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War Crime History and Syria
April 14, 2018
by William P. Meyers

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Donald Trump Troubled by Ethical Lapses?

Yesterday the United States of America, led by President and Commander in Chief Donald Trump, bombed Syria. This was allegedly in response to the Syrian government, led by President Bashar Assad, using chemical weapons against the rebels in its civil war.

Chemical weapons, in the more specific sense of gasses that can cause human death, were widely used in World War I. Here in the USA, we usually hear what horrible people the Germans were using gas against the good Brits, Frogs, and Yanks. In fact both sides used gas extensively. Most notable of the gas casualties who survived: Adolf Hitler. Perhaps that is why Hitler did not use gas in World War II. Poison gas was used to exterminate Jews, atheists, and others Hitler deemed undesirable, but not on the battlefield.

I know of only one massive use of chemical warfare after World War I: Lenin and Leon Trotsky and their military used it against the peasant rebellion in the Tambov region in 1920.

There has also been warfare that perhaps does not meet the classic chemical warfare definition, notably the massive use of napalm and defoliants (Agent Orange) by the US in its war of aggression against the Vietnamese people. That war was, in itself, clearly a war crime.

The main war crime is starting a war. The main propaganda defense against this crime is saying the other side started it, we just went in to finish it. Thus I see Hitler's claim that Poland attacked Germany at the start of World War II (almost certainly false) to be the moral equivalent of Lyndon Johnson's claim that Vietnam attacked America in the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

The ideas of war crimes and crimes against humanity go back to ancient times, probably invented by the first tribe that lost a war. International law codified the ideas starting in the late 1800s. The victors of World War II, the American, British, French and Soviet Empires, cloaked their revenge against German and Japanese leaders by claiming they were simply enforcing international law at the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals.

Well before World War I the use of artillery (and by implication air strikes) against urban areas was banned. This followed from the idea that civilians should not be targets of war. Like submarine warfare, it went out the door because the United States and Great Britain became its biggest violators during World War II. From the first bombing raids by the British against a German city in World War II, to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to massive bombing campaigns against Vietnamese cities and populated agricultural communities, to the Iraq war bombings, the U.S. and its allies have been the worst violators of this most basic of war crimes laws.

So forgive me if I am a tad cynical about Donald Trump pretending to sprout a conscience over the gas attacks in Syria. I would not be surprised if the Syrian government authorized them, but I would not be surprised if they were coordinated by the anti-Assad forces either.

There is something called the International Criminal Court which deals with war crimes. This is the correct forum to determine the guilt or innocence of war criminals.

This brings up the great problem of international law: how to judge accusations fairly, and how to enforce it. The enforcement problem is obvious: peace loving nations typically don't have the capability to bring war-loving nations to justice.

The United States, China, and Russia have all refused to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). The three most militarized nations in the world.

I believe a fair jury, following a fair trial, applying as a precedent the rulings at Nuremberg and Tokyo, plus perhaps the prohibition against artillery and aerial bombardment against civilians and urban areas, would convict a majority of U.S. President since World War II of war crimes. Unless capital punishment is taken off the table, those convicted would deserve to be hung until dead.

I believe the Democratic Party, despite being a war crimes organization under the Nuremberg criteria, could be the instrument used to get the United States to join the ICC and prosecute past U.S. war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is a gargantuan task. If an election system existed that allowed alternative parties a chance to become one of the two dominant parties, I would favor that path. And I respect people who feel that reforming America through the Democratic Party is such a long shot that it is better to stay out of war crime organizations, despite their pragmatic appeal on other grounds.



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