Nixon and Kissinger’s Forgotten Genocide


The government “closed” this week. The quotation marks are meant to indicate that the worst parts of the government remain open at some level. It would be preferable to keep the monuments and national parks, like the Grand Canyon, going while closing the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, the NSA, ICE, FBI, ATF, and all related so-called national-security agencies.

The government is so entwined in our lives that some innocent people are hurt by the partial shutdown. Policies have consequences, creating perverse incentives and dependencies. Government intervention blocks routes out of poverty, and in self-defense, the ruling elite ameliorates some of the worst effects with handouts. If the handouts are suddenly yanked while the barriers stay in place, hardship will result.

If you were planning a trip abroad, but now won’t have your passport renewed in time, you are a victim. That is a good reason not to have government issuing passports. Before World War I, you could travel without a one. War is the health of the state.*

Government equals centralization, and centralization means that bad ideas harm far more people than would be harmed under decentralized governance.

At its heart, the state — more precisely, the pretenders who call themselves “leaders” — is capable of the most horrendous acts. The U.S. government stands out in this regard. From the micro level to the macro, we can trace the trail of blood, misery, and poverty. I’ll cite just two examples.

The other day I saw a commercial for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that renders assistance to veterans injured in the recent American wars. It shows a former member of the armed forces who sustained a serious head injury “when his Humvee was blown up in Iraq.” Among the scenes is one of his young daughter reading to her now-enfeebled dad. Another shows her helping him walk.

These scenes brought tears to my eyes, and I said out loud, “This is what the state does to people.” I should have said, “This is what the state does to families and little girls and boys.” The biggest victim here is the daughter, who now must see her young dad in that pathetic condition, likely for the rest of his life. He volunteered for the military (no doubt after being propagandized as a teenager), but his daughter was not asked if she was willing to sacrifice her dad for … for what?

I also thought, “Why are we taxpayers forced to pay men and women to jeopardize their kids’ well-being by going off to make war in foreign lands?” Some adults may be fool enough to buy the government’s propaganda about “serving their country,” but must we who know better be forced to participate in this atrocity? We often hear public policy justified in the name of “the children.” A noninterventionist foreign policy can genuinely satisfy that criterion.

That’s the micro level. Now the macro. Someone (who? Stalin?) once said something along these lines: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Well, how about some 200,000 deaths? That’s the minimum number of Bengalis killed in 1971 in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by the dictator of Pakistan, with weapons and support provided by the regime of Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger.

The story is told in a new book by Gary J. Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. In bloodtelegram1971, President Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger (later secretary of state) badly wanted to go to Red
China to, among other reasons, exploit the conflict between China and the Soviet Union, and to overshadow the impending defeat in Vietnam. Their connection to Mao Zedong was General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, the anticommunist military dictator of Pakistan, a man Nixon liked and admired.

In those days, Pakistan was America’s ally, while Pakistan’s enemy, democratic India, was nonaligned but friendly with the Soviet Union. When India won independence from Great Britain in 1947, the subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan. But Muslim Pakistan itself was divided into east and west with India in between. As Bass explains in a New York Times op-ed,

This strange arrangement held until 1970, when Bengali nationalists in East Pakistan triumphed in nationwide elections. The ruling military government, based in West Pakistan, feared losing its grip. So on March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched a devastating crackdown on the rebellious Bengalis in the east.

Hundreds of thousands of Bengalis were killed — 3 million, according to the Bangladeshi government — and 10 million refugees poured into India, “where they died in droves in wretched refugee camps.” The onslaught helped spark a war between Pakistan and India (whose hands were also not clean), which ended in a decisive victory for India and independence for East Pakistan, renamed Bangladesh. (Before it was over, however, the world came close to a confrontation between India’s friend the Soviet Union and Pakistan’s friend China, compliments of the Nixon-Kissinger regime.)

Who outfitted the military dictatorship’s army knowing this slaughter would take place? Who kept doing so when it actually was taking place? And who offered private encouragement to Yahya?

Nixon and Kissinger.

Bass documents the story with, among other things, newly declassified government documents, despite Kissinger’s policy of keeping his papers out of the hands of historians.

Nixon and Kissinger, Bass writes, were engaged in more than Cold War calculations. They also disliked the people of India. When diplomats on the scene — particularly Archer Blood (he of the telegram), consul general in Dacca, East Pakistan, and Kenneth Keating, ambassador to India — protested the U.S.-backed “genocide,” they were scorned as a “maniac” and a “traitor.”

The enormity of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s crimes cannot be exaggerated:

As its most important international backer, the United States had great influence over Pakistan. But at almost every turning point in the crisis, Nixon and Kissinger failed to use that leverage to avert disaster. Before the shooting started, they consciously decided not to warn Pakistan’s military chiefs against using violence on their own population… They did not threaten the loss of U.S. support or even sanctions if Pakistan took the wrong course. They allowed the army to sweep aside the results of Pakistan’s first truly free and fair democratic election, without even suggesting that the military strongmen try to work out a power-sharing deal with the Bengali leadership that had won the vote. They did not ask that Pakistan refrain from using U.S. weaponry to slaughter civilians, even though that could have impeded the military’s rampage, and might have deterred the army. There was no public condemnation – nor even a private threat of it – from the president, secretary of state or other senior officials….

Nixon and Kissinger bear responsibility for a significant complicity in the slaughter of the Bengalis. This overlooked episode deserves to be a defining part of their historical reputations.

Does any of this sound familiar? See U.S. policy in Egypt, Bahrain, Palestine, or (another one from Kissinger’s playbook) East Timor, among many others.

The historian Ralph Raico observes that critics of the libertarian world view complain that the market treats people like commodities. Maybe, Raico replies. But the state treats people like garbage.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).


Sheldon Richman keeps the blog “Free Association” and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.

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