avatar
The U.S. Versus the Rules of War


permitting a low-casualty NATO occupation of Kosovo. I don’t think this was carefully

thought out in advance; rather, it is a default strategy based on an unwillingness to

suffer casualties, the availability of planes, bombs and money, and the determination of

the U.S./British leadership to defeat the villainized foe.

Another basis of the default strategy is that Yugoslav casualties and destruction are

of no concern whatsoever to NATO’s "humanitarian" leadership, any more than

Hiroshima/Nagasaki or Korean war casualties affected President Harry Truman, Indochinese

casualties influenced Presidents Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, or Panamanian or Iraqi

casualties moved President George Bush. The destruction of Iraq and the cumulative deaths

of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians has clearly not bothered the Clinton

humanitarians, except for its possible public relations damage, although in an amazing

statement before the House Appropriations Committee on April 21st, Defense Secretary

William Cohen asserted that "we treasure human life..[and] go to extraordinary

lengths to protect innocent civilians." We must surely expect this same indifference

to Yugoslav destruction and death from the Clintonites.

If it is argued that the welfare of Kosovo Albanians is a serious concern of the

U.S./NATO leadership, this is not easy to reconcile with the fact that the policy route

actually taken has had an entirely predictable disastrous impact on them. Admittedly this

could be the consequence of incompetence, miscalculation, or the absence of less harmful

options, but it should be noted, first, that it was in fact expected by high NATO military

officials. Furthermore, the terms of the Rambouillet ultimatum, which required Serb

acceptance of a de facto NATO occupation of all of Yugoslavia, was almost surely designed

to be rejected and to pave the way for bombing. The chosen military option results, I

believe, from the U.S./British leadership’s high priority given to crushing and

humiliating Milosevic (as with Saddam Hussein) and minimal concern with the welfare of the

Albanians or anybody else. It may be recalled that the Vietnam war was fought by the U.S.

allegedly to "save" the South Vietnamese from "aggression" or

"communism," but that in fact the South Vietnamese people were the principal

targets of the U.S. war machine, with a seven digit death toll and much of the population

made refugees.

In theory, the U.S. and NATO are prevented from attacking the civilian population of

Yugoslavia by the rules of war, which very clearly outlaw bombing or starving a civilian

population. It is a punishable war crime under Nuremberg Law principles to engage in the

"wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by

military necessity." But it is a notable fact that the rules of war don’t apply to

us, and never have. According to historians Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, the 1950- 1951 Korean

war quickly "became a war against an entire nation, civilians and soldiers,

Communists and anti-Communists, alike. Everything–from villages to military targets–the

United States considered a legitimate target of attack." This was confirmed by the

head of the Far Eastern Bomber Command, Major General Emmett O’Donnell Jr., who stated

that "Everything is destroyed. There is nothing standing worthy of the name."

During the Vietnam war the U.S. violated every rule of international law, on a large

scale– chemical warfare, including the systematic destruction of civilian rice crops; the

torture and killing of prisoners; massive bombing attacks on villages and all

infrastructure, including marked hospitals; and plain old aggression. The U.S./UN

sanctions policy against Iraq is an anti-civilian operation that in principle should land

numerous U.S., British and UN officials before the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

But principle isn’t applicable, and I offer an amended version of a classic line: the

bigger the crime and the more powerful the villain, the smaller the punishment. And if the

villain is large enough the very notion of criminality disappears. Of course the big

criminal who kills civilians on a large scale always does so in retaliation for somebody

else’s evil acts, and he regularly claims that he is not really targeting civilians as he

destroys them and their means of life. But as he demonstrated in Korea, his airpower and

great resources for dealing death allow him to devastate and kill almost without limit, as

his adversary/victim can not retaliate directly against him (as even the Kosovo Albanians

could do against Serbs). All depends on moral constraints. In the case of Yugoslavia, the

painful fact is that the intense focus on Serbian crimes and the confusion, cowardice,

ignorance, and weakness of the Western left and social democratic leaders have reduced the

constraints and provided the emotional and moral rationale for the destruction of Serbia;

in the West the only evil perceived by the establishment is located in the demonized

enemy. Another orgy of death and destruction in the Korean mold is looming in the Balkans.

The moral environment which permits the U.S. and NATO to kill civilians without

constraint is illustrated by the three articles in the New York Times of April 6,

9 and 23 by their chief foreign affairs correspondent Thomas Friedman. Back in the Vietnam

war era, when the ferocious retired general Curtis LeMay proposed that we bomb Vietnam

"back into the stone age," this was considered repulsive extremism worthy of the

Nazis (although we did in fact carry out such policy both in Korea and Vietnam). But

Thomas Friedman blithely urges today that we put Serbia back into the stone age with a

series of escalated bombings, although of course the choice is with the victims who are

always free to surrender ("You want 1389? We can do 1389 too." April 23).

Friedman also describes in admiring terms the Israeli policy of targeting the civil

society in Lebanon as a means of indirectly pressuring the government of Lebanon to meet

Israeli terms, and Friedman openly advocates that the same policy be employed in

Yugoslavia. While such an Israeli policy has long been known by analysts of the Middle

East, it has not previously been acknowledged in the Times, which has never quoted Abba

Eban’s 1981 admission of systematic bombing of civilians because "there was a

rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that afflicted populations would exert pressure

for the cessation of hostilities." But in the New World Order of "humanitarian

intervention" such direct attacks on civilians in violation of international law

apparently have become acceptable and consistent with the new humanitarian ethos, so

credit can be given to Israel for this brave innovation. Perhaps the new humanitarian

intervention extended to entire countries can also be rephrased–"we had to destroy

the civilian population of [name it] in order to save it."

Leave a comment