Saturday, August 7, 2010
What is a War Crime?
What is a "War Crime", anyway? "War Crimes" can only be prosecuted by the victors, who are themselves immune from prosecution. That is not a system of justice... that's a system of "Might makes Right". I am unwilling to spend time on the strategy alternatives that led the Truman administration to the decision to use nuclear weapons on civilian targets, AKA cities. It is my belief that the propaganda offensive convincing the American people of their exceptionalism has worked splendidly, and today the vast majority see the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as justified.
The very idea that there can even be such a thing as a "War Crime" should give one a powerful clue that as the Hague Agreement, to which the U.S. was a signatory (more on this latter in the post), stated: “The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited.” I think that particular prohibition would cover dropping atomic bombs on inhabited cities. In having the concept of "War Crimes" and agreements such as "The Hague" means that the world's nation-states have accepted the idea that in terms of "men versus the mission", there are some acts which are simply unacceptable no matter how convenient or how many of the committing combatants lives will be "saved" (I put that in quotations because we all know about government projections... and people throw around some crazy and unrealistic numbers). If you are one of those that believes nuclear attacks on ANY CITY is acceptable, Please, please, please!!!... read that previous passage again.
My suggestion is that Americans that believed these bombings were justified are misinformed or uninformed or unversed in the theory of unintended consequences and absolutely do not play chess. WWII may be over, but the "Chess Game" is not. It is my fear that in using nuclear weapons on inhabited cities the U.S. has lost all moral standing in the future nuclear war. If you think welfare or bank bailouts has a slippery moral slope to them... they pale when compared to this.
As an American schoolboy learning history in the late 1960’s early 70's, my education on the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki consisted of several sterile pictures of the “mushroom cloud” that resulted from the explosion followed by some short copy about retaliating for Pearl Harbor and the subsequent surrender of Japan. That was it. No mention of people leaping into rivers to escape the fires and to ease the awful pain of their terrible burns; no mention of children’s skin melting from their bodies, suffering for what must have seemed and eternity only to die days later of radiation poisoning or kidney failure; no mention of thousands of “Hiroshima Orphans”, children who were sent to the country side to avoid conventional bombs only to lose both parents in the atomic attacks; no mention of the disfigurement of the survivors, or of the genetic diseases of their descendents. As a matter of fact, the United States prevented film footage and descriptions of the destruction and suffering from reaching the outside world, especially American citizens, until the occupation ended in 1955 (or so).
To be sure, the United States and its allies were at war with an enemy culturally incapable of surrender, that had attacked the U.S. without warning, and that had inflicted tens of thousands of casualties on Americans. The U.S. was facing the prospect of tens thousands of additional American casualties should an invasion of the Japanese Archipelago prove necessary. Would it have proven necessary? Was there a diplomatic solution? Were their other U.S. motivations for the use of Atomic weapons? Had the use of Atomic weapons against Japan had any effect on the “paranoia” of the Soviets during the Cold War? Did the use of The Bomb affect our standing with other nations? How did we get to this point, and why was it that the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had to pay with their lives for the aggression of the Japanese Government and Military?
Japanese history did not begin on December 7, 1941 and end on August 15, 1945. What were the events that lead these cities to their doom, and subsequent rebirth, and what unintended consequences might be visited on the U.S. in the future as a result of the bombings?
The Japanese Attack at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
In speaking with the “man on the street” (or woman, as it were) in America about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the immediate response for the most part seems to be summed up something like this: “Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and in retaliation the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki”.
There is certainly a great deal of anger still lingering over the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and I must confess to sharing in that anger (no doubt an indelible mark left on me by my father, a member of the U.S Navy during WWII), particularly when I consider the fate of the servicemen of USS Arizona, the final resting place for 1,102 souls.
War is governed by international law, bizarre as that may sound, and anger has no place in the prosecution of War, lest we all become genocidal maniacs with no regard as to the purpose of hostilities in the first place, and only a desire for revenge through the death and destruction of any and all people associated with our enemy. Look no further than our current adversary, Al Quida and the attacks of September 11, 2001 to gain a picture of where that leads.
According to the to USS Arizona Memorial, the following is the damage assessment and casualty count as a result of the attack by Japan, December 7, 1941.
• Navy 2001
• Marine Corps 109
• Army 231
• Civilian 54
• Total 2395
• Navy 710
• Marine Corps 69
• Army 364
• Civilian 35
• Total 1178
• Sunk or beached 12
• Damaged 9
• Destroyed 164
• Damaged 159
The attack at Pearl Harbor, was disgusting, ugly, and unconscionable – but most likely legal as covered by the:
Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague, II), July 29, 1899
CONVENTION WITH RESPECT TO THE LAWS AND CUSTOMS OF WAR ON LAND
The Hague, July 29, 1899 [Ratified by the U.S. Senate on March 14, 1902] ARTICLE XXV
"The attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited."
This would seem to say that an attack on installations which are defended is legal. (I did not say right, fair, ethical, acceptable, etc..) although the Hague Convention also stated:
“The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited.”
I think that that is relatively self-explanatory. Is the right of one of the belligerents to use an Atomic Weapon on city filled with non-combatants limited or not limited? If not, what limitations were the convention participants referring to? Is there something worse? Let’s move on to:
“Besides the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially prohibited:”
a. “To employ poison or poisoned arms;”
b. “To kill or wound treacherously (emphasis added) individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;”
c. “To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;”
d. “To employ arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury;”
Please note section b. of Article XXIII the word “treacherously”. Is the attack at Pearl Harbor “treacherous”, and, if so, does it constitute a prohibited war crime? If so, does that relinquish the United States of its responsibilities, legal, moral, and ethical, in its prosecution of the War? What about future wars?
Let us examine, once again:
“The attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited.”
Was Hiroshima or Nagasaki defended as of early August 1945? We will discuss Japan’s ability to defend itself in August of 1945 in greater detail shortly.
How many Americans are familiar with the Hague Conventions? How many Americans are concerned with whether or not we have conformed to the standards set forth in the conventions as ratified by the U.S. Senate? Does anybody in our government see any similarities between the killing of non-combatants (civilians) by terrorist political organizations and the killing of non-combatants (civilians) by the U.S. Military?
More to come
I look forward to a spirited yet courteous debate with my fellow thinking persons commenting here.