Re: Genocide

Mon, 01 Jun 1998 23:11:10 EDT

Paula Friedman adds several illuminating points to this discussion; one in
particular struck me, when she states,

> I guess my real concern here is, Does it make the killing somehow less bad
>if it's not, by some definition, "genocide"? Or, another question perhaps
>relevant--if "we" (or "they", whichever "they") should ever do a pre-emptive
>nuclear strike against some Evil Empire (whichever E.E.), thus killing
>most/all its population (and likely ourselves etc.), is this "genocide" (or
>"ecocide" or "suicide" or...) and does that matter? ("Our intentions were just

Yes, it seems the entire point of the genocide-denial of people like Guenter
Lewy (not the folks in this discussion) IS to reduce or remove American moral
responsibility --guilt-- for the devastation in Vietnam. If you read through
Lewy, he tackles one argument after another of the moral critique of US policy
--atrocities, genocide, inhumane weapons (napalm, "anti-personnel" weapons,
etc.-- and argues a relativist argument through and through (e.g., do we KNOW
that napalm causes more suffering that massive percussive bombs, etc.),
thereby overtly trying to show that the US is not in any way guilty of
anything "out of the ordinary" for warfare in Vietnam. The argument that I
and quite a few others put forward about the war being "genocidal" / ecocidal/
nationcidal, "immoral & fundamentally wrong", etc. is grounded on precisely
the view that the US IS and WAS guilty of significantly MORE than just the
"ordinary brutality" of warfare in Vietnam. That, it seems to me, is really
the key, which Paula's comment points to, not the degree to which the
technical definition of "genocide" is fulfilled by the war.

As for her follow-up point & question:

> Yes, of course, intention is very important in moral
>discourse, accidentally spilling Momma's coffee on the rug is not the same as
>doing so to make trouble, and killing a violent intruder not identical with
>killing for fun--but at some point of mass violence/war (I don't mean a
specifiable number/percentage of deaths, either,) motive becomes less/not
relevant. (Would we apply this to violent revolution?) I'd like your
opinions on this.

I'd underline the point that "some point of mass violence" clearly
distinguishes something like the "accidental" deaths of civilians in Vietnam
from accidentally spilling coffee rather than intentionally doing so. On
might draw a better comparison (a little closer in terms of "cost") between
policy-makers in Vietnam and those in Nazi German who were simply carrying out
orders to, say, transport Jews from one area to an "unknown" destination, all
the while suppressing suspicious evidence and reports as to what this
destination might be. In the case of Vietnam, it IS difficult, I think to
assign relative blame; in a sense we are all blameworthy for not doing more to
try to stop the war than we did. But surely there is something fundamentally
immoral about designing a policy in which one sets up a repressive government
in a section of a distant country, flouts an international agreement calling
for the reunification by election of that country, and then builds up the
forces of repression of that country to massive levels of destruction of the
very people of that country. That, it seems to me, is the crux of it.

I was also intrigued by Paula's comments about the fragmentation of the left
in the later 60s early 70s.... My own take on this is, yes there was
subversion and repression by the govt., and there was a LOT of internal
factious in-fighting in the Movement... but the Movement never united to
tackle the "System" because (a) the War consumed most people's energies &
attention, (b) the "felt" oppressions of those (often middle class) in the
Movement were those of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc...., and (c) the
economy of that era was, if you recall, booming and providing a lot of
opportunity (for freedom from worry, etc.) for quite a few folks, thus (d) the
ECONOMY --capitalism-- never became the "felt" oppression, never became other
than something targeted by those spouting the language of an "external" (e.g.,
Marxist-Leninist) tradition.

So, yes, the felt oppressions of racism, sexism, etc. are still there --though
perhaps in some ways "softened"-- but it sure seems to me that the destructive
forces (dark side) of capitalism has really reared its ugly head and thus THAT
can be -CAN be-- a focal point around which the Movement(s) and the young
could unite. That, of course, will take alot of consciousness-raising, but
the lords of capital seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.

Ted Morgan