"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 12 April 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.

War Stories



War is understood to advance

along the rails of some

fictional narrative or other,

and the current example isn't

doing much more in that regard

than following the old rules.

What's remarkable, though, is

how much huffing and puffing

it's taking to make the machine



One of the strangest fictions is

a lie of omission, repeated

again and again as if the

historical record had simply

ceased to exist. On 5 April, for

one nice example, British

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook

told reporters that the exodus

of ethnic Albanians fleeing

Kosovo represents "a mass

deportation we have not seen

since the days of Stalin and

Hitler." Other officials shot

for the same idea but with a

different script; a week before,

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea had

described the situation in

Kosovo as the worst the world

has seen since the mass murders

by the Khmer Rouge in the early

'70s. Worst since the Nazi

Holocaust, worst since the

Soviet pogroms, worst since the

killing fields of Cambodia -

hey, close enough for government



But however the different

scripts rendered the events in

Kosovo, they all followed the

same rough story line, building

to the same final episode. On

the same day Cook was making his

comparisons to Hitler and

Stalin, the US State Department

announced the discovery of many

of the signs of "genocide" in

the region.


But the lines between genocide

and mass deportation have tended

to get a little fuzzy in the

telling, with a little help from

the nongovernmental organizations

given the task of maintaining

the narrative. On 6 April,

newspaper readers in Los Angeles

were greeted by a large,

front-page photograph in the

local excuse for a newspaper

under the headline: "Witness to

'Ethnic Cleansing.'" The image,

an aerial reconnaissance

photograph shot from a NATO

plane, shows armored vehicles

clustered around a village said

to be populated by ethnic

Albanians; the villagers in the

photograph are massed together

in a loose knot, apparently

herded into a field just outside

the circle of structures forming

the village. No story

accompanied the photograph;

captions repeated the words

"ethnic cleansing."



Now, a quick question: What do

you think "ethnic cleansing"

means? Say you were looking at a

photograph of villagers herded

into a field by soldiers in

armored vehicles; what would it

mean to you? Diligent Times

readers eventually would have

managed to find a single

paragraph, buried in the

continuation of a story on other

related topics - on page eight -

explaining that the "ethnic

cleansing" photograph was

provided by NATO officials as

proof of mass deportations.

There was no word as to whether

it was a photograph of

Hitler-like deportations or Pol

Pot-like deportations, but we'll

give 'em time to sort that one



Whatever the fuzzy details, the

lesson is supposed to be clear:

Brutality is occurring, and the

humane and enlightened

governments of the West don't

sit on their hands while

innocent people are being

killed. And if it might be

genocide ...


Except that - it would be too

obvious to bother saying if it

wasn't being treated as obscure

and forgettable - the humane and

enlightened governments of the

West overlook this kind of

violence all the time. The most

obvious and most severe example

comes from the ancient past:

1994, almost before most of us

were born. That was the year of

the orchestrated and explicitly

identity-targeted slaughter of

Rwandan Tutsis, led by that

nation's Hutu Power government.

As Philip Gourevitch richly

details in We Wish to Inform You

that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed

with Our Families, the same

Western governments currently

screaming the word "genocide,"

over what has been described as

"thousands" of deaths in Kosovo,

responded quite a bit

differently to the rapid killing

of more than 800,000 people in

Africa - which resulted, by the

way, in a massive exodus of

refugees into neighboring



The decision to ignore the

killing in 1994 didn't simply

reflect a passive choice not to

act; it reflected an active

effort to escape responsibility.

The US ambassador to the United

Nations at the time, a diplomat

by the name of Madeline

Albright, even labored furiously

to block UN efforts to vote on a

resolution describing the

killings as genocidal - a

distinction that would have

obligated the United States,

a signatory to international

treaties aimed at

preventing a repeat of the

Holocaust, to act. When a

coalition of other African

nations finally realized that

the United States

and UN had no intention

of getting involved, they asked

the Clinton administration for

one thing: 50 armored personnel

carriers, on loan. The answer:

No. Under pressure, the US

eventfully agreed to lease the

carriers to the United Nations

for US$15 million - this while

being billions of dollars in

arrears on UN dues - with the

understanding that the UN could

then choose to loan them out as

it wished.



So, yes: Mass deportations mixed

with occasional outbursts of

violence are "genocide" and

demand immediate military

action; hundreds of thousands of

orchestrated deaths add up to

something, well, unfortunate.

But this is a habit deeply

ingrained in the behavior of

enlightened nations. It's worth

noting that Gourevitch was

visiting Washington, DC, in May

of 1994. He describes the

experience of killing

time while waiting in line at

the United States Holocaust

Memorial Museum,

killing time, that is, by

reading reports from Rwanda in

the newspaper. The tour guides,

he recounts, wore buttons

proclaiming: "Never Again!" - a

theme echoed by Bill Clinton at

the museum's opening ceremony.

"Apparently, all he meant was

that the victims of future

exterminations could now die

knowing that a shrine already

existed in Washington where

their suffering might be

commemorated," Gourevitch



And then there's the question of

just who NATO is rushing to

defend. The Kosovo Liberation

Army, an armed separatist

movement, has grown increasingly

violent since a collapse of

order in neighboring Albania led

to the looting of that nation's

armories; as many as 30,000

automatic weapons came pouring

over the border. In light of the

new Western view of secessionist

armies, though, look for NATO

bombing campaigns against Spain

and Turkey, where Basques and

Kurds continue to struggle for

liberty. We wonder how many

airstrikes it'll take to put

down the Royal Ulster



Judging by history, it'll take

quite a few. The effectiveness

of air power alone is clearly

understood. Alert Suck readers

will remember a recent

comparison of the ongoing

bombing campaign against Iraq -

which is still going and still

right on the verge of toppling

that bastard Saddam - and the

bombing of the Ho Chi Minh

trail. American defense analysts

studying the bombing campaign

against the North Vietnamese

supply route explained helpfully

that bombing alone tends not to

be effective and in

fact tends to bring the

people being bombed together in

unity behind their political

leaders. The United States rained 2 million

tons of explosives on communist

forces in Vietnam: See how it

made them roll over and play

dead? (Of course, the effort to

unite an enemy nation is helped

along dramatically if you do

things like bomb its capital

city on the anniversary of the

very day that the Nazis bombed

their capital city.)


And so, after many days of

warm-up demonizing - worse than

Hitler, just like Stalin, a

brutal dictator, a genocidal

lunatic, etc. - the NATO nations

all resorted to the same line

when Milosevic failed to buckle

after the first bombs hit: We

couldn't have guessed that he'd

be so unreasonable! Forgive us

for doubting that the military

and political leaders planning

the attacks on Serbia had no

clue at all that the airstrikes

might not be instantly




Forgive us, too, for doubting

that no one in (or even near)

the White House had any memory

of Balkan history, back when the

staff at that prestigious

address was preparing the

president's speech on the need

for bombing that unstable region

until it turned stable again.

Clinton helpfully explained that

the Balkans have already

exploded into violence twice

before in this century; what he

forgot to mention,

unfortunately, was that the

Balkans have erupted into

violence twice in this century

after outside powers entered the

region and initiated it. But

NATO bombing inside Serbia's

partner republic in the Yugoslav

Federation, Montenegro,

shouldn't do anything to drag

them into the neighboring

violence. Right?


In case it isn't clear what's at

stake in Kosovo, the Washington

Post just put it all into

perspective: "The Gore team,"

that newspaper explains, "sees

Kosovo as a chance to display

both the vice president's

knowledge of complex foreign

policy matters and his

toughness." And the wise men of

the GOP agree that the bombing

is an exciting opportunity for

the vice president to firm up

his image. "This is an

opportunity to show he has some

policy backbone and is willing

to use America's might to

protect freedom and human

rights," Republican pollster

Tony Fabrizio explained to the

Post. "The only downside is if

we get committed to a long,

protracted ground offensive."


Republican candidate Steve

Forbes wins the biggest idiot

award, however, in the battle

over narrative posturing. He

argues that the best solution to

the crisis in Kosovo is to

"massively arm" the KLA. And so

what if that kind of statement

doesn't appear to have been

thought all the way through?

That's not the point. War is an

opportunity to project

toughness, and the only downside

is that a protracted ground war

may cost you points in the

critical months leading to New



For Serbians and Kosovars, the

fiction is already very real.

For Americans, the narrative is

building to the point where it

turns human; two whole weeks

after the repeated assurance

that ground forces would never

be used in Kosovo, that

inevitability awaits only the

polling results to determine the

least offensive phrasing. Which

would leave us, again, with

young men and women - real

flesh-and-blood humans -

marching on the soft ground of

vaguely considered political

schemes. How surprising will it

really be when that ground caves

in again?

courtesy of Ambrose Beers



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