It is now no longer only liberals like Mary McCarthy who discuss the American occupation of Vietnam in terms of genocide: even such a hitherto faithful supporter of the State Department as Theodore Draper, prised loose by the war from his long-held certainties, wrote in his recent book Abuse of Power of the ‘dehumanized genocide that . . . cannot distinguish between friend and foe’. In Newsweek of February 19th, a U.S. Army major viewing the rubble of Ben Tre was quoted as saying ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.’ In the Sunday Times of February 18th, a reporter from Khe Sanh described the attitude of the Marines there as favouring United States with-drawal from Vietnam—after first carrying out a scorched earth policy. One of them who was ferried out wounded in the same aeroplane as the reporter wore a button with the slogan ‘Kill all gooks’.
The term ‘genocide’ is, perhaps surprisingly, not so much too specific as too generic. It is defined by the 1948 Convention as ‘the intention to destroy wholly or in part any national, ethnic or religious group’. This definition could be applied to any form of warfare whatever. Jean-Paul Sartre, President of the International War Crimes Tribunal whose concluding session was held in Copenhagen last autumn, had to answer the question ‘Is the United States guilty of the crime of genocide according to international law?’. He found that the only way to avoid a purely formal condemnation, was to attempt to provide an historical and political analysis of the American war against Vietnam, distinguishing it from the traditional colonial and imperialist wars that have preceded it. The context for this undertaking is given by his statement in nlr 41: ‘Imperialist policy is a necessary historical reality. By this fact it is beyond the reach of any legal or moral condemnation. The only thing possible is to combat it; intellectually by revealing its inner mechanism, politically by attempting to disengage oneself from it . . . or by armed struggle.’