Washington's Own Love Affair with Terror

Words (excluding footnotes): 992
Date: September, 2001

So many questions remain unasked as the U.S. continues its "war on terrorism." Perhaps the most crucial is whether Washington possesses the moral right to condemn terrorism when its own hands are so bloody.

Let's examine our use of terror directed against civilians to achieve political or military goals, beginning with the atomic devastation of Japan.

"Little Boy," exploded over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killed 130,000 people immediately (including a dozen U.S. POWs) and 200,000 within five years, all but some 20,000 of them civilians. Twenty-five square miles of civilization were gutted.[1]

"Fat Man," detonated over Nagasaki three days later, took another 70,000 lives immediately, and nearly double that over five years. All but 150 were civilians. There was no pretense of a military target.[2]

That's 50 World Trade Centers of people vaporized. As a percentage of Japan's 1945 population of 72 million, it was equivalent to 200 WTCs.[3]

When the Korean War erupted in 1950, the U.S. worked on perfecting this criminal way of waging war, the targeting of a country's civilian population.

General Douglas MacArthur ordered that every "installation, factory, city, and village" be destroyed in much of the north. General Curtis LeMay reported that "over a period of three years or so ... we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too."[4]

Three million civilians (from a Korean population of 30 million) died in that conflict, a large majority from American bombing.[5]

That's another 750 World Trade Centers dead, or 7125 WTCs as a percentage of population.

We employed the same murderous tactic--widespread and sustained assaults on the civilian population--in the Vietnam War and its extensions in Cambodia and Laos. U.S. forces dropped eight million tons of bombs--four times the entire Allied total of World War II. Eighty percent were dropped on areas--so-called "carpet bombing"--rather than individual targets. The region was immolated with 373,000 tons of napalm, dwarfing the 14,000 tons employed in the second world war.[6]

All told, we subjected the people of Indochina to 15 million tons of munitions with the combined explosive power of 600 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. The result? A decade-long crime against humanity that killed another two to three million civilians.[7]

In the same part of the world, we supported the Indonesian generals who presided over the slaughter of a million of their people after a failed October 1965 coup attempt. The killings of alleged Communists and their families raged for months. The country's rivers became clogged with bodies.[8]

The U.S., however, was euphoric. Time magazine described the generals' ascension as "the West's best news for years in Asia," while the Johnson administration, according to the New York Times, expressed "delight."[9]

A decade later, we supported Indonesia's invasion of East Timor. The attack began less than 24 hours after then-President Ford concluded a visit to Jakarta. For years thereafter we blocked international efforts to halt the ensuing bloodbath. Some 200,000 Timorese, one-third of the original population, died before Indonesia withdrew in 1999. This is nothing less than genocide.[10]

While "only" 50 World Trade Centers, this was 23,750 WTCs as a percentage of population.

Washington's most recent savagery--and a continuing one--is the suffocating sanctions imposed on Iraq. By 1998, malnutrition and disease, the latter resulting from lack of medicines and clean water, had killed 500,000 children under the age of five, according to UNICEF. The total deaths attributable to the sanctions may exceed one million.[11]

Chalk up 250 World Trade Centers dead from sanctions, and 3235 WTCs as a percentage of Iraq's 1998 population of 22 million.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark reported earlier this year that the number of children's deaths--currently 6700 monthly--continues to escalate. That's a World Trade Center full of Iraqi children dead this month--and every month--from sanctions.[12]

Our government has known of these deadly conditions from the beginning. A January 22, 1991 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency, "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities," states that: "With no domestic sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals, Iraq will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease."

A second DIA document dated one month later, "Disease Outbreaks in Iraq," reports that "Conditions are favorable for communicable disease outbreaks, particularly in major urban areas affected by coalition bombing."[13]

When we're not killing people ourselves, we're allying ourselves with dictators willing to massacre their own people. In Argentina, some 30,000 suspected "subversives" were "disappeared"--abducted and murdered--during the military government's "dirty war" from 1976 to 1983. By 1977 a junior official in the U.S. embassy, "Tex" Harris, concluded that this was "a massive, coherent, military effort to exterminate Argentine citizens." This was not a problem, however, for the U.S.[14]

In Guatemala, another American ally with a governmental fondness for death squads, the toll is much higher. The Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission has estimated that 200,000 people were killed in over 30 years of brutal repression, 93 percent of them by government forces.[15]

The World Trade Centers equivalence? Fifty, or 1575 WTCs as a percentage of Guatemala's 1990 population of 9 million.

In these and so many other countries--Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, El Salvador, Iran, Zaire, the Philippines, Greece--our miserable record of support for savage military dictatorships is unconscionable, and seemingly endless.

Now, I do not make the obscene suggestion that "we had it coming," or that American foreign policy justifies the Sept. 11 attacks. There is no justification for those atrocities.

Rather, I ask a different question: When Washington condemns terrorism by others, where, precisely, does it locate the moral ground on which it purports to stand?

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1. The Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings, New York: Basic Books, 1981, p. 367.

2. Ibid., p. 345.

3. Foreign population figures are taken from here, corroborated from other sources. The U.S. population on Sept. 11 was approximately 285 million. World Trade Center deaths are estimated at 4,000.

4. Both quotations are from Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, Korea: The Unknown War, NY: Pantheon Books, 1988, pp. 115-116.

5. Ibid., p. 200 (two million North Korean civilian deaths and one million South Korean). See also this site (2-3 million civilian deaths).

6. James Carroll, "The Shameful Context of Kerrey's Killings," Boston Globe, May 1, 2001 (citing Sven Lindqvist, A History of Bombing, NY: New Press, 2001). Online at Common Dreams.

7. Civilians killed: Noam Chomsky (two million civilians killed in Vietnam; 600,000 in Cambodia).

All munitions: Paul Shannon, "The ABC's of the Vietnam War," Indochina Newsletter, Asia Resource Center, Special Issue 93-97, 1996.

8. One million killed: Indonesia: An Amnesty International Report, London: Amnesty International, 1977, p. 12-13 (probably many more than one million people killed, while Indonesia admitted 500,000).

John Stockwell, The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. Role in the New World Order, Boston: South End Press, 1991, p. 72-73 (New York Times estimated 0.5 to 1.5 million killed; Australian secret service estimated 2 million killed; the CIA estimated 800,000 killed).

Some general sources on the slaughter:
source 1.
source 2.
source 3.

9. Both quotations are from Malcolm Caldwell, "Lest We Forget," p. 16, in his edited collection Ten Years' Military Terror in Indonesia, Nottingham, U.K.: Spokesman Books, 1975 (citing the July 15, 1966 issue of Time, and an article by Max Frankel in the March 12, 1966 issue of the New York Times).

10. 200,000 dead: Noam Chomsky, "Comments On the Occasion of the Forthcoming APEC Summit," undated, online at ZNet. See also the Amnesty International USA ad that appeared in the New York Times, September 23, 1999, p. A21).

Daniel Moynihan, then our U.N. ambassador, wrote in his memoirs that "The United States wanted things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook." Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, London: Verson, 1991, p. 200.

11. UNICEF report: UNICEF.
Total deaths: International Action Center (March 20, 2001 report estimating 1.5 million killed).

12. International Action Center.

13. Both documents are quoted in Thomas J. Nagy, "The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply," The Progressive, October 1, 2001. Available online here.

14. 30,000 disappeared: PBS report and CNN report. Tex Harris' statement is online here.

15. See the commission's website here.

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