Adam Jones’ book Genocide, War Crimes and the West: History and Complicity is an incredibly revealing anthology containing accounts of atrocities carried out by Western imperial capitalism and those who serve its interests abroad. Articles describing the little-known and little-understood history of imperialist actions from Algeria to Vietnam, Armenia to Yugoslavia, and even the genocide of Native peoples by colonialism in the United States and Canada are reproduced in this essential text. Jones’ book serves as an important lesson to its readers about the reality behind the United States and other powers’ attempts to “spread democracy and civilization” at gunpoint, as well as to remind those who advocate “peaceful resistance” to imperialism of the futility of their position.
Imperialism at the Forefront
One strength of this work that makes it useful to those who seek to understand and resist imperialism is how the authors of this text never forget the broader context behind the events chronicled. Unlike some more traditional perspectives on genocide and war crimes that seek to address the issue via the psychology of the perpetrators, these authors correctly connect the geopolitical agenda of capital as the root of these events. In essence, this text provides not only the what, but the why, behind the greatest crimes of the 20th century – and the why is capitalism. Several chapters discuss US interventionism in Latin America and Southeast Asia, and while outlining the extent of crimes committed by Henry Kissinger and other imperialist agents, the context of the Cold War and the yearnings of US capital to maintain its hegemony over what it saw as its “back yard” are not forgotten. Rather than merely catalog the violence in Somalia under Siad Barre, the text talks about how funds and arms from the United States made it possible. Behind the many horrors being perpetrated all over the globe at any given moment, there is the presence of capital, the influence which leads to war, genocide and poverty for much of the world’s peoples, and Jones’ book is faithful in recognizing this connection.
Understanding Vietnam and Iraq as Genocide
This book makes an important contribution to the understanding of the Vietnam War and the sanctions against Iraq as genocidal actions. This is important, because these direct attacks on civilian population centers have yet to be admitted as genocidal actions by the United States. Apparently, the targeting of defenseless villages in Vietnam and the starving of 500,000 Iraqi children do not count as genocide because it was the United States who perpetrated it. If the Soviet Union is perceived as being slow to provide aid to the Ukraine during famine, then it was clearly Stalin who intended to starve the populous into submission, yet when the United States imposes crippling sanctions after bombing raids targeting sanitation facilities and other essentials to civilian life, starvation and illness are merely a convenient accident. And, when it comes to the bombing of civilian population centers within “free fire zones” in Vietnam, the United States would attest that in wartime such atrocities are unavoidable. The double standard put forward by Western propaganda in the context of Cold War does well to whitewash the crimes they committed, and in engaging these accounts of mass murder, Jones’ text serves to reveal the true nature of imperialist violence. Capitalism: Itself a Genocide
The most important chapter of this anthology is an article entitled Collateral Damage: The Human Cost of Structural Violence in which the author, Peter G. Prontzos, outlines how international capitalism itself is a genocide. In this chapter, Prontzos compiles a wealth of statistical data about death associated with poverty world-wide, and argues that this structural violence is generated by the capitalist system itself; that since there is no material reason for the disparities in this world, the ultimate source of this death and despair is imperial capitalism’s imperative to reap profits from the labor and material resources of the rest of the world. Even without warfare, without bombing raids on civilian population centers in the name of profit margins, capitalism itself functions as a system of the organized exploitation and murder of the world’s laboring masses. Prontzos begins his essay quoting Darwin, saying, “If poverty is not a result of nature, then great is our sin.” This quote is appropriate, being that the misery of world capitalism is not the cause of nature and the sin of its structural violence and imperialist warfare falls on the capitalist exploiters themselves.
What about Israel?
This text does well to incorporate important examples of genocide and war crimes throughout the 20th century, but unfortunately makes no reference to the crimes perpetrated by the state of Israel against the people of Palestine. This myopia towards a nationalist state which sees fit to drop white phosphorus on schools and hospitals, or impose an illegal blockade which is driving the standard of living of Palestinians to incredible squalor, cannot be viewed as anything other than intentional. Jones admits that his work is not exhaustive, and makes reference to the fact that material regarding Israel and British crimes in Ireland have been left out, though we at the APL must protest to this decision, being that not addressing such crimes is what allows them to be perpetrated.
Conclusion: This Text is Essential
This book is essential for those who wish to understand the true nature of Western imperial capitalism. Capitalism is a system of organized crime; an economic construction built to allow a small minority of the population plunder and exploit the laboring masses. When this system doesn’t break out into earnest warfare against the world proletariat by shooting and bombing men, women and children at will, it seeks to reinforce its hegemony through structural violence. Adam Jones and the authors of the various articles included in this anthology do a great service by offering these accounts. Poverty and imperialist war, genocide and the multitude of atrocities presented by both, are the crimes of capital. Only when one understands this essential truth is one able to wage an effective resistance to it, and this book is incredibly useful in bettering that understanding.