The War Crimes Tribunal going on at The Hague is the first test of one of the great principles of postwar politics—the Nuremberg Doctrine, which makes individuals liable to international prosecution for actions committed during a war. In the old days, military personnel and police officers were expected to do as they were told. In time of war, a soldier who refused to obey an order could and would be shot, sometimes without a hearing. But after the Nuremberg Trials, the phrase, always spoken with a phony German accent—”I vas just following orders”—became both a standing joke and a reproach against anyone who refused to disobey a dishonorable order.
Even under the best of circumstances, it would be hard for a defeated nation to get a fair trial from its enemies. War is terrible, and even the best men do things which would otherwise be regarded as crimes: they destroy houses, kill some people deliberately and others through carelessness. Winston Churchill—who did all of the above in two world wars—thought that the top Nazis should have been killed as soon as they were captured, without setting a dangerous precedent for international revenge.
This is not to say that the Nazi regime did not deliberately commit mass murder against Jews, Poles, Russians, Serbs, even Italians, or that the ringleaders should not have been summarily shot—like Mussolini, who was a choir boy compared to Hitler. Afterwards, a new German government could have settled scores, as best it could, with the other criminals according to German law. Or, if we had to have a trial, if it were limited to clear evidence of international murder—the slaughter of Polish Jews and Catholics, for example—no harm might have come of it.
Instead, the Allies institutionalized the hypocrisy of their propaganda. They not only made the conspiracy to wage aggressive war a crime by itself—as if most 20th-century American Presidents were not guilty of such a conspiracy—but they also outlawed warfare against civilians, including such acts as “murder, ill-treatment, or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population.”
The Hague Tribunal is only a faint echo of the Nuremberg Trials: the alleged war crimes of the Serbs, even if they were all proved, are trivial in comparison with anything done not just by Germans but by Americans in recent years. At Nuremberg, at least, an effort was made to fix the blame on the Nazi leadership: men who had preached a doctrine of racial superiority, laughed at Christian morality as weakness, and insisted that their strength and superiority gave them the right to treat other nations as slaves and cattle. There were no such leaders among the Serbs, and the so-called criminals who have been put on trial are so insignificant that, so far from enjoying the glory of a trial, they would not have been allowed even to testify at Nuremberg.
Like the Nuremberg proceedings, The Hague Tribunal is an irregular and illegal court. The established venue for adjudicating international disputes is the International Court of Justice, not the U.N. Security Council, which has no business involving itself in what was, after all, a civil war. The pretext was international security, but no one has ever taken the trouble to prove that there was a real danger of international conflict. As Professor Alfred Rubin has written recently in the National Interest: “If the Security Council, by its own vote, can categorize events in such ways as to avoid limits on its own authority . . . a radical change in the structure of the United Nations will have been achieved.”
Rubin also points out that the United States and its partners in the Security Council have been careful to limit the investigation to crimes committed by the three parties to the civil war. Just as at Nuremberg, where the Germans were not allowed to use any tu quoque arguments in their own defense, the activities of the peacekeepers themselves—including the use of American airpower against civilians—is not to be investigated. At least at Nuremberg, some of the judges did their best to insure a fair trial for the defendants, but this tribunal has been set up on the assumption that Serbs are Nazis, and that their leaders deserve to be hanged. As Srdja Trifkovic put it in the August 1996 Chronicles, “The model for The Hague Tribunal is not Nuremberg 1946, but Moscow 1938.”
Were crimes committed by Serbs during the Bosnian Civil War? Undoubtedly. These things occur in all wars, civil wars in particular, but no impartial examination of the evidence has been able to attribute a criminal intention to Serb military commanders. The most frequently heard charge is that the Serbs launched military attacks on civilian population centers like Sarajevo. There is a word for this—war. Even if the Serbs were responsible for all the faked explosions in Sarajevo, they would be guilty of nothing that the United States does not routinely do. In the Gulf War, before we ever committed ground troops, we subjected Iraqi cities to a murderous barrage of missiles and heavy bombardment. We completely destroyed their infrastructure—plumbing, water supplies, electricity, all gone. Nobody really knows how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the bombing and the subsequent embargo.
If we are going to talk about military terrorism against a people, then the United States should be accused of war crimes against the Serbs, not only for bombing the Bosnian Serbs into submission but also for the airstrikes that prepared the way for the Croatian massacres of Serbs in the Krajina—massacres which shocked even the normally anti-Serb press. It was the most brutal episode in a brutal war, and the blood is on our hands.
War against civilians is as old as mankind, although there have been periods of history in which brutality was avoided. During the American Revolution, British and German troops looted the houses of patriots, destroyed churches, and bayoneted unarmed civilians. The doctrine of total war has been U.S. policy since the American Civil War. Sherman’s famous march to the sea, authorized by President Lincoln, was a campaign to break the Southern will to resist by reducing women and children to starvation, and similar plans were carried out in the Shenandoah Valley and along the Missouri-Kansas border.
These were not isolated incidents in a single war. The terror bombings of German cities in World War II had no military value: the death of so many civilians was meant to cause disaffection in the German people, although it had the opposite effect. The same can be said of the brutal suppression of the Filipino independence movement in the Spanish-American War and of the war of attrition waged in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, everyone knows of the My Lai massacre, but that incident was apparently far from unique. According to ex- Navy SEAL Mike Beamon, there were even special groups of SEALS whose job was to sneak into Vietnamese villages to murder civilians and make it look like the work of the Vietcong. We used massive airstrikes against population centers, defoliated the forests, and used flesh-burning Napalm indiscriminately. The United States was denounced around the world, but in those days there was general contempt in America for the sentimentality of human rights.
The nations responsible for the fire-bombing of undefended German cities are in no position to point the finger at war criminals. Say it was justified, say that it saved lives—the Germans thought they had a noble purpose in killing Jews. As one British foreign officer put it in 1945, “Bomber Harris must have got more victims on his conscience than any individual German General or Air Marshall.”
The United States collaborated with the British in the firebombings, but we bear sole responsibility for the use of atomic weapons against civilian population centers. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are an ineradicable black mark on this nation’s character, on the President who made the decision, on the people who reelected Harry Truman in 1948 and who to this day refuse to look at themselves in the mirror.
Murder is not the only crime against civilians. During the Bosnian Civil War, the European and American press dwelt lovingly on rumors of rape camps. Upon closer inspection, most of the horror stories of Serbian rape camps turned out to be either gross exaggerations or even outright fabrications. Were any Muslim women raped by Serbs? Probably, undoubtedly. Should they be punished? Of course, either by the Muslims or by their own government. Is rape something unusual in a war? Hardly. The American Army, it is said, raped its way through Germany, and the only soldiers punished were the unlucky few who refused to stop when the war was over. In fact, our record on this is still very bad. The German government has repeatedly complained about the misconduct of American GI’s stationed in Germany, and the recent horror stories from Okinawa and Korea reveal that rape is still regarded as a venial sin by the U.S. military. More recently, American soldiers have been accused of raping their female comrades, and the most recent charges are coming from women stationed in Germany.
In the Civil War, Sherman’s men, when they were not burning and looting, spent their time raping the black slave women—a subject that few historians are willing to touch, because the unspoken assumption is that the victims were, after all, only black. These soldiers were, not coincidentally, serving under the very government that established the first American code of military ethics.
Drawn up by a German immigrant, Francis Lieber, this code was promulgated as General Order No. 100. General Halleck, who authorized the code, was the military officer who also gave General Sherman’s soldiers their carte blanche to burn, loot, murder, and rape their way across what had been the richest section of the United States. This same government and same officer bore responsibility for setting up the first concentration camp, designed to intern possibly pro-Southern Indians in the Southwest; this same government’s troops in Colorado massacred an Indian encampment at Sand Creek at the very same time that their comrades-in-arms were putting the torch to the cities of Atlanta and Columbia.
I have dwelled upon the war crimes of the United States, not because I hate my country or want to blacken its reputation. Many other countries have worse records. But war is usually a dirty business, and few nations have clean hands. One fact alone should make us despise the entire procedure set up at Nuremberg: the fact that Stalin, his hands reeking with the blood of 50 million victims, was one of the prosecutors. None of the Nazi defendants, perhaps not even Hitler, could match Stalin, who even managed to prosecute the Germans for the massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn forest—a crime committed by the Russians themselves.
Underneath all the horror stories of rape camps and mass murder, there is an underlying principle to the State Department line, and it is this: Human beings are individuals whose only group affiliation is to a state that protects their human rights. Differences of religion and nationality are insignificant, and it is morally wrong for members of one group to discriminate against members of another. In Bosnia, for example, this means that a Serb would be wrong not to want a Muslim to move into his neighborhood or to prevent his daughter from marrying a Muslim. When these prejudices become a policy of trying to preserve a Serb village or ensure Serbian political and military control over an area, the acts are not only wrong but criminal.
From this perspective, all the parties in Bosnia are guilty of human rights violations, but the Serbs are guiltier than the rest. Why? Because the Muslims, in their desire to control the entire region (let us not make the mistake of calling it a country) could play the multicultural card—some of the descriptions of Sarajevo make it sound like San Francisco or Madison, Wisconsin; even the Croats—once they were bullied into forming a federation with the Muslims—they, too, were grudgingly multicultural. Only the Serbs were honest in declaring their intentions, which was to have either a separate Serbian state or else a Bosnian Serb republic within what is left of Yugoslavia. In the eyes of the international community, that desire by itself is a war crime.
Now, I am not going to try to tell you that Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright really care about human rights. In fact, a glance at the Geneva Convention will reveal at once the hypocrisy of the United States and Germany, since the preamble to the latest version adopted in 1977 contains this lofty statement: “Every state has the duty, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations, to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” What else was the breakup of Yugoslavia but the threat and the use of force against that nation’s territorial integrity?
Where did such an idea come from? Since the Renaissance, philosophers have dreamed of such an international law, and by the 18th century most European nations were waging war according to certain rules which forbade the murder of prisoners and excessive mistreatment of civilians. In one sense, this is only good business: if wars are frequent, then whatever the Germans do to the French, they may, in the course of a few years, get a taste of their own medicine. The rule of tit-for-tat develops spontaneously even during modern wars: in World War I, for example, French and German soldiers respected each other’s mess times and struck up a trade in cigarettes, wine, and food, until their officers put a stop to it.
But the kind of international law that has developed in the 20th century is neither pragmatic nor humane. It is a kind of religion—the glowing noxious gas given off from the decay of Western Christianity. Religious people, who see the image of God in their fellow human beings, are sometimes reluctant to indulge in gratuitous brutality. But Western society has been only superficially Christian for the past two centuries, and international human rights are simply the idea of divine law with God left out. Since, for people like Helmut Kohl, Madeleine Albright, and Bill Clinton, there is no god but ambition, power, and wealth, they are forced to disguise their crimes and doubledealing with the rhetoric of human rights and international law.
This idea of human rights has been kicking around for about 500 years, but it took concrete shape during the French Revolution, when the Jacobins proclaimed their Declaration of the Rights of Man—the right to life and property, the freedom of thought and religion. But what they did was a dress-rehearsal for Russian communism: they destroyed churches, murdered priests, raped nuns; they confiscated property, massacred a large part of the upper class, and waged a genocidal war of extermination against the Catholics of the Vendee. They even created a whole class of people called “suspects” who had no civil rights, and there were proposals to take the children of suspects away in order to indoctrinate them.
The Soviet constitution, too, breathes with the warm glow of human rights, and since World War II the nations of the world have ratified or endorsed or proposed charter after charter on women’s rights, children’s rights, religious rights, and ethnic rights. During exactly the same period, the civilized world has witnessed an epidemic of child prostitution. Fifty years ago a man who assaulted a little girl or a little boy would not have to worry about getting a fair trial, because he would never have lived that long. The same goes for the rapist and the child-murderer. Now these psychopaths and degenerates are very unlucky if they have to spend five years in a psychiatric hospital.
Let me talk about just one of these charters: The International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In this convention, genocide is defined as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such,” and genocidal acts include: killing members of a group, causing them serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births, “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Now, during the Bosnian Civil War, we heard a great deal about genocide. As for the first charge—killing members of the group—all the parties are guilty. Serbs killed Muslims who killed Croats who killed Serbs who killed Croats who killed Muslims who killed Serbs. But if we examine the second and third charges—serious bodily and mental harm and the infliction of destructive conditions of life—it is we and our NATO allies who are guilty.
Apart from the normal incidents of war, the gravest bodily harm was caused by the embargo, which—as we now know— was enforced only against the Serbs, and not against the Muslims and Croats. In fact, the United States violated more than one international agreement by arranging the passage of Iranian arms by way of Croatia to the Muslims. The embargo was enforced so successfully against the Serbs that vital necessities—food, medicines—were not allowed to enter into the country, and from Belgrade to Pale, Serbian children were dying because there were no antibiotics or anesthetics for routine operations. One reporter, who brought this matter to the attention of Red Cross officials in Switzerland, was told that the Serbs were receiving very little Red Cross assistance compared with the bounty being sent to the Muslims, and, they added, if the world ever found out, no one would ever give money to the Red Cross again, an organization that plays politics with human suffering.
Mental suffering is an elastic charge, which lends itself to the thought-crimes legislation that became so prevalent in the Reagan-Bush years. Nonetheless, the American and German press succeeded in demonizing the Serbs, much as British mercenary writers demonized the Germans in World War I. This media campaign was orchestrated in the U.S. State Department, which has knowingly propagated lies and hatred. If there is ever a real War Crimes Tribunal, then these masters of hatred—Warren Christopher, Stephen Halbrook, Madeleine Albright—will face the same charges as Julius Streicher, who was executed for his anti-Jewish propaganda.
The other categories probably do not apply to the Bosnian Civil War, but I would point out to you that it is the policy of this administration to force contraception and abortion both on blacks and Hispanics in the United States and upon Third World nations. The usually unspoken assumption is that the world has too many Africans, Indians, Asians, and not enough Europeans. I say usually unspoken, because back when Planned Parenthood was getting underway, its founders were very open in promoting eugenics, and beneath all their humanitarian rhetoric today, the agenda remains the same: do not let the colored races breed. Both the United States and the United Nations take part in this worldwide effort, which is defined—in their own convention—as genocide.
The final category of genocidal crimes is the transfer of children out of their group. Strange as it may seem, such transfers are increasingly common here in the United States, where children may be removed from their parents’ home on a mere suspicion of child abuse. Saving children from abuse is obviously a good thing to do. But what constitutes abuse? According to the various declarations on children’s rights, children have the right not to be spanked, the right to be brought up in an atmosphere of religious toleration, the right to be provided with information on sex and contraception. All over this country there are religious parents whose children are being taken away on unsupported allegations of abuse; there are homeschooling families whose doors are being kicked in by social workers who think there is something inherently wrong in parents who want to protect their kids from public education or who think their own religion is superior to others.
The justification for all this is the doctrine of children’s rights. Unfortunately, in modern politics, a right always turns out to mean a legal claim. If I have a right to an education, that means that I have a claim on somebody’s wallet, somebody who must pay for my schooling. In practice this means the government, which steps in, not just in cases of abusive or deficient parents.
In fact, our governments—state and federal—claim to act in loco parentis for all the children of the country. This means that if a government agent decides that a child’s right is being violated, then the parents must face the full force of their state or that of the government of the United States.
Even the State Department can get involved. About ten years ago in Chicago, a Ukrainian immigrant family decided they wanted to go home. Their son Walter, however, wanted to stay with his aunt. Although no wrongdoing was ever alleged against the Polovchaks, the State Department stepped in to enforce Walter’s right to divorce his parents and stay in the United States.
Back then, the excuse was communism. Today, it would be religious freedom or the threat of female circumcision which has led some African girls to claim asylum. The details change, the basic principle does not: the doctrine of human rights means that, in Bosnia, Serbs are forced to live in a country controlled by their enemies, and that here in the United States, no citizen is free to rear his children, manage his business, or think his own thoughts.
The United States and its satraps on the U.N. Security Council have established a simple principle at The Hague: when other countries have problems, it is a matter for the international community to take up, but if there were a question of one of the permanent members of the Security Council—a question, say, of Scotland or South Carolina demanding their independence, or of Attorney General Reno’s decision to massacre 82 people in order to “protect the children” at Waco—the permanent members can exercise their veto power. What is sauce for the goose is not to be ladled upon the gander.
The so-called New World Order that so many American conservatives are obsessed with is only the American Empire doing business under a new logo. In the new American International, Inc., children’s rights are used as a pretext for killing children. In order to defend the territorial sovereignty of a nonexistent nation—Bosnia—a member nation of the U.N. had to be dismembered, and in order to assert the right of self-determination, the Bosnian Serbs had to be forcibly subjected to a government they hated. War crimes tribunals, human rights, and international security are inscribed in the lexicon of tyranny. For free men, these phrases should be shibboleth, and when you hear them from the lips of spokesmen or churchmen, you will recognize your enemy.