Hegemony and Humanitarian Norms: The U.S. Legitimation of Toxic Violence

Eric Bonds


Despite widespread beliefs that the United States has not used chemical weapons since the distant past of World War I, this study suggests a more complicated history by examining U.S. use of herbicides and incapacitating gases in the Vietnam War and its use of herbicides in the "War on Drugs." This article places such use of toxic violence within a context of U.S. hegemony, by which U.S. officials have used contested forms of violence to secure geopolitical goals, but have also been pressured to comply with humanitarian norms or-when there is a gap between norms and state policy-to do legitimating work in order to maintain domestic and international consent. Based on case study analysis of archival and secondary sources, this article identifies three main techniques U.S. officials use to legitimate contested forms of violence. These techniques are defensive categorization, humanitizing discourse, and surrogacy.


legitimation; hegemony; humanitarian norms; chemical weapons; Vietnam War; War on Drugs

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2013.521


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Copyright (c) 2015 Eric Bonds

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