Friday, July 8, 2011

John Tirman's "The Deaths of Others"

John Tirman is the author or coauthor and editor of 12 books, including Spoils of War and 100 Ways America is Screwing Up the World. He is Principal Research Scientist and Executive Director of MIT’s Center for International Studies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars, and reported the following:
I am relieved to report that page 99 of The Deaths of Others does faithfully reflect the book’s themes—that the U.S. pursues war making with great avidity and does so with scant regard for the people that war affects. Appropriately, perhaps, page 99 is describing the Korean War, an immensely violent affair (3 million dead in 3 years) that is almost always called “The Forgotten War.” Why forgotten? Well, forgetting (and neglecting, ignoring, denying, etc.) is the typical response to America’s post-1945 wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We forget because acknowledging the scale of mayhem is too upsetting.

In Korea, as page 99 helpfully explains, the U.S. military stood aside and permitted South Korean Army atrocities to proceed—mass killings of “leftists” ordered by Syngman Rhee, the South Korean tyrant—resulting in 200,000 or more civilian deaths. But page 99 mainly focuses on “strategic bombing,” the massive leveling of North Korea after MacArthur retreated from the Chinese border (he aspired to destroy the Chinese Reds with nuclear attacks, and, of course, was hailed as a hero). Curtis LeMay, the legendary air force general who firebombed Tokyo and 60 other Japanese cities in 1944-45, was pushing the same for Korea, and indeed the U.S. leveled virtually every building in the North over two years, often using napalm. No concern for civilians was evident.

“The decision to bomb dams in the north when the armistice talks stalled in the spring of 1952 is an example of this set of attitudes,” I wrote. Catastrophic flooding ensued. Similarly, electric plants were destroyed. These acts mainly overwhelmed civilians, not the North’s war efforts. The U.S. did the same in Vietnam. In Iraq, the formal war ended quickly, but the attitudes toward civilians were persistent and devastating in other ways.

It’s an old American story: cowboys and Indians, but all over the world. The savage wars of peace are a national habit, but the peace is not for the “savages”—theirs is the peace of the grave.
Learn more about The Deaths of Others at the Oxford University Press website, and visit John Tirman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue