Tuesday, March 15, 2005

State Terrorism

From: SOUNDING BOARD
By: JOAQUIN G. BERNAS, SJ

We should not forget that states can perpetrate more horrifying terror. Remember Samar, Dresden, Hiroshima.

Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position ofdisparity [US military-economic supremacy]. . . To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming. . . . We should cease to talk about vague and. . . unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.

Theday is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better." -- George Kennan, Director of Policy Planning, US StateDepartment, 1948.

Terrorism is a favorite topic especially after 9/11 when more than 3,000 innocent lives perished in a flash in New York. It was terrorism perpetrated by nonstate agents. We should not forget that states can perpetrate more horrifying terror. The other night I watched the The Fog of War, an award-winning documentary where former US secretary of defense Robert McNamara was the main actor. It was a reminder of the horrors of World War II.

Early in the documentary McNamara narrated how in 1962 the UnitedStates was within a hair-breadth away from nuclear war where one ofthe options was the complete annihilation of Cuba. Fortunately, diplomacy prevented it. But we need to recall horrors that had happened before.

Remember Dresden. In February 1945, within less than 14 hours Dresden, a defenseless German city, was scorched by military bombers killing about a third of its inhabitants, possibly half-a-million innocent lives.

Remember Tokyo and other Japanese cities. Thousands of people perished under rain of firebombs dropped by US bombers. This was even beforeNagasaki and Hiroshima. When Hiroshima and Nagasaki's time came150,000 died instantly and thousands more by the slow, horrible death from radiation.

The US won the war. Japan surrendered. Germany, too, was defeated.

Military leaders of Germany and Japan were tried for war crimes. ButRobert McNamara himself observed that, if the United States had lost the war, American leaders would have been tried for war crimes!

It was happening even before World War II. In 1899 Filipinos fought American soldiers equipped with superior firepower. The death toll among Filipinos was enormous, and some provinces had horror stories to tell. Samar, for instance, had a General Smith.

A historian reports the testimony of a Marine Major: "The major said that General Smith instructed [a soldier] to kill and burn, and said that the more he killed and burned the better pleased he would be; that it was no time to take prisoners, and that he was to make Samar a howling wilderness.

"Major Waller asked General Smith to define the age limit for killing, and he replied 'Everything over ten."

Mark Twain commented: "We have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their villages, and turned their widows and orphans out-of-doors; furnished heartbreak by exile to some dozens of disagreeable patriots; subjugated the remaining 10 millions by benevolent assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket; we have acquired property in the 300 concubines and other slaves of our business partner, the Sultan of Sulu, and hoisted our protecting flag over that swag. " And so, by these Providences of God -- and the phrase is the government's, not mine -- we are a World Power."

Is terrorism just brutal, unthinking violence? "No. Experts agree thatthere is almost always a strategy behind terrorist actions. Whether it takes the form of bombings, shootings, hijackings, or assassinations, terrorism is neither random, spontaneous, nor blind; it is a deliberate use of violence against civilians for political or religious ends." And states can be the more dangerous terrorists. ###

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