American and British hypocrisy on civilian casualties and war crimes

Over the last three to four months the American and the British governments have been at the forefront of calling for action against the government of Sri Lanka for civilian casualties in the final offensive against the LTTE deeming them as "war crimes". On top of that, day after day the BBC, CNN and Al Jazzera TV networks and various other UN officials and NGO’s have been castigating our country, our president and the armed forces for having defeated the most ruthless terrorist organisation since the end of the second world war.

I have therefore researched and reproduced a few atrocities committed by these paragons of virtue in the recent past for the benefit of the younger Sri Lankans as well as to remind the correspondents of the BBC, CNN and Al Jazzera as well as the other numerous UN officials and NGO’s who are from that part of the world and are today up in arms on a daily basis of the sheer hypocrisy and duplicity of their governments and people.

Bombing of Dresden by the British Air-force in 1945

The Bombing of Dresden by the British air force in February 1945, twelve weeks before the surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany, remains one of the most controversial Allied actions of the Second World War.

In four raids, 1,300 heavy bombers dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city of Dresden. The resulting firestorm destroyed 13 square miles (34 km2) of the city centre. Estimates of civilian casualties vary greatly. In the first few decades after the war, the death toll was estimated to be as high as 250,000. However, today’s historians estimate a death toll of between 24,000 and 40,000. Post-war discussion of the bombing includes debate by commentators and historians as to whether or not the bombing was justified, and whether or not its outcome constituted a war crime.

Kurt Vonnegut was an American Prisoner of War (POW) who was in Dresden when it was bombed in 1945, and wrote a famous anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse Five, in 1969, recounting his experiences as a POW in Dresden, forced to dig corpses from the rubble. The resulting novel was Slaughterhouse Five was banned in several US states - and branded a "tool of the devil" in North Dakota.

One of his quotes from the book

"You guys (British) burnt the place down, turned it into a single column of flame. More people died there in the firestorm, in that one big flame, than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. I’m fond of your people, on occasion, but I was just thinking about ‘Bomber’ Harris, who believed in attacks on civilian populations to make them give up. A hell of a lot of Royal Air Force guys were ashamed of what Harris had made them do. And that’s really sportsmanship and, of course, the Brits are famous for being good sports," he concedes.

On the evening of February 13, 1945, an orgy of genocide and barbarism began against a defenseless German city, one of the greatest cultural centers of northern Europe. Within less than 14 hours not only was it reduced to flaming ruins, but an estimated one-third of its inhabitants, possibly as many as a half a million, had perished in what was the worst single event massacre of all time.

Not one military unit, not one anti-aircraft battery was deployed in the city. Together with the 600.000 refugees from Breslau, Dresden was filled with nearly 1.2 million people. Churchill had asked for "suggestions how to blaze 600,000 refugees". He wasninterested how to target military installations 60 miles outside of Dresden. More than 700,000 phosphorus bombs were dropped on 1.2 million people - one bomb for every two people. The temperature in the centre of the city reached 1600 degrees centigrade. More than 260,000 bodies and residues of bodies were counted. But those who perished in the centre of the city can’t be traced. Approximately 500,000 children, women, the elderly, wounded soldiers and the animals of the zoo were slaughtered in one night.

No one realized that in less than 24 hours those same innocent children would die screaming in Churchill’s firestorms. Many would never come out alive, for that "great democratic statesman," Winston Churchill in collusion with that other "great democratic statesman," Franklin Delano Roosevelt had decided that the city of Dresden was to be obliterated by saturation bombing.

It was a complete "success." Within a few minutes a sheet of flame ripped across the grass, uprooting trees and littering the branches of others with everything from bicycles to human limbs. For days afterward, they remained bizarrely strewn about as grim reminders of Allied sadism.

Others hiding below ground died. But they died painlessly—they simply glowed bright orange and blue in the darkness. As the heat intensified, they either disintegrated into cinders or melted into a thick liquid—often three or four feet deep in spots.

A Swiss citizen described his visit to Dresden two weeks after the raid: "I could see torn-off arms and legs, mutilated torsos and heads which had been wrenched from their bodies and rolled away. In places the corpses were still lying so densely that I had to clear a path through them in order not to tread on arms and legs."

The Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

These were nuclear attacks near the end of World War II against the Empire of Japan by the United States at the executive order of U.S. President Harry S. Truman on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively. After six months of intense fire-bombing of 67 other Japanese cities, followed by an ultimatum which was ignored by the Sh?wa regime, the nuclear weapon "Little Boy" was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on Monday,[1] August 6, 1945, [2] followed on August 9 by the detonation of the "Fat Man" nuclear bomb over Nagasaki.

The bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945, roughly half on the days of the bombings. Since then, more have died from leukemia and solid cancers attributed to exposure to radiation released by the bombs. In both cities, the overwhelming majority of the dead were civilians.

Six days after the detonation over Nagasaki, on August 15, Japan announced its surrender to the Allied Powers, signing the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, officially ending the Pacific War and therefore World War II. (Germany had signed its unavoidable[2] Instrument of Surrender on May 7, ending the war in Europe.)

In 1963, the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the subject of a judicial review in Ryuichi Shimoda et al. v. The State.[59] The District Court of Tokyo declined to rule on the legality of nuclear weapons in general, but found that "the attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused such severe and indiscriminate suffering that they did violate the most basic legal principles governing the conduct of war."

The Bombing of North Vietnam by the U. S Air Force code named "Operation Thunder"

Between March 1965 and November 1968, aircraft of the U.S. Air Force had flown 153,784 attack sorties against North Vietnam, while the Navy and Marine Corps had added another 152,399.

On 31 December 1967, the Department of Defense (USA) announced that 864,000 tons of American bombs had been dropped on North Vietnam during Rolling Thunder, compared with 653,000 tons dropped during the entire Korean Conflict and 503,000 tons in the Pacific theater during the Second World War.[102]

Estimates of civilian deaths caused by American bombing in operation Rolling Thunder range from 52,000 to 182,000.

Operation Rolling Thunder was a huge failure for the US forces despite the deaths caused and was deemed to be a failure as the people who conceptualised this operation as they did not ever conceive that the North Vietnamese would endure under the punishment that they would unleash upon it.

Other Atrocities Committed by the US Forces in Vietnam.

In 2006 the Los Angeles Times published a page one story, captioned "Vietnam Horrors Darkest yet". The story was based on official government documents detailing 320 incidents of atrocities committed by the US forces in Vietnam that were confirmed by army investigators.

The documentation, according to the Times, comes from "a once-secret archive assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s." This "Vietnam War Crimes Working Group" archive, 9,000 pages long, was discovered by Nick Turse, who was doing research for a Ph.D. dissertation as a student at Columbia University.

Turse shares the byline on the Times report with staff writer Deborah Nelson. The stories are terrible. "Kill anything that moves" – that’s what one company of American soldiers was told when they set out on a sweep of the rice paddies on Vietnam’s central coast in February 1968, according to Jamie Henry, at the time a 20-year old medic. So they shot and killed 19 unarmed civilians, women and children. When Henry got home to California, he held a news conference describing the slaughter, but there was no official response. Now we learn that the army did investigate his report and concluded it was accurate but did nothing to punish the guilty.

The official line that abuses were "confined to a few rogue units" is demolished by the material Turse discovered. Atrocities were committed, according to the Times, by "every army division that operated in Vietnam." They found a pattern of "recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese—families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing," who were "murdered, raped and tortured with impunity" by American soldiers. Military investigators documented seven large-scale massacres between 1967 and 1971 in which at least 137 civilians were killed. They described 78 other attacks on civilian noncombatants in which US troops killed at least 57, wounded 56 and sexually assaulted 15. They described 141 incidents of torture of civilians, including the use of electric shock. The evidence against 203 soldiers was strong enough for the military to bring formal charges of war crimes. According to the Times investigation, 57 were court-martialed and 23 convicted – about ten percent. Fourteen were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from six months to 20 years, but most appealed and won significant reductions. The longest sentence, 20 years, went to an interrogator convicted of "committing indecent acts on a 13 year old girl in an interrogation hut." He served only six months!.

Army investigators came to no finding about 500 other reports of atrocities, some of which described extensive killing. One sergeant reported in a 1970 letter about a pattern of American soldiers murdering civilians in the Mekong Delta in 1970. "I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [sic] each month for over a year," he wrote. The Times reported that "there is no evidence in the files that his complaint was investigated further." The extensive LA Times report includes details about particular incidents and online links to documents including statements by participants in atrocities and a memo from White House counsel John Dean. Of course this archive deals only with Vietnam atrocities that the army investigated. Doubtlessly hundreds, perhaps thousands of other incidents were not reported for example former Senator Bob Kerrey’s role in killing unarmed Vietnamese villagers in the Mekong Delta in 1969, first reported in 2001.

The only recent report confirming Vietnam atrocities was the "Tiger Force" story that won the Toledo Blade a Pulitzer prize in 2004.Tiger Force was an elite unit of the 101st Airborne division that, according to Blade, "killed unarmed civilians and children during a seven-month rampage." That story also revealed that army officials failed to stop the atrocities and then failed to prosecute soldiers found to have committed war crimes. That story recently was told in a book, Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War. The records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group that Nick Turse discovered in the National Archives, and that provided the basis for the L.A. Times story, have now been closed to the public, on the grounds that they contain personal information exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Los Angles Times story ended up by us asking "How long does it take the US government to release documentation about atrocities in which US military forces killed unarmed civilians, women and children? In the case of Vietnam, it’s taken almost 40 years. The 1968 My Lai massacre became public in 1969, but officials at the time said My Lai was an "isolated incident" the same thing we hear about atrocities today in Iraq and elsewhere. After that, GIs described dozens of other My Lai-style atrocities in which they said they had taken part. Those GIs were called liars and traitors, and no one was ever punished for any of the events they described.

American Policy towards targeting civilian during Conflicts.

In a very forthright article written by an American writer named Anthony Gregory in August 2004, he examined the USA policy towards targeting civilians during conflicts. I have reproduced some of his comments.

The U.S. government has killed civilians for well over a century. During the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman waged war on civilians in Atlanta. During the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of 20th century, U.S. forces killed about 200,000 civilians, and even had a policy to shoot anyone more than 10 years old who dared to resist the U.S. occupation of the Philippines. During World War II, the Allies ruthlessly firebombed Dresden and Tokyo and other cities in Germany and Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent noncombatants.

But there was nevertheless something special about Hiroshima and its sequel of mass horror, Nagasaki.

People still defend Harry Truman’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on pragmatic grounds. Truman’s defenders say that the bombings saved far more lives than they extinguished. They concede that the bombing was an act of targeting civilians, but insist that it was for the worthy goal of ending the war. Indeed, it was terrorism on an incredibly large scale. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese were instantaneously wiped off the earth on August 6 and August 9, 1945. Many more died in the following years from the radioactive climate left behind by the bombings.

So the questions remain: Was this a case where terrorism was justified? Can there be other circumstances where the overt targeting of civilians can be justified, so as to bring about a greater good?

In the case of Hiroshima, no substantive evidence exists that the bombing was "necessary" to make Japan surrender. In fact, the Japanese had already attempted to sue for peace in July and were only hesitant because they distrusted the terms of unconditional surrender that the Allies demanded.

Truman’s chief of staff, Admiral William D. Leahy, wrote in his book I Was There that using the "barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons." He lamented that the U.S. government "had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages" and that he "was not taught to make war in that fashion."

In 1963 Dwight Eisenhower told Newsweek that "the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing." Although many Americans revere Truman and think he made the right decision, that was not the universal opinion among the top brass.

Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. government has continued to treat civilians and combatants as roughly indistinguishable. During the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon carpet-bombed Cambodia, killing hundreds of thousands of peasants.

The first Bush and Clinton administrations devastated the lives of Iraqi civilians, bombing civilian infrastructure and imposing UN sanctions with the express policy goal of destroying civilian water treatment facilities and starving the Iraqi people into submission, in hopes to incite them to rise up and overthrow Saddam.

On 60 Minutes in May 1996, Leslie Stahl asked Clinton’s UN Ambassador, Madeline Albright, point blank: "We have heard that a half million children have died [from the sanctions]. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and you know, is the price worth it?"

Albright replied, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it."

Perhaps there has never been a clearer case of a U.S. official rationalizing the targeting of countless foreign civilians in the context of what happened at Hiroshima. The precedent had been set, and what decades ago may have been considered an immeasurable but necessary evil to stop Imperial Japan has more recently been invoked as a proper way of dealing with as negligible a threat to the United States as Saddam Hussein.

Three years after Albright’s frightening admission, Clinton went on to drop cluster bombs on Serbia, knowing full well that civilians would endure the most suffering. In regard to Gulf War II, the U.S. government has shown a complete apathy toward civilian dead in Iraq, refusing even to keep and publicize an accurate body count.

Some Americans have celebrated Hiroshima, as though it was a necessary end to the madness of World War II in which 50 million people lost their lives. They perceive the atomic bombings the way one might look at a peace treaty. Several years back, the Post Office even commemorated the event with a stamp depicting the image of the mushroom cloud that took hundreds of thousands of lives.

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