The following is excerpted and adapted from David Barsamian’s recent interview with Norman Solomon at AlternativeRadio.org.
David Barsamian: American Justice Robert Jackson was the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. He made an opening statement to the Tribunal on November 21, 1945, because there was some concern at the time that it would be an example of victor’s justice. He said this: “If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down the rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”
Norman Solomon: It goes to the point that, unless we have a single standard of human rights, a single standard of international conduct and war, we end up with an Orwellian exercise at which government leaders are always quite adept but one that’s still intellectually, morally, and spiritually corrupt. Here we are, so long after the Nuremberg trials, and the supreme crime of aggression, the launching of a war, is not only widespread but has been sanitized, even glorified. We’ve had this experience in one decade after another in which the United States has attacked a country in violation of international law, committing (according to the Nuremberg Tribunal) “the supreme international crime,” and yet not only has there been a lack of remorse, but such acts have continued to be glorified.
The very first quote in my book War Made Invisible is from Aldous Huxley who, 10 years before the Nuremberg trials, said, “The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” Here we are in 2023 and it’s still a challenge to analyze, illuminate, and push back against that essential purpose of propagandists around the world and especially in our own country where, in an ostensible democracy, we should have the most capacity to change policy.
Right now, we’re in a situation where, unfortunately, across a lot of the political spectrum, including some of the left, folks think that you have to choose between aligning yourself with U.S. foreign policy and its acts of aggression or Russian foreign policy and its acts of aggression. Personally, I think it’s both appropriate and necessary to condemn war on Ukraine, and Washington’s hypocrisy doesn’t in any way let Russia off the hook. By the same token, Russia’s aggression shouldn’t let the United States off the hook for the tremendous carnage we’ve created in this century. I mean, if you add up the numbers, in the last nearly twenty-five years, the country by far the most responsible for slaughtering more people in more lands through wars of aggression is… yes, the United States of America.
Barsamian: At the White House Correspondents’ dinner President Biden said, “Journalism is not a crime. The free press is a pillar, maybe the pillar of a free society.” Great words from the White House.
Solomon: President Biden, like his predecessors in the Oval Office, loves to speak about the glories of the free press and say that journalism is a wonderful aspect of our society — until the journalists do something he and the government he runs really don’t like. A prime example is Julian Assange. He’s a journalist, a publisher, an editor, and he’s sitting in prison in Great Britain being hot-wired for transportation to the United States. I sat through the two-week trial in the federal district of northern Virginia of CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling and I can tell you it was a kangaroo court. That’s the court Julian Assange has a ticket to if his extradition continues.
And what’s his so-called crime? It’s journalism. WikiLeaks committed journalism. It exposed the war crimes of the United States in Iraq through documents it released, through the now-notorious video that came to be called “Collateral Murder,” showing the wanton killing of a number of people on the ground in Iraq by a U.S. military helicopter. It provided a compendium of evidence that the United States had systemically engaged in war crimes under the rubric of the so-called War on Terror. So, naturally, the stance of the U.S. government remains: this man Assange is dangerous; he must be imprisoned.
The attitude of the corporate media, Congress, and the White House has traditionally been and continues to be that the U.S. stance in the world can be: do as we say, not as we do. So, the USA is good at pointing fingers at Russia or countries that invade some other nation, but when the U.S. does it, it’s another thing entirely. Such dynamics, while pernicious, especially among a nuclear-armed set of nations, are reflexes people in power have had for a long time.
More than a century ago, William Dean Howells wrote a short story called “Editha.” Keep in mind that this was after the United States had been slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines. In it, a character says, “What a thing it is to have a country that can’t be wrong, but if it is, is right, anyway!”
Now, here we are in 2023 and it’s not that different, except when it comes to the scale of communications, of a media that’s so much more pervasive. If you read the op-ed pages and editorial sections of the New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets of the liberal media, you’ll find such doublethink well in place. Vladimir Putin, of course, is a war criminal. Well, I happen to think he is a war criminal. I also happen to think that George W. Bush is a war criminal, and we could go on to all too many other examples of high U.S. government officials where that description applies no less than to Vladimir Putin.
Can you find a single major newspaper that’s been willing to editorialize that George W. Bush — having ordered the invasion of Iraq, costing hundreds of thousands of lives based on a set of lies — was a war criminal? It just ain’t gonna happen. In fact, one of the things I was particularly pleased (in a grim sort of way) to explore in my book was the rehabilitation of that war criminal, providing a paradigm for the presidents who followed him and letting them off the hook, too.
I quote, for instance, President Obama speaking to troops in Afghanistan. You could take one sentence after another from his speeches there and find almost identical ones that President Lyndon Johnson used in speaking to American troops in Vietnam in 1966. They both talked about how U.S. soldiers were so compassionate, cared so much about human life, and were trying to help the suffering people of Vietnam or Afghanistan. That pernicious theme seems to accompany almost any U.S. war: that, with the best of intentions, the U.S. is seeking to help those in other countries. It’s a way of making the victims at the other end of U.S. firepower — to use a word from my book title — invisible.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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