Tuesday, August 07, 2007

August 7

During the first week of August 1933, Kurdish paramilitaries -- acting at the behest of the Iraqi government -- slaughtered thousands of Assyrians in the northern districts of Dohuk and Mosul. The massacres, which peaked on August 7, were prompted by Iraqi fears that armed Assyrian forces might provoke a general uprising against the government; those fears turned out to be unsubstantiated, yet the broader Assyrian desire for autonomy proved fatal, as the government of Iraq responded in a manner reminiscent of the Ottoman genocide carried out against the Armenians during World War I.

In an appeal filed with the League of Nations, the Assyrian Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXI wrote that
[m]en, women and children were massacred wholesale most barbarously by rifle, revolver and machine gun fire. Groups of Assyrians were tied up with ropes and shot down by the regular an irregular troops of the Iraq army. The Ministers of Interior and Defence and other high officials were a few miles away from the massacre zone. Priests were killed and their bodies mutilated. Assyrian women were violated and killed. Priests and Assyrian young men were killed instantly after refusing forced conversion to Muhammadanism. The rapacious Arabs who were armed and instigated by the Arab officials received their instructions from the central authorities carried away the cattle and belongings of the Assyrians with impunity. Holy books were destroyed and Assyrian villages set on fire. Assyrian children whilst hanging on to their parents who were being driven to the butcheries were shot dead. Pregnant women had their wombs cut and their babies destroyed.
Reading about these latest atrocities, a Polish-born lawyer named Raphael Lemkin recalled the mass killing of Armenians carried out by the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I. As he struggled to comprehend the historical novelty of these mass murders, Lemkin wrote an essay in which he urged the international community to take action against “acts of barbarity,” among which he included “acts of extermination” carried out against religious, social and ethnic “collectivities.” A decade later, as European Jews like himself were being disposed of in enormous quantities, Lemkin later coined the term “genocide” to describe these very “acts of extermination.”

A little more than three decades after the Assyrian catastrophe, the United States Congress passed a broad resolution authorizing Lyndon Johnson to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” in Southeast Asia. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as it was called, was passed by a nearly unanimous vote on August 7, 1964. It was premised, as Americans came to understand much later, on false claims by the Johnson administration that US naval ships had been attacked without provocation by North Vietnamese gunboats; in truth, American ships had been participating in covert operations -- including surveillance, “team insertion” and sabotage -- for several years.

With the Tonkin resolution in hand, Johnson’s administration soon initiated massive airstrikes against the North. Within a year, several hundred thousand US ground forces had been delivered to South Vietnam.

Wayne Morse of Oregon, one of only two Senators to vote against the authorization, predicted that
history will record that we have made a great mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United States. . . I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake. I believe that within the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake.
When Morse sought for re-election in 1968, his opposition to the American War in Vietnam helped cost him his seat.

Labels: ,