Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Introduction: Contours and Context Segment 11/17
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These are familiar conditions of life in US domains; Colombian state terror is beyond the norm, but other clients are expected to act the same way when circumstances warrant, and regularly do. In the case of Colombia, the Kennedy Administration escalated the standard procedures, helping establish more firmly the regime of state terror as part of its general program of reinforcing the apparatus of repression throughout Latin America.

The background is discussed by Alfredo Vásquez Carrizosa, president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights. "Behind the façade of a constitutional regime," he observes, "we have a militarized society under the state of siege provided" by the 1886 Constitution, which grants a wide range of rights, but with no relation to reality. "In this context poverty and insufficient land reform have made Colombia one of the most tragic countries of Latin America." Land reform, which "has practically been a myth," was legislated in 1961, but "has yet to be implemented, as it is opposed by landowners, who have had the power to stop it." The result of the prevailing misery has been violence, including La Violencia of the 1940s and 1950s, which took hundreds of thousands of lives. "This violence has been caused not by any mass indoctrination, but by the dual structure of a prosperous minority and an impoverished, excluded majority, with great differences in wealth, income, and access to political participation."

"Violence has been exacerbated by external factors," Vásquez continues. "In the 1960s the United States, during the Kennedy administration, took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades, accepting the new strategy of the death squads." These Kennedy initiatives "ushered in what is known in Latin America as the National Security Doctrine, ...not defense against an external enemy, but a way to make the military establishment the masters of the game... [with] the right to combat the internal enemy, as set forth in the Brazilian doctrine, the Argentine doctrine, the Uruguayan doctrine, and the Colombian doctrine: it is the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists. And this could mean anyone, including human rights activists such as myself."23

The president of the Colombian human rights commission is reviewing facts familiar throughout Latin America. Military-controlled National Security states dedicated to "internal security" by assassination, torture, disappearance, and sometimes mass murder, constituted one of the two major legacies of the Kennedy Administration to Latin America, the other being the Alliance for Progress, a statistical success and social catastrophe (apart from foreign investors and domestic elites).

Under Eisenhower, the acts of the client state in South Vietnam fell within the general category of US-backed state terror. But in this case, his successor did not simply extend these measures, as he did in Latin America. Rather, Kennedy moved on to armed attack, a different category of criminal behavior.

The assault that followed left three countries utterly devastated with millions dead, untold numbers of maimed, widows and orphans, children being killed to this day by unexploded bombs, deformed fetuses in hospitals in the South -- not the North, spared the particular atrocity of chemical warfare -- and a record of criminal savagery that would fill many a docket, by the standards of Nuremberg. By 1967, the bitterly anti-Communist French military historian and Indochina specialist Bernard Fall warned that "Vietnam as a cultural and historic threatened with extinction... [as] ...the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size." After the January 1968 Tet Offensive, the onslaught became even more violent, along with "secret bombing" of Laos and later Cambodia that added hundreds of thousands of additional casualties -- "secret," because the media refused to find out what was happening, or to make public what they knew.

The land itself was targeted for destruction, not merely the people. Extensive regions were turned into moonscapes. The "unprecedentedly massive and sustained expenditure of herbicidal chemical warfare agents against the fields and forests of South Vietnam...resulted in large-scale devastation of crops, in widespread and immediate damage to the inland and coastal forest ecosystems, and in a variety of health problems among exposed humans," American biologist Arthur Westing concluded. The effects are enduring. The director of the Center for National Resources Management and Environmental Studies at the University of Hanoi, biologist Vo Quy, writes that the destruction of huge areas of jungle left grasslands in which rat populations have exploded, destroying crops and causing disease, including bubonic plague, which spread in South Vietnam from 1965. Defoliants eliminated half the mangrove forests of the country, leaving "a solid gray scene of death," US biologist E.W. Pfeiffer observed after a visit. Drainage of regions of the Mekong Delta by the US army in counterinsurgency operations raised the sulphuric acid too high for crops to grow. Large areas "that were once cool, moist, temperate and fertile are now characterised by compacted, leached earth and dry, blazing climate," Vo Quy writes, after "deliberate destruction of the environment as a military tactic on a scale never seen before." To "heal the war-scarred country" would be a huge task under the best of circumstances.24

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23 Colombia Update 1.4, Dec. 1989. DD, 501, for further discussion.

24 Westing, Herbicides, 22. Vo Quy, Third World Resurgence (Penang, Malaysia), No. 26, 1992.