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Jimmy Carter's Blood-Soaked Legacy Part 2

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Five months ago, I wrote an article titled "Jimmy Carter's Blood-Soaked Legacy" about how the former President's record in office contradicted his professed concern for human rights. Despite campaigning on a promise to make respect for human rights a central tenet of the conduct of American foreign policy, Carter's actions consistently prioritized economic and security interests over humanitarian concerns.

I cited the examples of Carter's administration providing aid to Zairian dictator Mobutu to crush southern African liberation movements; financially supporting the Guatemalan military junta, and looking the other way as Israel gave them weapons and training; ignoring calls from human rights activists to withdraw support from the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia as they carried out genocide in East Timor; refusing to pursue sanctions against South Africa in the United Nations after the South African Defence Forces bombed a refugee camp in Angola, killing 600 refugees; financing and arming mujahideen rebels to destabilize the government of Afghanistan and draw the Soviet Union into invading the country; and providing aid to the military dictatorship in El Salvador, despite a letter from Archbishop Oscar Romero - who was assassinated by a member of a government death squad weeks later - explicitly calling for Carter not to do so.

This list was not meant to be exhaustive, but merely to highlight some of the most prominent contradictions between Carter's ideals and his actions. After subsequent research and reader feedback, I realized there were many examples I had not mentioned. Their significance to the history of American foreign policy, and the repercussions they produced, is worth exploring in a subsequent analysis.

Carter announced in early December that he is cancer free. Sadly, that news was followed shortly thereafter by the tragic, premature death of his 28-year-old grandson. But Carter seems to have maintained his positivity. He has kept up his public schedule and says that healthwise he still feels good.

A person's record and legacy should be debated while they are still alive - rather than after they are gone, when nostalgia or reluctance to speak ill of the dead can easily lead to embellishment and historical revisionism. And a person should be able to defend himself and his actions. Otherwise, it is merely an academic exercise instead of a demand for accountability. In this spirit, I present six more foreign policy positions that demonstrate Carter's prioritization of American political and economic hegemony over actual support for human rights while he held the highest office in the United States.


Article 21 of the Paris Agreement in 1973 stipulated that "the United States will contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and throughout Indochina."

When asked in 1977 if the United States had a moral obligation to help rebuild Vietnam, Carter responded that "the destruction was mutual. You know, we went to Vietnam without any desire to capture territory or to impose American will on other people. We went there to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese. And I don't feel that we ought to apologize or to castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability."

The United States went to Vietnam after they could not convince the French to further continue a war to recolonize Vietnam. The Geneva Accords reached between France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1954 called for a temporary division of Vietnam pending unification, which was to take place after national elections two years later.

In 1955, the Eisenhower administration began granting direct aid and providing American military advisers to the Bao Dai monarchy. Ngo Dinh Diem assumed control later that year through a fraudulent election. Knowing he would be trounced by the Communist party, he declined to participate in reunification elections called for by the peace agreement.

The United States government was indispensable to the survival of the Diem regime - and after complicity in Diem's assassination, the Theiu regime. They funded and organized the police, military and intelligence services and were complicit in the reign of terror they unleashed on the South Vietnamese. Throughout the military dictatorship, tens of thousands of people were imprisoned without charges or trial; tortured and held in notorious Tiger Cages; assassinated extrajudicially; and displaced forcibly from their homes and transferred to concentration camps as American forces "helped to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese."

The South Vietnamese people are still suffering from the refusal to grant reparations for the devastation wrought by the U.S. military. More 100,000 Vietnamese have been killed or injured (an average of 2,500 per year) due to land mines and other ordnance dropped on Vietnam that did not explode on impact.

Residents also still suffer the horrific after effects of chemical weapons. The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of chemical defoliants, including including Agent Orange, throughout South Vietnam. The President's Cancer Panel in 2010 determined that "(a)pproximately 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities and a half million children born with birth defects."

Had Carter not so flippantly dismissed the U.S.'s role in the destruction of Vietnam and recognized its responsibility to uphold their obligation to pay reparations, likely tens of thousands of lives of lives may have been saved with funds that could have been used for demining, and the cleanup and treatment of chemical agents that have gone on spreading the horrors of war for decades after the fighting ended.


"Carter Must End Aid To Somoza," proclaimed an editorial in The Harvard Crimson in September 1978. The paper demanded that the U.S. government cut off all forms of aid to the dictatorship of Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza, who was using indiscriminate force to try to crush a popular revolutionary movement to oust him, so the Nicaraguan people could choose their own manner of governance.

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