Thursday, September 2, 2010

Conference on The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975

The Office of the Historian, U.S. State Department, is hosting a conference on The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975, September 29-30, 2010, at the State Department, Washington, D.C.

The conference features remarks by Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Former Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard A. Holbrooke, and leading Vietnam War scholars.

This international conference features a panel on “The View from Hanoi: Historians from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” It also features at least one legal history paper. Stephen Griffin, Tulane Law School, is presenting: “The Legal Justification for the Vietnam War: Backwards and Forwards with Nicholas deB. Katzenbach.”

More information about the conference is here. The full program will at some point be posted here. It will be held in the East Auditorium, George C. Marshall Conference Center, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC. You can register for the conference here.

Of special note to those who can’t attend: the conference website includes links to great resources on the Vietnam War. There is much to find on the site, but I found particularly helpful the suggestions for further reading, which links to this excellent and thorough bibliography.

1 comment:

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

I agree, the Moïse bibliography, which I've consulted on several occasions, is excellent.

I'm wondering if any of the panels will discuss why it is that Kissinger is still a free man. I'm thinking in particular of the sort of material found in Christopher Hitchens' The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001). The fact that he is not under indictment for war crimes and/or crimes against humanity mocks our sincere efforts to establish the specific legal and moral principles of international criminal law in an evenhanded fashion, shorn of the vices of Realpolitik and the lingering effects of post-colonialism and imperialism.

Kissinger's career exhibits impunity with a vengeance, and it becomes one more item in the arsenal of complaints of those who argue, like Daniel Zolo in Victors’ Justice: From Nuremberg to Baghdad (2009 in English), that

"it’s time we abandoned our faith in the UN’s ad hoc criminal tribunals, in the reheated medievalism of ‘just war’ theory, and even in the notion of universal human rights, a doctrine increasingly weaponised and called ‘humanitarian intervention.’ International law has failed to prevent countless atrocities, and the great powers suffer no significant penalty for launching wars of aggression, ‘preventive’ or otherwise" (Chase Madar in the London Review of Books).

On the Right, it also provides succor to Eric Posner "and other Anglo-American nationalists who, for reasons of their own, are impatient with the admonitions of international law. Like Zolo, they see it as inescapably an instrument of politics, but they draw very different conclusions, disparaging international law as a passive-aggressive means of curtailing American power, a cheap trick practised by European elites and other anti-American cosmopolitans" (Chase Madar).

And then there's Negroponte: as ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985 "he played a key role in US aid to the Contra death squads in Nicaragua and shoring up the brutal military dictatorship of General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez in Honduras."

Let's hope our scholars in attendance aren't prone to fawning over the presence of individuals well-versed in the dark arts of "dirty hands" justifications in international politics.

I leave you with Kissinger's remark apropos the illegal bombing of Cambodia (which, to be sure, did not begin with the Nixon administration) that was a critical factor in the rise of the Khmer Rouge:

"In a burst of anger on December 9, 1970, Nixon exploded: 'I want them to hit everything. I want them to use the big planes, the small planes, everything they can that will help out there, and let's start giving them a little shock.' Here's an early warning signal of the 'shock and awe' strategy of a generation later. Kissinger relayed the order: 'A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.'" (From Mark Selden's chapter in Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn B. Young, eds., Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History, 2009).