‘They don’t value life’: How the US empire dehumanizes its victims, from Indigenous genocide to Vietnam to Palestine

Imperialists have long claimed their victims “don’t value human life,” from the US Declaration of Independence to American generals waging war on Vietnam, European colonialists committing genocide to Israeli settlers.

ByBenjamin Norton

US soldiers burning house Vietnam

A US soldier after burning a house in Vietnam, in 1968

While sharing the text of the US Declaration of Independence, NPR accidentally highlighted racist lines we conveniently never hear from American nationalists, on “the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

— NPR (@NPR) July 4, 2017

This drivel in the US government’s founding document is a centuries-old racist myth that we hear endlessly: “They don’t value life. But we do.” It is a talking point that helps to dehumanize the victims of empire.

One of the most infamous examples of this obscene projection is a scene in the 1974 documentary Hearts and Minds, featuring General William Westmoreland, who led US forces as they slaughtered civilians in Vietnam.

US general who led mass-murdering war in Vietnam (3.8M dead) claimed “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as a Westerner” pic.twitter.com/WsTaeeb7iK

— Benjamin Norton (@BenjaminNorton) July 5, 2017

“The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner,” Westmoreland insisted. “Life is plentiful; life is cheap in the Orient. The philosophy of the Orient expresses that life is not important.”

Filmmaker Peter Davis juxtaposed these comments with the US military dropping napalm on civilians, with Vietnamese children and mothers sobbing as they mourn the deaths of their family.

Up to 3.8 million Vietnamese died in the 20-year US war, which verged on genocidal.

The scene in Hearts and Minds is followed up with an interview in which a US soldier admits that it was in fact they who did not value life.

Today, Palestinians are frequently smeared with this same talking point. Zionists claim Palestinians “do not value the lives of their people” — as they support an apartheid regime that kills and militarily occupies Palestinians.

Israel’s chief of police insisted, “There is a difference between our grief and their grief… Our enemies chose to sanctify death.”

Imperialists maintain that Muslims as a whole “love death” — whereas only the “enlightened” Westerners bombing Muslims truly value life.

Edward Said wrote in 1994 of how the US media “routinely lingers over Israeli grief during funerals after a violent action, and just as routinely ignores any such sequence on the Palestinian side, as if to confirm the supposition that Palestinians do not suffer, do not value life as ‘we’ do.”

Racism is the grease on the gears of imperialism.

White supremacy, modern-day racism as we know it, was created by European colonialists to justify their genocidal conquest of the “Americas,” in order to steal the land and resources of the Indigenous people who already lived there.

The United States continued where the Europeans started, turning that racism into a murderous craft, mastering it in the service of imperialism.

Racism is how the empire tries to justify itself. For centuries, the US (and its propaganda organs in the media) has insisted its enemies just don’t value life — while it kills their children.

Likewise, the hallowed US Founding Fathers claimed “Indian savages” carried out “undistinguished destruction of all ages” as they were the ones committing genocide against Indigenous peoples in this country. A staggering 100 million Natives died during European colonization.

This is the projection of empire: blame the victims of the very inhumanity you yourself exude.

Update, May 4 2020:

This racist talking point that the United States itself was founded upon is back, and more explicit than ever.

In a textbook example of projection, the extra-racist Donald Trump administration is now accusing China of not valuing human life — in a direct echo of what US generals claimed during the Vietnam War.

As the new US cold war escalates, and Washington’s desperate attempts to balkanize China and overthrow its government get even more aggressive and murderous, these racist “Yellow Peril” talking points will become prevalent, among Respectable New York Times-Reading Liberals too.

New: Rudy Giuliani has baselessly speculated that the coronavirus could be a plot by the Chinese government, and that “life doesn’t mean” to them what it means in Western civilization. It’s one of several rants we found while listening to his broadcasts. https://t.co/8VKHaaBHUb

— ProPublica (@propublica) May 4, 2020

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