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Howling Wind: The Unrepented Genocide

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The other day I was reading the New York Review of Books in a bookstore cafe'. I saw a large ad in the bottom corner of a page; it began with this quote, in bold capitals:

"WHY IS IT A CRIME FOR ONE MAN TO MURDER ANOTHER, BUT NOT FOR A GOVERNMENT TO KILL MORE THAN A MILLION PEOPLE?"

My first reaction, before I read further, was a feeling of surprise that someone had articulated the case against the Iraq war so clearly and had bought expensive space in the magazine to bring this unpunished, unrepented indeed, unacknowledged war crime to the national consciousness again.

A moment later, I saw that it was actually an ad for an exhibition in New York City about Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish exile and U.S. government advisor who first coined the term and developed the concept of "genocide." Under a picture of Lemkin's wartime government ID card, the ad goes on: "Before Raphael Lemkin, that kind of killing had no name. Today we know it as genocide." Then comes the title of the exhibition:

Letters of Conscience: Raphael Lemkin and the Quest to End Genocide.

The life and work of Raphael Lemkin is a worthy topic for an exhibition, of course, and I wish it all success. But still, I was struck by how aptly his words described our own situation. For by the same scientific measurement tools used by the U.S. and UK governments to determine the extent of mass slaughters in Rwanda, Darfur and other places around the world, the war of aggression launched by those two governments against Iraq in 2003 has by now resulted in the death of more than one million Iraqis.

This, from a war launched unilaterally by the Anglo-American alliance without UN sanction, against a nation that had not attacked them, had not threatened to attack them, was not capable of attacking them and had no connection whatsoever to the 9/11 attacks, which even today are cited as the main reason for the invasion of Iraq. Just a few weeks ago, Tony Blair was passionately defending the unprovoked attack by saying that 9/11 "changed everything," and meant that the Anglo-American alliance could not "take the risk" that Iraq might, at some point, somehow, pose some kind of threat to the two rich, powerful, nuclear-armed nations thousands of miles away.

And of course, the invading soldiers themselves had been indoctrinated with the idea that the rape of Iraq was "payback for 9/11," as numerous news stories cited at the time (such as this one, which John Caruso reminded us of just the other day). This attitude was likewise shared by the great and good of American establishment, such as prominent, prize-winning liberal columnist Thomas Friedman, who famously said that 9/11 meant that the United States had to strike at some Muslim country "we could have hit Saudi Arabia"could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could" as revenge for the attacks. That is, the U.S. government had to attack and destroy an entire nation because of what the U.S. government itself said was a terrorist attack by 19 stateless, renegade extremists. And this, even if the target country had no connection with the attack. That is, hundreds of thousands of innocent people were required to die as "payback for 9/11"; it didn't matter who they were, or where they were, as long as they were Muslims. This was the mindset of the centrist, mainstream, honored, respected American elite, as expressed by one of its most honored and respected representatives.

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Recall too that by the time the unprovoked invasion was launched in March 2003, the Anglo-American alliance had by its own admission already killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children (not counting adults) through the draconian sanctions the alliance ruthlessly enforced against the people of Iraq. This record of mass death was publicly defended by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who said that the cost of the sanctions at that time, 500,000 Iraqi children was "worth it." And this was in 1996; the murderous sanctions had seven more years to run.

This then is the background of the still on-going war and occupation: A minimum of a million dead most of them children before the first shot was even fired in the March 2003 invasion. A bare minimum of a million people the overwhelming majority of them innocent, non-combatant civilians killed by the war and the ravening chaos it unleashed across Iraqi society.

But not a single person has ever faced trial, or censure, or even the slightest personal inconvenience for the murder of more than 2 million Iraqis over the past two decades. The bipartisan perpetrators of these crimes the leading lights of the Clinton and Bush Administrations live ensconced in comfort and privilege. Many of them of Clinton's associates including his wife are once more in power in the Obama Administration. Many of Bush's associates including his Pentagon chief, most of his top generals, and his intelligence apparatchiks are still in office. Other accomplices of these two militarist factions are biding their time in profitable sinecures until the turning of the courtier's wheel brings them back to the palace halls again. And of course, Barack Obama himself has hailed the perpetuation of the Iraqi war crime as an "extraordinary" accomplishment, even as he continues to protect, entrench and expand the blood-drenched policies of his predecessors.

And so even the work of Raphael Lemkin is being celebrated in New York City, the question he raised at the end of the Second World War still casts its condemning echoes across the bipartisan political elite of the United States today:

"WHY IS IT A CRIME FOR ONE MAN TO MURDER ANOTHER, BUT NOT FOR A GOVERNMENT TO KILL MORE THAN A MILLION PEOPLE?"
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Raphael Lemkin dreamed that this question would be laid to rest by the machinery of international law and an evolutionary leap in humanity's moral consciousness. But today we can see that the answer is as another American visionary has put it blowing in the wind: the howling wind of the depravity of power.

 

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Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more...)
 

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