The solutions are very straightforward. For a fraction of the expense that the U.S. taxpayer put into destroying Laos, you could clear the unexploded ordnance. So the first step would be to do what we claim the Japanese can’t do: take responsibility. Maybe that would be a start. So let’s overcome this strange defect and accept responsibility. That defect is not in the American public. It’s in American educated elites. They [have the ability] to find this out. If they don’t know it already, they can easily find out. It’s not like learning quantum physics. It takes no time to find out. They can use their position to make sure everybody knows about it.
When the editors of the New York Times and the rest take responsibility – which they condemn the Japanese for not taking – that will be step one. Step two will be to put in the resources that are required to overcome this U.S. atrocity and stop killing Laotian children. It’s not a big step. It’s not like bombing somebody. It would cost a lot less than bombing Iraq or Sudan. So there are some easy answers. Very easy answers.
~ Noam Chomsky in an interview with David Barsamian about how to deal with the undetonated ordnance issue in Laos, 1999
Last year I wrote a post called Let Us Remember: Nonviolent Reflections on Memorial Day. In it, I compared Fascist Nazi Germany to the United States. I wrote,
America’s military cause is no more justified than Nazi Germany’s. Both were/are fueled by ideological assumptions, paradigms, and worldviews that seek world domination through whatever means necessary. This is, of course, not to downplay the horrors of the Nazi regime. I am still highlighting those. However, I am also highlighting the horrors of the American empire. Both are Satanic: both treated their own (white male) people well, but the rest of the world as a rag doll.
But let’s stop a moment. Today is Memorial Day. A day off work dedicated to honor those veterans who lived, and possibly died, for our “freedom.” This generally means the “freedom” and “liberties” of the citizens of the United States. As we well know, however, in actuality, it simply means the “liberties” of middle/upper class straight white men (and whomever they choose to share their almighty ‘liberty’ with). (Let’s not get into how a country cannot truly be ‘free’ and ‘liberated’ if other countries live in poverty and bondage. *ahem*) Yet, somehow, we gather the whole country to celebrate (half-heartedly) the mass murder of other nations (in the name of God), viewing it as honorable and as if it were the right thing to do.
People get upset about the commercialization of Christmas as a holiday. They get upset that Jesus has been turned into a commodity by capitalism and consumerism – that the spirit of Christmas goes from one to giving to one of consumption. I feel similarly about Memorial Day – a day about honoring those before us is actually a day gripped tightly by the military industrial complex to inundate U.S. citizens to reality and how the world views us. As I’ve written elsewhere, I am an advocate of nonviolence. I believe any type of killing is murder. So, while I can respect veterans for doing what they think is right, especially when it is a difficult choice, I still think they were wrong. Especially on a day like Memorial Day.
This ‘holiday’ is used as propaganda to romanticize the horrors men, women, and children experienced (both in the U.S. and other countries) so that the general populace doesn’t really question what the heck was going on. Rather than mourn the deaths of all humans involved in armed conflict, we celebrate and honor those who come from the U.S. Rather than talk about and remember the unjust horrors the U.S. inflicted (and still inflicts) in many countries around the world with its military industrial complex and innumerable coups, we pretend we’re the savior of the world (when in actuality most of the world hates us, even if they obey us out of fear). Whereas Germany mourns what it did in The Good War, we exalt ourselves for any war we’re involved in – or just don’t talk about it if it went terribly. We repress, we forget, we hush hush. As Carl Jung said, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” In this case, neurosis is a substitute for admitting we are wrong, we are not the heroes. We feed ourselves lies of glory and create within our collective psyche a savior-complex.
In other words, we’re neurotic.
So, today, I want to remember some of the terrible things the United States has done. Specifically, two key incidents during the period historians refer to as The Long Sixties (1950-1970s). This is not to say the sacrifice U.S. veterans made is not worthy of remembrance, but to say that the innumerable foreign citizens, soldiers, and societal institutions the United States has destroyed and ruined are worth remembering just as much, if not more so, on a day such as Memorial Day. It is, put concisely, trying to add nuance to a society which likes it’s ‘facts’ in black and white.
1) Cambodian Bombing and Genocide
Between the years 1965 and 1973, the United States dropped, at the very least, 500,000 tons of bombs on the country of Cambodia. Some historians argue far more. Either way, that is equal to the amount the United States used in the entire Pacific theater during World War II – I believe this is counting the atomic bombs.
Why the massive amount of bombing on such a small, neutral country? Viet Cong troops, and eventually Khmer Rouge rebels were stationed there, even if against Cambodia’s wishes. Thus, the US took this as justification for the bombing – even if there was intentional disregard for civilian life.
Intentional. Richard Nixon told Henry Kissenger (who somehow won a Nobel ‘Peace’ Prize…), “They have got to go in there and I mean really go in. I don’t want the gunships, I want the helicopter ships. I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?” This was all a part of Nixon’s “Madman” Theory of War: be as crazy and violent as possible so that your enemy doesn’t want to mess with you. Basically like deterrence but super violent either way. Kissenger then relayed to Alexander Haig, “He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves.” These bombing raids were kept secret from the general public. The US doesn’t like its evil to be known.
Ben Kiernan, leading Cambodian Genocide scholar, estimates civilian casualties caused by US bombing to be 150,000.
On top of the bombing, the US was involved in a coup in 1970 to remove Sihanouk from power. The coup in conjunction with the bombing obliterated an already destabilized government. The US, China, Vietnam, and various political groups within Cambodia kept pulling the leading government officials (the prominent leader being Sihanouk) in multiple directions. After the removal of Sihanouk with right-wing replacement Lon Nol, Cambodia quickly became polarized.
The bombings created enough turmoil that the Communist Party of Kampuchea, which is what became the infamous Khmer Rouge, with Pol Pot as its primary leader, gained prominence. The Samluat Rebellion, a peasant uprising in Cambodia, helped pave the way to give Pol Pot power. Peasants were basically forced to give their rice to government workers (technically they ‘sold’ it, but it was so cheap they might as well have given it away for free). To make sure this continued, armed soldiers were placed near peasant farms and in villages. Peasants, being pissed off, killed two soldiers in rebellion to show they wouldn’t be treated as less-than-human any longer.
Pol Pot jumped on this opportunity to organize the frustrated peasants and gathered them into the Khmer Rouge movement. The Khmer Rouge began attacking military outposts and taking over Cambodia.
It wasn’t until the coup that Cambodia began associating with Vietnam’s Communist movement. From that point on, the two began collaborating, frustrated that the US played god. The Vietnamese viewed Sihanouk as the true leader of Cambodia, and offered their full support while Sihanouk and Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge joined forces against the US-backed government.
What began as a country which tried desperately to remain neutral (and arguably democratic) ended up as opposing and hating the US and pursuing communism.
The irony of the situation is that Pol Pot probably would not have been able to gain power in Cambodia if it weren’t for the illegal and covert US bombing/coup.
As a 1973 Intelligence Information Cable from the CIA’s Directorate of Operations explained:
Khmer insurgent (KI) [Khmer Rouge] cadre have begun an intensified proselyting campaign among ethnic Cambodian residents . . . in an effort to recruit young men and women for KI military organizations. They are using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda.
The narrative goes on and on with more and more destruction: the US puts its hand in something, screws it up, then has to kill more people to clean up its mess and make sure it still comes out looking like the hero rather than the villain. If you want to read a fuller narrative about the US involvement with Cambodia and how we ended up supporting the people we had, a decade before, tried killing, please refer to the many sources I provided below.
Before I continue, I’d like to share a quote from one of my main sources for this section, in which he parallels the Cambodian coup with the Iraq coup.
Any lessons to be drawn about the consequences of US intervention in Cambodia do not appear to have been learned: as the journalist John Pilger has pointed out, just as the massive destruction of Cambodia by the US bombing campaign helped create the conditions for the KR’s ascension, the US invasion of Iraq similarly destroyed a society and set the stage for the rise of ISIS. And just as the United States supported its former enemies in Cambodia against Vietnam throughout the 1980s, Washington entered into a tacit alliance with jihadist groups in Syria against Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Indeed, if we can expect anything from US foreign policy, it’s atrocities and complicity, cloaked in the language of democracy and human rights.
We’ve briefly discussed Cambodia. We’re going to even more briefly discuss Laos. If you want more in depth information, I will provide plenty of sources, and you can obviously do more research as needed. I’d love to provide fuller narratives, but alas, I don’t get paid to do this, and unfortunately just don’t have the time.
“From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.”*
The US was trying to wipe out the Pathet Lao and pro-communist/socialist Vietnamese forces in Laos. While trying to do so, they murdered countless civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands. Over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped – 80 million did not immediately detonate. They were intentionally manufactured so that all would not detonate upon first impact. To this day, Laotian people are still murdered by hidden bombs dropped many decades ago. The legacy of the US-backed murder of Laotian civilians continues on our day of relaxation/celebration: Memorial Day. For us, we eat hamburgers and potato chips. For the Laotians, they lose a few limbs and a child to bombs, since it happens almost, if not, everyday.
In fact, over 20,000 people have been killed in Laos from the undetonated US-dropped bombs. “Nearly 40 years on, less than 1% of these munitions have been destroyed. More than half of all confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world have occurred in Laos.”
“The first group to try to do something about this issue was the Mennonites. The Mennonite Central Committee has had volunteers working in Laos since 1977 and has been trying to publicize the problem and get people interested in it…there is a British volunteer mine-detection group – composed of professionals, but not the British government…They have some Laotians working with them. The Americans are notable by their absence, as the British press puts it.” – Chomsky in Propaganda and the Public Mind by David Barsamian, 1999
“Furthermore, according to the right-wing Sunday Telegraph, the British mine-clearance group claims that the Pentagon will not even give them technical information that would allow them to defuse the bombs. There’s some technique you can use to make sure they don’t go off, but they won’t give them that information. So the British mine clearers themselves are at risk because this is secret information. The U.S. is not there clearing the bomblets and won’t give the British who are doing it information about how to do it safely.” – Chomsky
Despite this being our fault, we have generally refused to help clean up the mess. For example, “between 1993 and 2016, the U.S. contributed on average $4.9M per year for UXO clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent $13.3M per day (in 2013 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.” We spent $13.3 million a day (in 2013 dollars) to bomb Laos for nine years straight. We can’t even manage to spend half that per year to help clean up the mess. We’re too busy making other messes! “In just ten days of bombing Laos, the U.S. spent $130M (in 2013 dollars), or more than it has spent in clean up over the past 24 years ($118M).” So much for being savior of the world.
3) 20-30 Million Murders…and then some: Are we the terrorists?
Cambodia. Laos. East Timor. Syria. Guatemala. Nicaragua. Afghanistan. Iraq. Angola. Bolivia. Argentina. Brazil. Vietnam. Chad. Colombia. Chile. Korea. China. Cuba. Democratic Republic of Congo. Dominican Republic. El Salvador. Grenada. Haiti. Honduras. Hungary. Iran. Indonesia. Palestine. Nepal. Pakistan. Paraguay. Panama. Philippines. Sudan. Uruguay. Yugoslavia. The list goes on and on. The US has made quite a mess of the world. Don’t get me wrong, its not the only perpetrator. But it is a perpetrator that refuses to take responsibility. Instead, it wears a facade of heroism.
You may still be thinking, “this isn’t as bad as Nazi Germany.” Well, first of all, comparing death tolls and statistics feels so…inhumane. The murder of a single human should affect us, let alone a million or ten. But, it helps to do so…thus, the United States has murdered more than 20 million people in 37 “Victim Nations” since the end of WWII. The linked article begs a very important question: “how many September 11ths has the United States caused in other nations since WWII?” The answer is far too many, and leads me to a state of surprise that the US has only experienced one 9/11 itself – and that its own confrontation with terrorism didn’t lead it to empathy but rather more destruction. Not that it should experience more. As I’ve said, I advocate nonviolence both in the personal and political spectrum. War, murder, terrorism, and the like will get us no where.
Is this what we had in mind? Take down Hitler so we can do what he wanted to do – but a lot more covert and under the radar, stretched over a couple generations so it looked less wrong?
Either way, let that sink in. The beloved savior of the world, the United States, has been responsible for the unjust murder of at least, but probably more, than 20 million people – not counting WWII. Depending on how you look at the numbers, that’s more than Nazi Germany.
God bless America.
I borrowed a lot from this jacobinmag source. It was my primary go-to for the Cambodian part of this article. Credit goes to that writer for the information and chronological order of mine.
Killing Hope by William Blum
Propaganda and the Public Mind: Conversations with Noam Chomsky Interviews by David Barsamian