1 February 2011 **** Front Page

Constructive and nefarious genocides

By Tapani Lausti

Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide. Monthly Review Press 2010.

Until recently the United States, gladly helped by Britain, has managed extremely well to manipulate Western opinion to believe in these two countries' benign role in the world. In this make-believe world, Americans — and the Israelis, for that matter — are able to do practically anything. They can follow policies which, if carried out by enemy countries, would create extreme outrage and bring immediate condemnation. If you don't approve of this propagandistic view, you are labelled as anti-American. No use referring to the UN Charter or international law. Washington is above it all.

The US and UK with help from some other countries have practically destroyed Iraq, causing the death of more than a million people, driving at least five million people from their homes. Still the governments of these countries are listened to seriously when they pontificate about human rights somewhere else in the world. The death and destruction they cause are not labelled as genocides. But if the Serbs are accused of killing 45 people, as in Racak, they are obviously genocidal, being official enemies. So, according to Edward Herman and David Peterson, there are constructive genocides, perpetrated by the US, nefarious genocides, perpetrated by the US's enemies, benign bloodbaths perpetrated by some of the US's friends like Israel or Indonesia, and, yes, imagined bloodbaths like Racak.

It works like a dream. Herman and Peterson quote Noam Chomsky who stated in a public debate: "If it's a crime of somebody else, particularly an enemy, then we're utterly outraged. If it's our own crime, either comparable or worse, either it's suppressed or denied. That works with almost 100 per cent precision." (p. 27)

Compare Darfur and Iraq. According to Herman and Peterson's calculations, "'genocide' was used to describe Khartoum's conduct in Darfur (i.e, inside the Sudan) ninety times as frequently as it was used to describe U.S. conduct in Iraq, a foreign country seized via a war of aggression and where more than three times as many people died during the same years (2003-2009)." (p. 39)

Bizarrely, some American journalists have described Darfur as an "unnoticed genocide", although it has been one of the most heavily publicized crises of recent times. The tragedy of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been immensely larger, with an estimated 5.4 million deaths from August 1998 through April 2007. Herman and Peterson explain: "But Kinshasa is not Islamic, and its foreign exploiters are the United States, Britain, France and other African states allied with the West — most notably Rwanda and Uganda. Hence, it is Congo's vastly greater death toll over ten years that has truly been ignored, while to its north, it was Darfur that became a 'cause celebre in America,' with more NGO, celebrity, student, and Internet-based activism and emotional tourism devoted to Darfur than to any other crisis in the contemporary period." (pp. 43-44)

In this upside down world, Paul Kagame is much admired in the West, although, according to Herman and Peterson, he is one of the most ruthless killers of our time. Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front were helped by US power. This power equation created a distorted picture of the tragic events in Rwanda. Herman and Peterson write: "The established narrative's 800,000 or more largely Tutsi deaths resulting from a 'preprogrammed genocide' committed by 'Hutu power' appears to have no basis in any facts beyond the early claims by Kagame's RPF and its politically motivated Western sponsors and propagandists." (p. 59) In fact, "the alleged Hutu perpetrators of 'The Genocide' were the ones driven from power, with several million Hutus sent fleeing from Rwanda by July 4 [1994], the date by which the RPF had taken Kigali." (p. 56) So it seems that the great majority of deaths were Hutus, possibly as many as two million.

As a result of all these nightmarish events the US gained a strong military presence in Central Africa and access to the Democratic Republic of Congo with its rare industrial raw materials.

Similar media-backed distortions manifest themselves in many conflicts around the world. The Balkans has been a major stage for Washington-led propaganda. Srebrenica is constantly used as a black-and-white tragedy where there is no doubt of who are the villains. Here's Herman and Peterson's comment: "Coming less than one month after the Srebrenica massacre, Operation Storm drove some 250,000 ethnic Serbs out of the Krajina along both sides of the Croatia-Bosnia border, killing several thousand, including several hundred women and children." Herman and Peterson observe: "But as Operation Storm was both U.S.-sponsored and helped clear up Croatia's Serb problem, it was minimally newsworthy and has been treated neither as a massacre nor as a genocide ..." (pp. 82-83)

Herman and Peterson also look at the Washington-approved versions of many other conflicts and massacres around the world. I started this article by saying "until recently". Things seem to be changing. First Wikileaks and now the Palestine Papers have revealed, for those who didn't know, how real world politics operate. Herman and Peterson's book should be required reading for young journalists who are beginning their career at foreign desks around the world. It is often too easy to succumb to the lazy ways of the mainstream press where distortions are part of the daily routine. These distortions are now being exposed by readily available factual material.


Visit the archive: Edward S. Herman, United States, The Balkans, Africa, Iraq, International Politics, NATO, Media, Tariq Ali, Phyllis Bennis, Noam Chomsky, Mark Curtis, Robert Fisk, Diana Johnstone, Gabriel Kolko, John Pilger, Howard Zinn, Book reviews


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