April 08, 2008

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and us

An interesting discussion of who's committed genocide and who hasn't. Of course, we know which group America falls into.

The genocide loophole

Claims of the 'greater good' too often let mass murderers off the hook.In general, the Soviets and the Red Chinese elude the genocide charge--and hence the status of ultimate villains--despite having murdered scores of millions of people in the 20th century, in large part because their victims stood in the way of progress. Kulaks, or independent farmers, opposed Stalin's plan for collectivization, and so they were murdered for that "greater good." Yet Mao Tse-tung and Stalin aren't widely regarded as being as evil as Adolf Hitler because they were "modernizers." Just look how the Russians have no problem copping to the charge of mass murder but recoil at the suggestion that it was racially motivated.

It's a wrongheaded distinction. Murder is murder, whether the motive stems from bigotry or the pursuit of allegedly enlightened social planning. And that's usually a false distinction anyway. Racial genocide is often rationalized as a form of progress by those responsible. Under the Holodomor, Ukrainian culture was systematically erased by the Russian Soviets, who saw it as inferior or expendable. No doubt the Sudanese janjaweed in Darfur and the Chinese People's Liberation Army in Tibet believe that they are "modernizers" too.
Comment:  Many Americans believe we've never committed genocide either. Unfortunately for them, our actions fit the definition of "genocide."

The Indians were arguably just the first of many victims. We paid for the enslavement and extermination of African tribes. We vaporized the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki unnecessarily. We bombed more than half a million Iraqi civilians to death after the first Gulf War.

And of course we stood by while others committed genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Chechnya, and Sudan. Heck, we stood by while Hitler, Stalin, and Mao killed millions. About the only time we've intervened to stop mass murder was in the Balkan wars of the mid-1990s.

For more on the subject, see Adolf Hitler:  A True American.


dmarks said...

"Stood by" is probably not the best term for Cambodia. The US had pretty much been driven out of Southeast Asia by that time.

US-hating "intellectual" Noam Chomsky supported Pol Pot and what he did primarily because Pol Pot and the US opposed each other (the "if America hates him, he must be a hero, especially if he quotes Marx" idea).

Rob said...

So what if we weren't in southeast Asia at the time? We weren't in Nazi Germany when the Holocaust was going on, or in Rwanda when the genocide occurred there. But extraordinary crimes require extraordinary responses.

We invaded Iraq (and Somalia, and Panama, and Grenada) on a much slimmer pretext than preventing mass murder. History has shown we can mobilize our forces if we deem the cause important enough. The question is why the deaths of 3,000 Americans were enough to start a war or two, but not the deaths of a million Cambodians or Rwandans.

As for Chomsky, it's more correct to say he, Jeremiah Wright, and I hate America's moral crimes, not the country or its lofty ideals. In other words, it's not the "American dream" we have a problem with. It's the gap between the dream and the reality.

Here are some thoughts on Chomsky and Pol Pot:


Another feature of the U.S. propaganda system is that contesting propaganda campaigns is not permissible, and results in a blackout and/or gross misrepresentation and vilification. As soon as Chomsky and I criticized media coverage of Cambodia, in 1977, we, and especially Chomsky, were accused of being apologists for Pol Pot. William Shawcross eventually (and ludicrously) blamed Chomsky for having paralyzed Western policy responses to genocide by his (and my) single review article in the Nation.

Those who attack alleged "defenders of Pol Pot" can lie with impunity. On June 23, Anthony Lewis jumped into the fray, boldly denouncing Pol Pot and urging his prosecution for war crimes. Lewis did mention the "bombing inflicted on the peasant society by President Nixon and Henry Kissinger," but only as an introduction to the fact that Pol Pot outdid our leaders. No suggestion of any causal relation between the bombing (etc.) and the "one million Cambodians [who] lost their lives" in phase two. Lewis also does not discuss whether, even if Pol Pot was worse, the toll under Nixon and Kissinger wasn’t high enough to be worthy of a war crimes trial.

Lewis then goes on: "A few Western intellectuals, notably Prof. Noam Chomsky, refused to believe what was going on in Cambodia. At first, at least, they put the reports of killing down to a conspiratorial effort by American politicians and press to destroy the Cambodian revolution." This is a multiple lie: First, we did not disbelieve the reports in general and were very clear that "gruesome" atrocities were being carried out. We did contest some blatant lies, like those of Lacouture, and media gullibility, which in this case, where points were being scored against an enemy. reached remarkable levels. Second, we never believed or said that there was any conspiracy going on, and regularly cited State Department experts as sources of plausible information. Third, we weren’t defending the "Cambodian revolution," and never believed that the propaganda campaign was designed to destroy it; in fact, we stressed that its spokespersons didn’t do, or even propose doing, anything to help Cambodians. We saw the propaganda campaign as aimed at Americans, to help reconstruct an imperial ideology that had been badly damaged by the Vietnam War.