For a while there, some of our Best and Brightest intellectuals were really worried about NATO's operation in Yugoslavia. In The New York Times on Tuesday, May 11, for example, foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman noted the bubble of peace hysteria that had accompanied Jesse Jackson's return of the American prisoners and the outcry over the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, and asked plaintively:
Can we get back to the war now?
Well, Friedman needn't have worried. We did:
May 15, BELGRADE (Reuters) - Missiles hit towns in Serbia early Saturday, local media said, as NATO swung into a 53rd day of air raids on Yugoslavia undeterred by reports that scores of ethnic Albanian refugees were killed in one bombing.
(As I write this, NATO is as usual trying to decide whether a) the wicked Serbs are lying and actually the death of more than 80 Albanians in Korisa, Kosovo, was due to Serb shelling, or b) the wicked Serbs are using Albanians as human shields. Of course, when the Chinese embassy was blown up last week, it took NATO's official spokesmen a while to decide that the missiles hadn't actually been fired by the Brazilians....)
... I am sorry about the Chinese Embassy, but we have no reason to be defensive here. We are at war with the Serbian nation, and anyone hanging around Belgrade needs to understand that. This notion that we are only at war with one bad guy, Slobodan Milosevic (who was popularly elected three times), is ludicrous.
"I am sorry about the Chinese Embassy, but we have no reason to be defensive here." -- Friedman, May 11 BELGRADE, Serbia (Reuters) - Two injured Chinese men sit in an ambulance outside the Chinese embassy after last night's NATO air strikes early Saturday. NATO launched the heaviest attack on Yugoslavia since the beginning of the crisis hitting the Chinese embassy and five other locations in the Yugoslav capital. Photo by Reuters
Passing over the obvious fact that "we" are legally not at war with anybody, since the Congress has not declared war, NATO has no legal power to declare war on anyone, and the UN has not even authorized a "police action", Friedman explains his phrase "at war with the Serbian nation" by quoting from the May 9 Washington Post column yet another of our Best and Brightest intellectuals, Mark Mazower, a professor of history at Princeton. Mazower's thesis is that Milosevic genuinely represents the Serbian people, and that therefore our quarrel is with Serbness (or something):
The current alternatives to the Serbian strongman are, if anything, more repugnant than he is. Yugoslavia's wild-eyed former deputy prime minister Vuk Draskovic is no liberal and has just been pushed out of office; Serbia's current deputy prime minister, Vojislav Seselj, is a creepy former academic heavily implicated in war crimes in Bosnia. Implicated as well are those army generals who have survived recent purges.
(Eeek! Vuk Draskovic "is no liberal"! Where's my B-52?)
Well, of course, as to "war crimes in Bosnia", NATO trained the Croatian army and provided air cover for the "ethnic cleansing" of about a quarter of a million Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia. Does that count as being "implicated"? But never mind; Mazower (something of a "creepy academic" himself) continues:
The blunt truth is that since NATO's bombings began, more Serbs than ever support the regime's actions in Kosovo. Even if they regard the regime as a corrupt, self-serving criminal oligarchy, ruling through fraud and chicanery, it is their bunch of crooks, and NATO is invading their country. Hatred of the Albanians is not something invented by Milosevic; it has deep roots in Serbian political culture, ever since the first Albanians were forcibly expelled from the newly independent Serbia in 1878. While Yugoslavia existed, it was possible to believe in ethnic coexistence as well, but this belief has been on the wane for the last 10 years.
Notice the smooth transition in Mazower's paragraph, from "supporting the ... actions in Kosovo" to "hatred of Albanians"; it is a virtuoso performance in double- (or perhaps triple- ) think.
Air raid sirens, bomb detonations, screaming sounds of jet engines, have led to a syndrome of hypertension among the pregnant women, and an enormous rise in premature births. So the newborn babies have to depend on the oxygen, and are placed in incubators with a very high rate of mortality and morbidity.
But that's not the end of the tragedy. When the sirens go off, such preemies cannot be taken to bomb shelters, because the incubators are not portable; not here, nor anywhere else in the world. Such a situation was the cause of death of 40 newborn babies in Banja Luka, during the bombing of the Bosnian Serbs (in 1995). That's the horror about which no one has written.
At the moment, we have 59 such babies at the Gynecology Hospital in Belgrade. The medical staff of the clinic has decided to stay with the babies, regardless of the consequences.
The reason for our great trepidation is that we are very close to the headquarters of the Yugoslav Army HQ building (about 500 meters - about one-third of a mile), and the Belgrade Police HQ (100 meters - about 300 feet). Similar objects have already been hit in Pristina.
To make the irony even greater, eight of the 59 babies are Albanian newborns, whom we are all protecting with our bodies and lives.
Are the American people really as blind as it seems? Where are the American intellectuals, American humanitarians, American Nobel Prize winners? What does "genocide" mean to them? Who can excuse the death of the Banja Luka babies due to a lack of oxygen or other medication?
-- an obstetrician in Belgrade, April 2
"too many of [Milosevic's] people are full of hate for the Albanians..."
-- Friedman, May 11
A nurse attends to a premature baby who was born earlier in the day, in an incubator at an institute for prematurely born infants in Belgrade, Monday May 3, 1999. The intensive care unit was reportedly left without power for more than three hours earlier in the day after after NATO blacked out the Yugoslav capital with "soft bombs" that short-circuited power stations. Belgrade obstetricians have reported an increase in premature births due to stress induced by the continual bombing. (AP PHOTO / Srdjan Ilic)
"More Serbs than ever" support the action in Kosovo. Milosevic lost his last election and promptly set aside the results. He was in fact wildly unpopular in large sections of Yugoslavia. But it's clearly an indication of the Serb's inherent moral perversion for them to solidify behind Milosevic when foreigners start dropping bombs on them.
On the other hand, Mazower's friend Friedman regards it as reprehensible that the Republicans are unwilling to solidify behind the Clinton administration, our very own "corrupt, self-serving criminal oligarchy, ruling through fraud and chicanery", since we have gone to war and we have to "stay the course". Back in Friedman's May 4 column, he referred to the House Republicans as "dysfunctional" for their failure to support the administration's bombing campaign.
What has been going on in Kosovo is a civil war. Kosovo has been legally recognized as part of Serbia since the departure from that province of the Ottoman Empire in 1913 after the First Balkan War -- and in fact, regaining Kosovo was one of the principal goals of Serbia in that war.
Digression: 609 years of Serb vs Albanian in Kosovo
Throughout history, the proportion of Serbs to Albanians in Kosovo's population has fluctuated, largely due to the policies of outside powers. In 1389, Albanians fought alongside the Serbs against the Turks at the battle of Kosovo Polje; many of these Albanians were presumably fleeing from the previous year's Turkish invasion of Albania. In 1689 and 1736, to suppress Serb unrest in the area, the Turks drove out some 200,000 Serbs (who eventually settled in the Krajina region, at the time controlled by the Austrian Empire) and encouraged the more cooperative Albanians to move in.
Mazower refers to the expulsion of Albanians from the newly-independent Serbia in 1878; what he fails to mention is that the Albanians had for hundreds of years acted as surrogates for the Turks in suppressing Serbia's long struggle for independence. He also fails to mention that during the last quarter of the 19th century, when the Ottoman Empire still controlled Kosovo, western European diplomats reported continual atrocities against the ethnic Serb minority there. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Serbs were driven out of the province between 1878 and 1913, when Serbia regained Kosovo after five and a quarter centuries.
Between the World Wars, many moved back into Kosovo; Serbs amounted to nearly 40% of its population by 1938. Then in 1941 Mussolini invaded the Balkans and ran Kosovo as part of Albania. About 75,000 Serbs left and about 70,000 Albanians moved in. After the war, Tito specifically forbade Serbs from moving back in, since he hoped to use Kosovo as a magnet to attract Albania into union with Yugoslavia.
Still, Serbs composed some 15% of the population in Kosovo as late as 1980. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s there were increasing complaints of discrimination against Serbs in housing and employment by Albanian bureaucrats, and anti-Serb violence went largely unpunished by the authorities. It was resentment against this sort of abuse that prompted Milosevic's revocation of Kosovar autonomy in 1989; that the subsequent crackdown was a gross overreaction is beyond question -- Milosevic's regime replaced Albanian officials and bureaucrats with Serbs and even drove many longtime-resident Croats out of Kosovo -- but it was hardly an act of unprovoked ethnic hatred.
The Albanian majority in Kosovo reacted to the crackdown by establishing a parallel governmental structure under politician Ibrahim Rugova, and instituted "passive resistance" tactics against Yugoslav government repression. Tensions mounted, and in 1995 there suddenly appeared the Kosovo Liberation Army, a guerilla group dedicated to joining Kosovo with southern Montenegro and western Macedonia into a Greater Albania. By mid-1998, the KLA controlled about 40% of the territory of Kosovo, and the Serbian government was engaged in a full-scale civil war to hold onto the province.
Mazower is a professor of history, as noted, and he should surely be aware that civil wars both result from longstanding resentments -- which may be due to either real or imagined causes, usually both -- and enormously exacerbate those same resentments. And civil wars are notoriously vicious and brutal, since they inherently involve civilian populations and indistinct lines of battle. Think about Sherman's March to the Sea, for example, or Turkey's war against Kurdish separatists, in which the Turkish government, with substantial US support in training and equipment, has killed nearly 40,000 Kurds in the last decade. Or consider this account of foreign involvement in a civil war:
Early in 1966, a new pacification technique was developed by [the foreign] soldiers. It involved surrounding a village, killing as many young men as could be found, and then taking away the women and children by helicopter. The [soldiers] called this procedure "Operation County Fair."
The soldiers were American, and the quotation is from Howard Zinn's Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, published in 1967 -- long before My Lai or Tet.
If we cannot "believe in ethnic coexistence" anymore, as Mazower says, then why do we find about a hundred thousand Albanian Muslims living in Belgrade? Why have so many Kosovar Albanians fled from Kosovo into Serbia?
It's true, of course, that there is a fair amount of ethnic prejudice in Serbian society -- as there is in American, Russian, Japanese, German, Indian, Chinese, French, and Greek society, to name a few. And it is also true that when you see your country being dismembered ostensibly on behalf of some ethnic group, it is not likely that your feelings towards members that group will instantly become more humane and enlightened -- although both Friedman and Mazower seem somewhat upset that Yugoslavia did not immediately see the error of its ways and repent the moment the bombs started falling.
Perhaps both of these card-carrying members of the Ivy League intelligentsia should consider what would have happened if in 1967 the Chinese had begun bombing California to express disapproval of America's behavior in Vietnam. The first bomb that fell would have claimed the entire antiwar movement as a casualty, and Lyndon Johnson would unquestionably have served two full terms. But Friedman was only fourteen when Zinn's book was published, so we cannot, I suppose, expect too much of him.
Still, though, we would expect the reality of the situation itself to cause anyone with such a distinguished academic background as Friedman to rethink some of his prejudices, and one might expect someone with such a professed dedication to the ideal of democracy to at least give a moment's reflection to the fact that it isn't producing the result he prefers. But unfortunately, Friedman finds no lesson whatever in all this; if Serbs support an embattled Milosevic, it can only be for the basest reasons:
Mr. Milosevic is deeply connected to his own people, and too many of his own people are full of hate for the Albanians... That is why our goal should remain bombing the Serbs until they agree to a NATO-Russian force in Kosovo.
Mazower, still connected to academe, is more wordy and nuanced, but he says essentially the same thing:
It is true that civic protest against Milosevic has surfaced from time to time -- encouraging Western liberals with glimpses of another, more tolerant, Serbia; but war has silenced many of these voices, and emigration and repression impose silence upon others. The majority of Serb intellectuals are not liberals where Kosovo is concerned. What remains as the prevailing popular mood is an intense, if shortsighted, Serb nationalism -- resentful and narcissistic, claiming victimhood for itself and indifferent to the sufferings of the real victims of the past few months and years.
(Eek again! Some Serb intellectuals are actually unwilling to simply wave goodbye to over 75% of their historical and religious heritage because editorials in The New York Times and The Washington Post say they should! Clearly these so-called intellectuals have never even attended Princeton, much less Oxford.)
... it may be right for us to help if we can, to prevent evil if we can, but the principles of just war were set out many centuries ago and we should limit our intervention to what we can do within that ancient framework of which, up to now, we were proud to regard ourselves as defenders. So we should not cause more harm than the harm we seek to prevent, we should go to war only when the war is ordered by a legitimate authority: we should not use indiscriminate means which cannot distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.
-- ethics professor Brenda Almond in The Independent (of London), May 14
"... resentful and narcissistic, claiming victimhood for itself and indifferent to the sufferings of the real victims of the past few months and years." -- Mazower, May 9
NIS, Yugoslavia (Reuters) - A woman lies dead beside a bag of carrots Friday, May 7, after a NATO daylight air raid near a market over the town of Nis south of Belgrade. Two residential areas and a hospital were hit by what appears to be cluster bombs killing 15 people, injuring scores with shrapnel and destroying some 30 homes. NATO spokesmen refer to her as "collateral damage." She had no comment on NATO's expression of sincere regret. Photo by Desmond Boylan
Friedman's contempt for democracy, though, could never be accused of discriminatory nationalism. When the American people are so foolish as to stray from the course prescribed by our Best and Brightest, Friedman believes that it is his moral duty to gently but firmly pull them back to the correct path. In his May 4 column he laments the fact that the violence at Columbine High School may have distracted Americans from their task of bombing Yugoslavia into accepting the administration's ultimatum:
... there is something else out there, an unstated question, also gnawing at people: If our own kids can shoot other kids at school, how can we ever hope to cure Kosovo? We are chasing evil in the Balkans, hoping to catch it, and then we find it's right around the corner.
Columbine cannot be, and should not be, an argument for walking away from Kosovo. In fact, I found that if I scratched people, most still favored some sort of American activism in Kosovo. But you do have to scratch people more now, because they are, emotionally, otherwise engaged. Their hearts and minds are focused on a different front -- the one in their own backyards.
In other words, if Americans are beginning to understand why it is, exactly, that the founders of this country counseled us over and over again to stay out of foreign wars and to avoid entangling alliances, then it becomes the duty of our enlightened, progressive Best and Brightest to "scratch" us until we return to the approved point of view.
Even if they have to scratch us until it bleeds.
So these enlightened intellectuals, our Best and Brightest, continue to believe it is our obligation to teach the Serbs a lesson in humane tolerance, if necessary using cluster bombs. And they see no lesson whatever for themselves in the course of events thus far.
And what used to be called a decade ago "the lessons of Vietnam" have apparently been completely forgotten, as have a hundred years of developments in international law -- not to mention, of course, the US Constitution, to which no genuine northeastern intellectual pays attention any more (unless it's on some fine point of impeachment procedure).
On the second floor of the Serbian Clinical Centre in Belgrade are
victims of the Balkan war who will never be mentioned in any NATO
briefing. There's a 14-year-old boy with his head crushed, lying in a
coma, eyes half-closed, a fat oxygen tube down his throat. There's a
middle-aged farmer hit in the head by shrapnel and expected to die
within a few hours. A little further down the emergency ward is another
boy - 13 this time - with his head swathed in bandages, moving in agony,
his brain damaged and his right leg fractured by a falling building.
They are NATO's victims. |
Our victims, I suppose.
Standing at their bedsides, the phrase "collateral damage" seems somehow
obscene. Ivan Tanasijevic, the 14-year-old from the Drina river valley,
was wounded in a NATO air raid on Loznica, and his father came to see
him on Wednesday. "He asked if he could see his son," Dr Dragana
Vujadinovic says. "I said, yes, but that Ivan was in a coma. The father
sat by his bed here and cried. He is a farmer. Yes, I told him his son
is very bad but that we wouldn't know what will happen for another few
days. Yes, the boy is likely to die.
"We are at war with the Serbian nation, and anyone
hanging around Belgrade needs to understand that."
"We are at war with the Serbian nation, and anyone
hanging around Belgrade needs to understand that."
|An injured Serb boy, Marko Miladinovic, cries in his hospital bed in Aleksinac, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, early Tuesday, April 6, 1999. Allied planes targeted transportation links and communication sites Tuesday across Yugoslavia, and local officials said a NATO attack on the coal mining town of Aleksinac in southern Serbia had killed five civilians and injured at least 30 others. (AP Photo/Srdjan Ilic)|
A lot of the Albanians [in Kosovo] have a fear of the
bombing. NATO keeps insisting that the bombing -- which
goes on all the time down there -- and the noise
of the planes -- which are like drills in your brain --
have no effect on anyone whatsoever, which is really
clearly nonsense. I talked to a lot of Albanians who
were fleeing in part because their neighborhood had been
bombed. Most Albanians I spoke to were just very eager
to have it over.|
-- New York Times reporter Robert Erlanger on NPR's Morning Edition, May 11
"... our goal should remain bombing the Serbs until they agree to a
NATO-Russian force in Kosovo... Stay the course."
|An ethnic Albanian injured from Friday's NATO attack on Korisa, Kosovo, Yugoslavia sits on the bed next to another victim in the hospital in Prizren, Kosovo, Yugoslavia Saturday May 15, 1999. NATO said Saturday it was attacking a Serb military command post when its warplanes struck the nearby village where Yugoslavia reported 87 ethnic Albanians were killed and more than 100 injured. (AP Photo)|
It appears, oddly enough, that what these distinguished, literate gentlemen really need from their prestigious academic institutions is a remedial lesson in vocabulary. Not complicated words, like "is" and "sex", but much simpler words.
For example, there is a word to describe attacking an entire ethnic group of individuals on the basis of broad, sneering, supercilious generalizations about them and a smug belief in one's own moral and intellectual superiority. We call it racism.
And there is a word to describe setting off bombs in buildings and markets in order to demoralize a civilian population and express disapproval of their government's policy. We call it terrorism.
"too many of [Milosevic's] people are full of hate for the Albanians..."
-- Friedman, May 11
PONIKVE, Yugoslavia (Reuters) - Yugoslav army soldiers and villagers try to rescue a cow Friday after a NATO missile hit a stable Thursday during air strikes over the village of Ponikve. At least 100 ethnic Albanians were killed and dozens were injured when NATO bombed a village in south-west Kosovo during the night, survivors and civil defense officials said Friday. Reuters Photo
If there is a lesson from the Kosovo debacle, it is this: the real strength of the West does not lie in its bombs and high tech aircraft. It lies in its political stability and economic prosperity. The West can best achieve its aims by embracing recalcitrant nations and offering them prosperity through economic and political interaction rather than by raining destruction on them.
-- Thomas Abraham in India's The Hindu, May 17
"... they need a new Serbian ethic that understands how to live in 21st-century Europe."
-- Friedman, May 11
BELGRADE, Serbia (Reuters) - A woman feeds her baby in a bomb shelter with no electricity in central Belgrade after air raid sirens sounded May 8. Thousands of people have spent their nights in shelters since NATO air raids started over Yugoslavia 45 days ago. Photo by Reuters
Computer guru Craig Goodrich lives in a house in the woods in Elkmont, with his wife, two children, and four cats. He is a member of the Libertarian Party of Alabama, a smoker, and a gun owner. He tends to reserve his hatred for politicians and their apologists.