To Kill A Nation (The Attack On Yugoslavia)
by Michael Parenti
London: Verso, 2000
Review by Richard Hugus
April 16, 2001
The United States has committed an enormity against the people of Yugoslavia — a crime which many have been unable to recognize because of its very size and audacity. We seem to have reached a stage in the “information age” when a completely factitious war is now possible — that is, a war based entirely on false information.
The war against Yugoslavia didn’t come about because of a crudely staged incident or provocation, like wars of old. It came about by virtue of state and corporate media working in unison to create an entire world in which falsehood and lies were passed off as facts, and such facts, once established, became the building blocks for even greater fabrications.
Propaganda which set the stage for the attack on Yugoslavia by the US and its NATO minions is not a recent phenomenon. The groundwork for it was laid years ago. It was carefully and logically planned. Such incidents as were staged, like the “Racak massacre”, were only small pieces of a much larger production.
The intent of the US, simply put, has been to dismember and consume this once-prosperous Socialist federation. It has attempted to do so by, among other things, implementing long-term economic sanctions; fomenting civil war; passing off impossible ultimatums as diplomacy; engaging in a 78 day bombardment and massacre based on the outrageous pretext of such bombing being “humanitarian”; organizing a proxy army and calling it a “liberation” movement; using “peacekeeping” as the excuse for direct military occupation and the setting up of major military bases; manipulating national elections through massive fraud; carrying out a political takeover by US-backed puppets ; and through continuing economic warfare through IMF and World Bank “structural adjustment programs. ”
In To Kill a Nation, Michael Parenti has detailed these and other facts about the war against Yugoslavia, and, in doing so, has helped set the world right side up again.
Because of his previous scholarship on the ways in which history is written to serve the needs of the powerful (see his History As Mystery) Parenti is well suited to examine the ‘history’ of the Balkans which is being made each day through reports in the mainstream press.
Take this typical example — a single sentence, provided as stock background — from a recent article in the Boston Globe about new conflicts taking place in Bosnia:
“Serb paramilitaries, with Belgrade’s support, waged a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing there [in Bosnia] as Yugoslavia’s former president, Slobodan Milosevic, attempted to carve a ‘Greater Serbia.'” (“Balkan Policy Has New Challenges”, March 8, 2001)
Parenti discusses the way in which such statements, though never established as true, became ‘true’ by virtue of being repeated over and over again in a wide variety of supposedly independent news sources. Today, to most readers of the mainstream press, the idea that Serbs were not guilty of ‘ethnic cleansing’ would come as a surprise. The fact that the much-reported mass graves of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were never found, or that the Serbs were themselves the victims of ethnic cleansing in 1995 in Croatia, and in 1999 in Kosovo, is either not presented or is overwhelmed by the sheer weight and number of assertions of Serbian guilt.
These facts are documented by Parenti, who goes on to describe even more insidious feats of propaganda — hiding the deeds of the criminals by shifting them onto the shoulders of their victims. For example, in the excerpt above, it isn’t the fascist KLA who have been trying to create a “Greater Albania”; it was Milosevic who “attempted to carve a ‘Greater Serbia.'” This is complete nonsense.
What of the crimes of people who were not directly involved in civil war but who waged war from the outside of what was, after all, a sovereign nation which had attacked no one? In a chapter entitled “NATO’s War Crimes”, Parenti describes the real atrocities which the fabricated atrocities were supposed to divert us from. (Again, the deeds of the criminal have been imputed to the victim.) These atrocities include the US/NATO’s:
“bombing fifteen cities in round-the-clock air raids for over two months, spewing hundreds of thousands of tons of highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into the water, air, and soil, poisoning agricultural fields and rivers, maiming and killing thousands, exposing millions to depleted uranium, and obliterating the productive capital of an entire nation.”
In the popular press, ‘Serbs’ can barely be mentioned without being connected to the terms ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘atrocities’; and ‘Milosevic’, of course, cannot be mentioned without the word ‘brutal’ lurking somewhere nearby — usually ‘brutal dictator.’ Parenti is one of the most notable left intellectuals in the U.S. to defend Milosevic and the Serbs against the slander that has been laid upon them. He does this with an excellent account of the multiculturalism which prospered in Yugoslavia while Milosevic was in office, and by bringing levelness and common sense to the question of what a national leader and a people really are.
Parenti’s stand takes courage. Why? Because of the bullying of the press and its staunch opinion-makers. Because of fierce pressure to conform to accepted and seemingly universal opinion. Because the charges against the Serbs and Milosevic were and are so extreme, and are repeated so often, that would-be defenders find themselves incriminated. Because, in the world of the media and academia, those who defend the Serbs, or even just attempt to moderate the anti-Serbian onslaught, are routinely marginalized. And because, amazingly, so few well-known left intellectuals have actually taken these steps
The overt phase of the ongoing war against Yugoslavia represented by the March-to-June 1999 bombing was a crisis which discombobulated the American antiwar Left. Some notables sold out completely, supporting the bombing. (Todd Gitlin comes to mind.) Others suffered different degrees of co-optation. For example, in a footnote, Parenti makes reference to Noam Chomsky’s important interview on KPFA radio.
The interview, which took place April 5th on the popular program, ‘Democracy Now’, is shocking. In it, Prof. Chomsky never says NATO is morally wrong to bomb Yugoslavia. Rather, he accepts without question the validity of Western claims (e.g., the assertions of Gen. Wesley Clark) that Yugoslav forces engaged in widespread atrocities against ethnic Albanians prior to the bombing, and that these supposed atrocities increased following the onset of NATO bombing.
On the basis of these entirely unsupported charges of Yugoslav atrocities, derived from Western war propaganda, Prof. Chomsky argued that the bombing was counter-productive because, he said, it served to justify an increase in Yugoslav atrocities against Albanians.
Chomsky said NATO leaders had to have been aware that ”the Serbs” would engage in “increased” atrocities if NATO bombed Yugoslavia. It was “predicatble” he said. This sounded like a criticism of NATO. But while seeming to criticize NATO, Chomsky was actually agreeing with NATO that the Serbs were guilty of widespread atrocities.
The Chomsky interview was heard by thousands of ‘Democracy Now’ listeners – that is, by people on the Left. Because of Chomsky’s prominence his views were taken seriously, and of course this seriously undermined antiwar organizing. If one accepted Chomsky’s views which were so similar to NATO’s views, how was one to protest against the war? Was one to carry a sign that read: “Stop Bombing Those Fascist Serbs, It Only Makes Them Worse!”?
Why were American intellectuals, like Prof. Chomsky, unable to subject Western media reports to even a modicum of critical scrutiny? At the time Chomsky gave the ‘Democracy Now’ interview the Internet was awash with criticisms of NATO’s media propaganda. Why didn’t he and other leading Leftist intellectuals at least tell people that some people disputed the charges of Serbian atrocities?
Shortly after the interview, the German paper Junge Welt published German Court and Foreign Ministry internal documents, proving what had already been convincingly argued: that Yugoslav forces did not target ethnic Albanians civilians prior to the NATO bombing. Parenti refers to these German documents in To Kill a Nation. In other words the atrocities posited by Prof. Chomsky did not take place. How then could they have ‘increased’ after the onset of bombing? But throughout the bombing, Chomsky made no retraction.
Moreover, in the ‘Democracy Now’ interview Chomsky portrayed the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) as an expression of the frustrations of an oppressed people (ethnic Albanians) whose suffering had been ignored by the West.
This was sheer fantasy. First of all, the United States establishment had been encouraging ethnic Albanian secessionist forces since the mid-1980s. For example, when U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman, staged a commercial fair in Kosovo in 1990, the only leaders he met with were the secessionists — he publicly snubbed officials of the Serbian government. For a diplomat, this was like taking out a full page advertisement: “We Are Backing the Secessionists!”
And indeed the U.S. did support secessionists such as the so-called moderate, Ibrahim Rugova, who coercively organized Albanians to boycott culturally autonomous institutions (schools, hospitals) precisely in order to be able to tell the world the lie that “the Serbs” were not allowing ethnic Albanians to have culturally autonomous institutions. This is fully documented. When Washington decided it was time to launch an all-out terrorist attack on Kosovo, it simply created a more ‘extreme’ proxy force, the gangster-terrorist KLA.
If one were to compare Kosovo to the American south during the period of segregation, then it was the Serbs and ‘Gypsies’ who were in a position similar to that of black people; that is, they were victims of racism. The secessionists, whether moderate or terrorist, were tied to the U.S. and Germany. They had the goal of breaking up Serbia. Their appeal was rooted in, a) notions of ‘Greater Albania’ which had been especially fostered during World War II when their political forebears ruled Kosovo under German Nazi patronage and, b) hatred of Serbs and ‘Gypsies’ which had also been fostered by the Nazis.
The secessionists, whether the moderate variety or the KLA extremists, were and are nothing like Martin Luther King. Rather they are very much like the worst segregationists. The so-called moderates, such as Rugova, are like the White Citizens Councils. The KLA is like the KKK. How was it possible for people who called themselves Leftists to mistake racism for opposition to racism?
Throughout the bombing of Yugoslavia, in speeches to young antiwar activists and in articles published by Left-leaning websites, Prof. Chomsky continued to repeat his accusations against Yugoslav forces. Alas, he was not alone. On the one hand, by saying bombing was not the solution, Leftist intellectuals got the ear of people who tended to be antiwar. But on the other hand, by saying the Serbs were monsters, Leftist intellectuals stifled antiwar action.
In North America, some ordinary people, some conservative media, some websites, and some courageous, independent-minded intellectuals like Parenti, Diana Johnstone, Michel Chossudovsky, Greg Elich, and George Pumphrey, did try to combat anti-Serbian media lies. Locked out of mainstream and Leftwing media alike, these people could only rely on the Internet to answer the propaganda lies about “The Serbs. ”
Now we have more evidence from NATO sources proving that the anti-Serbian claims were fabricated. Yet some leading Leftist intellectuals still keep repeating the same old fabrications, saying Yugoslav forces targeted Albanian civilians in Kosovo and calling Mr. Milosevic a criminal, etc.
The earlier writings of people like Prof. Chomsky helped thousands of people to think critically. Prof. Chomsky is highly respected, especially by young people. Therefore it was especially harmful that he and others with reputations as critics of U.S. policy have swallowed NATO’s lies, hook, line and sinker, and have rebroadcast those lies, now covered with a veneer of anti-NATO criticism.
Concerning the Left’s co-optation, Parenti writes:
“In the face of such a relentless propaganda campaign against Milosevic and the Serbs, even prominent personages on the Left – who oppose NATO’s policy against Yugoslavia – have felt compelled to genuflect before this orthodoxy. While establishment liberals said, ‘The Serbs are brutal and monstrous. Let’s attack them,’ some progressives argued ‘The Serbs are brutal and monstrous. But let’s not attack them, for that would be even worse.’ Thus did they reveal themselves as having been influenced by the very media propaganda machine they criticized on so many other issues.”
While it is admirable and correct of Parenti to point this out, Parenti himself, unfortunately, makes generalizations derived from this orthodoxy. For example, he writes:
“To reject the demonized image of Milosevic and of the Serbian people is not to idealize either nor to claim that Yugoslav forces have not committed crimes. It is merely to challenge the one-sided propaganda that laid the grounds for the imperialist dismemberment of Yugoslavia and NATO’s far greater criminal onslaught.” (To Kill a Nation).
Parenti starts the above paragraph by refusing to rule out crimes by ”Yugoslav forces” (presumably the Army and security police). Next, he labels anti-Serb accusations “one-sided”, which suggests that they are not exactly wrong, but that they don’t tell the entire story. Parenti ends the paragraph by saying that NATO has launched a “criminal onslaught” that is “far greater” than that of the Yugoslav forces. That is, the Yugoslavs are criminals, but not as bad as NATO.
In these remarks, Parenti is bowing to the monolith of unproved accusations which he elsewhere criticizes. Where is the proof that Yugoslav forces committed crimes? Mr. Parenti does offer some ‘examples’ of alleged Serbian crimes, mostly dating from 1991-1995. But numerous experts argue that these so-called examples are as false as the supposed massacre at Racak in Kosovo, which did not occur. One example of Serbian crimes which Parenti cites is the alleged massacre at Srebrenica, the very existence of which is refuted in well-documented articles.
The Yugoslav Army and security forces have been accused of many crimes which subsequent evidence, even from Western sources, proves did not occur. So far, no one has presented proof of any crimes that did occur. So why should Parenti concede a priori that the Yugoslav forces committed crimes, while adding that NATO’s crimes were “far greater”?
It turns out to be very difficult to speak up against what everyone says must be true. It is difficult for all of us. But there is no reason to concede any part of a lie.
In addition to his own analysis, Michael Parenti discusses in this book the insights of a number of other writers who discerned and foretold a pattern of US aggression in the Balkans going as far back as the 1980’s. With this pattern coming into horrifying focus today — Serbia encircled, the US-supported people in power, the US-backed KLA lined up like wolves on Serbia’s border — now is not the time to turn our backs on the people of Yugoslavia. To Kill A Nation is a book which shows one way we can lend support. This was a war based on lies. The first step toward justice is to understand these lies. And then begin the work of setting them straight.