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Saturday, December 12, 2009


Obama on "Total War"

A lot of attention was focused on Obama's defense (and expansion of the concept of) "just war" in his Nobel Prize speech, but none on the concept of "total war." Here's what he had to say about that:
Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of "just war" was rarely observed...Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations -- total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent...

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another world war...a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War.
To hear Obama speak, you'd think the concept of "total war" was a concept which perished with World War II. But in the very next war, 18 of North Korea’s 22 largest cities were at least half flattened. American bombers destroyed the irrigation dams that provided water for 75% of the nation’s food production. "Total war" at its "finest." In Vietnam, more of the same. John McCain the "war hero" was shot down while bombing a light-bulb factory.

In the First Gulf War, more total war. The United States deliberately and systematically destroyed the Iraqi water system, knowing in advance that "this could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics of disease," and then during the decade of economic war ("sanctions" is the polite word) which followed, intentionally kept them from being reconstructed. One million Iraqis, half of them children, died as a result of this deliberate policy of "total war," the policy which U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (in)famously once pronounced as "worth it" (it being the deaths of half a million children), and another aspect of the "war on civilians" that Obama "forgot" to mention.

Yugoslavia? Still more "total war," with the destruction of water systems, power and heating plants, hospitals, universities, schools, apartment complexes, senior citizens' homes, bridges, factories, trains, buses, radio and TV stations, the telephone system, oil refineries, embassies, marketplaces and more, all in a deliberate effort not to defeat Yugoslavia militarily, but to force the civilian population to cry "uncle" and overthrow their own government due to the hardships they were suffering.

One could make a case that the two most recent U.S. wars have finally broken from this pattern. But if the U.S. wasn't deliberately destroying civilian targets during the second war against Iraq, it's mostly because the sanctions regime had left little left to target. Hospitals were targeted though, proving the "total war" policy was still in effect even if it had little to work with. Likewise in Afghanistan.

Nor should we forget the war which Obama didn't see fit to mention, the U.S.-supported Israeli war against Gaza at the beginning of this year. True "total war," with hospitals, schools, factories, and just plain civilian houses all targets of the destruction.

"Total war" a thing of the past? If only.

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