Tear Gassing Children is a Crime Against Humanity

These Americans .com

During the 1964 Rochester riots, tear gas was used against protesters. At the Armory, these National Guardsmen were issues masks to protect themselves against the tear gas. 7/26/64(TheseAmericans.com)

George Cassidy Payne

Soon after President Trump positioned, encouraged, and sanctioned border patrol agents to deploy tear gas against migrants on the border, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a forceful statement: “Children are uniquely vulnerable to physiological effects of chemical agents. A child’s smaller size, and more frequent number of breaths per minute and limited cardiovascular stress response compared to adults magnifies the harm of agents such as tear gas.”

The organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists and pediatric specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults, went on to add: “Immigrant children are still children, and they deserve our compassion and assistance. We will continue to speak out against their inhuman treatment and advocate for their safety.”

The president’s doublespeak aside, the use of tear gas against children is a crime against humanity. There is no way to safely gas someone. The gas chambers in Nazi Germany were not “showers.” No matter what acronym a regime employs, a canister of gas is still a canister of gas. If it wasn’t intended to cause pain and serve as a deterrent, it would not be used at all. Simply put, there is a reason that the use of chemical agents have been banned in warfare since 1925 (Geneva Protocol).

In Brighton is the Rochester VA Outpatient Clinic. As so many veterans can bear witness to, gas is one of the most sickening forms of violence ever devised. Tragically, thousands of soldiers in Vietnam, and millions of Vietnamese, were exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide, which acted as a defoliant during the war. The dreadful legacy of this chemical is still be grappled with.

Rochester VA Outpatient Clinic on Westfall Road. [Photo: David Kramer] From On Veteran's Day at Buckland and Highland Parks. And the Moral Equivalent of War

Rochester VA Outpatient Clinic on Westfall Road. [Photo: David Kramer] From On Veteran’s Day at Buckland and Highland Parks. And the Moral Equivalent of War

Among the diseases linked to the exposure of Agent Orange include, a malignant lymphoma (cancer) characterized by progressive enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, a nervous system condition that causes numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness; a disease characterized by a reduced supply of blood to the heart, that can lead to chest pain (angina); and a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects muscle movement. The popular names of these diseases come in and out of the public’s consciousness, but the physical effects are a daily reminder that chemical weapons are inhumane.

So no, Mr. President, the use of chemical weapons is not safe. To authorize the use of tear gas against children is, for all intents and purposes, akin to a war crime. Period. Immigrant children are still children. In a civilized nation, that would be unnecessary to say. But after decades of using other words to label these children as something less than human, it has become necessary to say it. They are not aliens. They are not illegals. They are not migrants. They are not border jumpers, grabbers, thugs, or criminals. They are still children. For God’s sake, they are still children.

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  1. Michael J Nighan

    Sorry George, but hyperbole, such as attempting to equate tear gassing to genocide or armed aggression or enslavement by calling it a “crime against humanity”, merely serves to undercut the valid points you are attempting to make. That tear gassing children is reprehensible, callous, unconscionable or any number of other adjectives is beyond question. That the manner in which it was done on our border may be illegal under national and international law is possible, even probable. But it was most certainly can not rationally be defined as a “crime against humanity” .

    If you look at Article VII of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court , the closest thing we have to an internationally-recognized definition of “crimes against humanity”, you see that the actions listed therein (Murder; Extermination; Enslavement; Deportation or forcible transfer of population, etc.) must be, “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population”. Tear gassing fails to fall under any of the acts listed therein, nor does the involvement of 10 or 20 or 30 children along a couple of hundred feet of border fence (heartless as this sounds) meet the standard of “widespread or systematic” or of “civilian population”, terms clearly intended to define significant geographic areas and groups of thousands or ten of thousands, or more.

    In a perverse sort of way, “crimes against humanity” is a variation of the statement attributed to Stalin that one death was a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic, in that one person killed, enslaved, deported, etc. may be a crime, but killing, enslaving deporting a million people is a crime against humanity.

  2. George

    Hi, Michael. Thanks for taking time to comment on my article. Hyperbole, as you well know, is a figure of speech that uses extreme exaggeration to make a point or show emphasis. It is not meant to be taken literally. But if using chemical weapons against weak and desperate children is not a crime against humanity than I don’t really care what one is. As you also know, there was a time when Article VII of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court did not exist. It was created. So the next time we create a standard definition for what constitutes “crimes against humanity”, it would be morally sound to include acts such as tear gassing children for the sole purpose of terrifying them into following orders.

    Are you truly prepared to argue that the Trump administration has not engaged in a “widespread or systematic” attack against a civilian population of migrants? Should it matter how many children were gassed? Should it matter that there were only “10, 20, or 30” children exposed to the tear gas?

    You are right to point out that your response sounds heartless. I will go further. The use of technical jargon and other such loopholes to downplay what happened on the border is reflective of a mindset that can lead to the type of widespread atrocities we are analyzing. Although I am not trying to equate the actions of the border patrol with the use of chemical weapons by the Nazis, I am trying to make the point that justifying the use of chemical weapons against children, under any circumstance, should be called out as a Nazi like attitude towards human dignity. Besides, who more than Hitler liked to cite international treaties and standard definitions to sanction his policies?

  3. Michael J Nighan

    Your argument won’t wash George. Two points. As much as you like to substitute your personal opinions for international law and conventions, that isn’t going to happen. There must be universal standards and definitions to prevent personal biases and hyperbole such as yours from making a hodge-podge of rational enforcement of civilizing laws. Which brings me to Point 2. As I previously mentioned, you’re attempting to equate tear gassing a handful of children (and no, such tear-gassing does NOT constitute a “widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, any more than it did when tear gas was thrown around on the border on a monthly basis during Obama’s second term) to genocide. This cheapens the meaning of the term and demeans those activities which are in fact “crimes against humanity”.

  4. George

    You write: “and no, such tear-gassing does NOT constitute a “widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, any more than it did when tear gas was thrown around on the border on a monthly basis during Obama’s second term.”

    For starters, I was not referring exclusively to the use of tear gas when I said that Trump has engaged in widespread and systematic attacks against migrants. These attacks have included propaganda, smear campaigns, inhumanely detaining migrant children and separating them from their parents.

    The way you talk about these matters is very troubling. No, Michael, tear gas is not “thrown around.” You may dismiss what I have to say, but these weapons are dangerous. As I pointed out in my article, they are especially dangerous to children. Your nonchalance and indifference to the plight of suffering children is anything but a shining example of rational discourse. It is indifference. Nothing more than that. I think you probably care more about making me look uninformed than you do what happens to the innocent victims of a cruel policy carried out by the Trump administration.

  5. Michael J Nighan

    Come down off your cross George. This is Christmas, not Easter.

  6. George

    Brilliant response. I’m blown away. I mean how can I even come up with a retort to such a remarkable display of intellect. I’m speechless, Michael. You truly outdid yourself. That reply must have taken you hours to formulate. It has so many intricate layers to it. I can’t even think about where to begin. It is humorous, metaphorical, religiously astute, and pithy. Stunning. Just stunning. Truly, how can someone come back with anything that will compare to the points you made. Here I thought gassing little children was immoral. But man did you destroy that argument. After that response I’m just humbled to share this forum with you. You should see my hands as I type; they are quivering with excitement. In 11 words you said everything there is to say. Wow!

  7. Michael J Nighan

    You’re welcome. Now let me add to those 11 words.

    After being slammed for incorrectly and hyperbolicly attempting to equate the random tear gassing of a small number of children to genocide and war by calling it a “crime against humanity,” you now conveniently retreat to merely calling such tear gassing “immoral”. Had you started from that premise, I would not have had to spend so much time educating you on the proper use of language.

    Oh, and by the way, it takes a certain detachment from reality for you to imply that someone who has already stated that, “That tear gassing children is reprehensible, callous, unconscionable or any number of other adjectives” does not agree with you that such gassing is immoral. Or were you unaware that that word is also an adjective?

  8. George

    I think we both are growing exhausted by this dialogue. But I need to make a couple of points clear. I was not equating what happened on the border to genocide. That is a rediculous extrapolation. I was simply pointing out that Hitler and his regime used chemical weapons. As a nation we are better than that. I totally disagree with you that these actions were random. For you to say that shows either a remarkable degree of naïveté or wishful thinking. As you mentioned, tear gas is used as a matter of protocol, and had been used by other administrations. When we consider the child detainment policy, family separation policy, propaganda campaigns, and more, it is not far fetched to say that a widespread and systematic attack against migrants is occurring. You are not educating me, Michael. All you are doing is exposing your own self satisfaction in trying to make someone look less intelligent than you. No matter how you frame this debate, at the end of the day, our country used chemical weapons against innocent children. That is a crime against humanity. Any attempt to make it appear less than that is also a crime against humanity.

  9. George Payne

    Whenever children are abused by a national government in such blatantly cruel and inhumane ways, I think it is necessary to use the strongest language possible to condemn it. Language matters. The words we describe reality matters. The way we distort reality through language matters, too.

    Referring back to the social and political environment of prewar Germany, Hannah Arendt observed how language operated to make the most heinous acts more tolerable to ordinary Germans. “The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, “normal” knowledge of murder and lies. Eichmann’s great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for “language rules.”

    You write: “There must be universal standards and definitions to prevent personal biases and hyperbole such as yours from making a hodge-podge of rational enforcement of civilizing laws.” Eichmann would have admired that. In his distorted worldview, universal standards and definitions act to ensure that evil policies will not be seen as more than a rational use of protective force. In his distorted worldview, the prevention of personal biases and hyperbole takes precedence over the need to eliminate the use of chemical weapons. In his distorted worldview, the rational enforcement of civilizing laws includes the deployment of weapons that have been used and mastered by some of the most deranged dictators of the 20th century.