An American Contradiction: Democracy for Us, Not for Others (Part 4)


Ad Honoris
May 2014
(Cont. from previous: )

Some of the greatest U.S. violations of international law involved the U.S. military and negatively affected the lives of many people in other countries. Over the last seventy-five years, the United States “[v]iolated several international conventions by carrying out wanton attacks on civilian populations” (Boggs 145). The locations of these U.S. military attacks include “Japan, Korea, Indochina, Panama, Yugoslavia, and Iraq” (Boggs 145). In his book The Crimes of Empire: Rogue Superpower and World Domination, Professor Carl Boggs discusses how U.S. General Douglas MacArthur “ordered his troops to destroy everything in their wake”, including “factories, installations, means of communications, villages, cities, [and] everything [else]” throughout all of North Korea during the Korean War (Boggs 54). Boggs uses orders such as these, along with U.S. actions in bombing “eleven hydroelectric plants and other water resources” in June 1952, destroying the North Korean capital Pyongyang in August 1952, and using its troops to “reportedly murder[ ] [tens of thousands of Korean] civilians” to demonstrate how the U.S. violated international law using its military even several years after it helped prosecute leading Nazis at Nuremberg (Boggs 54, Boggs 75). In addition to Korea, Boggs talks about U.S. actions during the Vietnam War and other wars. It is mentioned how the U.S. dumped “more than 19 million gallons of toxic herbicides … in [South Vietnam] alone”, and that this was “by far the greatest use of chemical weaponry ever” (Boggs 55). Boggs mentions how the U.S. dropped “373,000 tons of … [the very] debilitating napalm” in Vietnam between 1963 and 1971, a clear violation of international law (Boggs 69). This is not to mention the fact that the U.S. “bombed, torched, and bulldozed” many Vietnamese towns and villages, often killing or injuring many Vietnamese civilians in the process, as well as destroying their farmland and farm animals (Boggs 55). Professor Andrew Kolin points out how in the early 1960s, the U.S. created the Office of Public Safety, an ironic name for it considering that its main function was “to [illegally] school local police officials [in order countries] in torture techniques.” (Kolin 1253 of 5216). In addition, the United States “[v]iolated the Geneva Protocols by using weapons that are innately destructive to civilian populations and objects, [and by] involving biological and chemical warfare, depleted uranium, anti-personnel bombs, and other inhumane weapons” (Boggs 145). As stated by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was illegal according to international law (Boggs 36). This view has been shared by many other prominent individuals worldwide, and even by prominent American neoconservative Richard Perle (Burkeman). As Professor Carl Boggs argues, the invasion of Iraq “violates the U.N. Charter mandating Security Council approval” (Boggs 35). According to Boggs, unlike the Afghanistan War (which also did not receive UNSC approval), the Iraq War was not “a defensive response to” anything, and thus was not legal or “permitted under the U.N. Charter” (Boggs 33). In addition to the invasion of Iraq itself, the United States also violated international law with some of its military operations in Iraq. According to Professor Boggs, U.S. “military operations in [Iraqi] urban centers,” “even [in areas] where combatants might be located,” “are prohibited by the 1977 Geneva Convention (Articles 51, 52, and 57)” (Boggs 61). A prominent example of this would be the United States “assault on Fallujah in November 2004,” which “left a city of 350,000 people in ruins, with hundreds of civilians dead and most [of the city's] residents homeless” and without food, water, electricity, and medical services (Boggs 61). As Professor Boggs states, “[t]he targeting of dense population zones in Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, and other cities with massive firepower was destined—and most probably intended, judging from results—to produce heavy civilian casualties” (Boggs 61). U.S. barbarity was on display once again “in November 2005, when U.S. Marines slaughtered 24 [Iraqi] civilians in cold blood at Haditha [in an attempt to get] revenge for the death of a fellow soldier” (Boggs 81). Even when the United States claims to prevent war crimes by others, it initiates its own war crimes, such as in Serbia in 1999, where “no less than 15 towns and cities were hit” by a “largely unrestricted [U.S. and NATO] bombing campaign” which led to “more than 2,000 civilian deaths, 6,000 wounded, many thousands made homeless,” and “permanent ecological harm” from the toxic chemicals used (Boggs 72). In addition to all of this, there is also the matter of Guantanamo Bay and the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, both of which are also illegal according to international law. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated, “the indefinite imprisonment of many detainees without charge or trial violated international law” (Nebehay). In regards to these violations of international law, many Americans who were involved were able to avoid serious punishment and getting into large trouble, though some of the lower-ranking violators were indeed prosecuted (Boggs 16, Boggs 48). This demonstrates that the United States is able to use its massive amount of power and influence to enforce double standards in regards to itself and its allies in comparison to other countries when it comes to following international law.

While the United States has behaved like an international outlaw abroad, the behavior of the U.S. government was more pleasant here in the United States. Over the last 100 years, the United States government implemented some positive changes in this country which allowed the United States to become freer, more democratic, and filled with more opportunities. Women in the United States were finally given the right to vote (suffrage) nationwide in 1920, while African Americans received their civil rights and ended segregation and official discrimination against them between the 1950s and 1970s. While the social safety net in the U.S. a century ago was virtually nonexistent, nowadays there is some government assistance for people who are struggling and need help. The elderly and disabled and their needs also began receiving much more attention in the last several decades, leading the U.S. government to create and pass Social Security, Medicare, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Recently, American women became much more successful in finding jobs outside of the home, reducing and ending gender discrimination in the workplace, and earning greater pay for their work. Likewise, United States immigration policy became much fairer over the last several decades as the United States progressively allowed a much greater number of people to legally immigrate here, especially after significant changes to U.S. immigration law were made in 1965 (Ludden) (Three). (These 1965 changes made U.S. immigration law less racist and eliminated the preferential treatment which was previously given to Northern and Western Europeans who desired to immigrate to the United States (Ludden).) Sexual intercourse between two adults of the same sex was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, and throughout the last decade some U.S. states (mostly those close to Canada) finally legalized gay marriage (Lithwick). It is fair to state that the United States government also arguably behaved improperly in domestic affairs at certain periods of over the last century, such as by curtailing the individual rights and civil liberties of U.S. citizens during wartime and during the Cold War. Overall, however, the laws and domestic policies of the United States are much freer, more democratic, and fairer than they were a century ago. Unfortunately, though, the same cannot be said about U.S. behavior in foreign affairs.