Being The Victor Is No Defence

Jon Stewart of the Daily Show recently battled verbally with Cliff May over the question of whether America’s use of waterboarding, and other interrogation techniques defined as torture under the Geneva Conventions, could or could not be excused as acceptable, given the terrorist threat to America.

Resulting from that exchange, Stewart last night apologized on the show for calling US President Harry Truman a war criminal.[1]

It’s impossible to know the pressures exerted on Stewart to force this retraction, but one can guess they were great. Stewart was wrong to apologize.

Can any one person unleash a destructive force so great it destroys two great cities and much of the surrounding area, inflicts unimaginable suffering on the population of those cities, sow the seeds of death and destruction that continue to devastate those who lived through it, and their children, and their children’s children still born mutilated, still dying from horrible radiation diseases sixty or more years after the event – can any one person responsible for such an atrocity escape the label of ‘war criminal’?

Harry Truman did.

So did Winston Churchill after his part in sanctioning the fire-bombing of Dresden and other German cities, in the greatest act of unnecessary revenge against an innocent people that has ever been unleashed by a military power.

Both were war criminals. That neither stood trial is due solely to the fact they were the victors.

Victors never stand trial for their crimes. Only the losers are punished.

The victors are no less guilty for that.

Jon Stewart was right to label Truman a war criminal. He was wrong to apologize for doing so.

[1] The Daily Show Website

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5 Replies to “Being The Victor Is No Defence”

  1. Wow, I didn’t catch the show but I’ve been calling these two war criminals for years much to the horror of some friends.
    Thank you RJA and I feel so, so sorry for Jon Stewart. Shee-ite, BigCorp and revisionistic history strikes again.

  2. I’ll have to disagree with you (again), RJ.
    Of course, it goes without saying that war itself is the biggest crime humanity has perpetrated, better start by saying that!

    Having said it, I don’t think it’s reasonable to mention waterboarding and torture of terrorists in the same context as what went on in World War 2, which is what Mr. May asked Stewart to do – a typical right-wing ploy, I guess.

    It’s just not black and white, and it all becomes very, very grey when observed from 2009, 65 years after the events – those questions as related to Truman or Churchill, I mean.

    I’m glad Stewart retracted what he said, whether under pressure from his bosses or not.

    I’m a pacifist myself, but I still cannot judge what others did on my behalf in good faith, 65 years ago.

  3. I was very disappointed that Stewart retracted his war criminal comment. In fact, I had been so proud of the courage he’d shown to state what was, to me, the obvious. Collateral damage of that magnitude, not to mention the deformities and cancers suffered by succeeding generations can only be described as a crime against humanity and, if in the context of war, a war crime of extraordinary proportion. Why should it be difficult to admit, especially in hindsight, that dropping a nuke, releasing a plague, or ANY other manner of indiscriminate, wholesale killing cannot be justified? If the government or military won’t cede the point, certainly the citizens should be free to speak out.
    For the past eight years the US has relentlessly sought the world’s sympathy over its death toll of 3000 on 9/11. It’s been hyped up as though no event in history could ever match the cruelty and suffering that was brought to bear.
    As RJ once so aptly wrote, “the US only ever weeps for itself”. Can’t we ever openly admit the horrific atrocities we have committed ourselves?

  4. Twilight – a crime is a crime is a crime – whether committed today, or sixty-five years ago. I agree war is an atrocity, but man has attempted to adhere to ‘rules of engagement’ since time immemorial. Torture, and the mass slaughter of innocents by whatever means, have always been held as illegal, even though they’ve been common practices among the more ‘uncivilized’ nations.

    That the governments of Germany and Japan chose to ignore the laws of war in the 1940s was not justification for the UK and the US to do the same. We were, after all, supposed to be on the side of “right”, whatever that is.

    Neither the recent torturing of suspects by the US, nor the gross acts of mass slaughter perpetrated by the Allies at the end of WW2, are questions of morality, but legality. International Law is very clear, and has been since the inception of the Permanent Court of International Justice in December 1920.

  5. I understand your point of view… just cannot share it. Yes, a crime is a crime – and in the case of legalities there should always be a judge to assess all the circumstances of the case. I doubt there is anyone left alive who can do this fairly and reasonably – certainly not moi!

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