When bark comes to bite, most Americans merely yap about getting into the fight, only a few bare their teeth and really go at it. We have seen that over the past few years as America went into a war that may be the biggest war-crimes escapade since Hitler's Third Reich marched into Eastern Europe. The zest for war against Iraq has lessened since 2003, but the willingness to actively participate has always been low.
At the outset of World War II, Americans of all ages, races, heritage, or physical condition rushed to volunteer; the mission was great and the people were willing. Not so with George W. Bush's criminal wars. Only the lower classes, racial minorities and the poor who have little opportunity for a better life will volunteer to serve. Attend any gathering of College Young Republicans, and one will hear cries of "support our troops" in the "noble cause," but will never hear a young GOP ideologue say he or she dreams about participating in the effort. Fighting is for "others," not for them.
But that isn't new for leaders of this great nation who are wonderful at imposing on others what they always refuse to impose on themselves. Historically, that hasn't always been true. In times gone past, a king would actually put on armor, climb atop his trusty steed and lead his soldiers into battle. Not so today; the only armor a present leader wants is something to hide behind and a steed would be used to run from the conflict.
Bush barked loud and clear about the noble cause of Vietnam, but did so while hiding like a scaredy cat in a Texas National Guard unit that trained in obsolete interceptor aircraft. The Viet Cong that Bush was hiding from had no aircraft that needed to be intercepted only underscores how safely he was tucked away. That he got into the unit through political influence when other Texans had to wait years for the opportunity only adds to his cowardice. Vice President Dick Cheney, ever eager to send others to die, received five deferments because he had "other priorities." Fighting for his country was never even a remote "priority" for this coward.
Since the aftermath of WWII, we have consistently imposed a double standard on others. When the Imperial Japanese Army occupied the Philippine Islands, they were constantly ambushed and attacked by Filipino resistance fighters. The Filipinos would hit the Japanese at night, in the jungle, or any place and time when the Japanese least expected it, then retreat into the overgrowth or return to hiding places in the villages. The frustration of constant ambushes and the little they could to do about it enraged the Japanese soldiers, so they went into Filipino villages, rounded up the inhabitants and executed them. Each Filipino ambush would bring Japanese retaliation.
At the war's conclusion, war-crimes charges were leveled against the commanding officer of the occupying forces, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, of the Japanese Imperial Army's Fourteenth Army Group and the Military Governor on the Philippine Islands from October 1944 until control of the Islands was secured by United States forces in September 1945. He was charged with failure to exercise proper command of those he led. The general argued in court that he couldn't be responsible for the actions of ordinary soldiers who were frustrated at the ambushes, because he was stationed on another island and knew nothing of the atrocities. He argued that he did not personally engage in the criminal acts committed by Japanese troops, that he did not order these acts to be committed, and that he did not have control over the troops under his command. His defense was rejected, and he was sentenced to be executed. He appealed on several issues all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which heard his case early in 1946. The court rejected all his petitions and upheld the execution. Yamashita was hanged.
If we compare the Yamashita case to other incidents, we see different applications of law.
On March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War, a massacre of hundreds of women, children and old men in the village of My Lai was carried out by US troops under the command of Lt. William L. Calley Jr. The massacre was perpetrated because of the frustrations American troops had with constant ambushes and night-time attacks by the Viet Cong, who disappeared into the forest or into village hiding spots. There was little difference between the Japanese massacres of innocent Filipino women, children and old men and American massacre of innocent women, children and old men other than number of victims and frequency of atrocities. Official counts of those murdered by Americans differ. A US Army investigation report said 347 Vietnamese civilians were killed, while an official Vietnamese memorial at the sit lists 504 names ranging in age from 1 to 82. Victims of the Japanese massacres numbered in the thousands.
To our credit, it was an American GI who tried to stop the My Lai slaughter and who brought it to the attention of authorities. He also led an effort of other GIs to rescue as many Vietnamese as they could. But Calley was the only one ever charged and convicted, and was pardoned by President Richard Nixon after serving only months in prison. No one above Calley was ever considered for criminal charges. No one above Calley was even considered for discipline, but no one who ever served in the US military would conclude a lowly second lieutenant would undertake such an act on his own. The My Lai massacre is the only one we really know about; there could have been other incidents that received little or no newspaper space and, therefore, are totally forgotten or never known, but veterans of that war said there were many. We do know that American troops had destroyed entire Vietnamese villages in order "to save them."
If we used the Yamashita precedent on ourselves, the top US commander in Vietnam would have been punished, maybe executed. But it is difficult, if not impossible, to ever find reference to an American commander punished for failure to exercise proper command of those he led. After World War II, we held the leaders responsible for war crimes the losing side committed and let the low-ranking soldiers go home. However, when US troops commit crimes during wartime, we punish the ordinary soldier and let the leaders go home.
Bush toadies say that any opposition to his moronic movements such as increasing troop strength "would only embolden the enemy." This is a stupid statement since invasion and continued occupation have already emboldened the enemy as much as it needed.
Muslims fighting in Iraq are called terrorists, insurgents, dead-enders, a criminal element -- but would we refer to ourselves that way had the Soviet Union invaded the US, arrested and hanged government leaders and imposed its puppet government on these 50 states? Probably not. Millions of Americans would arm themselves (if they aren't already armed) and ambush Soviet troops occupying our country. We would ambush them, plant bombs where they traveled, surprise them in the middle of the night, then disappear back into our cities, towns and villages. We would hide under our homes, only to emerge to slay another Soviet youth serving his country that "liberated" us. Why should Americans think that Vietnamese, Arabs or other Muslims wouldn't do the same thing?
Americans are just as capable as any other people to commit atrocities in war and are better equipped to do so. But Americans are the least likely to be punished for those crimes, except for the lowest ranking members of the armed forces. American GIs have been rightfully charged and convicted of crimes in Iraq -- officers excluded -- and they committed many crimes because of hatred for Iraqis they think were instrumental in the 9/11 attacks on America. That's false, of course, but our troops in the Middle East usually don't know that. They have been told for much of the past six years that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was behind the attacks and could never know otherwise because military leaders allow only right-wing propagandists like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to broadcast over armed-forces radio. They also control information received by the troops by blocking access to internet sites that present opposing information.
Another matter of legal hypocrisy is the use of "torture" on "enemy combatants." The US is party to treaties that outlaw torture, but Bush's Justice Department has redefined torture as "any action that results in organ failure or death" in order to get around treaty requirements. During the just-concluded presidential campaign, Republican candidate John McCain presented his status as a hero in the Vietnam War as a qualification for the presidency, and his "heroism" is based on the fact that he withstood torture for five years while a prisoner of war. But McCain suffered no organ failure as a result of the mistreatment (or enhanced interrogation techniques) he endured, so he wasn't, by GOP definitions, tortured. He certainly suffered no death, but by embracing the Bush administration concept on torture he continues to use one definition of "torture" for himself while denying the same definition to others.
US Constitution Article I, section 8, paragraph 18, requires US laws and actions that must be supported by law be based on a power the Constitution places with government. There is no power in the Constitution that authorizes us to determine the political or governmental composition of another nation. So how does Bush justify America replacing the Soviet Union as the liberator of other nations and people?
The Bush administration has begun proceedings to try some men suspected of masterminding or facilitating the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. If they are to be tried as murderers, their trials should be in civilian courts, not military, according to Supreme Court decision ex parte Milligan, 1866. If they are to be tried as war criminals, their trials should be at the World Court, not a US military court. That the United States conduct such trials is problematic because the US is tied to the United Nations by treaty and it is the World Court under UN jurisdiction that has authority on such matters. It is also problematic that Bush withdrew the US from the International Criminal Court early in his regime because he didn't want Americans subjected to war-crimes trials by an international body, but now claims he has jurisdiction over other people on war crimes.