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Kosovo and Doublespeak
By Edward S. Herman
War, propaganda, and the proliferation of doublespeak have always gone
hand-in-hand. As was the case during the Persian Gulf war, the NATO war
against Yugoslavia witnessed a collapse of mainstream media integrity and a
new surge of doublespeak in the service of the war party. It was grimly
humorous that NATO and its compliant media partners justified the bombing of
Serbian radio and TV on the grounds of propaganda service to Milosevic's war
machine. In reality, the parallel service of the U.S. and British media
differed from that of the Serbs mainly in their ludicrous self-designation
as objective and propaganda-free.
Let me briefly review here a short-list of purr and snarl words that
have been of outstanding service to U.S. and British propaganda.
Credibility: Credibility is a purr word, that oozes goodness. Hawks
always resort to credibility as a form of flag-waving, using it to
makecompromise or withdrawal a form of moral and unpatriotic defeat. But it
is an appeal to irrationality and assures that a mistake can be transformed
into a catastrophe. The media have been extremely lax in giving uncontested
space to Senator John McCain and Zbigniew Brzezinski to play the credibility
gambit and failing to look behind this purr word to the real issues at
stake. And they have thereby allowed it to serve as an instrument of war
Humanitarian bombing: NATO allegedly began bombing in March for
humanitarian purposes. Humanitarian is a purr word, but humanitarian
bombing is an oxymoron, blending the warm-hearted with dealing death. As the
NATO bombing exponentially increased the damage inflicted on the purported
beneficiaries, as well as large numbers of innocent Serb civilians, it has
been anti-humanitarian at all levels. The CIA and NATO military officials
like General Wesley Clark have admitted that the negative humanitarian
effects were expected. The phrase is a propaganda fraud covering over a
hidd en agenda, in which Kosovo Albanian welfare had little or no place. But
the media have never considered the phrase an oxymoron or the policy a human
Victory: With the end of the bombing, the media trumpet the official
view that NATO won a "victory," but they do not ask whether this triumph was
in fulfilment of the alleged humanitarian aim--they have implicitly
abandoned that purported objective in favor of celebrating a mighty military
victory over another tiny and overmatched enemy power. The NATO and media
celebration recalls George Santayana's words: "Fanaticism consists in
redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."
Military targets: NATO repeatedly claimed that it was avoiding civilian and
sticking to military targets. However, it steadily expanded the definition
of military target to encompass anything that directly or indirectly helped
the Serb war effort, so that electric and waterfacilities (among other
things) primarily serving civilians were included as military targets. This
is in violation of international law and the army's own rules of warfare,
and therefore amounts to the commission of war crimes. Christopher Simpson
recently cited a President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure
Protection finding that the bombing of electric and water facilities in U.S.
cities would be criminal "terrorism." The media have of course never
mentioned this report, which suggests that NATO engaged in
wholesale criminal terrorism, and they have treated the commission of war
crimes with the lightest touch. In fact, pundits like Thomas Friedman of the
New York Times have urged the direct bombing of civilians and thus the
commission of war crimes.
Collateral damage: This is our old friend from the Vietnam and Persian
Gulf wars. It purrs, suggesting inadvertence and "errors." But where the
likelihood of "errors" in a bombing raid have a probability of over 90
percent, the damage is intentional even if the particular victims were not
targeted. If somebody throws a bomb at an individual in a crowded theater,
and 100 bystanders are also killed, would we say that the bomb thrower was
not clearly guilty of killing the 100 because their deaths were "unintended"
and the damage was "collateral"? The propaganda agencies reserve such purr
word excuses for "humanitarian" bombing.
Negotiations: During the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, U.S. officials
regularly claimed to be interested in "negotiations," when in reality
they were only ready to accept surrender. With patriotic gullibility the
media swallowed the official propaganda claims and helped pave the way for
war and the prolongation of war. At Rambouillet, NATO offered Yugoslavia an
ultimatum that included NATO's right to occupy all of Yugoslavia. This offer
was one no sovereign nation could accept and was designed to be rejected.
But just as in the earlier cases, the media accepted the false official < BR>claim that Milosevic rather than NATO was unwilling to negotiate or accept
reasonable terms. And once again the media helped pave the way for war.
Rule of law: This is a purr phrase, that is used only when convenient.
During the Persian Gulf war, at which time the Bush administration could get
Security Council agreement for action against Iraq, President Bush declared
that the issue at stake was the "rule of law" versus the law of the jungle.
However, at the time of the U.S. incursion into Panama in 1989, when
Security Council approval was not obtainable and the incursion was in clear
violation of the OAS agreement, the matter of law was muted. Similarly,
unable to obtain Security Council approval for the NATO attack on
Yugoslavia, with the attack in evident violation of the UN Charter, and with
U.S. participation eventually in violation of the War Powers Act, U.S.
and NATO officials were singularly uninterested in questions of law. And the < BR>U.S. mainstream media cooperated by setting this issue aside as well. They
now ignore their old favorite Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who says today that
"The aggressors have kicked aside the UN, opening a new era where might is
Genocide and ethnic cleansing: These snarl words have been frequently
applied to the Serbs, helping justify the NATO war. In a recent
masterpiece of propaganda (June 13, 1999), New York Times reporter Michael
Wines explains that "Fifty-four years after the Holocaust revelations,
America and Europe had finally said 'enough,' and struck a blow against a
revival of genocide." The West found a "revival of genocide" in a locale
where some 2000 people had been killed in the year prior to the NATO attack,
which inspired those great moralists Clinton and Blair to act. If this seems
like a relatively small number in the light of other modern day slaughters,
Wines advises us that "there is a yawni ng gap between the West and much of
the world on the value of a single life." The West is concerned with each
individual life, so 2000 can understandably activate its sensitive leaders.
Wines does not mention that Clinton and Blair are the leaders supporting
the sanctions against Iraq that, at the time they had "had enough" of
genocide in Kosovo, had killed a million Iraqi civilians. Blair is still the
biggest arms supplier to Indonesia, and both the moralists sell arms to and
are on entirely friendly terms with the Turkish government that has
ethnically cleansed Kurds on a large scale for many years. The greatest
single case of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia in the 1990s occurred at
Krajina in Croatia in 1995, where several hundred thousand Serbs were put to
flight and many killed. This action was done with U.S. and NATO aid and was
not objected to in any way by NATO.
In short, U.S. and NATO policy toward Kosovo has been riddled with
cont radictions and hypocrisies, and has enlarged a local human rights
crisis to a regional disaster. This has been helped by a system of
doublespeak that the mainstream media have not only failed to challenge but
have incorporated into their own usage. Contrary to their proclaimed
objectivity, this failure has made them agents of state propaganda, rather
than information servants of a democratic community.