[News] Imperialism and the Logic Of Mass Destruction

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Thu May 4 10:57:38 EDT 2017


http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/05/04/imperialism-and-the-logic-of-mass-destruction/ 



  Imperialism and the Logic Of Mass Destruction

May 4, 2017
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As throughout much of its war-obsessed history, the United States is 
currently engaged in military conflict – or threatening such action – 
across a broad contested terrain.   In the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan, 
and Syria, Washington has resorted to its familiar global /modus 
operandi/: sending off barrages of missiles and bombs, much of it 
hitting civilian populations and resources needed for their survival.   
Death tolls mount, the largest numbers lately in the protracted battle 
for Mosul.   Heavier casualties are being visited upon non-combatants in 
Yemen, thanks to U.S.-backed Saudi aerial savagery.

We have been told by the media that President Trump has apparently 
relaxed the rules of warfare, thus allowing civilians to be more easily 
victimized the midst of armed conflict.   Innocent noncombatants are 
being made increasingly vulnerable to ravages of the largest and most 
aggressive war machine in history.  That, however, would be a serious 
misreading of the situation: Trump, like Obama, the Bushes, and Clinton 
before him, is simply operating within an historical pattern of imperial 
war making for which rules of engagement matter little, if at all.    
There is no deviation from the norm.

In fact Pentagon elites insist nothing has changed in their methods of 
warfare – and they are right.   While the U.S. accuses, threatens, and 
attacks others for their (real or imputed) transgressions, its own 
apparatus of mass destruction continues with few legal or moral 
constraints.  In particular, Washington long ago turned aerial terrorism 
into a normalized mode of technowar that reduces civilians to 
dispensable objects.

In recent weeks U.S. aerial bombardments in Syria alone have reportedly 
killed several hundred people, mainly civilians.   Daily raids in Iraq, 
mostly targeting ISIS in Mosul, have accounted for more than 3000 
civilian deaths, according to AirWars sources.    To believe this is a 
departure from the past – or that civilian casualties are simply an 
inevitable by-product of combat – is to ignore the American history of 
savage warfare, which since World War II has meant bringing horrendous 
death and destruction from the skies.

There is actually nothing “indiscriminate” about this savagery: all too 
often it has been planned, deliberate, systematic – and /discriminate. 
/ Moreover, the U.S. has far surpassed any other nation in the 
production, deployment, and /use /of WMD, its military doctrines now as 
in the past embracing the virtues of weaponry designed to bring mass 
destruction. Consider that WMD comes in four distinct types: nuclear, 
biological, chemical, conventional (mainly saturation bombing).    We 
could add to this list economic sanctions of the sort the U.S. (through 
the United Nations) imposed on Iraq during the 1990s that killed 
hundreds of thousands of civilians.  As the U.S. resorted to sanctions 
continuously in the postwar era – targeting Iran, Cuba, Yugoslavia, 
North Korea, and Russia as well as Iraq – the civilian death toll (well 
past a million) has far exceeded that from nuclear, biological, and 
chemical weapons /combined./

Yet it is /conventional /warfare that has brought the greatest 
destruction, for both combatants and civilians – and it remains the most 
imposing threat today.    The WMD threat arrives in the form of 
strategic (alternatively saturation, area, carpet, or scorched-earth) 
bombing, introduced by the British and Americans during World War II and 
refined across the decades.   Worth noting is that the U.S. is the only 
nation to have manufactured, stored, deployed, and used /all five types 
of WMD/.

In densely-populated centers like Mosul and Raqqa – and where hundreds 
of drone strikes are carried out – efforts to distinguish between 
combatants and civilians are virtually impossible; large numbers of 
civilian dead and wounded tolls are inevitable.   That has never 
deterred U.S. military decision-makers at the Pentagon or in the field, 
whatever “rules” are set forth in the Universal Code of Military Justice 
(UCMJ) or international statutes.    From World War II to Korea, 
Indochina, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and beyond, this carnage is alternately 
blamed on mistakes, inescapable “collateral damage”, intelligence 
failures, enemy use of “human shields” – all while boasting of the 
latest “precision weaponry”.   Unfortunately, the U.S. military rarely 
conducts genuine investigations into the devastation it produces, and 
for good reason: it does want to come face-to-face with its flagrant war 
crimes.

Since late 2014 U.S. (or Coalition) planes have carried out more than 
20,000 strikes in Iraq and Syria, resulting in an estimated 70,000 
“militant” deaths – a number that surely includes civilian losses that 
will never be known and based on a calculus that is routinely 
understated.  According to AirWars, at least 3325 civilians were killed 
from a total of 566 air strikes in the region, but that is only where 
evidence is clearly available.  Meanwhile, recent non-combatant deaths 
in Mosul alone have reached more than 2500, as reported by AirWars.  
Important civilian objects – residences, public buildings, markets, etc. 
– have been repeatedly hit with high-explosive weaponry.  The bombing 
raids have only intensified.

What is taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria replicates a 
familiar disregard for long-established international law, as even the 
corporate media unwittingly acknowledges by attributing a “loosening of 
rules” to the out-of-control Trump.   California Representative Ted Lieu 
recently sent a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis seeking 
clarification of American global behavior: “The substantial increases in 
civilian deaths caused by U.S. military force in Syria and Iraq brings 
into question whether the Trump administration is violating the Laws of 
War.”  Trump is indeed violating such laws – specifically the 1949 
Geneva Protocol prohibiting wanton attacks on civilians – but, as noted, 
he is simply following deeply-entrenched American practices.

For more than a century American imperialism has been fueled by a 
combustible mixture of national exceptionalism, militarism, racism, and 
pursuit of global supremacy.  Civilian inhabitants and their necessary 
supports have never stood in the way of these powerful forces, even 
where it has meant resort to WMD.    Demonized Asian populations have 
been mercilessly targeted, with impunity – and unbelievably savage 
consequences.   Looking at the apparent willingness of the Trump 
administration to consider nuclear warfare on the Korean peninsula, with 
its unthinkable horrors, we can readily see that little has changed over 
the decades.

As Washington looks to reassert economic, political, and military 
leverage in the Asia-Pacific region – the so-called “Asian Pivot” to 
contain China – escalating U.S. threats should be taken seriously.   
Whether conventional or nuclear, the Pentagon is poised to strike first 
against North Korea.  For several months, indeed years, the U.S. has 
done everything short of all-out war to intimidate and subvert the Kim 
Jung Un regime: large-scale military exercises, economic sanctions, 
cyberattacks, new troop deployments, constant threats of attack.   There 
is much talk in Washington and the media of “preemptive war”, including 
efforts to “decapitate” the regime.   A supposedly impenetrable 
missile-defense system (THAAD) is being installed across South Korea.

Koreans already know far more than they would prefer about the horrors 
of mass destruction emanating from the U.S.   What can only be called a 
war of annihilation, carried out by the U.S. to secure battlefield 
victory over endless stalemate, in the face of strong Chinese and North 
Korean forces, left a death toll on the peninsula with estimates 
reaching as high as five million, nearly 80 percent civilian.   
Political, legal, and moral constraints were routinely tossed aside, as 
American military culture eagerly took up the World War II code that 
mass killing of civilians was legitimate – actually vital – to the kind 
of war of attrition the U.S. had waged against the Japanese.

When the U.S. Army was forced into a perilous retreat in fall 1950, 
General Douglas MacArthur ordered his air force to destroy “every means 
of communication, every installation, factory, city, town, and village” 
in Korea.   Food sources and water facilities were systematically 
targeted and obliterated.   Nonstop raids, employing napalm and other 
incendiary devices, left the main centers of human life (including the 
capital Pyongyang) in smoking ruins.   Stephen Endicott and Edward 
Hagerman, in their eye-opening book /The United States and Biological 
Warfare, /write: “As it had been in World War II, strategic bombing was 
extended to the mass destruction of civilian populations, and as in 
World War II the reservations that the U.S. had about saturation bombing 
of Europeans in that earlier war were not extended to Asians.”

In December of 1950 the Joint Chiefs of Staff endorsed President 
Truman’s readiness to use atomic bombs in Korea to avoid further 
stalemate or defeat.   This “option” was retained throughout the war, 
finally to be jettisoned by President Eisenhower in 1953.  White House 
and Pentagon officials also favored employing both chemical and 
biological weapons in a theater where mass destruction was already far 
advanced.

In fact the U.S. /did /launch a phase of biological warfare in Korea, a 
criminal project the warfare state has tried to keep secret.  Evidence 
uncovered by the Koreans and Chinese revealed a U.S. military campaign 
to disseminate a wide variety of deadly biological agents, hoping to 
create epidemics, panic, and social breakdown in the north.  In late 
1950 large outbreaks of plague, cholera, smallpox, and encephalitis were 
reported in Pyongyang and several provinces, according to Endicott and 
Hagerman.   This was part of a scorched-earth policy U.S. troops 
employed as they retreated southward throughout 1950 and 1951.

Endicott and Hagerman add: “The U.S. had substantial stocks of 
biological weapons on hand.  Moral qualms about using biological or 
atomic weapons had been brushed aside by top leaders and biological 
warfare might dodge the political bullet of adverse public and world 
opinion if it were kept secret enough to make plausible denial of its 
use.”  Moreover, Washington had not signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol 
banning such weaponry.  Later investigations and reports found the U.S. 
guilty as charged, a finding naturally dismissed by Americans as 
“Communist propaganda”.

The Pentagon’s biological program was kept intact until early 1953.  
  Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force was busy destroying every Korean target 
in sight, including agricultural fields and hydroelectric dams, dropping 
an endless supply of fragmentation bombs, napalm, and high-explosive 
devices.  In August 1952 Pyongyang was leveled by a series of 
saturation-bombing raids.  Still unable to break the military stalemate, 
the USAF transferred a large stock of atomic weapons to Okinawa as it 
prepared for a new phase of warfare that, fortunately, was never set in 
motion.

Embracing the great benefits of WMD, the U.S. military was able to 
revitalize its strategy of total war, understood by many at the summits 
of power as God’s work.   General Matthew Ridgway, Eighth Army 
commander, could say in 1951: “The real issues are whether the power of 
Western civilization, as God has permitted it to flower in our own 
beloved lands, shall defy and defeat Communism . . . [and] whether we 
are able to survive with God’s hand to guide and lead us, or to perish 
in the dead existence of a Godless world.” Before Korea, the God of a 
privileged imperial nation had similarly blessed the American takeover 
of the Philippines at a cost of several hundred thousand lives – and 
before that the massacre of Indian tribes (by Andrew Jackson’s troops) 
at Horseshoe Bend and (by Colonel John Chivington’s marauders) at Sand 
Creek, among many other atrocities.

An imperialist ideology that embellished, even celebrated, warfare 
against civilians reached its first methodical expression during World 
War II.   In the Pacific, this meant a war of annihilation against the 
Japanese, who at that time stood for the “Asian masses” or “hordes”.    
In such a war everything was permissible, starting with the deliberate 
and ruthless obliteration of entire cities, including those with little 
or no military significance. Saturation bombing launched by waves of the 
most technologically-developed warplanes raised barbarism to new 
levels.  Admiral William Halsey, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, vowing 
revenge for Pearl Harbor, promised that Japanese would henceforth be 
spoken only in hell while ordering his personnel to “kill Japs, kill 
Japs, kill more Japs.” (Worth noting: only /military /targets were hit 
at Pearl Harbor.)

The remarkable American hatred of Japanese was destined to produce, in 
John Dower’s words (/War without Mercy /“a spellbinding spectacle of 
brutality and death.”

On March 9-10, 1945, U.S. planes dropped 1,665 tons of incendiary bombs 
on Tokyo, with the aim of destroying the city; at least 100,000 
civilians were instantly killed.   Aerial terrorism then turned to 
Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, and more than 60 other cities, targeting mostly 
defenseless civilian areas with vengeful frenzy.   A few cities remained 
– Hiroshima and Nagasaki among them – until they were obliterated by the 
new superweapon developed at the Manhattan Project, leaving another 
150,000 dead amid unimaginable mass destruction.

There could be no justification for such criminality. A.J. Grayling, in 
his book /All the Dead Cities, /surveyed the history of strategic 
bombing and concluded that World War II pilots should have refused 
orders to carry out such raids.   (None in fact did.)  General Curtis 
LeMay, architect of the firebombing attacks on Japanese cities, later 
conceded: “If we had lost the war we would all have been prosecuted as 
war criminals.”   Allied prosecutors at the Nuremberg and Tokyo 
tribunals moved to exclude that very possibility, so aerial mass murder 
was exempted from wartime culpability.

World War II set in motion an elevated trajectory of imperial atrocities 
that would continue throughout the postwar years.   While nations were 
generally expected to follow international law and wartime rules of 
engagement, and the vast majority have chosen to do so, the U.S. simply 
took another path: contempt for the norms of universality.   To this day 
Washington steadfastly refuses participation in the International 
Criminal Court (ICC), understandably fearing prosecution of its own 
government and military personnel for war crimes.  The plain fact is 
that American elites can routinely launch wars against peace and target 
civilian populations without even the pretense of any legal rationale.

Less than a decade after the Korean War the U.S. commenced a new phase 
of barbarism in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, dropping eight million tons 
of bombs compared to the two million tons dropped on all countries in 
World War II.   This was equivalent to 640 Hiroshimas. Saturation 
bombing was perfected beyond its usage against Japan and Korea:  B-52s 
systematically carpet-bombed large zones, followed by a torrent of 
anti-personnel weapons including cluster bombs, white-phosphorous, and a 
specially-upgraded napalm.   By 1974, the U.S. military had dropped 
seven bombs for every person in Indochina.   As for napalm, a staggering 
373,000 tons was unleashed in Vietnam, compared to 32,000 tons in Korea.

In Vietnam, the Pentagon relied heavily on chemical warfare:  roughly 
6500 flights to spray Agent Orange and other toxic agents were carried 
out between 1962 and 1971, the intent being to destroy crops and 
foliage. Operation Ranch Hand contaminated more than 31,000 square 
kilometers, poisoning at least four million people and leaving hundreds 
of thousands afflicted with cancer, lung diseases, and birth defects.  
Such warfare could never distinguish combatants from civilians, nor did 
the U.S. military command make any real efforts to do so.

In more recent decades, civilian death tolls resulting from U.S. 
military operations in the Middle East and beyond have easily surpassed 
one million.   Harsh economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, Yugoslavia, 
Iran, Syria, Cuba, and others could have reached that same figure.   
Aerial bombardments have devastated large, densely-populated areas of 
Iraq, Panama, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libra, and Syria.    Weapons 
“upgraded” with depleted uranium (DU) have left a toxic legacy in Iraq 
and Serbia, overwhelmingly harming civilians.

Back to Korea:  the Trump administration says it has “lost all patience” 
with North Korean leaders and their “reckless behavior”, and has (again) 
“opened the door” to military attack while seemingly holding out 
prospects of diplomacy that, however, depend on rigid stipulations.   
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that for any talks to occur North 
Korea would first have to “exhibit good faith commitment” by jettisoning 
its nuclear program – a complete non-starter.  Given such imperial 
arrogance, can mounting confrontation be avoided?

With all that is at stake – perhaps one million people killed within the 
first day or so of a new Korean War, vast urban centers decimated, a 
potential nuclear exchange – rational leadership might be expected to 
retreat from such a nightmarish scenario and consider a more peaceful 
/modus vivendi./   (For the U.S., a peaceful option is exactly what is 
“off the table”.)     From the standpoint of Washington, “rational” 
pursuits are also imperial pursuits and imperial pursuits generally lead 
to military pursuits, as history demonstrates.

Technowar managers are not especially sensitive to the prospects of 
massive civilian losses.  Normal behavioral assumptions therefore do not 
apply to U.S. war calculations, whoever occupies the White House.

/*Carl Boggs *is the author of The Hollywood War Machine, with Tom 
Pollard (second edition, forthcoming), and Drugs, Power, and Politics, 
both published by Paradigm. /

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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