Imperial Nations advance their own interests by exploiting other societies. To those on the receiving end this is obvious, while inside the empire, a powerful ideological system of justification tends to hide all but the worst excess.
Carl Boggs argues that that the US began life two centuries ago as a nascent colonialist regime plundering and conquering the Native Tribes. The Indian wars were followed by perpetual militarism and warfare fuelled by a deep sense of national exceptionalism. The Crimes Of Empire examines several trends in this process, and illustrates the new depths plumbed since 9/11.
Violation of international agreements, treaties and laws and the use of prohibited weapons, support for death squads and torture are just some of the practices that Boggs highlights as he shows how technical superiority and media control prolong the American nightmare.
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About the Author
Carl Boggs is professor of social sciences at National University in Los Angeles. He has written numerous books, including Imperial Delusions: American Militarism and Endless War (2005) and, with Tom Pollard, The Hollywood War Machine: Militarism and American Popular Culture (2006). He has received the Charles McCoy Career Achievement Award from the American Political Science Association.
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Crimes Against Peace
Even setting aside forms of intervention such as proxy wars, CIA-sponsored covert operations, economic and political subversion, and blockades, the U.S. record of military aggression waged against sovereign nations since World War II has no parallel. It is a record, moreover, that stands alone in its scope of criminality. Immersed from its very founding in an ethos of perpetual warfare, the American nation-state achieved early imperial status as it expanded westward and outward, later reaching global proportions with the growth of the permanent war economy in the late 1940s. The immediate postwar years witnessed little reduction in Pentagon spending, and no lessened interest in broader economic, political, and military pursuits. Across subsequent decades the U.S. has initiated dozens of armed interventions throughout the world, resulting in a gruesome toll impossible to fully measure: at least eight million dead, tens of millions wounded, millions more made homeless or forced into refugee status, and environmental devastation on a horrific scale. In the post-9/11 milieu, with the brazen military invasion and occupation of Iraq, there seemed no end in sight to U.S. imperial expansion. Every aggressive move was framed by the political and media establishment as rational and noble, vital to the national security if not to Western civilization. But with just two partial exceptions (the U.N.-backed Korean War and the initial Afghan operations) these actions could never be defended on either rational or noble grounds; they stand, rather, as clear violations of established principles of international law.
At the end of World War II the Germans and Japanese were tried for "crimes against peace" — that is, unprovoked military aggression waged against sovereign nations. Eventually, 15 German and 24 Japanese leaders were convicted of such offenses, with U.S. prosecutors most adamant in pursuing guilty verdicts followed by death penalties. The Nazis were prosecuted and convicted of planning and waging war against Poland, the USSR, Norway, England, Holland, Denmark, Yugoslavia, France, and Greece. The Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg defined "illegal warfare" as "planning, preparation, initiation, or waging a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy [for war]." Moreover, the Nuremberg statutes framed military aggression as "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole," meaning the aggressor is criminally responsible for all offenses that follow with negative outcomes traced back to the first military decision to intervene. Drawing on the Nuremberg principles, the nascent United Nations banned the first use of force, stating: "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state ..." (Article 2.4). It is generally acknowledged that prohibitions against military aggression constitute a fundamental norm of modern international law and its prevention is the chief purpose of the U.N. There has been consensus behind rules that could ensure some measure of global stability, limits to military action, and protection of human rights. The U.N. Charter provides a definitive list of violations, including armed invasion, occupation, bombardment, blockade, attack on a nation's armed forces, using territory for aggression, and supporting local groups to carry out military operations. These prohibitions are contained in numerous treaties, conventions, protocols, and organized charters established in the several decades since Nuremberg.
At different times in its history the U.S. has violated every one of the above principles, generally holding itself above the most hallowed norms of international law. Its many acts of military aggression have for the most part been planned, deliberate, systematic, and brutal, with its increasingly high-tech firepower directed against weak, small, underdeveloped, and militarily inferior countries. Such acts have always been carried out in the absence of a serious military threat to the U.S. arising from those nations or groups targeted for attack; the U.S. took the first move, usually sidestepping or ignoring diplomatic initiatives. The American military — since 1945 the most powerful and far-reaching in the world — has conducted both selective and strategic (area) bombing, used weapons of mass destruction, wantonly attacked civilian populations and infrastructures, mined harbors, invaded and occupied foreign territories, set up draconian blockades, organized population relocation programs, and supported paramilitary groups for proxy wars on behalf of U.S. elite interests — and it has done so across the globe with virtual impunity. In some cases U.S. military aggression has been patently unilateral, while in others it came under cover of a U.N. or NATO coalition where U.S. military (and political) resources were decisive. Rhetorical justifications have been routinely offered for public consumption — including appeals to humanitarian agendas, human rights, national defense, arrest of drug traffickers, the fight against Communism and terrorism, support for democracy — none of which, however, have enjoyed much credibility outside U.S. borders. A more recent pretext has been the claim of halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weaponry. In any event, closer historical investigation shows that economic and geopolitical interests have most often driven U.S. military intervention from the outset, reflecting a long and deep imperialist legacy. A comprehensive list of U.S. acts of military aggression, prior to Iraq and Afghanistan, direct and indirect, large and small, can be found in William Blum's books Killing Hope (1995) and Rogue State (2000).
Postwar military interventions that have brought U.S. leaders directly into conflict with international law include the following: Greece, Korea, Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Haiti, Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. There have been literally dozens of operations that were covert or indirect, or involved some form of proxy war (to be discussed later). It will suffice to address a few such episodes here, concluding with the most recent violation, Iraq.
In the case of Korea, President Truman's undeclared war on the North (begun June 25, 1950, and referred to as a "police action") proceeded under the auspices of the U.N., although there really was no independent U.N. army, navy, or air force separate from the U.S. armed forces at that time. The operations, lasting nearly three bloody years, were framed as a U.S. response to North Korean invasion, but the political situation and the context of warfare were far more nuanced and complex. U.S. forces had occupied South Korea in 1945, setting up a brutal dictatorship under Syngman Rhee and dividing the country. In reality, the two sides had been clashing at the 38th parallel for several years before the outbreak of full-scale warfare; North and South could be said to have shared more or less equal blame. By 1950 there had indeed been hundreds of incursions from both sides, accompanied by sometimes heavy bombing. In a context where the South Korean dictator openly proclaimed his intent to reunify the nation by force and on his terms, and where the South had actually captured the town of Haeju in the days leading up to war, the question as to who precisely fired the first salvos turns out to be rather meaningless. Military conflict seemed to be built into the very logic of a harsh and arbitrary national partition. In any event, it was the Washington decision-makers who first initiated large-scale armed operations, having mobilized U.S. troops (stationed at dozens of bases in Korea and Japan) well in advance of a U.N. resolution facilitated by a Soviet boycott. U.S. armies invaded North Korea and pushed all the way to the Yalu River on the Chinese border where they were repelled by joint Korean–Chinese troops. The U.S. steadfastly refused any negotiated settlement, forcing a military stalemate costing up to three million Korean lives, and which was finally resolved only when both sides agreed to the original demarcation line — but not before Truman had considered using atomic bombs to break the impasse. Whatever the original context or pretext for war, the U.S. was unquestionably guilty of military aggression once its armies moved to the Chinese border and then sustained the bloodbath well beyond reasonable limits.
Turning to Vietnam, U.S. leaders emphasized military action from the earliest postwar breakout of Indochinese nationalism, purportedly to halt the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia and beyond, part of the "domino effect." By the early 1960s President Kennedy and his enlightened liberal elites (Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, Maxwell Taylor, et al.) had set forth an ambitious war plan according to which Indochina would be a major testing ground in the Cold War struggle between totalitarianism and democracy. The foundations of everything that would later unfold — large-scale troop mobilizations, aerial bombardments, strategic hamlets, free-fire zones, search-and-destroy missions, chemical warfare — were already firmly in place under Kennedy and his circle. Warfare as counterinsurgency was immediately and energetically taken up as vital to U.S. national interests. The logic of military intervention meant rapid expansion of U.S. operations, starting with teams of "advisers," from South to North Vietnam by 1965 and later to Laos and Cambodia, ignoring diplomatic overtures spelled out in the 1954 Geneva Accords, not to mention U.N. Charter prohibitions against military aggression. The Geneva Accords stipulated that elections would take place within two years as a prelude to Vietnamese reunification, but the U.S. blocked both the elections and reunification in favor of a dictatorship (led by Ngo Dinh Diem) that turned the South into a besieged American colony. After Diem's harsh rule generated massive resistance, Kennedy approved military aid and intervention in 1961, explicitly abrogating the terms of the Accords. In 1964 President Johnson used the manufactured Gulf of Tonkin crisis to launch full-scale war in Vietnam, which eventually spread to Laos and Cambodia, where in 1969–70 the U.S. carried out the deadliest aerial onslaught in history, creating utter carnage over vast regions. What JFK and his technocratic planners set in motion was extended during the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, although war was never formally declared against North Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia. For one of the most flagrant violations of international law ever, spanning a period of 14 years, three U.S. presidents and their war managers could and should have been held criminally accountable for crimes against peace, just as the Germans and Japanese were at Nuremberg and Tokyo. Christopher Hitchens has correctly identified Henry Kissinger as a mass murderer and war criminal for his role in Indochina, but Hitchens fails to explain why the list should stop with Kissinger.
Turning to the Caribbean, the U.S. legacy of military aggression in the region is well-known, being the product of geopolitical interests going back to the nineteenth century. Leaving aside covert action and proxy wars, the past several decades have witnessed American warfare launched against five sovereign nations: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Grenada, and Panama. In April 1967 a popular revolt swept through the Dominican Republic, its goal the restoring to power of reformist Juan Bosch (earlier overthrown with U.S. help). The U.S. sent 23,000 troops to crush the rebellion and preserve the military dictatorship, never bothering to secure U.N. support. While the U.S. regularly waged proxy warfare in Central America, its operations took on a more direct character at times — for example, with the mining of Nicaraguan harbors in the early 1980s. Nicaragua filed suit in the World Court in 1984 asking for relief, whereupon the court ruled (in 1986) that U.S. leaders were in violation of international law, and should cease their intervention and pay reparations. The Reagan administration summarily dismissed the charges and verdict, refusing to accept the court's jurisdiction over American interests. In October 1983 the U.S. conducted a surprise raid on tiny Grenada, killing hundreds of people (including 84 Cubans) in order to overthrow the reformist Maurice Bishop government — ostensibly to "restore democracy." A decade later, in Haiti, President Clinton sent U.S. troops to bring Jean-Bertrand Aristide back to power under the diktat (enforced by occupying soldiers) that he implement neoliberal economic policies. Judged by established canons of international law, these and related military ventures must be regarded as crimes against peace — especially given U.S. refusal to entertain diplomatic initiatives.
A more brazen U.S. attack came against Panama in December 1989, when 26,000 air and ground forces invaded and then took over the country, ousting supposed drug trafficker Manuel Noriega and installing a friendly regime at the cost of an estimated 4000 Panamanian lives (mostly civilians) and the destruction of many opposition groups. The working-class section of Panama City, El Chorillo, was largely demolished, with 14,000 left homeless. The first Bush administration justified its unprovoked attack on several grounds — arresting Noriega on drug charges, restoring democracy, protecting American lives — none of which carried much weight relative to the pull of U.S. strategic priorities in the Panama Canal region. The actual problem with Noriega was not drug offenses but his increasingly defiant attitude toward Washington. In this case, as in others, President Bush never declared war, nor did he secure the backing of the Organization of American States (OAS) or the U.N.
Little more than a year later, following the August 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. unveiled Desert Storm — supported by a coalition it had mobilized — as the first salvo in the Gulf War and in the post-Cold War assertion of unchallenged U.S. global power. The Bush administration had been prepared for military action to counter the Hussein regime, dismissing negotiating initiatives from Russia and other interested parties, including from Iraq itself. In early 1991 the U.S. used bribes and threats to build its coalition before carrying out its technowar blitz against Iraq, destroying much of the country's infrastructure and killing at least 200,000 people, including some 30,000 troops in retreat along the "highway of death" as military action was ending. The U.S. was able to inflict more damage on Iraq than on any other country in the twentieth century, leaving aside Korea and Vietnam. (Although Washington bought the participation of coalition partners, for example by means of seven billion dollars of loans to Russia, military operations remained almost exclusively the province of the U.S., especially in the air, with some British help.) Anticipating the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, Bush the elder justified the armed response by invoking Hussein's threat to Western interests, in particular his possible invasion of oil-rich Saudi Arabia. No evidence was ever furnished, however, to validate such claims. What Desert Storm achieved for the U.S. was a durable, large-scale military presence in the Gulf region serving as a prelude to further strategic ambitions in Iraq and beyond.
After the Gulf War the U.S. created no-fly zones over Iraq, continued regular bombing missions, and enforced draconian economic sanctions that U.N. agencies reported to have cost more than one million lives, almost exclusively civilian. While the Security Council endorsed political efforts to deal with the rather implausible Iraqi foreign ambitions, there were no stipulations allowing the kind of military carte blanche that Washington was pursuing throughout the 1990s. War crimes visited upon Iraq during this period included some of the most ruthless and unnecessary in modern history. Even with the blessing of U.N. cover in the case of Desert Storm, the U.S. was clearly guilty of planning and carrying out a war of aggression that historical evidence shows was entirely avoidable, and of sustaining it for more than a decade.
Excerpted from "The Crimes of Empire"
Copyright © 2010 Carl Boggs.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Peter McLaren vii
1 Crimes Against Peace 26
Forgetting Nuremberg 27
Superpower Ethics 34
Descent into Lawlessness 44
2 Warfare against Civilians 48
World War II and its Legacy 49
“Collateral Damage” or Mass Murder? 52
Aerial Terrorism: From Tokyo to Baghdad 64
A Pattern of Atrocities 73
A Culture of Denial 83
3 War Crimes by Proxy 89
A History of Aiding and Abetting 90
Central America: Second-Hand Terrorism 93
Yugoslavia: “Humanitarian” Warfare 97
Israel: Client-State Outlawry 100
Perpetual War 110
4 Weapons of Mass Destruction 112
Economic Sanctions: Terror by Other Means 115
The Nuclear Madness Continues 117
A Legacy of Toxic Warfare 126
The Biowarfare Option 133
Empire and Barbarism 137
Postscript: The WMD Commission 138
5 A Tale of Broken Treaties 144
Lawlessness: An American Legacy 147
Subverting the United Nations 153
Genocide Accords: The Great Retreat 159
Imperialism in Space 166
Global Warming: The Triumph of Corporate Profits 169
6 War-Crimes Tribunals: Imperial Justice 176
The Nuremberg Precedent-and Beyond 176
NATO's Hague Travesty 180
The Hussein Tribunal: Counterfeit Justice 190
The International Criminal Court 196
The U.S. Assault on International Law 199
7 Torture and Other Atrocities 207
The Historical Labyrinth 209
Guantanamo: The New Devil's Island 217
Abu Ghraib: Chamber of Horrors 223
Mercenary Terrorism 232
Outlawry and Denial 237
Conclusion: Empire or Survival? 241
Postscript: The Routinization of Mass Murder 249
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Carl Boggs, Professor of Social Sciences at National University in Los Angeles, has written a splendid book on the US state's world military role since 1945: "My central thesis is that the U. S. stands today as the most fearsome outlaw nation in the world." He shows how it is now a rogue state, using the 'war on terror' as cover for endless wars for resources. Peoples can use international law as a sanction against imperialism. The UN Charter upholds national sovereignty and the principle of national self-determination, and it outlaws the use of military force except for national self-defence. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 5 says, "no one shall be subjected to torture." Article 7 says, "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile." Since the 1949 Geneva Conventions, it has been illegal to bomb civilians. Yet in Korea, General MacArthur ordered his forces to 'destroy every factory, city, village'; in Vietnam, Kissinger said, bomb 'anything that moves'; in Yugoslavia, General Wesley Clark said the US aim was to 'eliminate the essential infrastructure'- all war crimes. In Korea four million were killed, in Vietnam 3.5 million, and in Iraq two million: each time, the casualties were mostly civilian. Clark admitted that the NATO attack on Yugoslavia was a 'technical' breach of international law. In February 2007, the International Court of Justice rejected charges of genocide against Serbia and rejected the claim that Serbia had planned and carried out atrocities at Srebrenica in 1994. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan refused to assign UN-appointed lawyers and judges to the US-created 'Iraq Higher Criminal Court' that tried Saddam Hussein, saying that it did not meet 'relevant international standards'. In 2008, interviews with 50 US veterans from Iraq revealed a pattern of atrocities - civilians killed at checkpoints, beatings, arrests and widespread torture. The USA still has 50,000 US troops and possibly 100,000 private 'security guards' in Iraq to protect US oil sites there. The USA is also guilty of arming and backing other states guilty of war crimes - for example Indonesia, Colombia and Israel. Israel is now the last apartheid state, enforcing settlements, illegal arrests, torture, curfews, extrajudicial executions, military assaults and blockades. President Obama granted immunity to US torturers. He also called for more military spending, more deployments abroad (the US state already has bases in 140 of 191 countries), and escalations of the Afghan war and the 'war on terror'. He allowed the CIA to continue renditions (torture) as long as the detainees were held 'short-term'. He defended a company that worked with the CIA on renditions, insisting that all CIA programmes should stay secret as a matter of national security. And the US state wants yet more wars. Along with Israel, it continually threatens Iran, producing Groundhog Day lies about Iranian WMD, even though a National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 said that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, so its nuclear programme is perfectly legal.