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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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”.

An Open Letter to an IDF Apologist at the BBC


Ironic pic of Orwell at Big Brother Corp

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

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

To Anthony Reuben,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kieran Kelly


Drone Hypocrisy: The Toxic Self-regard of the 5% and the Dangerous US Constitution Fetish



Original image:Attribution Some rights reserved by Tjebbe van Tijen / Imaginary Museum Projects (updated by myself)

Many in the US are up in arms over the fact that Eric Holder has not rejected the President’s use of lethal force against US citizens on US soil, but what are the implications of the outrage shown by “progressives” in the US? Why is it so natural for US citizens to privilege themselves and their lives over the lives of others? Where is the shame of those who claim to oppose US militarism but devote their greatest passion and attention to a minuscule or non-existent threat to themselves?

On a personal level, it is sad for me to find people I normally admire among those reacting in shock and horror to the fact that there is a hypothetical outside chance that they may be killed in the same manner that the US employs to kill lesser beings on a regular basis. Sometimes I actually feel betrayed by people from the US, including some I know personally, who reveal that deep down they see foreigners like myself and my family and friends as having lives worth less than theirs. This was how I reacted in a comment when TomDispatch posted an article of this type on their facebook page: “What about all the people outside of the US? Are you all so jaded and selfish and despicable that you only care about whether they can get you when you are drinking coffee in Boston? Why do you have no shame about this? What do you think it looks like for those outside the US to constantly have our noses rubbed into the fact that you think your government that YOU voted for can kill us, but bleat on so much about the fact that they might be able to kill you? At least you can do something about it. Why is it breaking news that Obama (in “extraordinary circumstances”) can kill 5% of the population when 95% can be killed without even being identified personally. Just wiped out like insects, and you endorse that every fucking time you privilege your concern for US citizens over others – and now its US citizens on US soil that are more important than everyone else. This sickens me.”

Of course, the fact that people from the US endorsed my comment made me feel much better about life in general. I am quite happy to view US politicians as evil hell-spawn, but I tend to think that US people, like all people, are basically good. On the other hand, though, that leaves me to explain why some who devote a lot of themselves to opposing US imperial injustices, including drone strikes, should let themselves down so badly. Joining in the hysteria and hype over the Holder letter is unacceptable, and here is why.

First, divide the world into the “5%” (US citizens) and the “95%” (others). We already knew that the baseline of USG policy is that the executive branch can kill whomever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants based on secret applications of secret legal rationalisations using secret evidence. So far the application of this when using UAVs to kill people has seen 5 US citizens killed. In contrast, the figure of 4700 killed in total has been acknowledged by Sen. Lindsay Graham and that must be excluding those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 95% are simply at a far, far higher risk than the 5%. This is acutely so in countries or regions where US destabilisation has destroyed the functioning of governments, or where governments are in some other way unable to protect their citizens from US violence. The figure of those killed on US soil, by the way, is 0. So the actual figures would suggest that Rand Paul’s dramatic image of someone being incinerated by a hellfire missile when drinking a coffee in Boston might be overdrawn. But it is so much worse than that. People in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and an ever increasing number of other places are really being incinerated when they sit down to have coffee with friends. I understand that Paul opposes the killing of those people too, but why bring up the unlikely hypothetical example when the reality is right there?

Attorney General Eric Holder responded to Sen. Paul with a letter. This letter confirms the privilege accorded to the 5%. The US isn’t going to kill people on US soil because “well-established law enforcement” obviates the necessity. One reading of this is that there was no need for White House involvement in Fred Hampton’s killing, or the MOVE bombing, while administration involvement in the Waco siege would now be unnecessary altogether (as with Christopher Dorner’s demise). US law enforcement killed at minimum an average of one person every 15 hours in 2012. Carrying out covert targeted killings in the milieu of such deadly and militarised policing seems far more logical than using drones. In other words, the US can rely on “law enforcement” to kill people when desirable, which also calls into question the point of Rand Paul’s fatuous question. As always, however, the implications are far worse for the 95% than for the 5%, but no US “progressives” seem to care. The 5% talk of the “chilling effect” of various repressive authoritarian government behaviours on their own society, but imagine the chilling effect that this might have on, say, Iceland – a country that recently deported FBI agents. This is a reiteration to the world that non-compliance with US law enforcement in its hunt for political dissidents may cause the US to take unilateral action, possibly lethal, without regard for sovereignty nor for international law.


A fairly constant theme of the aghast is the horror of an attack on the Constitution. The basis of this, however, is an unhealthy and historically untenable vision of a mythic Constitution carved in granite and handed down from on high through the agency of semi-divine authorities known as “founding fathers”. But the aspects of the US Constitution that we today tend to admire the most came originally from being forced on the Federalists by anti-Federalists and Jeffersonians, while others were amendments added because of the insistence and agitation of the common people. Not only that, but the application of the Constitution to secure actual meaningful rights for the bulk of the people only tends to occur after people toil, fight and often die to secure them. I’m assuming that the progressives I complain of here (who should know better than to echo the sentiments of not one but several Republican Senators) have read A People’s History of the United States, and are familiar with critiques of Hamilton and Madison. And yet, clearly against their own interests, instead of the people actually taking credit for establishing their own human rights and civil rights through their own power and sacrifice, all to often the discourse is of “constitutional rights”.

Once upon a time, the wise men known as the “founding fathers” gave the US a wise Constitution and the wise men of the US Supreme Court are now tasked with the duty of interpreting it according to “founders intent”. Right? Well, the Supreme Court’s role in interpreting the constitution was not originally mandated, but is a self-arrogated power. And they are political appointees. And they dress funny. And, though I may be an ignorant foreigner, no one has actually explained to me why there even is such a creature as a “Justice Scalia”, let alone why he is allowed to hold a responsible position. Altogether, this patriarchal myth is a quasi-religious understanding of the US Constitution (meaning the written document and 27 ratified amendments). But the actual constitution of the federal polity known as the United States of America is much more than can be found in such document. It includes, for example, English Common Law traditions. Moreover, I concluded a previous piece touching on this subject with these words:

This fetishisation of the idolised US Constitution is getting old. Besides which, the US Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause” (Article 6, Clause 2) actually gives treaties the same status as federal law – which would include the Nuremberg Charter and the UN Charter, among other things. Furthermore, by allowing the issue to be framed in such a manner, psychologically you set yourself and others up for being mollified by cosmetic measures offered to guarantee the rights of US citizens while retaining the right to kill foreigners at will. Do you really believe that being a US citizen or being born in Denver makes someone more human?”

Since writing that I have come to realise that framing the issues as “Constitutional Rights” restricts and controls the discourse in a way that disempowers people considerably. Not only does all of the credit get given to the authority figures, but it emphasises those liberal rights of freedom from state interference over all else. But these were never even intended to be the rights of the poor, nor of women, nor the indigenous people, nor slaves. It is the English Whig tradition which had much to do with protecting privilege in the form of property, and little to do with universal notions of rights despite its pretensions. It would be preferable not to view this issue through the lens of the constitution at all, but rather through the lens of universal human rights. Or even better, targeted killings should be framed as violations of international law or criminal law. You don’t normally have to go to the supreme court to establish that a murder victim had a right to life under the US constitution, but it is accepted that the POTUS can murder whatever foreigner he wants because no one has yet established their constitutional right not to be murdered.

Of course, the Bill of Rights does not say at any stage that it is restricted to US citizens…

“…nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….”

ADDENDUM – from a bit later.

I wrote a response to a comment which I feel may be superior to the actual article above. Becuase of this, and since the embedded videos did not come through on the comment, I am reprinting it here:

The inaptness of your analogies reveals the degree to which you are blinded to the reality and the extent to which you will fight to keep your own chains of mental slavery. People in other states do not automatically lack empathy in exactly the manner which you suggest. Distance does lessen empathy, and many other societies also dehumanise poorer peoples, traditional enemies, or those considered inferior due to culture, ethnicity, religion or race. However, the vast disparity in the way life is valued by those in the US, and the overtness of it, and the prominence of its repetition are without contemporary parallels. Chauvinism is a matter of degree, an the US is at the extreme end. It may not be alone in this, but it is alone in marrying this chauvinist patriotism (this exceptionalism) with a virulent militarism; and a military capacity beyond anything known to history; and an imperialist interventionism which brought about many millions of deaths.

To illustrate, let me use your first example of Nigerians and Canadians. If the Nigerian government had an assassination programme killing thousands of Canadians using missiles and refusing to give details of its justifications. A handful of Nigerians on Canadian soil had been killed and though many Nigerians opposed all such killings, much more mainstream public attention is devoted to those handful of Nigerians. The Nigerian victims generate several times more questions in Parliament, and 5- or 10-fold as many mainstream media mentions and editorial condemnations. And then, someone brings up the prospect that the Nigerian government might extend the programme to Nigerians on Nigerian soil. There is no ongoing programme to do so, like the ongoing assassination programme in Canada. There are no plans to do so. And an assassination of this type, using missiles to kill someone in Nigeria would lead to riots and the fall of the government. Yet somehow, in the mainstream discourse, this is what the Nigerians care most about, and even those who oppose the ongoing slaughter of Canadians join them in their cries of horror – because this barely hypothetical possibility, this empty signifier, this big fat nothing of no news at all, is taken as a sign of the dissolution of traditional Nigerian rights. Yeah, the cops can gun Nigerians down in the streets at will, but to kill them the same way you would kill a Canadian – what horror is this!

I’ll tell you how the world would react to this alternative world Nigeria, shall I? Nigeria would be an absolute pariah state. The Nigerian people would be viewed by most of the world with hostility, fear, suspicion and/or disgust. A rare few would pity them. The BBC and Al Jazeera English would compete to see who could make the most smug and pompous documentary about how the Nigerian Dream had turned into a poisonous sludge of fascistic nationalism, narrow-minded ignorance and violent xenophobia. The moderate Nigerians would object that that isn’t the real Nigeria, but the BBC and AJE microphones would be pointed at those other ones – the ones who say that all Canadians should be killed; the one’s who say that if they attack Nigerians again we should nuke them to show we mean business; and the ones who say that Canadians are Gods wrathful vengeance wreaked on Nigeria for straying from the path of righteousness. That is how we would see these Nigerians, even the ones that don’t say the mad things out loud must believe them inside because otherwise why would they continue to support valuing Nigerian lives over those of the victims of their own government. But what the Nigerians don’t understand is that those who are making monsters of them are also making fools of them.

I do not hold US citizens morally culpable for what their government does, nor even for their inhumane form of patriotism. It is the same as with the Germans of the Third Reich. On a purely intellectual level the claims of not knowing the basics of Nazi mass atrocities were untrue. The German people did know that their government was committing mass murder, but they were not the irrational Jew-hating monsters that Daniel Goldhagen would have people believe .They had systematically been indoctrinated and manipulated into a state of moral anaesthesia and psychological denial. Clear signals which should have let the Germans know immediately that their government was irredeemably monstrous were stripped of their real meaning – their ethical and moral significance. A seminal book about the creation of the national German consciousness by the Nazis was called They Thought They Were Free, here’s an extract:

But Then It Was Too Late

“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

Such was the German belief in German freedom, that part of their strategic calculation, and a widely held belief, was that Soviet soldiers would not put up much of a fight because, unlike Germans, they were unfree and thus deprived of initiative and sapped of will. You might well be thinking – ah, but this is exactly why we in the US must guard our constitutional rights, so that we guard our fundamental freedoms. But you are not guarding any real freedoms at all. You are just like those Germans. You have been led and manipulated, through your own excessive pride and self-importance, to fight for the meaningless fetish of a piece of paper while tyranny and rot spread throughout the entire regime from top to bottom. If you want to see the ugly militarist face of Western society, look at the excitement over the technology of death when a new war is launched. But if you want to see why the US slips into a different category, why the US looks more fascist than its allies, look at the celebrations of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Look at last year’s political conventions when if there was the slightest hint of protest or dissent the crowd around the protestor, without external direction, would begin chanting “U S A! U S A!” like hundreds of little kid blocking their ears and going “lalalalala I can’t here you”, but much, much scarier. What would you think if Mexicans started doing that at political rallies? Maybe you think it’s perfectly normal to do that and keep shouting “we’re number one!”, but no one else does it.

So they keep you on this track of patriotic rubbish and actually draw out and amplify the hypocritical and callous aspects of nationalism to make you accept the unacceptable. I have a good historical example, which has some currency at the moment thanks to Ritchie Cunningham. I love Arrested Development and I was brought up firm in the faith of Monty Python. Without David Frost there would never have been a Monty Python, yet I still consider him to be one of the most loathsome creatures ever to have slithered on the face of this Earth. Without Ron Howard there would have been no Arrested Development and though I doubt that Howard is as much of a scumbag as Frost, he nevertheless replicated quite faithfully Frost greatest crime against humanity. In a very famous series of interviews Frost talked to Richard Nixon (and Howard made a movie with the same punchline). Frost let Nixon rewrite history over and over again over many many hours of interviewing. He was not challenged on his crimes against humanity and his war crimes at all, but was able to contextualise all of his actions in his own apologetics without the slightest hint that he was a mass murderer responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Cambodia alone (just the top of a very long list of serious crimes). Towards the end there came a dramatic breakthrough, which to my mind was clearly a pre-ordained and staged breakthrough. Nixon, under suddenly dogged interrogation, finally broke down and admitted to something. Voice utterly laden with sombre reluctance (really very overacted if you actually listen to it critically) Nixon admitted to lying and that he had “let the American people down”. In a horrible way, this was genius propaganda. The people of the US could suddenly feel like they were the real victims.

Well, this sort of propaganda is fundamental to everything now, especially under Obama. Not all of it appeals to pride, vanity, selfishness and fear. The US regime has become very good and harnessing far more positive energies into meaningless empty nonsense or, sometimes, things that are very important on a human level but ultimately pose no challenge to the structural status quo. Among these are greenwashing, gaywashing and femiwashing. These can have real effects on people’s lives, but above all they feed myths of US freedom and a higher level of development.

When you act like your Constitution is some divine idol to be worshipped, one which makes you society superior to those poor benighted nations that do not have this shining fount of justice; and when any of you decides to privilege concern for US life over the life of others; and whenever you have the gall to say that others do the same, you feed the regime that oppresses you. If you are going to be selfish, you might as well be more enlightened about it.