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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/23/08

Prosecuting War Crimes for Today and the Future

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Message Lawrence Velvel

Editor’s Note: A conference to plan the prosecution of President Bush and other high administration officials for war crimes will be held September 13-14 at the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. "This is not intended to be a mere discussion of violations of law that have occurred," said convener Lawrence Velvel, dean and cofounder of the school. See press release. 

Re Prosecuting For War Crimes:  As Lincoln Said, The Battle Of Today Is Not For Today Alone, But For A Vast Future.      

In the last essay he wrote before his death, Arthur Schlesinger spoke of "national stupidity."  Here is what he said: 

Sometimes, when I am particularly depressed, I ascribe our behavior to stupidity -- the stupidity of our leadership, the stupidity of our culture.  Thirty years ago we suffered military defeat -- fighting an unwinnable war against a country about which we knew nothing and in which we had no vital interests at stake.  Vietnam was bad enough, but to repeat the same experiment thirty years later in Iraq is a strong argument for a case of national stupidity. 

This writer has expressed the same thought here many times, perhaps in more Runyanesque language.  It has been said, on several occasions, "After Viet Nam, who would've thunk it?""[N]ational stupidity."  "Who would've thunk it?"

Yet it happened a second time.  After Viet Nam no one thought it could happen again, and Congress took steps to assure it couldn't, such as enacting the War Powers Act, reining in the CIA, and banning electronic eavesdropping of Americans by the NSA.  But it did happen again and worse -- worse because today we not only have a years-long unwinnable war, but also torture, kidnappings and renderings to foreign countries for torture, many years of detention without trial of people who are innocent, the use of massive private armies to help carry out Executive policies, electronic spying on anyone and everyone the Executive wishes, suppression of the media far beyond anything experienced during Viet Nam, reducing Congress to an impotency exceeding that of Viet Nam, the use of Executive Branch lawyers to write professionally incompetent, secret memoranda giving clearance to awful policies, and the use of retired generals who are making a fortune from the Pentagon to spread its gospel on the mainstream media. 

Once again, as occurred after Viet Nam, people are likely to reflexively think it cannot happen again.  But what assurance is there that five or ten or twenty or thirty years down the road, when some militarists or reactionaries might again come to power, we will not get Iraq redux, just as Iraq was Viet Nam redux?  We have been shocked once.  What is to prevent the possibility of being shocked again?  There are cultural reasons for a potential Iraq redux that go back to the very beginning of American history.  They have been written of extensively in two journal articles that are now on the internet, with shortened versions of them having been picked up by numerous websites.  (The articles are by Professor Michael Sherry of Northwestern University and by me.)  Briefly put, the reasons for another possible redux include:   

·         The nation largely does not know, and ignores, history

·         A national penchant for violence

·         Hubris

·         Misbegotten, factually incorrect philosophies

·         Lies, distortions, and delusions

·         To the extent we consider history, viewing it through the prism of wars

·         A desire to maintain American power at a preeminent level

·         Congressional abdication of responsibility and congressional cowardice, coupled with Executive seizure of power

·         The fact that America itself has not suffered the ravages of war internally in any extensive way since the Civil War

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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.
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