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Not my war
18 Jun 1999 - Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
The aftermath of the war on Yugoslavia is not following the typical pattern. Usually, the commander in chief basks in the glow of victory. Medals are handed out, parades organized, speeches given to the masses. Veterans are heralded as preservers of freedom. The national soul swells in patriotic fervor. The merchants of death gain a new lease on life.
Not this time. There is no victory glow, no parades, no flag waving. Outside the mainstream media, there is a curious lack of any bragging at all. There are no yellow ribbons adorning trees. Indeed, veterans of this war are more pitied than praised. Veterans of past wars are rushing to repudiate the whole mess.
As regards the "national soul," it is pretty much what it was before and during the war: skeptical of any pronouncement from D.C. Meanwhile, Congress has moved on to the usual civic pieties: promising to reform a smattering of failed programs, dreaming up new ways of regulating our lives, and celebrating Rosa Parks. Even Clinton seems to be backing away from the topic of the war. What gives?
This war never enjoyed wide or deep public support, and for good reason. It was an attack on a far-away soveriegn country that never did anything to any American. No interests of this country were threatened, or even affected, by the 600-year- long struggle between Christians and Muslims over Kosovo. The U.S. bombing was simply an aggression of the sort the Russians used to accuse us of.
Even now, it is difficult to know the real reason for intervention, since no one believes that the Clinton Administration cares about human-rights violations. You can't take anti-brutality sermons seriously when the preacher is simultaneously bombing hospitals, schools, and water systems, and killing innocents as a war tactic. Far from giving rise to nationalist pride, U.S. behavior forms a pit in your stomach.
Clinton tried to draw on antique war myths and accuse his opponents of appeasement in the face of evil. But it didn't fly. His poll ratings actually declined during the war, an astounding fact in light of the tendency of war to unite a country behind the ruling regime. And these numbers are from phone polls that dramatically under-assess the level of dissatisfaction with existing government policy. The war was supported with intensity by very few, mostly those who had something to gain from it.
Even according to NATO's own stated aims, the war was not a success. The final treaty steps away from the absurd demands made in the Rambouillet talks. And from a humane point of view, the war was catastrophic, with thousands dead and an entire society in ruins. The lack of public celebration of victory reflects a widespread acknowledgment of this.
The truth about this war was not being spread by mainstream organs of opinion, of course. But thanks to the Internet, this was the first war in which a sizeable number of Americans had access to alternative media. News from anti-war sites was just as accessible as that from pro-war sites (again, the mainstream media). So there was no need to rely on the warfare state's spokesmen, and those who parrot their opinions.
The contrast between truth and propaganda was so dramatic that we all received an education in how war disinformation works. Even NATO was sometimes forced to admit that it had lied about its own iniquities. It was either confess, or lose all credibility.
One of the few reporters to deal somewhat frankly with NATO atrocities was Steven Erlanger of The New York Times, though he waited until the NATO occupation to unburden himself fully. Writing in the New York Times Magazine (June 13, 1999), he points out that no one, Serbian or Albanian, believed "that this was anything but Washington's war." All the prattle about allies was just a fig leaf.
He further confirms that the U.S. was, "perhaps out of frustration," deliberately targeting civilians. One "month into the war, no Serb believed that the bombs were not aimed at them or that NATO hit anything - even hospitals or the Chinese Embassy - by error."
He tells a horrifying story about the massacre at Aleksinac. Reporters were invited to view the death inflicted on civilians by NATO. As they walked, "Western reporters joked to inure themselves to the bloody human remains on which they were unavoidably stepping." But Serbians standing nearby said, "listen to the bastards, speaking English and laughing." Serbians wept, says Erlanger, not only at the loss of life and property, but also "for the death of their own misconceptions of America."
And now, we hear of individual Serbs being run out of Kosovo, 80,000 at last count, frightened of terrorism directed against them that NATO is either powerless to stop or de facto encouraging. When a handful of Serbs refuses to collaborate, and dares to resist the foreign occupiers with guns, can anyone really say they are wrong? As Erlanger notes, even Serbs "have a right to their patriotism, and to their national myths, and to their grief."
There's a scene in Godfather when Michael Corleone tells his new girlfriend how his father once offered a contract to a man at gunpoint. His father said, "either your brains or your signature are going to be on that paper." His girlfriend freezes in horror, but Michael quickly assures her, "that's my family, Kate, it's not me."
It's difficult for Americans to consider the immense human suffering inflicted on Yugoslavia with weapons built by our tax dollars. Far from celebrating, there is a widespread tendency to avoid even thinking about it. But for those who do think, this war makes them want to cry out to the world: that was the government's war, not mine.
(Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is th president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.)
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