Sunday, January 25, 2009

Re: Legitimacy of Russell's International War Crimes Tribunal

I just received the following comment from “Taeus” in regard to my note,

Dear Lawrence!

You say:

"America’s strategy, coming to the aid of an ally and resisting Communist aggression was not criminal."

This is such a naiv point of view considering US:s real motives and their bombings of civilians, use napalm, agent orange, cluster bombs, concentration camps, etc.

The only reason Diem could stay in power as long as he did was that he was backed up by the US. If free elections had been held in SV in 1954 appr. 80% of the population would have voted for reunion, even Eisenhover admitted this.

The facts are so overwhelming regarding the US:s war crimes and other crimes that it doesn't matter who was elected for the tribunal. Anyone with a sense of justice would have come to the same conclusion as the Tribunal did.

Best regards, Taeus


You haven’t really provided any arguments. What is the evidence for your assertions? What have you read that supports your assertions?

Let me guess about your arguments and then respond to my guesses as though you had produced real arguments. (Feel free to develop arguments more to your liking.) Here is the first one: (a) Bombing of "civilians, use of napalm, agent orange, cluster bombs, concentration camps, etc." is criminal. (b) The U.S. used napalm, agent orange, cluster bombs, concentration camps, etc. (c) Therefore the U.S. behavior was criminal.

Let is consider your first assumption. Harming civilians in order to sap the will of the enemy has long beenne of the devices of war, continuing into modern times. The British used it in the Boer War. The Germans used it in their bombing raids on London and then that favor was returned during the bombing raids of Germany. We also used it against the Japanese in order to damage their will to continue the war. These approaches to war had not been declared “criminal” by the U.S. courts or any Western Court that I am familiar with at the time we employed these weapons during the Vietnam War. It is not our current policy to target civilians, but it was common practice up to and including the Vietnam War. Therefore Assumption “A” does not hold up. You may say that in your opinion and in the opinion of Russell, such bombing “ought” to have been illegal and criminal, but in fact it did not have that legal status.

Your second argument seems to assume that since Diem did not hold free elections, his government was not legitimate and he should have turned it over to the Communists, who would have been elected. So we might have to phrase that argument roughly as follows: (a) No government is legitimate unless it is based upon free elections. (b) Diem's government was not based upon free elections. (c) Therefore Diem's government was not legitimate.

If we trace the history of the U.S. there was a time when no government other than our own was based upon free elections, and yet we had to conduct foreign policy, and we did. We determined what was in our best interest, in our “National Interest” and sought that. We have never made it a prerequisite that a government must be based upon free elections else we will not make a treaty with it or support it in time of crisis. To do that would violate one of the original UN stipulations that no nation should interfere in the internal workings of another nation. In other words, nations can have whatever sort of government they like and no outside nation can say them nay. Pakistan, for example, has in modern times often been ruled by military coup and yet we had no trouble dealing with the coup leader, General Musharraf. We might urge general elections, and hope a nation has them, but we cannot declare a government illegal, or refuse to have dealings with it because it does not meet our governmental standards. Which is to say that your assumption “A” does not hold up, and your argument fails.

Sweeping statements like “The facts are so overwhelming regarding the US's war crimes and other crimes that it doesn't matter who was elected for the tribunal. Anyone with a sense of justice would have come to the same conclusion as the Tribunal did,” do not even approach the realm of logical argumentation. In general this statement commits the fallacy called “begging the question,” or “petition principia.” You have “assumed” your “conclusion” in this assertion of yours; so as an argument, it fails.

I have discussed the matter of U.S. Cold War strategy in others of my notes and don’t want to belabor the matter again here. The Cold War was conducted between the Democratic West, led by the U.S., and the Communist nations. Both sides took this war seriously. Each side tried to win this war. Several methods of conflict occurred. The Communist forces sought to win over new nations and engaged in whatever means might accomplish that end. The U.S. sought to “hold the line” by protecting nations that claimed to be on our side. We were not a Neocon nation back then. We didn’t insist that a nation be Democratically led before we would support it, and even today that is not a requirement, else we would not be willing to defend Saudi Arabia and other non-democratic Middle Eastern states.

Our strategy was called “Containment” and it originated during the Truman administration based on a “long Telegram” by George F. Kennan (sent February 22, 1946). This strategy was subsequently put into book form and published as American Diplomacy in 1951. This comprised our Cold War strategy from its inception to its eventual success as evidenced by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. Many propagandist ploys were carried out by Soviet sympathizers during the Cold War. Soviet sympathizes came in many forms. There were (a) out and out agents, (b) sympathizers who actively worked for Soviet Socialist causes, and (c) Socialists who hated the U.S. and its anti-communist war but didn’t like everything that occurred in the Soviet Union. Those in this last category supported the Soviet Socialist cause as the lesser of two evils. Now it would take reading the writings of the people in the subject International War Crimes Tribunal to see exactly whether they favored (a), (b) or (c), but I would be surprised if anyone on this tribunal wanted the U.S. to win the Cold War.


I should add here that while the experts I’ve read agree with the strategy of containment, they typically don’t believe that the “tactics” of the Vietnam were correct. Bevin Alexander, for example, discusses “lessons learned” about the poor tactics used in Vietnam (see, for example, his The Future of Warfare). Many of them say that in retrospect, we didn’t even need to fight that war, and probably shouldn’t have. The “Long Telegram” strategy and Acheson’s firming up of it didn’t intend that we would fight against “every” advance of Communism. Neither he nor Truman thought we could afford it. Acheson, if I recall correctly, didn’t even want to fight in Korea. But at the time of the Vietnam war, the common view was that Communism would ultimately defeat Liberal Democracy in the world; so we needed to keep those dominoes from falling as long as possible. In retrospect, we now know that the Communist position wasn’t as strong as we thought, but at that time, and I lived through those times, it did seem, through much of that period, that the Communists would win.

Now, as to all those Anti-Americans talking endlessly about America’s criminality, one can’t help but notice (as I pointed out in regard to Chomsky) that they don’t criticize the Soviet Union and other Communist nations in the same way. They are all about American crimes, but say very little about the crimes committed, for example, during the Stalinist era. And when is the last time anyone followed up the Anti-American charges during the Vietnam War with the fact that things got much, much worse after America pulled out. In terms of body count, many more were killed, after America left than during the actual Vietnam War. Once America pulled out and Communist regimes took over, they had their typical Stalinist-type purges and killed huge numbers. You will hear Western Leftists decrying American attempts to prop up weak South Vietnam regimes. You will hear them waxing nostalgically about their glory Anti-War days back in the 60s, but do any of them feel guilt for what happened afterwards? Do any of them decry Pol Pot, for example, and consider the evidence that if the U.S. people had gotten behind the U.S. anti-Communist efforts in South-East Asia Pol Pot would never have occurred? No, no, you will never hear Leftists say that. Instead they will blame the U.S. for forcing Pol Pot to engage in Stalinist-type purges.

Notice that Taeus worries about free elections during the Diem regime, but does he worry about them after Ho took over South Vietnam? Doe he worry about them after Pol Pot took over Cambodia? I’ve never noticed any Leftist worrying about such things.


Anonymous said...

Dear Lawrence!

Thank you for your well argued answer.
You say:

"You haven’t really provided any arguments. What is the evidence for your assertions? What have you read that supports your assertions?"

My arguments for claiming that war crimes were commited in Vietnam can be found in the book "Crimes Against Silence", which was published by people involoved in the IWCT. And there are many other investigations coming to the same conclusion.

Perhaps not everything the Americans did was a crime in the technical sense, but it sure was in a moral sense, as all bombing of civilians is, including the bombing of Hiroshima. Besides most military experts are of the oppinion that bombing of civilians has very little effect.

But it would be interseting to hear your analysis of the war against the Vietnamese starting with the French invation in the middle of the 19th century.

Take it from there and try to convince me that the French cause was a just one and that the Americans take over of the torture of the Vietnames people was a just cause.

Best regards


Lawrence Helm said...

Taeus, see my response at