SJ Logo
A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order
Crime and Social Justice Nos. 21-22 (1984)

Editorial: International Lawlessness and the Search for Justice

Anthony M. Platt and Gregory Shank

In this period of economic, political, and ideological crisis, we are confronted with exceptional dangers as well as hopeful new opportunities for change. In light of the ascendance of the Right in domestic policy and the shift to nuclear confrontation in foreign policy, it was decided to reconceptualize ISLEC and to rename it the Institute for the Study of Militarism and Economic Crisis (ISMEC), to better reflect our concerns given this new reality. Our primary commitment is to develop studies that illuminate our understanding of the United States in a global context. This includes the long-term economic decline of the U.S., its steady loss of hegemony in the world, and the ascendancy to state power of dangerous right-wing political forces. We are especially concerned with the adventurist militarism and reckless lawlessness of an empire in decline. In fact, the conjuncture of a declining empire and a rapidly escalating nuclear arms race makes this era one of the most dangerous in human history. The U.S. is increasingly relying on militarism, that is, the direct or indirect use of armed might, instead of diplomacy and economic relations to resolve international disputes.

While domestically the policies of the Reagan administration have reflected a pronounced repudiation of any commitment to social justice, as witnessed in its steady rollback of hard-won gains in civil rights, internationally this administration is intent on undermining the institutions and principles of the post-World War II legal order, as embodied, for example, in the Charter of the United Nations. Long-held commitments to principles such as sovereign equality, nonintervention, the independence of states, the peaceful settlement of international disputes, and international arbitration and adjudication -- all have been abandoned to our collective peril.

Crime and Social Justice, as a journal of ISMEC, is pleased that this special double issue is able to reflect many of our new concerns and to suggest alternative social policy directions. In reality, readers will recognize that these concerns are not "new," for in actuality they echo the earlyhistory of CSJ as a journal born in the struggle against the Vietnam War, against the war crimes of the U.S. government, and against a political-economic system that chooses to promote militarism above the quest for social justice. Some 10 years later, we return to the same concerns, but in a much more troubled, unstable, and dangerous world and in a United States that is now governed by the Right.

While for a brief period a "new Vietnam" seemed unthinkable, in the last year the United States has invaded the small island of Grenada and engaged in terrorism at sea by mining Nicaraguan ports as part of its larger undeclared war. The danger of a new Vietnam was merely dormant, awaiting only a propitious moment to reawaken and to reassert the unbridled sway of aggressively conservative national and transnational corporate power at the federal level. This development was consolidated and accelerated under the Reagan administration. Yet over the past two decades, the U.S. has unleashed a policy of global counterinsurgency, constrained, it is true, during the early 1970s, which nonetheless served as the vanguard of a worldwide antidemocratic political current.

The outward face of U.S. foreign policy has been overtly fascist in contrast to the "friendly fascism" unfolding domestically. Any doubts you might entertain on this score will be quickly dispelled by reading Edward S. Herman's excellent book, The Real Terror Network. The language of torturers emanating today from the lips of the corporate rich, government officials, and propped-up dictators has become even more obscene as it is blended with the lofty, though tempered, ideals of "human rights." The reality is that it is the U.S. that has established right-wing military dictatorships, provided the technology of repression, and set up death squads throughout the impoverished Third World. Should we not finally admit that the epithet, "the ugly American," was earned because the CIA and the Special Forces have created their Auschwitz in the 500,000 to 1,000,000 slaughtered in Indonesia, their Buchenwalds in the tens of thousands assassinated and "disappeared" in post-coup Chile, in Argentina under the now-discredited generals, in Guatemala, El Salvador, and on and on? By any measure, this state terrorism has been the overwhelmingly predominant form, even by the CIA's own reckoning, over the last 15 years.

In the following pages, we see the institutional supports for continued global counterinsurgency; we see that it is the United States that has fostered terrorism, and under Reagan, has had the audacity to dress Somoza's torturers up as "freedom fighters." The issue of terrorism has been purposefully muddied by the "objective" accounts that never fail to point to an equivalent "terrorism of the Left and the Right," a method that serves to mask the virulent terrorism emanating overwhelmingly from the very centers of power and carried out in conjunction with the extreme Right.

Three years ago, our sister journal Contemporary Marxism suggested that we were possibly entering an era of emergent neofascism that would be characterized by the consolidation of oligarchic social and economic power, a conservative reinterpretation of legal and constitutional rights by Congress and the judiciary, and a delegitimation of progressive organizations and causes by the White House, universities, and mass media. At about the same time, Bertram Gross, in his heretical book Friendly Fascism, was warning that fascism in the U.S. would not arrive by military fiat or right-wing coup, but rather would unfold as an outgrowth of present trends and policies.

It is clear that the Right does not need to resort to these classical fascist methods, having already attained dominance in what appears to be a long period of conservative rule. In past issues of Crime and Social Justice, we observed that the rise of the Right is a global phenomenon, deriving its support from the centers of power. In the United States, the response of the ruling oligarchy -- and the Federal Reserve's "Survey of Consumer Finances, 1983" unequivocally proves the top two percent of families earning $100,000 or more do constitute an oligarchy -- has been one of deliberately malicious reaction, an aggressive praise of capitalism, a defense of inequality, and an insistence on maintaining and increasing their privilege, apparently at any cost.

In the Orwellian atmosphere of 1984, with the likelihood of a second term for Reagan, it is clear Gross' predictions were by no means alarmist. After Reagan's first four years, the military budget has been boosted at the expense of desperately needed social programs; the "undeclared war" in Central America threatens the sovereignty of Nicaragua and the involvement of adjacent countries in a full-scale regional war; the government's belief in a "first strike" and "winnable nuclear war," combined with the desperate efforts of a declining empire to restore its former glory, place us on the brink of a war to end all wars; the rapid ascendancy of the Right to the center-stage of American politics has encouraged the emergence of a nasty, mean-spirited jingoism and chauvinism, a racist and xenophobic culture of national supremacy; the modest gains made by blacks and women in civil rights and economic equality during the 1960s and 1970s have been reversed in the first half of the 1980s; and the proclamation of Protestant fundamentalism as official state ideology has meant that the legal system is increasingly an instrument of right-wing morality. It is unfortunately not farfetched to say that under a second Reagan term, the Moral Majority could quite easily determine the character of the Supreme Court for the rest of this century.

It is time once again for us to take up the issues of human rights, the definition of crime, and social justice. But it is not enough for us to address these issues only in a national framework. The peace of the world is threatened; the "undeclared war" kills people every day in our hemisphere; and the right-wing forces in power in the U.S. search the globe for future Grenadas and Falkland Islands.

We need a new ideology, in the strict sense of a coherent set of beliefs -- in short, a worldview that recognizes that we are citizens of the world; we need a new foreign policy that addresses world hunger, that seeks to eradicate global economic disparities, the impoverishment of Third World countries through unequal exchange and a vicious debt cycle, and the escalating madness of the arms race. This is not merely a moral duty; it is a social, economic, and political necessity. We are now part of a global community whose interdependence is inescapable. The Cold War road, as mapped by the Reagan administration, can very easily lead us to the brink of a nuclear holocaust and therefore to the extinction of all species of life on our planet. The road to global interdependence, however, offers new possibilities for cooperation and exchange that transcend national interests.

This special issue of Crime and Social Justice addresses the issue of international lawlessness and the search for justice from a wide variety of perspectives and topics: violations of international law by the U.S., Israel's military role in the Third World, terrorism and counterinsurgency in Ireland, and business crime in Holland; South Africa's system of punishment, class justice in Canada, and "antiterrorism" policy in the U.S. It also reports on the construction of popular justice in Nicaragua, Ireland, and the United States. We hope that this issue stimulates discussion and debate.

October 9, 1984

Citation: Anthony M. Platt and Gregory Shank. (1984). "Editorial: International Lawlessness and the Search for Justice." Crime and Social Justice 21-22 (1984): 1-4. Copyright © 1984 by Social Justice, ISSN 1043-1578. Social Justice, P.O. Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140.