Historian Peter Kuznick warns against Syrian intervention

Peter Kuznick, professor of History at American University and co-creator of Photo: Peter Kuznick / File photo

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2013 ― Peter Kuznick, professor of History at American University and co-creator of Showtime Series and accompanying text “The Untold History of the United States” last weekend took aim at President Obama’s inconsistent policies on Syrian chemical weapons.

Kuznick spoke to the Communities about those policies and warned of the dangers of an absolutely-empowered executive branch run amuck.

Before becoming a professor, Kuznick was an activist in both the civil rights and antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. He is currently trying to organize a teach-in at American University in opposition to a possible Syrian War. Kuznick’s consistent opposition to American militarism must be applied to whoever currently occupies the Oval Office, especially if they attempt to intervene in conflicts that not only endanger American lives, but violate the rule of law.          

Kuznick did not waffle in discussing America’s hypocrisy concerning the use of weapons of mass destruction: “First of all, the United States is responsible for initiating the modern era of weapons of mass destruction with the atomic attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not only has the United States never been held accountable for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States continues to display the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian National Museum- the plane that inaugurated the modern era of weapons of mass destruction- and does so, according to General John Jack Daily, who is the head of The Air and Space Museum, to display the Enola Gay, in all of its glory as a magnificent technological achievement. We are not only not apologetic for inaugurating the modern era of weapons of mass destruction, but proud to display it. We celebrate it.”

Kuznick continued: “Nor have we ever apologized for our own use of chemical warfare in Vietnam. In fact, the United States has never taken responsibility for what it did in Vietnam. Recently, President Obama has called for more than a decade of reassessment of the legacy of Vietnam because he said he wants to understand the proud motivation, noble motivations for getting us involved in Vietnam. According to Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, when he was a guest in my class, he said as a result of the War 3.8 million Vietnamese died. Its right for us to be outraged that 350 according to France, or 1400 according to Obama, civilians were killed by chemical weapons in Syria. That is outrageous. But you stack it up against the 3.8 million Vietnamese who died as a result of America’s policies, which included the use of chemical weapons, supposedly called then herbicides or defoliants and we see the effects of that generations later, possibly on American soldiers also.”

Kuznick further explained how the U.S. refused to condemn Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein for his use of chemical weapons against the Iranians: “The United States not only didn’t condemn them, they initially tried to cover it up, and blame that use on the Iranians themselves. We’ve got such a poor record when it comes to dealing even- handedly with the use of weapons of mass destruction. We are the last country that should be out there leading this crusade, not the first country.”

SEE RELATED: Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick tell The Untold History of the United States

Candidate Obama, who in 2002 labeled the Iraq War “a dumb war,” sounds far different than President Obama who is actively encouraging a U.S. intervention against Syria. Kuznick expressed to me his disappointment in the President, especially given his address during the 50th anniversary march commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s original March on Washington. Before his assassination, Dr. King labeled the U.S. “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and said during the height of the Vietnam War: “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.”

When asked what King might say if he were alive today witnessing Obama preparing to launch America into another overseas conflict, Kuznick was blunt: “He would be leading the fight. He would be leading the protest against Obama. He’d be calling for Obama’s impeachment if Obama goes ahead with this strike. Dr. King represented the opposite. He said that any country that spends more on its military, spends more on killing than it does feeding people, housing people, clothing people is a country that has lost its soul.”

Kuznick continued: “Obama is just a huge disappointment. He’s a moral black hole. There’s a void. There’s an abyss. I don’t pretend to understand Obama, and his callous approach to these situations, but I am very deeply disappointed that he turned out to be such a disappointment when it comes to foreign policy.”

The Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to vote soon regarding Syria. However, there are already murmurs from Obama’s cabinet that even if the legislative branch votes against the Syrian Resolution, the administration will bypass congress and continue with its plans to bomb Syria.

“If Obama goes against congress and authorizes a strike on his own, he should be impeached.” Kuznick elaborated: “There are only two grounds in which warfare is permissible. One is if the United Nations endorses it, it can be done in the name of the United Nations. That is not about to happen; secondly, if there is direct and immediate threat to one’s own nation. There is no credible way to make that case. The United States doing that will violate international law.”

In order to deter any possibility of military strike, congress must not only vote to oppose any action potentially taken by the Obama administration, but according to Kuznick, Americans must begin to vocally protest: “They should be out in the streets. They are doing a lot. They are contacting their congressmen. They have to sign petitions. They have to call congressional offices. Send emails to their congressmen. Let them know if they vote to authorize, then their constituents are going to oust them from office. There has got to be that campaign- whether it is Republicans or Democrats- it makes no difference.”




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Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is currently a college student majoring in History and Political Science. His writings have appeared in The Daily Local, Lew Rockwell.com’s blog, The Washington Times, Antiwar.com, and Freedom’s Phoenix Online Digital Magazine. He has been a popular guest political contributor to numerous national radio shows across the country, offering his perspective on a wide array of issues. 

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