Perhaps there is some cosmic justice in President Bill Clinton, the Vietnam draft dodger, presiding over America’s further humiliation in the world by involving us in an unwarranted, unwanted, and undeclared war in Europe’s backyard. There is a certain symmetry. As a youthful draft dodger, Mr. Clinton spent his time in Europe and Moscow protesting the Vietnam War. As President, he evades service yet again.
Mr. Clinton has lately taken to referring to his Serbian opposition as “war criminals.” Presumably, this justifies his efforts to bomb them into the new millennium. Unfortunately for all of us, it does not.
The term “war crimes” seems to have originated in World War II. Earlier wars were simply regarded as a breakdown in the rules. War meant the rules (laws) had failed. The notion of “crimes” suggests rules that have been broken. The idea that one may drop explosives from airplanes and blow up people and villages while following “rules” would seem to be a recent historical invention. The Columbia-Viking Desk Encyclopedia relates this about “war crimes”:
“The allied powers determined to punish Axis war criminals. Crimes were to include aggressive warfare and atrocities in any civilian group (notably extermination of a people or genocide). [A] UN Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes was established to compile and classify lists of suspects. In August, 1945, [the] U.S., USSR, and Great Britain adopted [a] statute for trying Nazi Leaders. Trials [were] held in Nuremberg [in] November, 1945. After voluminous evidence, those sentenced to death in 1946 included Goering, Ribbentrop, and Streicher; Schacht and von Papen were acquitted. Likewise, 28 war criminals were tried by an 11-nation tribunal in Tokyo (1946-47). Many were also tried in civil courts for crimes committed in war.”
There was, however, at least one major difference between WWII “war crimes” and Mr. Clinton’s current NATO efforts to obliterate Serbian resistance to America’s plans for Yugoslavia. WWII was a declared war.
Courts are fond of laws. Judges and attorneys for both sides go to great lengths to search out relevant laws to develop a framework upon which to hang evidence. In the absence of specific laws, and often in civil cases, the court attempts to determine if policies and procedures established by the aggrieved parties were correctly followed. Failure to do so often costs the losing party dearly.
Let us for a moment imagine a successful end to the recent NATO adventure in Kosovo, the incarceration pending trial of the “war criminals,” and Mr. Clinton giving evidence at a grand world court. The American president has already stipulated from videotaped segments on CNN that he ordered American participation in the bombing:
Defendant’s Lawyer: Mr. Clinton, how was the decision made to use American military force in Yugoslavia?
Witness: Well, I consulted with some of my friends who run their countries, and we decided that something needed to be done. So we ordered NATO to drop some bombs on the Serbs.
Lawyer: Did you discuss the matter with your Congress?
Witness: (smiling) Well, me and Congress — we don’t get along very well — they’re out to get me, you know! I kind of let it be known what I was planning to do — dropped a hint on CNN.
Lawyer: Mr. Clinton, do you know what this is? (hands him a document).
Witness: It’s a constitution.
Lawyer: Any specific constitution?
Witness: The United States Constitution.
Lawyer: Mr. Clinton, would you turn please to article one, section eight. What does that section describe?
Witness: It’s talking about congress, taxes, post offices —
Lawyer: Anthing in there about war?
Witness: Just a little line or so.
Lawyer: Since it’s just a line, would you read for the court what that section of the American constitution says about war.
Witness: “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.
Lawyer: Mr. Clinton, did the United States Congress authorize the use of force in Yugoslavia?
When you don’t follow your own rules, you will be hard-pressed to find sympathy in a court of law. But don’t worry. The war reparations assigned to Germany after WWI were only 132,000,000,000 gold marks. Germany defaulted, and following WWII the issue resurfaced. Although most allied countries collected little, “Soviet authorities dismantled German industries on a large scale (as they also did with Austrian and Manchurian plants)” (Columbia-Viking).
Perhaps Mr. Clinton has found a use for America’s budgetary “surplus” after all? Maybe like me, you can hardly wait to learn what your fair share of the war reparation payments to Yugoslavia will be?