committed ethnic violence and retaliatory ethnic violence. Raila is not charged with anything.

The narrative that ICC prosecutors are trying to present, then, is that each side had conspired to bring about these acts of violence beforehand. So, for example, Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of having met with others to conspire to commit violence, but the violence was triggered by his political enemy, initiated by followers of his political enemy and was mostly carried out against those perceived as his political supporters. He is alleged to have paid and directed members of the Mau Mau inspired Mungiki – an organised criminal militia/gang which is normally a bitter and deadly enemy of the government – to commit retaliatory violence after the anti-Kikuyu violence begun by the election result. He is alleged to have coordinated police actions to give Mungiki the freedom to carry out the violence. When the a pre-trial Judge summarise the allegations in his dissenting opinion, they sounded rather far-fetched. According to David Hiole, the original key witness against Uhuru recanted, reportedly in early 2009, leaving only those who corroborate a story told by someone who no longer claims it is true. Nothing in the remaining testimony in any way indicates what Uhuru Kenyatta might have hoped to gain by organising mass murder, rape and ethnic cleansing.

You might ask why Uhuru Kenyatta doesn’t just let the case go to trial, if it is so thin. One reason is that since being indicted Uhuru has been elected President of Kenya. It seems that a lot of people in Kenya were of the opinion that the ICC indictments were a political attack against opponents of Western interests and enemies of pro-Western Raila Odinga. Hoile quotes a Chatham House report suggesting that people believe that even the indicted political allies of Raila were, in fact, more rivals than allies. One defected and became Uhuru’s running mate in 2013 despite the ICC allegation that they were engaged in opposing conspiracies of ethnic violence. Both Western interference and the political nature of the ICC charges were more or less confirmed by the reaction of the EU and the US to the growing popularity of Uhuru in as the 2013 elections approached. Individually a number of EU nations threatened diplomatic and economic consequences should Kenyatta be elected. More jaw-dropping, though, was the extremely unsubtle threat that US Ambassador Johnnie Carson made in public by repeatedly telling the Kenyan people they faced “consequences” depending on the way they chose to vote in the election. This is from the representative of a country that passed the American Service-Members’ Protection Act for the explicit purpose of preventing its own citizens from being held accountable for their incredibly large numbers of easily proven war crimes.

The other reason that Uhuru Kenyatta might want to avoid a trial is the legendary slow pace of the ICC. Jean-Pierre Bemba has been in custody for 7 years and he has still never been convicted. Now information has surfaced that members of his defence team have been harassed and interfered with.

Remember that a criminal court is supposed to either prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or acquit. The ICC is supposed to afford a presumption of innocence before conviction. In what universe, then, is it considered just to imprison an accused man for 7 years whilst trying to cobble together enough evidence to secure a conviction? Bemba may not actually be innocent, but justice requires that he either be convicted in reasonable time or be released.

To summarise, ICC proponents might see themselves as shining white knights, but everything that the ICC has done thus far has been squalid and foul. Whether or not the given accused are guilty, these are show trials made into grotesque parody by the fact that the lead actors are too stupid to understand the role they are playing. The ICC is the progeny of the equally execrable pantomimes of power that occurred at the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR). You can read more about that here.

Embedding Double Standards and Injustice

I used to work at a stall in a local market that was occasionally frequented by the former Prime Minister of my country, the Right Honourable Geoffrey Palmer QC, and I have often fantasised about what I might say to him in the entirely plausible event that I am able to address him. It is possible that I would use rude words because Palmer was the Chair of the 2010 inquiry by the UN into the Mavi Marmara incident.

The “Palmer Report” was a travesty. As Richard Falk explained, Palmer was not particularly knowledgeable about either the international law of the sea or the law of war. And incredibly, the only other independent member of the Panel was Alvaro Uribe, the former President of Colombia, with no professional credentials relevant to the issues under consideration, and notorious both for his horrible human rights record while holding office and forging intimate ties with Israel by way of arms purchases and diplomatic cooperation that was acknowledged by ‘The Light Unto The Nations’ award given by the American Jewish Committee that should have been sufficient by itself to cast doubt on his suitability for this appointment. His presence on the panel compromised the integrity of the process, and made one wonder how could such an appointment can be explained, let alone justified.”

The Palmer Report found that Israel used excessive force, but that its blockade was legal. However, in point of fact it was not really an investigation but rather a PR exercise that was a predetermined endorsement of Israel’s blockade of Gaza in particular and its occupation of Palestine in general. The terms of reference excluded the overall legality of the occupation and thus made it inevitable that the blockade of Gaza, an intrinsic part of the occupation, would be deemed legal. By analogy, if a bank robber shot someone during a robbery you wouldn’t accept a plea of self-defence on the basis that the victim lunged and caused the robber genuine fear. You can’t refuse to examine the context of the greater crime and make reasonable judgements. The fact that the shooter is robbing the bank cannot be excluded from consideration.

Let us be quite clear, accepting Israel’s claimed right to intercept the Mavi Marmara is much more insane than accepting a self-defence plea from someone who murders a hostage in a bank robbery. For a start it would mean that Israeli officials had reasonable cause to believe that there were weapons aboard the vessel. But the flotilla of the Mavi Marmara was an extremely public action, not a weapons smuggling operation. Israel’s rationale for its blockade is self-defence, but it doesn’t show any way in which this is linked to the interception of the flotilla. Israel does make claims about small arms and “paramilitary equipment”, but they are less to justify the raid itself than to justify the deadly violence.

The fact is that Israel claimed that this was a deliberate provocation aiming at destroying the blockade, but if Israel’s justification of the blockade is self-defence it cannot claim the right to enforce the blockade against vessels which it does not suspect of carrying weapons shipments. As it happens Israel cannot even legally invoke self-defence until it has ended its occupation – another factor conveniently overlooked by top legal thinkers like Palmer. I have previously described the limits on self-defence claims:

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

The fact that Israel is using force to prevent humanitarian aid encapsulates the fact that the blockade is an illegitimate act of aggression which, in turn, gives legitimacy to armed resistance by Palestinians. You cannot judge the actions of any party in a conflict without examining the legal context of that conflict – or you end up spouting irrational victim-blaming nonsense like the Palmer Report.

Everything that applies to the Palmer Report in this regard also applies to the Goldstone Report. Law dealing with the legality of a conflict is called jus ad bellum, whilst law dealing with the legality of conduct during conflict is called jus in bello. By only dealing with jus in bello questions we end up in a morass of illogic, but we also inevitably privilege the most powerful party and the aggressor in any conflict as well as disadvantaging the party whose territory is the site of the conflict.

But jus ad bellum matters cannot be ignored. They are fundamental. People have a right to life and it does not just disappear because there is a war on. It is not legitimate to kill people in war, rather the illegitimacy and the criminal culpability are, all things being equal, located with the aggressor. The personnel that actually commit acts of violence are allowed to do so on two grounds, one is that there is reciprocal risk faced by belligerent personnel, and the other is that criminal responsibility for causing violent death and destruction lies with the aggressor.

This raises a side matter which is very relevant to the moral legitimacy of Israel’s state violence against Palestinians: Sebastian Kaempf argues that the moral legitimacy of the use of violence by combatants has been disintegrated by the asymmetry that exists in current warfare. The moral justification which allows a soldier to kill is based on reciprocal risk between belligerent personnel. One might argue that at least morally, and possibly legally, someone who is engaged in risk-free killing is not a “combatant” by any reasonable understanding of the term “combat”. A related legal question is whether UAV operators or even Special Forces personnel are entitled to “combatant privilege”, which is the legal basis for their violence and destruction. It was arguably stretched by powerful artillery and aircraft, but it is comprehensively broken by the one-sided and very low risk warfare engaged in by the US. This is especially so in the case of drones, but it is also true of helicopter gunships such as this one: or the Collateral Murder video; or the sequence at the end of Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre.

The technology allows US personnel to commit distant leisurely cold-blooded precision killing of people who have no chance of striking back and no chance of escape. Two of this videos show the deliberate murder of wounded people, but all of the victims here are effectively hors de combat. One might argue that these are war crimes on those grounds. Killing unarmed wounded people is definitely a war crime. Killing people on suspicion of being engaged in insurgent activity is murder in any respect. And when insurgents attempted to surrender to personnel in an Apache gunship, the crew were ordered to murder them an the ground that they were not allowed to surrender to airborne personnel – a crystal-clear example of a war crime.

Israel’s attacks on Palestinians fall into the same category. The moral justification for armed violence is destroyed by the disparity of risks, notwithstanding the number of fatalities sustained by the Israeli occupation forces. In addition the actual applications of force against alleged combatants become either arguably or inarguably criminal acts in and of themselves due to the incapacity of the victims. Also there is a prohibition on placing civilians at risk in order to reduce risk to your own personnel. We are aware of this with regard to the use of “human shields”, but it also applies to airstrikes which kill civilians in order to reduce risks to combatants.

Supreme Crime

The Nürnberg (Nuremberg) Tribunal ruled “to initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” This suited the victorious Allies, of course, but it also means that the law relating to war can be reconciled with the fundamental right to life. Anything else would mean that when if anyone rich or powerful enough to start a war decides that their ends are best served by war, then ordinary people’s lives are simply forfeit – to be taken without any repercussions. Wars kill people therefore, unless you think that the powerful have the self-arrogated right to take lives “for reasons of state”, wars must be illegal.

People seem to think that war is somehow morally distanced from the individual acts of violence which occur in war. We seem to have forgotten the lessons learned from German aggression and we have slid back into voluntarily abdicating our morality in favour of allowing authorities to make such decisions for us. We just follow orders.

A case in point is the ruling by judge Anne Mactavish [sic] in Canada against the application for refugee status by US deserter Jeremy Hinzman. “An individual must be involved at the policy-making level to be culpable for a crime against peace … the ordinary foot soldier is not expected to make his or her own personal assessment as to the legality of a conflict,” Mactavish wrote in her 2006 decision. “Similarly, such an individual cannot be held criminally responsible for fighting in support of an illegal war, assuming that his or her personal war-time conduct is otherwise proper.” This is directly contrary to the spirit of two the Nuremberg principles. She is basically saying that she is happy if he is coerced into committing violent crimes because he himself will not be prosecuted.

If the war wasn’t clearly illegal Mactavish would probably have cited arguments for its legality rather than ruling that legality irrelevant. Iraqis have the legal right to resist aggression and occupation and those who do so have a right to life. Mactavish is revealing that she doesn’t really care about the deaths of Iraqi combatants. These combatants are innocent as much as any non-combatant is innocent. They are engaging in legally sanctioned armed resistance. They are human beings whose nervous systems transmit pain as much as a civilians; who feel the same fear and grief; and who will be mourned as deeply. As far as I can ascertain, at base the only reason Mactavish doesn’t take this view is that she is a disgusting racist who has embraced the dehumanisation of any Arab who resists Western power. You cannot think the way she does without being a racist bigot at some fundamental level.

Naturally, this all relates to the situation in Palestine. The UN Partition Plan of 1947 was of highly dubious legality under the UN Charter itself. The subsequent ethnic cleansing and confiscations of Palestinian property during the Nakba were crimes against humanity. The Israeli occupation of the remainder of Palestine in 1967 is very clearly illegal. UNSC resolutions 242, 338, 446 reaffirm the patent illegality. As mentioned above, under this circumstance Israel’s only legitimate form of self-defence, under UN Charter Art. 51, is to first comply with the UNSC resolutions and end the occupation. The continuing occupation involves continual armed violence as well as other acts which fit the category of acts of war – to the extent that the term still has meaning – or crimes against the peace.

What this means is that armed violence by Palestinian resistance fighters is legally legitimate. They have what is called “combatant privilege”. They are legally allowed to kill people within the limits of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). (This is the jus in bello component which makes it illegal for combatants to target non-combatants and other such things.) The “combatant privilege” allows combatants to legally kill – not because the lives of those they kill are not afforded any protection under the law, but because the criminal culpability for any killing lies with the aggressor, not the specific combatant who physically carries out the act of killing.

Combatant’s privilege, by the way, does not require that the combatant be a uniformed regular in a state military branch. The requirements are: “(1) operating under military command; (2) wearing a fixed distinctive sign (or uniform for regulars); (3) carrying arms openly; and most important, (4) conducting military operations consistently with the laws and customs of war.” State belligerents always deny the applicability of combatants privilege to non-state resistance forces. The German did for the “Resistance” in Western and Northern Europe as much as they did for the “Partisans” in Eastern and Southern Europe. The British denied combatant status to anti-colonial rebels like the“Mau Mau” and far too many others to mention. At the turn of the 20th century erstwhile allies of the US in Cuba and the Phillippines became unlawful combatants. So too did erstwhile allies in the fight against Fascism after the end of WWII in Greece, Viet Nam, Phillippines (again), Indonesia, Korea, and Malaya. More recently, of course, the US has famously declared many more of its enemies to be “unlawful combatants”.

Both in history and in our own times, the only reason to deny combatant status en masse is in order to commit war crimes. Those declared “unlawful combatants” are subject to torture and summary execution in every historical instance. For example, one might argue that ISIS/Daesh personnel are not legal combatants, but what would be the practical purpose? A robust moral stance would be to treat captives as prisoners of war until the cessation of hostilities. After hostilities have ended it would be possible to charge them as criminals using normal legal proceedings. The only other legitimate approach would be to treat each suspect as a criminal suspect from the outset and accord them rights, such as habeus corpus, on those grounds. The only reason for conflating the ideas of criminality and combatancy, as the US does, is as a way of denying and circumvention human rights in order to commit atrocities.

It is true that a combatant who deliberately disguises their combatant status by feigning non-combatancy forfeits combatant privilege as such, but that does not mean that one can simply deny the right of armed resistance to those who cannot form regular military units. If people have the right to self-defence from foreign aggression and occupation that means that they have the right to armed resistance. That cannot legitimately be restricted in such a way that prevents the victim of aggression from resisting because they do not have the material capacity to fulfill certain predetermined criteria.

The right for irregular guerrilla forces to be considered combatants has been established clearly and indisputably, albeit against the wishes of the late nineteenth century Western imperial “Great Powers”. The response by the “Great Powers” then or now is to accuse their weaker opponents of hiding behind civilians. Whether it was the Prussians accusing the franc-tireurs or colonial regimes such as the French in Alegria, such accusations serve a dual purpose. The first is to delegitimise the armed resistance in order to use judicial and extrajudicial acts of incarceration, torture, maiming and execution. The second is to legitimise their own attacks on civilians. This itself works on two levels: suggesting that military necessity (namely, legitimate attacks on armed targets) requires the targeting of civilians who become “collateral damage” in a legitimate military endeavour; but at the same time the second element is to produce a schizophrenic ideological discourse which destroys the distinction between combatant and non-combatant. This is a technique, or a symptom, of genocide. Violence is inflicted on the target population by blurring combatant and non-combatant status and creating in people’s minds the vision of a weaponised people. But don’t take my word for it, this is what Adolf Hitler said: “This partisan war has its advantages as well. It gives us the opportunity to stamp out everything that stands against us.”

Israel frequently claims that its enemies hide among civilians. This is an excuse for killing civilians, but they also know that they must continue at all costs maintaining the international consensus that armed actions by Palestinian formations (“militants”) do not have the foundational legitimacy of military operations. Ironically, however, it is powerful militarised states like Israel and the US whose personnel may not have legitimate combatant privilege. In a journal article that complements Sabastian Kaempf’s reasoning on reciprocity of risk, international law scholar Jens David Ohlin argues that whether uniformed or not both drone operators and special forces personnel do not meet the requirements of lawful combatancy. There is nothing that prevents this logic being applied to any personnel, including ordinary grunts, engaged in a mission which is not that of a lawful combatant. In refusing to treat enemies as combatants, powerful states are themselves increasingly embracing paradigms of violent force that are morally and legally equivalent to paramilitary death squad activity.

All of this is outside of the jurisdiction of the ICC. Aggression was one of the four types of crime outlined in the Rome Statute, but it was undefined and hence outside of consideration. An amendment addressing this will come into force in 2017, but it must be individually ratified by each state.

But even if they can prosecute the crime of aggression the entire setup will militate against justice and will always favour the powerful against the weak. Aggression will not now become the missing context, but will rather just be another potential crime for Third World citizens to be charged with. The very nature of this criminal court is to pluck certain selected villains from immense complex and multifariously criminal circumstances of mass violence and to charge them in isolation from the masses. Of necessity this will always be a political process, even more so than ad hoc tribunals. In theory ad hoc tribunals such as the ICTY or ICTR could treat all belligerent parties even-handedly. They don’t, of course, but the ICC cannot in any conception be even-handed in its approach.

With jurisdiction over nearly half of the world’s war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocides prosecutions by the ICC are inevitably political. These are show trials and they fuel the Hitler-of-the-Month-Club demonisation of Third World leaders that forms the backbone of Western interventionist propaganda. That is true of the entire process even if a case never goes to trial or if the defendant is acquitted.

Can you imagine how much mileage the US State Dept. and the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) agents would get out an ICC indictment for, say, Khaled Mashal from Hamas? They would milk it for all its worth and that would be to the detriment of every single Palestinian alive, even those who despise Mashal. The ICC will help Israel justify killing Palestinians because it will help replace the image of a people with the image of a single demon, and when you want to conduct a war against a people, which is to say genocide, it is very useful to convince your own people that you are fighting a single tyrant.

Israeli Impunity, Palestinian Punition

By practicing its pious “end of impunity” criminal prosecutions the ICC ignores the context questions such as which belligerent is the aggressor and who is a legal combatant. Instead, its real contextualisation comes from the politics of neocolonialism. Theoretically these questions should not have much impact on the question of guilt or innocence in war crimes. Jus in bello applies to all combatants, right?

Actually, not right. The Nürnberg Tribunal ruled that Russian partisans, as resistance to aggression, could not be tried for war crimes. This has been an issue right up until 2010 when Latvia successfully appealed a prior European Court of Human Rights ruling which had ruled against their conviction of a Soviet partisan for a 1944 war crime.

I am not going to argue that armies of “liberators” should be able to commit mass murder, mass rape and war crimes with impunity. The law must reflect basic principles such as legal equality – even to victims of “liberators”. International humanitarian law precedes the Nürnberg Tribunal and has been developed and elaborated since. As far as I am concerned the mass rapes committed by the Red Army in 1945 were war crimes and many of the “strategic bombing” missions undertaken by the Western Allies were acts of mass murder.

When you are dealing with forces of resistance not recognised as combatants by the aggressor/occupier, the moral situation changes. For one thing, to immunise them from war crimes prosecutions is not to grant them impunity. If they are adjudged unlawful combatants by the occupier, by nature the more powerful belligerent, they are subject to all of those judicial or extrajudicial hazards outlined above – incarceration, torture, maiming and death. They have no impunity and even their friends, family and community may be at risk from retaliation, collective punishment or the violent technologies employed in extrajudicial executions.

Failure to treat resistors as lawful combatants highlights a certain moral coherence to the idea that it is the aggressor/occupier that is culpable for their war crimes. Legitimate acts of resistance are treated as crimes by the occupier which effectively destroys the rule of law with regards to war crimes. That does not mean that they cannot be culpable for some criminal acts, but they did not create the circumstances which prompted them. A court cannot ethically judge them if it does not seek to prosecute those responsible for the aggression. In that sense the principle that aggression is the “supreme crime” makes considerable sense.

The culpability of the aggressor for the war crime committed by the resistor is actually morally greater than that of the resistor because it is unmitigated – the original act which created the circumstances of the resistors crime was itself a crime. Once again we can use the analogy of an armed bank robbery with hostages acting in lawful self-defence but committing acts which are themselves crimes. Deliberately killing the child of the hostage taker is a crime, but if the robber has already killed 10 hostages by that point, the circumstance have a considerable bearing. It would be completely wrong to charge a hostage with murder but refuse to charge the robbers or consider the circumstances in which the crime was committed as relevant.

In fact, it is possible to argue that killing a child was justified and a court would would then decide whether, in the circumstances, that was “reasonable”. (I personally don’t think that in the real world it is ever reasonable to kill a child, but if you want to find people who do think it is reasonable the best places to look are not where slavering terrorists strap bombs to little girls but places like the White House where killing children is routine practice and they simply state that “the price is worth it”.)

Not only are basic legal principles important, but there is at least one part of international law that is even more fundamental than IHL, and that is the UN Charter. The ICC relies on the UN Charter for its authority. So does the UNSC. The UN Charter is fundamental to the notion that there is a modern international state system in which there is international law. People have described it as the global “constitution”. This is of considerable relevance to Palestinians because the ICC process will not put alleged crimes in that context.

For example, if people have a right to self-defence, then they must practically be allowed to exercise that right. A case in point is rocket fire from Gaza. It is not so much argued as screeched by Israel and their supporters that the rockets fired by Gazan militants into Israel violate the principle of discrimination which requires that combatants distinguish between military and civilian targets.

I want to look at the rocket fire issue from a couple of angles, but first let me remind people that it is a real possibility that this alleged war crime might be the cause of prosecutions. In our Orwellian world where “freedom” quite literally means “slavery” – as in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom – “resistance” also means “aggression”. Everyone’s favourite Peace Prize-winning older and larger brother (Obama) said the following about rockets from Gaza: “…we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.” He knows, of course, that the rockets from Gaza did not actually “target” civilians and that the real accusation is that they were not accurate enough to discriminate between targets as required by law.

Obama has used a simple two-step rhetorical technique to invert reality. First he turns allegedly indiscriminate rocket fire into “targeting civilians”, which provides a 90º angle. Second, he states that Israel has a “right to defend itself” which implies that it was Gazan militants who fired first (a lie) and obfuscates the nature of Israel’s actions over the long term. That provides another 90 degrees. Voilá, we have now turned 180 degrees to enter Oppositeland, where black is white and truth is lie. Obama can only do this because the news media are subservient vacuous apparatchiks, but it also shows that he and the US establishment are committed and implacable enemies of the Palestinian people. At a time when most of the world watched in horror as Gazans were mutilated and slaughtered by the hundreds, Obama chose to attack them. He gave arms to Israel in the middle of the slaughter so that they could kill more.

Take time to think about what that means. As children were being dismembered and incinerated every single day, this man, Obama, deliberately twists the facts in a calculated way to make the victims seem then perpetrators and the perpetrators seem as victims.

Meanwhile, in the UK David Cameron remained a staunch supporter of “oasis of freedom” Israel. He spouted exactly the same line as Obama even when members of his own caucus and cabinet objected. These are the most powerful Western leaders, and they are quite happily prepared to cold-bloodedly attack Palestinians during a time of intense suffering. They weren’t forced into it by the “Israel Lobby”; they are not scared of Netanyahu; they do not love Netanyahu. Nor does this have anything to do with party politics. Blair and Bush would have done the same, and they were from the putatively opposing parties. They do it because they are cold-blooded mass-murdering imperialists whose geostrategic ends are furthered by the deaths and suffering of Palestinians – just as they were furthered by the deaths of Salvadorans, Laotians, Indonesians, Koreans, Vietnamese, Guatemalans, Philipinos, Eritreans, Congolese and many many more.

Ask yourself what these Western leaders are going to do with the fact that Palestinians will be subject to ICC prosecution. What I foresee is that the next time Israel wishes to commit a genocidal slaughter in Gaza, Palestinian leaders will now “investigated” for their “crimes” no matter what they actually do or don’t do. The ICC brush will tar the entire Palestinian people and the Western public will be forced once again into a discussion which begins with the vehement declaration that Israel clearly must respond to the acts of militants. The result will be that the only allowable criticism of Israel will be to censure them for not making their attacks on the besieged overpopulated Gaza strip a bit less massacre-ish.

In summary, the most powerful Western leaders have shown that they will attack the Palestinians at every turn, even at the height of their suffering. The only thing that holds them back is the weight of public opinion, and the ICC will give them opportunities to shift sympathies away from Palestinians and to further obscure the basic rights and wrongs of the issue. The way Obama used and shamelessly twisted the issue of rocket fire illustrates the problem.

But what else could be learnt from the issue of Gazan militants firing what, by all accounts, were very basic rockets? What if I were to return to the bank robbery analogy? Gazan rocket fire is equivalent here to throwing paperweights in the direction of armed robber from behind a desk when children might be hurt. The robbers have already killed and can be expected to kill again. A moral or legal justification that this is a reasonable act of self-defence would require that the risk to innocents is outweighed, in the judgement of those throwing the paperweights, by the potential prevention of violence by the robbers.

One might argue that throwing paperweights in morally unacceptable because the throwers have no substantive grounds for believing that they will disable or deter the attacks but might just as easily aggravate them and increase their violence. That is a very nice argument against acts of violence that can hurt innocents, and it happens to be how I feel about rocket fire from Gaza. But no one, including the “end of impunity” bureautwats, can justify contemplating the morality and legality of the paperweight throwers until they have judged and punished the robbers for their crimes, which include murder.

Once again we are confronted with the fact that by isolating alleged war crimes from their context, ICC proceeding could promote injustice, enable crimes and embed impunity. We should ask, what sort of mad world is it when we judge the victim of an attack on the legality of their acts of self-defence, but we don’t judge the attacker? Gazans are imprisoned by two US client states, the number one and number two recipients of US military aid. Their lives are not as desperate as those of Warsaw Ghetto inmates, but the sickening comparison is impossible to avoid. If we interfere in any way with their ability to defend themselves, even with acts that would otherwise be criminal, we risk becoming the moral equivalents of those who deported Jewish refugees to Axis controlled Europe and near-certain death. An entrapped people are attacked by a superior power with weapons that kill, maim, traumatise, brutalise and immiserate. When we prevent defensive acts on the basis that they are prohibited in IHL, if we do not know for certain that our interference does not interfere with their ability to defend themselves then we risk becoming a party to acts of aggression. That is another reason that the idea, from the Nürnberg Tribunal, of making the aggressor culpable for the criminal acts of the collective victim actually makes sense in the overall scheme of things.

The Privilege of Power

Judging war crimes only by their conduct without the jus ad bellum context provides an obvious advantage to the aggressor. Usually the aggressor is the more powerful belligerent and they are more likely to retain the initiative, control the tempo of the conflict and be able to conduct operations away from their own territory, people and assets. The aggressor has all of the advantages and, all things being equal, for equivalent war aims they have a much greater ability to achieve their desires whilst constraining personnel within the letter of the law. In practice aggressors may commit many war crimes, but I am trying to point out that this is despite a real situational advantage. They commit prolific war crimes only because their war aims are more extreme and are often inherently brutal, criminal and genocidal.

But the ICC may choose to ignore war crimes altogether and yet still acts as a weapon against the people of Palestine. As we have seen when acting as a neocolonial tool against African countries like Kenya, the ICC has preferred charges of crimes against humanity. This too creates an inherent bias in favour of the powerful over the weak. The ICC is tasked with only taking on cases where the state in question is “unable or unwilling” to prosecute.

For those willing but “unable” to prosecute their own genocidaires, war criminals, or criminals against humanity, there is a mechanism called “self-referral”. Anyone who has studied the history of international relations would predict that no state ever would actually say that they have a criminal suspect who they would like to prosecute for crimes committed in their country but are so pathetic and useless we can’t actually hold our own trial and theye need better richer whiter people to do the job for them. Yet these “self-referrals” do occur. David Hoile explains the phenomenon thus:

“The myth of African self-referrals is just that. It is public knowledge that the ICC Prosecutor Luis Ocampo made the governments of Uganda and DR Congo an offer they could not refuse: refer your countries to the ICC and we will only investigate your rebels; refuse and we will indict you as well.”

If you are a strong enough country you can defy the ICC, but if you are an enemy of the West, that very defiance is a weapon to be used against you. But a strong state that is allied to the West like Israel? Quite aside from the fact that Israel has not only refused to ratify the Rome Statute but, like the US, has also repudiated the initial signing of the treaty. More than that, however, the US State Department is quite satisfied when Israel investigates its own alleged war crimes and apparently that is more important to global officialdom than either public opinion or mere facts.

For example, after Operation Cast Lead Israel convicted two low-ranking soldiers of using a child as a human shield. They received suspended sentences of three months. This should have provoked screams of outrage that this stage-managed ersatz justice was far worse that doing nothing. Instead, the media printed the “reasoned” and respectable criticisms of people like Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem: “Although individual soldiers do bear responsibility if they have violated rules, this has to be accompanied by systematic examination of issues of policy – such as what constitutes a legitimate target, open fire regulations, types of weapons used and the targeting of public buildings. The main issues of concern that we have raised have not been dealt with.” In other words, forget slavering passionately about evil “war criminals” (as we do about African suspects) these soldiers have quite correctly been disciplined for having “violated rules”, but we should also tweak Israeli policy somewhat. An incoherent scream of rage is actually a more coherent response than that.

To criticise the manner in which Israel judges its own actions normalises the idea that Israel should be left to police its own war crimes. People also seem to accept the idea that it is right for the US and the UK to choose who, if anyone, will be held accountable even when the crimes are committed in other countries. These countries then use the selective prosecutions of low-ranking personnel to create a false image of lawfulness.

Worse still, Israel has used the fact that it went through a judicial sham and conducted some supposed investigations to further criticise Hamas because they haven’t conducted their own prosecutions. This is another two-step inversion of reality. First, you get people to accept the idea that there is some moral equivalence in the illicit acts of aggressor and resistance forces – twisting the first 90º – then you get them to accept that your abysmally deficient scapegoating of junior personnel is some sort of robust corrective. After these two simple steps you hand rotated into Oppositeland and you may now safely blame and demonise the victim of your mass murder.

And when we envision the future impact of the ICC regime on Palestine we must not, under any circumstance, fail to take into account the power of the political discourse which seeks to make enemy states into appendages of a near omnipotent villainous leader. Every crime committed by personnel from a state deemed inimical to the West is blamed directly on the leader of that country. Bashar al-Assad drops barrel bombs on civilians; Omar Bashir commits genocide; Muammer Ghadaffi even committed the massacre of political prisoners in one of his prisons. Theirs are the fingers on the triggers.

Ordinary people may likewise think that Donald Rumsfeld should been tried for torture, or Tony Blair for crimes against peace, or Ariel Sharon for mass murder, or Henry Kissinger for genocide. People in officialdom, however, claim to have a superior understanding of politics and power and are ever willing to concede limits to justice where powerful Westerners are concerned.

Convicting a couple of rather amateur torturers from Abu Ghraib and a few Blackwater murderers makes the US feel like it is superior, lawful, legitimate and civilised. US political and military leaders go free and the bureaupratts, security geeks and self-described “wonks” sneer at the inferiority of those who don’t accept a priori that Western leaders are untouchable. With regard to Third World enemy states it is the exact opposite. These same “wonks” now salivate with strident bloodlust. Justice is now an absolute and they can never compromise. The snide bespectacled weeds are now transformed into blood-drenched muscular Conan-esque warriors meting out righteous violence. They cheered when Osama bin Laden was supposedly killed: “We’re number One!” They howled in triumph when Ghaddafi died in the most grotesquely cruel manner and Clinton crowed: “We came. We Saw. He died.”

Part 2