25 October, 2005


Richard Nixon was president from 1968 until his resignation in 1974. He was elected on an essentially anti-war platform the first time around, promising to bring to an end the war in Vietnam. In actual fact the war ended up dragging on until 1973, and in the interim his secretary of State Henry Kissinger started two other undeclared wars in Cambodia and Laos.

Nixon was thrown out of office for a bit of political skulduggery involving spying on his political opponents. Meanwhile, his performance in Vietnam earned his secretary of State the Nobel Peace Prize. The Secret War in Laos and Cambodia continued thereafter, even following Nixon's resignation.

The modern parallel involves the disclosure of the identity of a covert agent, one Valerie Plame, wife of former ambassador Joe Wilson. This is a bit of political skulduggery, on par with the Watergate affair. The crime involved is of no grave magnitude; no one even died. And its impact on events in the world is negligible, really. Bush lied about yellowcake uranium on January 28, 2003. Joe Wilson told the world Bush was a liar on July 6, 2003. Unfortunately, Bush had already invaded Iraq on March 20.

Maybe someone will go down for revealing Valerie Plame's secret identity. But Iraq is still white-hot, burning bright like thermite. The United States will probably be squirming its toes around in Iraqi sand for the next ten years, regardless of who is in charge here. Whatever figure occupies the oily black leather chair behind the desk in the Oval Office will stare at Iraq with the same greedy grin on its jaws. And no one's ever going to get called out for that, just like no one got called out for killing half a million Cambodians. The moral of the story: the really big crimes always go unpunished. So think big.


It was the same under Clinton -- he orders a cruise missile attack on the biggest pharmaceutical factory in the northern half of Africa. No big thing. He lies about a blowjob, he's impeached. The problem is that Americans -- and perhaps citizens of all countries -- lack the strength to recognize their leaders as war criminals. That would implicate the entire country, and by extension ourselves.

The nature of criminal law is to make the criminal into the other, to then punish this alienated beast by locking it in a box where it can harm only other aliens. It hurts way too much to do that to yourself. It is possible to make Bush the "other" for being a slanderous, sliming liar. It is harder to do that for crimes against humanity and crimes against peace, which are the real crimes in Iraq.

That said, people who have been forced to face their criminal past -- many Germans after WWII, many South Africans after apartheid -- have emerged as far more unified, positive, smart, and caring. People who spend their energy denying the past -- the U.S. after slavery, Japan after WWII -- end up with strange neuroses.

You can see visual echoes of these traumas in fetish pornography, but that's a subject for another time. 

Posted by hedgehog

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