Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Log 376: A question no one ever asks of the political leaders of the United States

English: President Barack Obama with the Nobel...
English: President Barack Obama with the Nobel Prize medal and diploma during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Raadhuset Main Hall at Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There may be something wrong with me, but whenever I hear --- as one does nowadays almost every day --- the political leaders of the United States waxing indignant at the use of chemical weapons, one question keeps popping into my mind: “Would you have so enthusiastically recommended international action to stop the United States from poisoning Vietnam with Agent Orange?”

After all, in the use of chemicals as a weapon of warfare, the U.S. must take the cake. Not only did they set out to destroy the very land on which the Vietnamese people lived, but they sewed chemicals and their deadly effects so successfully in that soil that children born years after the war had ended are still ending up with horrible physical and mental deformities.

Of course, this is just one aspect of the hypocrisy that seems uppermost in almost every decision taken by the powerful “in these days,”  if I may quote Dorothy Parker, “of horror, despair and world change.”

It is no news, of course, that the rules of justice are dictated by those who win the wars, or, if they don’t win them, nevertheless retain the preponderance of power. But the behaviour of Barack Obama, a well-known student of constitutional law, in suddenly, on his elevation to the presidency, turning into a hawk for war, was not only unexpected, but seems completely hypocritical.  Rebuffed recently in his effort to drum up support for armed intervention in the Syrian civil war, he and his mate John Kerry --- a veteran of the Vietnam war himself --- have not shrunk back even a step, but are continuing to travel the world, pressing other nations to support their decision to extend the war, even though they must be aware of the fraught possibilities that could arise from such a decision. It’s as if the Americans, having absorbed from the movies they saw as children that the only answer to any problem is a good sock on the jaw, are now expecting the rest of the world to have absorbed that message.

This guy got the Nobel Peace Prize?

This weekend the BBC screened a debate held in Australia around the topic that “the United States is our (that is, Australia’s) best line of defence.”  Before the debate, which featured the American ambassador in that country on the one side, and a professor from the Beijing university, allied with a retired Australian general, on the other, the audience was about a third for the motion, a third against, and a third that had not made up its mind. After the debate, the undecided had fallen to 10 per cent, the people against the motion has swollen to an overwhelming 56 per cent. In other words, the arguments put forward in such honeyed tones by the U.S. abmbassador did not go down well with that Australian audience.

One thing that struck me was that when speakers, both from the platform and the audience, spoke of “this region”, they were talking about a part of the world that is almost as far from the United States as it is possible to get, and yet there was the United States parading its belief that it is part of their essential interests to set up a military establishment in Australia. Australian governments, of course, have acquiesced, as they had always done, largely, one would have thought, because of a continuing strain of inferiority complex by the people Down Under (as we used to call ourselves in that part of the world.)

The very reasonable-sounding professor from Beijing seemed to have won over many in the audience when he said that the U.S. has surrounded his country with nine military bases which made Chinese people nervous. The ambassador coolly denied that these bases were in any way directed against China, and said they had nothing but peaceful purposes. If that is how the Americans customarily think of their global network of 840 military establishments in every part of the world, it is no wonder that the ambassador’s argument fell on deaf ears.

At one point the moderator had to remind the audience that they were not gathered to collect grievances against the United States, since so many complaints about U.S. presence were being  expressed, but to consider the motion.

The debate illustrated one other thing, to my mind, which was the efficacy of humour in argument, for the Austraian general, who had served in the forces in Iraq, had the audience laughing quite often with his good-humoured quips, all of which seemed to have gathered support for his argument, as against the deadly serious argumentation offered by the other speakers.

Of course, it is terrible that chemical weapons have been used. I wrote my first article against chemical weapons in the late fifties, when details of Canada’s own chemical weapons centre in Alberta at the Suffield base,  were just being revealed for the first time. I remember commenting with some acerbity on the fact that a woman--- whose name I reemember after all these years, Dr. Dorothy Latimer --- had been granted a medal by the United States government for her sterling work in inventing some new chemical weapon designed to kill people.

But if the United States wants to  demonstrate how thoroughly it opposes the use of chemical weapons, perhaps they could put more resources into helping Vietnam overcome the effects of the chemicals they dropped on the people, and the plants, of their country, years before anyone in the Middle East had decided to follow their example.

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