Crimes Against Humanity

United States government officials’ denunciations of the crimes of their enemies are hypocritical, white-washing a history and present in which the United States remains, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, “the greatest purveyor of violence the world has ever known.”

by | Jun 21, 2023

The U.S. government and most of the press are trying to whip up support for the U.S./NATO intervention in Ukraine. Labeling Putin a war criminal helps that effort. VP Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and President Joe Biden have solemnly pronounced their verdict that he has committed “crimes against humanity” — a specific designation under international law. Of course, Putin is guilty! He has directed the slaughter of many thousands of Ukrainian civilians. He has forced the expulsion of millions from Ukraine. Even before the start of the current war, he savagely attacked Chechnya, destroying its capital city Grozny. His troops have fought against civilians in Georgia, Kazakhstan etc. Over the last few decades, the Russian government has waged a war against the civilian population of Afghanistan, and sent troops into Poland and Hungary etc. Russia along with the U.S. holds the world hostage to the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Yes, Putin deserves the hatred of humanity. The fallacy is not the accusation, war criminal. The fallacy is with the accusers. Hypocrisy, duplicity, and irrationality don’t even begin to cover the United States government’s criticism of Putin. We need a new word to describe the depths of depravity of the U.S. when it denounces “crimes against humanity” without even glancing at its own record. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. noted in 1967 that the “greatest purveyor of violence” in the world was the United States government. He was correct then. He would be even more correct if he said that today.

What is the U.S. record?

Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and dozens of other writers have amply demonstrated the destructive role of the U.S. in the world. Here are just a few of the lowlights of the U.S. record:
  • This country was founded on the expulsion and genocide of millions of Native people and the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans.
  • The U.S. invaded and stole half of Mexico in 1848.
  • The U.S. seized the Philippines in 1898, deliberately killing large numbers of civilians.
  • The U.S. took control of Cuba and countries in Central America in the late 1800s and early 1900’s
  • The U.S. firebombed Dresden, Germany, sucking the air out of the lungs of thousands and destroying that city in WWII.
  • The U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, incinerating and radiating to death hundreds of thousands of civilians in 1945 in an act President Harry Truman proclaimed to be “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.”
  • The U.S. killed a million Koreans from 1950–1953.
  • The U.S. murdered over a million Vietnamese civilians during its invasion of Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. It targeted civilians. As one officer said, “We had to destroy the village to save it.” The U.S. regularly used napalm in Vietnam, a chemical which melts the skin of victims down to the bone, and Agent Orange, which causes severe health problems and birth defects to thousands.
  • The U.S. killed over a million civilians in its war and sanctions on Iraq from the 90’s to the 2000s.When then Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked if killing 500,000 children in Iraq was worth it, she replied, “Yes, we think the price was worth it.”
  • The U.S. followed Russia in killing thousands of civilians in Afghanistan over 20 years.
  • The U.S. actively supports the Saudi war on Yemen and the Israeli expulsion and suppression of Palestine.
  • In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, all of these crimes killed civilians and often directly targeted them. They are not just “collateral damage;” they are victims of crimes against humanity.

The hypocrisy of U.S. imperialism

Will the leaders of the U.S. government put themselves on trial for their current war crimes? Will they bring leaders of previous slaughters up on charges? Will Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, or Joe Biden ever answer for their crimes against humanity? Will they rewrite history to denounce U.S. war criminals? — Not as long as the U.S. retains its place as the leading imperialist power. The super-hypocrisy of U.S. government leaders requires smoke and mirrors. They say “Don’t criticize the US! Just denounce our enemies across the world. Decry Putin! Celebrate U.S. leaders who commit the same or worse crimes. Support OUR slaughters while you oppose those of our enemies. Our wars are humanitarian, theirs are evil.” They echo Richard Nixon who said, “If a president does it, it is not illegal.” They argue that if the U.S. does it, it is legal!
Yes, Putin deserves the hatred of humanity. The fallacy is not the accusation, war criminal. The fallacy is with the accusers. Hypocrisy, duplicity, and irrationality don’t even begin to cover the United States government’s criticism of Putin. We need a new word to describe the depths of depravity of the U.S. when it denounces “crimes against humanity” without even glancing at its own record.
International law cannot be used to end war or bring liberation. This is shown by the whole debate around who the “war criminals” are. Just like history, international law is written by the victors. In the Nuremberg trials, the Nazis were condemned for genocide. The U.S. was not condemned for its genocidal acts against the Japanese, much less its continual historical record of slaughter. Though the U.S. refuses to abide by decisions of the International Criminal Court, liberals and pacifists often argue for trying U.S. enemies in that court. Opponents of war should oppose this demand! It just plays into the hands of U.S. imperialism. There can be no justice for the victims of war criminals in a court dominated by the world’s major imperialist powers. It may seem correct to hold minor criminals accountable. However, finding even correct verdicts against them only makes it easier for the major powers to continue their domination and destruction. The only real justice is class justice! Only when workers overthrow the capitalist system can the ruling classes of the world finally receive justice. It is a tragedy that anyone believes the utter hypocrisy, irrationality, and doublespeak of the U.S. government’s attitude to “war crimes.” The U.S. rationale which degrades real people to a mere inconvenient footnote is grossly immoral.In the last few decades U.S. military commentators have described civilian casualties as “ collateral damage” reducing them to an unimportant after thought. However, it is more than that. Accepting the U.S.’s ruling ideology is accepting a system that puts the world on the verge of destruction. It is supporting the interests of the large corporations and military leaders who thrive on war and war preparations. It is allowing billions to be wasted on destruction while people go homeless, have no health care, and lack clean drinking water. The basic needs of humanity could be met by even a fraction of the trillions now spent on war. As even President Eisenhower put it:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

The interests of the people who own the wealth of the world are opposed to ours. Our interest is in peace. The rulers want to hold us down and compete with each other economically and militarily. They don’t care who gets hurt in this competition. “It is a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.” It is time that the poor stop fighting and paying for the wars of the rich. It is not just that the rulers are evil people. They are compelled by a competitive system to fight with each other even if that means killing thousands or millions of ordinary people. Capitalism is the cause of war crimes. We need to end this system that relies on competition and war. We need a system based on human needs instead of profit; democratic control of the economy instead of ownership by the top one percent. Rejecting the destructive hypocritical rationales of all the rulers of the world is one step in that direction. In the U.S., we need to debunk the U.S. government’s calling Putin a war criminal while excusing themselves. The victors write the history and decide who are the war criminals. It is time that ordinary people write the history. It is time for people across the world to rise up and hold all the war criminals accountable!
Steve Leigh
(he/him) is a founding member of Firebrand and the Seattle Revolutionary Socialists. He has been an active Marxist since 1971 and was a founding member of the International Socialist Organization. He was a shop steward in SEIU for 35 years and is a member of the retirees chapter of SEIU 925. Read more from Steve on his blog.

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