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April 30, 2001
NPR an apologist for war crimes

by Ali Abunimah


From: Ali Abunimah ahabunim@midway.uchicago.edu
To: morning@npr.org
Subject: NPR--U.S. War crimes

April 27, 2001

Dear NPR News,

I am disgusted by Morning Edition's coverage of Senator Bob Kerrey's admission that he ordered what he termed an "atrocity" against women and children in Vietnam 32 years ago. It certainly took courage for Kerrey to admit this, though given that millions of people died in Cambodia and Vietnam as a result of the U.S. attempt to impose its will there, only the most naive and disingenuous could be surprised.

Following the report on Kerrey, which was adequate, host Bob Edwards interviewed journalist Louis Simons on the topic of "civilian casualties" in war time. The whole purpose of the interview seems to have been to excuse the actions of Kerrey and others like him and to put it to us that soldiers in war are so terrified and confused that their atrocities ought to be excused. Simons stated that the conditions Kerrey and his fellow soldiers faced were the "most horrible that anyone could possibly imagine and i doubt anyone can truly imagine it." I have no doubt that they were every bit as horrible as Simons put it. But I put it to you that probably conditions were more horrible for the civilian victims of the U.S. military.

Neither Simons nor Edwards evinced even the slightest concern for the victims, however. No one raised the question of whether U.S. military personnel should be held to the same standards as, say, Yugoslav officers on trial in the Hague.

Edwards asked: "All wars have accidental civilian casualties. How was Vietnam different?" With this question, Edwards implies that civilians are only killed and injured accidentally except in rare, exceptional cases such as the one Kerrey has revealed. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Vietnam "free fire zones" redefined every civilian as a potential "enemy" with the predictable result that countless civilians were killed. In recent wars, the ever-expanding definition of "military targets," means that the large number of civilian victims is entirely predictable and avoidable and therefore not "accidental" in any way. When you define water treatment works, electricity generation and transmission facilities, television and radio stations, and other civilian facilities as "targets" and when you use radioactive munitions, you know that you are going to make civilians suffer and die. In fact this was the intention of U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Yugoslavia. The idea that if civilians suffer enough they will pressure their government to capitulate is not a new one and descends directly from the medieval siege.

All of this is a far cry from the hand-wringing apologia we heard for U.S. war crimes this morning.


Ali Abunimah