Lessons

Craig Goodrich
May 15, 1999

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....)

Friedman continues:

... 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
Reuters Photo
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.

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.

Gracanica monastery, Kosovo, 1321.  Frescos are being severely damaged by NATO near-misses. 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

Reuters Photo
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.
    -- Robert Fisk in The Independent (of London), April 2

"We are at war with the Serbian nation, and anyone hanging around Belgrade needs to understand that."
    -- Friedman, May 11

Associated Press Photo
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."
    -- Friedman, May 11

Associated Press
Photo
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.

-30-


"too many of [Milosevic's] people are full of hate for the Albanians..."
    -- Friedman, May 11
Reuters Photo
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

Reuters Photo
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.