Nuremberg: not a mindset for "the powerful"

No… it wasn’t the House of Commons or the Knesset this time. The raucousness and spirited exchange were coming from below the Capitol’s rotunda- from a duly selected, or money elected, group of American legislators. A lively family fight taking place before the Thanksgiving recess; a quarrel ignited by the remarks of a Pennsylvania legislator.

Congressman John Murtha, a former marine with a time-tested and unchallenged hawkish posture-from hooked beak to short tail feathers-had come out of the patriotic cone of silence on the poisonous thorny subject of America ’s involvement in Iraq . His summary pronouncement, unthinkable and unforgivable for a politician with lesser military credentials, was clear and to the point: the United States must pack up and exit Iraq . Exit Iraq now!

Yes… there were some lively exchanges ending in vocal volleys matching the approach of Tweedledum with the stance of Tweedledee. For three years born-again Publicans in Congress [read: neocons] and their Republican and Democratic peer-followers, have made their position clear to both the nation and the world: war actions undertaken in pre-eminence, optional or preemptive, are always patriotic and virtuous. How such actions are conducted, and their consequences, that’s an entirely different issue. It was the latter, defined by some of the more dovish congressmen as a lack of an “exit strategy,” that brought in the heated discussion.

If peace loving folks in America, and elsewhere, took the commotion this past week in the House of Representatives as a sign of possible change in how the United States might conduct future diplomatic or military business, they’ll be in for a disappointment. Truth be said, the contentious issue was not one of war vs. anti-war [in Iraq ] but whether the war, and subsequent occupation, had been conducted in an efficient and effective manner. And the possible “patriotic concern” was likely rooted in the less-than-a-year away congressional elections.

Publicans have shown to have zero ambivalence on matters of war; it makes little or no difference to them who the enemy is; or the nature of the conflictive issue. Never has it been expressed better than by the California legislator in Congress, Duncan Hunter, who simply evidenced his outrage last week against the more moderate legislators by saying, “If we don’t change the world, the world is going to change us.” That says it all, expressing in a nutshell how the Bush administration views us [ US ] vs. the world.

We are now celebrating the diamond jubilee of the Nuremberg Trials. It was a first, at that scale, for mankind… although victors have always had an upper hand in dealing with the vanquished, not just in dispensing physical or mental punishment, but in penning history as well. The world has changed, however; and it is “the powerful,” not necessarily the victors, who have the upper hand with their enemy, vanquished or not. It all started in April 1975 as American forces exited Vietnam in defeat… and things don’t seem any better, as the US military is taxed to its limits in its present occupation of Iraq . Vietnam and Iraq : two places where the US may not be seen as the victor, but none-the-less remains “the powerful.”

In 1970, on my first job with a multi-national firm headquartered in the Midwest, I listened on several occasions to commentary on the Nuremberg trials by the firm’s colorful CEO, who had participated in the proceedings while a US Army officer. A staunch conservative and lifelong Kansas Republican, W.G. was a devout capitalist that would blame communism for every ill in the world- past, present or yet-to-come. His bottom line: never allow anyone to put you on trial. Most Germans tried and convicted of war crimes, according to him, had behaved in much the same way as our Washington leaders and military had in Vietnam since 1963.

Vietnam is nothing but a memory. Americans would not dare challenge their leaders’ conduct in that war… not at high government or military levels. Yet, even presumed “honorable men,” such as Colin Powell, covered up investigations, i.e. the My Lai massacre incident, claiming that “nothing happened.” Crimes are perpetrated by “criminals” and, it becomes apparent, the powerful can only make mistakes… but can never be accused of being criminals. Or so we are brainwashed to believe.

If Americans are accused of unrestrained dominance; less than ethical or moral behavior; and a suspicious, untrusting nature… such characteristics are treated as coming from people who either envy or hate us. And the American media has done little to educate us, or have us look in the mirror of truth.

Obviously, there won’t be any US high-ranking government officials or military personnel who will be charged with war crimes, or mini-holocausts, on this optional war experiment in Iraq . No charges or trials for these folks… at least not while on this earth. But, if they are God-fearing true believers, as many claim to be, perhaps Nuremberg II is awaiting them in either the untarnished part of their consciences, or in Judgment Day.

Nuremberg ! After World War II the most notable, but unsuccessful, defense for the vanquished Germans- and the civilian population at large- was one of simply following orders… “That they did not question authority.” It is self-evident that Americans question authority even less, having surrendered their rights as citizens of a participative democracy under the guise of patriotism. Horrifying… and sad!