In mid-September, the NYT reported that the US was ordering Pakistan to restrict food shipments, at a time when they also reported that about 5 million were facing a grave threat of starvation (the NYT reported a month later that the number had risen by 2.5 million, after aid agencies withdrew under the threat, then the reality, of bombing, with vigorous protests, in which they were joined by leading anti-Taliban Afghans, including US favorites). Well after that, Harvard’s leading authority on Afghanistan warned in Harvard’s major international security journal that millions were facing the grave threat of starvation.
It is, perhaps, the most elementary moral truism that we evaluate actions — personal or state — on the basis of expectations, not outcomes. We don’t praise Khrushchev because his placement of missiles in Cuba didn’t lead to nuclear war, but we condemn him because there was a chance of that — and it happened to come very close. We allow ourselves to be honest about enemies, but that is strictly forbidden about ourselves.
If we did allow ourselves to be honest, we would recognize that launching a war under those circumstances was a major crime, even putting aside the official reason, not those concocted long after, but the official reasons: to bomb Afghanistan because its leadership was unwilling to hand over to the US people the US suspected of responsibility for 9-11, while refusing to provide evidence (because, as conceded much later, they didn’t have any) and refusing even to consider tentative offers of extradition.
We do not investigate the consequences of our crimes. No powerful state does. Thus we do not know, literally within millions, how many people died in Indochina, and there is no inquiry into the matter (let alone assignment of responsibility). Those are among the prerogatives of power. In talks and articles in the months following the war I reviewed what was known. Those are in print, with footnotes, so you can check (and maybe posted on Znet). In this case, thankfully, the worst expectations were not realized, as in the case of Khruschev’s missiles. But exactly what did happen, we don’t know and never will.