It is important to be clear about the issues that are at stake in an inquiry into the legality of the American war in Indochina. It is not in dispute, among rational people with some concern for the facts, that the United States command is responsible for major crimes in the layman’s sense of this term. What we may reasonably ask is whether the acts that are documented beyond dispute are also crimes in the lawyer’s sense, recognizing that when we raise this question, it is not the war that is on trial but the law. We are asking–if we are serious–whether the law is a sufficiently precise and delicate instrument so that it can label a monstrous crime as a violation of law. Similarly, in considering the legality of the intervention itself (apart from the means employed), a person who is serious about the matter is not examining the propriety of the act but rather the adequacy of the law. Suppose we were to determine that international law does not condemn the United States intervention as criminal in the technical sense. Then a rational person will regard the law, so understood, with all the respect accorded to the divine right of kings.

Noam Chomsky, For Reasons of State, 1973, 19-20.


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