[THS] Rick Rozoff: Review: The Politics of Genocide
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Thu Sep 2 12:00:28 CEST 2010
September 1, 2010
The Politics of Genocide
Edward S. Herman and David Peterson
Monthly Review Press, 2010
In 1895 novelist Anatole France who in the same decade took up cudgels in
defense of persecuted Armenians in the Ottoman Empire while also entering the lists
on behalf of Alfred Dreyfus wrote an essay in which he maintained that words are
like coins. When freshly minted the images and inscriptions on them are clear. But by
dint of constant circulation they become effaced until the outlines are blurred and the
As Edward S. Herman and David Peterson write in The Politics of Genocide, During
the past several decades, the word genocide has increased in frequency of use and
recklessness of application, so much so that the crime of the twentieth century for
which the word was originally coined often appears debased. Unchanged, however,
is the huge political bias in its usage
. With their painstaking efforts to compile
information and analyze the self-serving misuse of this term by the government,
media and establishment academic figures of the United States and its allies, the
authors have performed a valuable service to the cause of truth and of peace.
The fact that combating genocide has replaced confronting communism in some
notably left and liberal circles as a major intellectual and moral legitimation for an
enduringly aggressive and interventionist U.S. foreign policy is not fortuitous. It has
been adopted to further American and allied interests in Europe and Africa in
particular but with international application.
Nowhere is this more explicit than in the U.S.-based Genocide Prevention Task
Forces 2008 report Preventing Genocide, where the Save Darfur activism of the last
decade is singled out as a model for how to build a permanent constituency for the
prevention of genocide and mass atrocities.
But this shows that Darfur has been
successfully framed as genocide, the authors
counter, even as the signature Nefarious bloodbath of the early twenty-first
century, and we should take the Task Forces praise of Save Darfur activism to
mean rather that the U.S. establishments handling of the western Sudan (ca.
2003-2010) should serve as a model for how best to propagandize a conflict as
genocide, and thus to mobilize elite and public opinion for action against its alleged
During the past two decades, the post-Cold War era, Washington has employed and
exploited the word genocide in furtherance of geopolitical objectives in several
strategic parts of the world. As the foreword to the volume by Noam Chomsky warns,
the one-sided, nakedly partisan and frequently fact-distorting genocide stratagem not
only diverts attention from genuine acts of mass killing and targeting of ethnic and
other demographic groups perpetrated by the U.S., its allies and client states, but
runs the risk of producing a boy who cried wolf effect, one moreover with a
Chomsky characterizes the authors work as indicting a practice that since the end of
the Cold War opened the way to an era of virtual Holocaust denial. That is, as facts
such as those marshaled by Herman and Peterson demonstrate, the exaggeration,
distortion and even outright fabrication of genocide accusations may produce as an
unintended consequence a universal scepticism on the matter, even most
alarmingly toward the genuine article. That leveling charges of genocide against
nations and governments the White House and State Department are opposed to
and in parts of the world where the Pentagon is bent on deploying troops and bases
occurs as World War II revisionism, neo-Nazism, and the formal rehabilitation of Nazi
collaborators and even SS troops plague much of Europe is the most alarming
manifestation of that disturbing phenomenon.
The U.S. has rightly been accused of practicing double standards in relation to
genocide charges, condemning mass killings (alleged as well as real) in nations
whose governments are not viewed favorably by Washington and its allies while
ignoring, minimizing and justifying it when perpetrated by an approved government.
But it is not, as defenders of American foreign policy often state, a question of not
being able to respond to every crisis or of responding to the most egregious situation
first. Nor as the rapidly deteriorating Christopher Hitchens wrote in 1993 in one of his
many efforts to mobilize opinion in favor of the Bosnian cause (by which he never
meant anything beyond the Sarajevo Muslims around Alija Izetbegovic, and Hitchens
own mythic land of multiculturalism overrun by racist Serbs) is it a case of making
the best the enemy of the good.
Instead, as Herman and Peterson meticulously detail, it is a fixed policy of assigning
cases and charges of genocide to four distinct categories, the first two applicable to
the U.S. and its allies and clients, the second two to adversaries or other
governments whose nations occupy space or possess resources coveted by
Washingtons empire-builders and U.S.-based transnational corporations.
Drawing on years of observation and analysis of international events in Hermans
case efforts extending over five decades the authors present a four-point model for
examining how the issue of genocide is viewed by the American government, the
mainstream news media and a veritable battalion of engaged academics and
handsomely funded non-governmental organizations (the latter sometimes not so
As they explain:
When we ourselves commit mass-atrocity crimes, the atrocities are Constructive, our
victims are unworthy of our attention and indignation, and never suffer genocide at
our hands like the Iraqi Untermenschen who have died in such grotesque numbers
over the past two decades. But when the perpetrator of mass-atrocity crimes is our
enemy or a state targeted by us for destabilization and attack, the converse is true.
Then the atrocities are Nefarious and their victims worthy of our focus, sympathy,
public displays of solidarity, and calls for inquiry and punishment. Nefarious atrocities
even have their own proper names reserved for them, typically associated with the
places where the events occur. We can all rattle off the most notorious: Cambodia
(but only under the Khmer Rouge, not in the prior years of mass killing by the United
States and its allies), Iraq (but only when attributable to Saddam Hussein, not the
United States), and so on Halabja, Bosnia, Srebrenica, Rwanda, Kosovo, Racak,
Darfur. Indeed, receiving such a baptism is perhaps the hallmark of the Nefarious
To reiterate their point: When the killing, maiming, poisoning and displacement of
millions of civilians are perpetrated by the U.S. directly and in collusion with a client
regime it assists, arms and advises Indochina in the 1960s and early 1970s, Central
America in the 1980s, the deaths of as many as a million Iraqis resulting from
sanctions and the deliberate and systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure in
the 1990s that form of indisputable genocide is never referred to as such and
instead presented by the government-media-obedient academia triad as not
abhorrent and criminal but as legitimate actions in pursuit of praiseworthy policies.
Similar systematic and large-scale atrocities carried out by U.S. clients armed by
Washington Indonesia against its own people from 1965-1966 and in East Timor
from 1975-1999, Israel in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank from 1967 to the
present day, Rwanda and Uganda in Congo (where over five and a half million
people have perished over the last twelve years), Croatia and its Operation Storm
onslaught in 1995 which caused the worst permanent ethnic cleansing in Europe
since World War II and its immediate aftermath are not condemned and not even
deemed regrettable, but in fact are viewed by the U.S. political establishment as
Contrariwise, though, security and military actions taken by governments not aligned
with the U.S., even against armed and cross-border separatist formations, are
inevitably branded as gratuitous acts of what Samuel Coleridge called motiveless
malignancy: Nefarious genocide.
Related to the last category, the U.S. government and its news and NGO camp
followers are not averse to inflating numbers, misattributing the cause of death and
outright inventing incidents to justify the charge of genocide and what are frequently
pre-planned interventions, including sanctions, embargoes, travel bans on
government officials, freezing governments financial assets abroad, funding and
advising assorted color revolutions and ultimately bombing from 25,000 feet,
beyond the range of a targeted countrys air defenses. What the authors call Mythic
genocide, though with quite genuine deadly consequences. Aesop: The boys
throw rocks in jest but the frogs die in earnest.
To illustrate these basic categories, Herman and Peterson conducted exhaustive
database searches for usage of the word genocide by some of the major English-
language print media in reference to what they call theaters of atrocities.
The three tables they have compiled for the book are something to behold.
Table 1 is titled Differential attributions of genocide to different theaters of
atrocities, and Table Differential Use of Massacre and Genocide for Benign and
Nefarious Atrocities; Table 2 focuses on different aspects of Iraq specifically.
The various theaters of atrocities include but are not limited to Iraq, the Muslims of
Bosnia-Herzegovina, the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, the Tutsi of Rwanda, the Hutu
and other peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the peoples of western
In one of the more impressive empirical confirmations of a hypothesis readers are
likely to find anywhere, the results of Herman and Petersons database research are
both predictable and appalling: In case after case, major English-language
newspapers such as the New York Times and The Guardian (as well as countless
others) used the word genocide in a manner that would have been approved of by
the State Department, linking it consistently to toponyms like Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo
and Darfur, but rarely if ever to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine,
Afghanistan, and Iraq, whether Iraq during the sanctions of mass destruction era
(1990-2003) or since the U.S. invasion and military occupation (from 2003 onward).
There are, in the terms introduced by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky years
earlier, worthy and unworthy victims in the system of atrocities management,
and each and every victims worthiness rises or falls depending on whos doing the
killing official enemies or we ourselves.
Again, to elaborate: The worthiness of a victim to elicit concern and support depends
not on the victim himself but on the worthiness of the perpetrator. Good
perpetrators the U.S. and its allies are eo ipso incapable of bad actions, therefore
anyone on the receiving end of an American bomb or cruise missile is inherently
Genocide, murder on a grand scale, is treated not with the urgency and gravity the
subject warrants but as the theme of a near-comic book morality play. We and they,
good and bad.
An analogous bias exists, the authors detail, in relation to the work of the
International Criminal Court and even more so with the International Criminal
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for
The latter two are nothing other than the embodiment and institutionalization of
great power victors justice and the first is used by the U.S. against recalcitrant states
on Washingtons enemies list. (In the Foreword to The Politics of Genocide, Chomsky
cites the Greek historian Thucydides, who placed in the mouth of an Athenian the
immortal words: you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in
question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak
suffer what they must.)
International courts doing the bidding of the U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty
Organization cohorts do not, Herman and Peterson point out, address the greatest
cause of suffering brought about through human agency: Wars of aggression.
Although borrowing their lexicon from the Nuremberg Principles for example, war
crimes and crimes of humanity while adding genocide and ethnic cleansing
(with the last two used all but interchangeably), Western states are highly selective
and equally self-serving in their interpretation of the Nuremberg Tribunal, the model
for prosecuting international crimes of violence.
Principle VI, the gist of the Nuremberg indictments, states:
The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:
(a) Crimes against peace:
(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in
violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;
(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the
acts mentioned under (i).
(b) War crimes:
Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to,
murder, ill-treatment or deportation of slave labor or for any other purpose of the
civilian population of or in occupied territory; murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of
war or persons on the Seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property,
wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military
(c) Crimes against humanity:
Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts done
against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious
grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution
of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.
The U.S. and its Western allies, which launched three wars of aggression in less than
four years (Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003) with the forced
displacement of millions of civilians, have deliberately chosen to ignore the core
proscription of the Nuremberg Trials, that against waging wars of aggression, the
supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains
within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
Principle VII says that Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war
crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under
To relentlessly prosecute lesser crimes while perpetrating and abetting greater ones
is the prerogative of the worlds sole military superpower (from Barack Obamas
Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech) and its allies. Governments of small, weak
countries not sufficiently toeing Washingtons line are threatened with prosecution for
actions occurring within and not outside their borders and the only war crimes trials
conducted are also exclusively in response to strictly internal events. By design and
selective enforcement, the new system of international law is what Balzac said of the
law of his time, that it is a spider web through which the big flies pass and the little
ones get caught.
Herman and Peterson have studied the above contrasts, what most often are an
inversion of justice and not simply its distortion or selective implementation, in several
locations: The Balkans, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America, examining
the most salient examples in each locale to demonstrate the unconscionable
dichotomy of good and bad genocides.
In one of the most penetrating sections of the book, the authors study the differential
approach of the U.S. in the contexts of both space and time; that is, how the
suppression of the Kurdish movement has been treated in relation to Iraq as opposed
to Turkey, and in Iraq from one decade to the next depending on whether the same
head of state (Saddam Hussein) was a U.S. ally or adversary at the time.
Not a matter of what is right or wrong, not even of who does what to whom, but
solely one of what advances Americas narrow and cynical geopolitical agenda.
Their model, however, possesses relevance to developments in other nations beyond
those studied in The Politics of Genocide. Colombia, for example, and Western
Also to Kosovo after 50,000 U.S. and NATO troops marched in eleven years ago and
hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma (Gypsies) and other ethnic minorities were
forced to flee the Serbian province.
Onslaughts against the people of South Ossetia two years ago this August by
preeminent U.S. client Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia and against the Houthi minority
community in northern Yemen with military backing from Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
would be examples of Benign attempts to exterminate entire peoples, to commit
During the generation following the end of the Cold War and the triumph of global
neoliberalism, enough genuine problems have weighed upon humanity. With the
privatization of increasingly broad sectors of former state functions and the
concomitant economic dislocation of a large percentage of the population, and with
the penetration of rapacious transnational financial and corporate interests, tens of
millions perhaps hundreds of millions of people in poor countries have fled the
countryside to the large cities. Millions more have attempted the desperate and often
deadly migration to the global North. The last twenty years have witnessed the
largest Völkerwanderung in history.
In that context competition for natural and other resources takes on a drastic
intensity, and conflicts based on residual ethnic, religious and regional suspicions and
strife can be too easily revived and inflamed. The potential for communal, for inter-
ethnic, violence is a power keg that must not be ignited.
The willful exacerbation and exploitation of such conflicts by outside powers to
achieve broader geostrategic objectives add a greater degree of peril, one of regional
conflicts that could expand into wider wars and even a showdown between the U.S.
and nuclear powers like Russia and China.
The 78-day bombing war waged by the U.S. and NATO against Yugoslavia in 1999 in
the name of stopping genocide, the worst genocide since Hitler, coincided with
the induction of the first former Warsaw Pact member states into the Alliance (the
Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland) and resulted in the building of a mammoth
U.S. military base, Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo and NATOs absorption and
penetration of all of Southeastern Europe. Every country in the region but Serbia (for
the time being) now has troops serving under the military bloc in Afghanistan.
The crisis in Darfur in western Sudan gave rise to NATOs first operation in Africa, the
airlifting of African Union troops from 2005-2007. At the end of 2007 the first U.S.
military command established outside North America since the Cold War, Africa
Command, was launched.
In the same year and in the name of opposing genocide, a self-styled March for
Darfur was held in Berkeley, California a birthplace of the anti-Vietnam War protest
movement forty years before in which participants adapted a standard anti-war
chant What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now! to What do we
want? NATO! When do we want it? Now!
At the end of the day military actions, including full-fledged wars, conducted by the
U.S. and NATO in part or in whole to ostensibly end genocide will produce more
deaths, more mass-scale displacement, and more expulsion and extermination of
endangered minorities as has happened over the past eleven years in Kosovo, Iraq
and Afghanistan. More genocide. The genuine article.
Questions about the intentional and systematic extermination of a people are not to
be taken lightly. Neither are they to be dealt with as yet another weapon in the
arsenal of historys mightiest military power for use against defenseless adversaries.
The U.S. government and its highly selective genocide echo chambers are adept at
seeing the mote in their neighbors eye, but are blind to the mountain of corpses
produced by Washington and its proxies. Myopia passing into active complicity.
In documenting the diametrically opposite manner in which the subject of genocide
is treated by the government of the United States and its apologists (acknowledged
and otherwise) based on international political and economic motives, Herman and
Peterson have provided a simultaneously concise and comprehensive guidebook to
from fabrication. Truth is the first casualty of war and war is in turn the offspring of
falsehood. Exposing the last contributes to eroding the foundation for U.S. armed
aggression and global military expansion.
*The Politics of Genocide is available from:
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