War and Genocide


On Sunday April 12, Pope Francis delivered a homily that outraged the Turkish government and caused it to withdraw their diplomatic representative to the Vatican.  The occasion was the celebration of Papal Mass in the presence of the Armenian Catholic Patriarch and an assembly of bishops of the Armenian Catholic Church.  The remark that caused so much upset was the pope’s mention of the great slaughter of so many Armenians that occurred a hundred years ago at the hands of the Turkish government forces during the political struggles that gripped the world during the First World War.  The pope listed this slaughter of Armenians as the first of the attempted crimes of “genocide” that have plagued the world since the beginning of the 20th century and insisted that only a full disclosure of such crimes and the intentions that lay behind them can allow for the healing and reconciliation that must take place before there can be peace in this world.

          Many Turks still tend to see it differently.  At the time, the Ottoman Turkish Empire controlled practically the whole Middle East.  It was also allied with the German and Hapsburg governments against the British, French, Italians, Russians, and eventually the Americans in the great war that had broken out August 1913.  The small Christian nation of Armenia, which had long looked to the government of Imperial Russia to the north as its protector against the Muslim world, now appealed to the Russians to come to their rescue.  And the Turks struck back without mercy, wiping out whole towns in Armenia, slaughtering men, women, and children without distinction, often by means that even the Nazis might have considered excessively brutal: mass firing squads, beheadings, burnings, sinking boatloads of Armenians in the Black Sea, or driving them into the Syrian desert where famine and disease soon brought death.  Although the exact figure of victims is still disputed, it is widely agreed to have been between a half-million and one and a half million.  Henry Morganthau, the American Ambassador to Turkey at the time, admitted a few years later, in 1919, that “The Turkish policy was that of extermination disguised as deportation.”

          Despite the fact that war crimes trials were held after the First World War, with prosecutions of those defeated Ottoman government officials who were found guilty of what happened. But even after admissions by other prominent Turkish historians of their government’s crime, the present government of Turkey still officially denies that what they refer to as “the troubles of 1915” as having been a “genocide”, since they claim that it was not their country’s intention to kill them all.

          But in the end does it make a difference?  Back in 1915 the world was shocked that in any situation civilians would be targeted during even the bloodiest war.  Yet even then inroads against the taking of innocent lives had already begun, with the Germans torpedoing of the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915 with the loss of 1198 lives — all civilian passengers and crew. The Germans even tried bombing London from the air once or twice during that war.

          While only 1004 RAF aircrew members and about double that number of the German Luftwaffe were killed during the Battle of Britain from May 1940 until October 1941, about 52,000 British civilians on the ground were to lose their lives before the Blitz and the V-1 “buzz-bombs” and the V-2 missiles quit falling in March 1945.  But the British RAF retaliation bombings of Dresden between Feb. 12-15, 1945 took somewhere between 22,700 to 25,000 mostly civilian lives. By March 10 that same year the US Army Air Force incinerated about 100,000 Tokyo residents in just one night’s air raid, followed by the two atomic bombings with  66,000 deaths in Hiroshima on August 6 and another 39,000 in Nagasaki on August 9th.  These are estimates of the almost instantaneous deaths — thousands and thousands more were to die as a result of just those two bombs in the weeks, months and years to come.  Even General Curtis LeMay, in charge of that part of the Air Force that carried out those bombings, eventually admitted that if the U.S.A. had not won that war, he would have been tried as a war criminal.  But by that time, was there really any question as to who was winning? Was there really any valid justification for the use of those bombs?

            And In the 70 years that have passed since then as anything really changed for the better?  If it is in terms of honesty, it would hardly seem so.  We now refer to civilian deaths like that as “collateral damage”, the same classification as broken windows or collapsed roofs.  Thus between the US Government statistics regarding those killed in battle beginning in 2003 (109,000) and those of the Iraqi Health Ministry counts from the country’s morgues ending in 2010, totals up to about 131,000 civilians have died either directly or indirectly as a result of our efforts to liberate them.  What the actual total really is remains anyone’s guess.

But with thousands of thermonuclear warheads, each about a thousand or more times powerful than the atomic bombs used on Japan still stored in missile silos, in submarines, etc., in the USA, Russia, Great Britain, France and China, along with unknown numbers of nuclear weapons in the hands of India, Pakistan, N. Korea, and, although they never have admitted it, the Israelis, can we legitimately complain because Iran has wanted a few of their own?  In the light of all this hypocrisy, the Turkish avoidance of their awful crime a century ago seems like an understandable human weakness compared to our massive evasion of the facts. 


R. W. Kropf   4/14/15                           War and Genocide.doc