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The distance from No Gun Ri to Iraq ...

The following ran in Tuesday's Boston Globe
America's wars on civilians 
By James Carroll, 10/05/99 

hen Americans read an Associated Press report last week of No Gun Ri, where
hundreds of Korean civilians may have been massacred by GIs during the
Korean War, first comparisons were drawn with My Lai, where GIs killed
something like 500 Vietnamese civilians. But a difference quickly became

The Americans at My Lai were regarded as berserk. However much their actions
resulted from the inherent stresses of that war, their brutal targeting of
noncombatants was said to be an exceptional deviation from orders. But
according to documents found by the AP, the GIs at No Gun Ri may have been
acting under orders. Shooting civilians was seen to be necessary because
enemy soldiers used flows of refugees as cover, and it was thought the only
way to kill the soldiers was to kill the civilians.

The rush with which the Pentagon announced an investigation into No Gun Ri
last week implies a refusal to openly justify the direct targeting of
civilians, even to get at enemy soldiers behind them. A humane military
force simply does not massacre old people and children. That principle is
promulgated as well by the spirit of remorse with which the by-now elderly
American veterans acknowledged the ''wholesale slaughter,'' as one described
it, of the refugees in Korea.

And yet the strategy of shooting through the innocent, as if babies were
bits of foliage, is alive and well and at the heart of American foreign
policy. Instead of using the bullets of machine guns, however, the United
States uses economic sanctions.

A comprehensive strategy of punishing the elites of hostile states, and
indirectly hampering their militaries, by directly choking their whole
societies has evolved over the last decade into a central arc of the
American sway. Since 1991, the administration and Congress have acted
unilaterally to impose sanctions on various countries dozens of times. And
the United States has been the enthusiastic sponsor of numerous programs of
collective international sanctions imposed mainly by the UN Security

The one undisputed success of an international sanctions strategy, in South
Africa, seems to have licensed a broad denial of the more typical failure of
sanctions elsewhere to dislodge repressive governments, much less to advance
democracy. Meanwhile, according to disinterested agencies like the UN Food
and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, hundreds of
thousands, if not millions, of civilians have died as a direct result of
economic embargoes. 

An epic sweep of malnourishment, starvation, disease, infant mortality,
economic stagnation, and social collapse has crossed the globe from Cuba,
Nicaragua, and Colombia to Iran, Iraq, and Syria; from Sudan, Angola, and
Libya now to Yugoslavia. Sanctions imposed on such nations lead to the
failure of industry and the growth of unemployment, to the lack of
fertilizer and the destruction of farmland, to the decline of wages and a
skyrocketing of living costs, to the breakdown of sewage treatment and the
return of cholera, and to the radical demoralization of whole populations,
which makes humane political change less likely, not more.

Sanctions are war in slow-motion but with this difference: Enemy armies are
the least affected. Dictators and oligarchs wall themselves off from the
worst effects of deprivation while the most vulnerable are thrown into its

In some places, like Iraq, ''humanitarian exceptions'' have been made,
supposedly to enable medicines and other necessities to get through - but to
little effect. One UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Denis Halliday,
resigned in protest, declaring, ''No one wants to acknowledge the amount of
nonmilitary damage, the destruction of cold food and medicine storage, the
power supply.... I didn't realize our level of complicity in the

Each month, according to the UN's own figures, more than 4,000 children die
in Iraq because of sanctions. Protests from peace groups like one named
Voices in the Wilderness have been ignored (See ''Peacework,'' a publication
of the American Friends Service Committee). Questions about the morality of
sanctions have been raised (See Larry Minear in ''Hard Choices,'' edited by
Jonathan Moore). Deadly medical results have been documented (See Richard M.
Garfield in ''War and Public Health,'' edited by Barry S. Levy and Victor W.

Nearly two years ago US Catholic bishops asked President Clinton to lift
sanctions against Iraq ''because they deprive innocent people'' of ''food
and medicine, basic elements for normal life.'' Not even the witness of an
insider like Halliday, whose protest and resignation came more than a year
ago, has led to a reconsideration of this inhumane strategy. Indeed, when
President Clinton reconfirmed the international sanctions regime against
Yugoslavia at the end of the NATO air war, hardly anyone seemed to think
badly of the idea, even though it means shooting at Slobodan Milosevic
through the bodies of those who will now die as a result of polluted water,
scarce electricity, shortages of medicine and food, and, soon, a lack of
heat in freezing weather.

The Pentagon investigation into the massacre at No Gun Ri may well turn up
an order-issuing culprit on whom to hang the larger blame, and the United
States may even make reparations to the families of the Korean victims. But
such actions in the name of the high idea that this nation does not target
the unarmed and the weak will ring hollow as long as our child-killing
strategy of sanctions remains in place. 

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 10/05/99. 

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