The word ‘genocide’ has not been in existence for very long: it was coined by the jurist Lemkin between the two world wars. The thing is as old as mankind and so far no society has existed whose structure has prevented it from committing this crime. In any case, genocide is a product of history and it bears the mark of the society from which it comes. The example which we are to consider is the work of the greatest capitalist power in the present-day world: it is as such that we must try and examine it—in other words, in so far as it expresses both the economic infrastructure of this power, its political aims and the contradictions of the present set of circumstances.

In particular we must try to understand the intentions, in respect to genocide, of the American government in its war against Vietnam. Because Article 2 of the 1948 Convention defines genocide on the basis of intent. The Convention made tacit reference to events that were fresh in everyone’s memories: Hitler had openly proclaimed his deliberate intention of exterminating the Jews: he used genocide as a political means and did not disguise the fact. The Jew had to be put to death wherever he came from, not because he had been caught preparing to fight, or because he was taking part in resistance movements, but simply because he was Jewish. Now the American government has naturally been careful not to say anything so explicit. It even claimed that it was rushing to the support of its allies, the South Vietnamese, attacked by the Communists of the North. After studying the facts, can we objectively discover such an unspoken aim? Can we say, after this investigation, that the American armed forces are killing the Vietnamese for the simple reason that they are Vietnamese? This can be established only after a short historical discussion: the structures of war change with the infrastructures of society. Between 1860 and the present day, military thinking and objectives have undergone profound changes, and the outcome of this metamorphosis is, in fact, the ‘cautionary’ war the United States is fighting in Vietnam. 1856—convention to protect the goods of neutral countries; 1864—attempt at Geneva to protect the wounded; 1899, 1907—two conferences at The Hague to try to regulate fighting generally. It was no coincidence that jurists and governments should have been increasing the attempts to ‘humanize war’ on the eve of the two most frightful massacres mankind has ever known. In his work On Military Conventions, V. Dedijer has shown clearly that capitalist societies were also simultaneously engaged in the process of giving birth to the monster of total war—which expresses their true nature. This is because:

1) Rivalry between industrialized nations, who fight over the new markets, engenders the permanent hostility which is expressed in the theory and practice of what is known as ‘bourgeois nationalism’.

2) The development of industry, which is at the root of these antagonisms, supplies the means of resolving them to the benefit of one of the competitors, by producing devices that kill on an ever more massive scale.

The result of this development is that it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish between the front and the rest of the country, between combatants and civilian population.

3) All the more so since new military objectives are now appearing near the towns—i.e. the factories which, even when they are not actually working for the army, are nonetheless to some degree the storehouses of the country’s economic potential. The destruction of this potential is precisely the aim of conflict and the means of winning it.

4) For this reason, everyone is mobilized: the peasant fights on the front, the worker supports him behind the lines, the peasant women take their men’s places in the fields. In the total struggle mounted by one nation against another, the worker tends to become a combatant because, in the final analysis, it is the power that is strongest economically that has most chance of winning.