Op-Ed: Nations, Not Just Individuals, Must Be Held Accountable For War Crimes

by Moses Mast

The incident of the soldier from the U.S. army leaving the military base in Afghanistan and murdering sixteen Afghanistan citizens, nine of them children, is shocking news to the American people. This is just not American.  We might say we could understand this from our enemies, Muslims or North Korea, but that this, we insist, does not represent America.  Indeed it may not represent mainstream America but if we look at history it does represent a nation at war, all nations, and America is no exception. Stories of wartime massacres abound. We even have atrocities in the Bible, acts that we would not expect from the Hebrew people. It would seem that any nation that becomes more powerful than their neighbors can easily fall into the trap of committing an atrocity.

There is a certain progression of events in these atrocities. First, there is the act of violence, then comes the cover up, and then comes a person who exposes the truth (sometimes called a prophet or a news reporter), and then finally comes the outcry accusing the truth teller of being a traitor.

This particular atrocity in Afghanistan could not be hidden, so the outcry seeks to put the blame on one person so that we as a nation could be absolved from all responsibility for this horrendous act. The United States has a history of war crimes that we should be able to learn from, especially in Vietnam where we committed numerous atrocities of war. The one the news media focused on was the My Lai massacre. where a whole village was murdered. There were several news reporters who tried to look beneath the surface to try and understand how such a crime could be committed. One wrote, “It takes a nation to make a massacre.” His analysis concluded that it was more than the soldiers who did the killing, or even their superiors who gave the orders. The nation that seeks the reason to go to war and wins support for the war, the army that trains its citizens to fight, the congress that funds the war, and the citizens who elected that congress… all these bear a responsibility for what happens in the stress of war itself. This reporter said, “There is no justice if the only people accused of murder are the people we send off to war.”

In the story of the My Lai massacre there is also the story of three helicopter pilots who tried to halt the massacre and protect the wounded. They were able to fly some out to safety. They did this at great risk to their own lives. Later they were recognized and decorated for this heroic deed, but being recognized brought them more trouble from angry citizens and several congressmen who denounced them as traitors.

Stories like this seem to repeat themselves. We see the pattern in the case of Bradley Manning who exposed the war crimes in Iraq. The public reaction should not surprise us; it is exactly as one would expect. We can be hopeful that, just as in Vietnam, the truth will be acknowledged some day. In the meantime what is expected of those who protest the war and support the truth teller? We must still acknowledge that if we live in the United States and experience the economic benefits that we as a nation fight for, then we must do more than protest. It is difficult to know how I as one person can effect any change worth mentioning but I will try and name a few ways we can act.

1) Be truthful and honest about what I contribute to an excuse for war.

2) Take the risk of supporting the truth tellers who expose war crimes.

3) Follow the global standard of living and eliminate the need to take from others to enrich myself.

4) Share the Earth’s resources.

5 ) Support just immigration laws

There must be more one could say. I hope this will stimulate others to say more.  We all need to be a part of the conversation.

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CCA Program Director