Why the Gas issue Doesn’t Impress me

Back in an earlier life, Politywonk spent a year helping survivors of the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields identify themselves to potential resettling countries. On the surface, they were easy interviews: tell me who you are, tell me who’s in your family, tell me where they are.

And then you sit and listen to person after person, a hundred before lunch sometimes, say the same word over and over:

Where is your mother?

Where is your father?

How many brothers do you have?
“None. All dead.”

How many sisters do you have?
“None. All dead.”

Write their names for me anyway.
“But they are all dead.”

How many were there?
Twelve. Five. Ten.

When did they die?
“Pol Pot time.”

Every now and then, someone died of something else. A sibling died in an accident as a smaller child. A mother died of natural causes. A father. But usually…
“Pol Pot time.”

No gas was used to achieve this result. Hoes, bayonets, pipes, deprivation of food, buried alive, intentional drowning.  The US Department of State estimates that about three million died, out of a total population of about 8.4 million. When the US failed to overthrow this government as part of its war in Southeast Asia, we condemned the regional power that made the next effort. “Invasion” is an international crime, we said.

In recent memory, the majority ethnic group in Rwanda (Hutus) picked up handmade machetes in an attempt to wipe out fellow citizens of a different ethnic group, the Tutsis. When the Hutu effort finished, three quarters of the Tutsi minority had been ruthlessly killed. Even sheltering in Christian churches could not save their lives.

Secretary of State Kerry calls on the US taxpayer to once-again hand over unregulated dollars to the military-industrial-intelligence complex, in support of an international protocol passed in 1925. But the war-weary world in those days, much like our own, passed numerous protocols, and signed many treaties, designed to end the mechanisms of war. Many of these had to do with the purchase and enlargement of national armories, on land and sea and sky. Why do we hear nothing of these?

The 1920s taught us a lot of tough lessons. For instance, if forces for good disarm, forces for evil will take advantage. If forces for evil extract too high a price from neutral populations, old enmities will reappear. 

But there are a few things Politywonk has learned since then. One of those things is that the issue is not the gas, it’s the intention of killing off a major segment of your population.

All day the television has been talking about the opinions of various members of Congress. Washington’s punditry. The “international community.” I’d like to hear from some of the folks I so long ago assisted in finding a safer country than the one where their government killed their family, their village, with farming tools. I’d like to know if they think gas makes a difference.




2 thoughts on “Why the Gas issue Doesn’t Impress me

  1. I personally am conflicted about whether the US should take any action in Syria. But surely the fact that steps weren’t taken in response to crimes against humanity in the past isn’t a reason not to take steps now? One wouldn’t say that “the victims of the Khmer Rouge don’t impress me much, because we didn’t stop the Holocaust?”

    • Good point. Hypocrisy is probably not the best arbiter of foreign policy decisions, because, frankly, “Hypocrisy” is pretty much another word for “Statecraft.”

      I am not an isolationist. On the contrary, my preference is for those of us who abhor genocide to find a way to intervene in the earliest stages of political bullying, long before the pictures of twitching bodies and bleeding babies hit the screens.

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