betray both past and present
By Diana Johnstone
The war was launched to protect an oppressed ethnic minority, to
punish a massacre, and to secure a New World Order.
Which war was that? Why, Hitler's war of course, which came to be
known as World War II. The ostensibly oppressed ethnic minority was
the Germans in Slavic countries, the aggression was a fake Polish
incursion into Germany denounced as a "massacre," and the
"New World Order" was the declared goal of Nazi Germany.
These pretexts or aims of Hitler's war of conquest are largely
forgotten in the United States. They are never cited by politicians or
media drawing parallels between then and now.
However, everyone remembers the Holocaust, Hitler and Munich. Reduced
to these three elements, the standard "lesson" of World War
II goes like this: There was an evil man, Hitler, who wanted to kill
all the Jews. At Munich, the West failed to stop him. The result was
the Holocaust. Therefore we must "stand up" to whatever
"new Hitler" comes along. This simplistic formula discredits
diplomacy and justifies the use of military force. To call out the
hounds of war, all that is needed is to identify the latest adversary
as a new "Hitler" and to dismiss any attempt to find a
reasonable compromise as "Munich."
From the beginning of the Yugoslav crisis in 1991, the media took the
easy way of reporting on an extremely complex and unfamiliar situation
by resorting to analogy. The Washington public relations firm, Ruder
Finn, on contract to Croatia and the Kosovo Albanians, took shrewd
advantage of this tendency by likening Serb relocation camps in
Bosnia--horrific places such as exist in conflicts around the world,
and indeed existed in Bosnia under Muslim and Croat control as
well--to "Auschwitz." Suddenly, Milosevic was "the new
Hitler." A journalist who might challenge such exaggeration not
only risked missing the "big story" but could be accused of
"revisionism" or "Auschwitz denial."
More recently, a number of American journalists have indeed managed to
produce excellent and balanced articles from Yugoslavia. Steven
Erlanger's reports from Kosovo for the New York Times reflect the
complexities and ambiguities of a province devastated by NATO bombing,
obscure combat, crime, intimidation and panic. Such serious reporting
has a long way to go to counteract years of simplified analogies,
distorted and inaccurate facts and outright propaganda by
editorialists, columnists and cartoonists echoing each other in
endless variations on the "new Hitler" theme.
The tragic-comic fate of mankind seems to be to fail to see the next
trap in the effort to avoid the last one. By constantly recalling
Auschwitz, the collective imagination has projected it onto much more
ordinary human disasters. At present, the truly successful
"revisionism" is not denial of Auschwitz but its
relativization, by seeing it where it isn't.
The dangers of analogy
Analogies should be employed with care, especially with such
emotion-laden subjects as Hitler and the Holocaust. When applied to
unfamiliar situations, they can create a powerful semi-fictional
version that actually masks reality. Faced with a "new
Hitler" and alleged "genocide," there can be no inquiry
as to the real motives and interests of the various parties. Instead,
the issue is reduced to identifying the "bad guy" and
"standing up" to him. This mindset virtually precludes
serious efforts to grasp why people are acting as they do.
It has even helped to obscure the causes and motives of Nazi
aggression. In reality, Hitler's vicious anti-Semitism could not in
itself have led Germany into a war of conquest stretching from North
Africa to Norway to the Volga. The military, financial and industrial
elites of Germany were motivated by geo-strategic goals: a
German-dominated Europe known as the "New World Order."
The propaganda that incited Germans to fight told them that they were
on a mission to bring good German "Western" order to the
world. To achieve such order, elements of disorder had to be
identified and eliminated. Here is where Hitler's anti-Semitism came
in: For Hitler, disorder in the form of both communism and capitalism
was caused primarily by Jews and secondarily by Slavs (considered an
incompetent sub-race), as well as by minor trouble-makers such as
Gypsies and homosexuals.
If parallels are to be drawn between the present NATO war and the Nazi
blitzkreig, some of them could be extremely embarrassing to the NATO
allies. But American media have never cared to dwell on the fact that
the "New World Order" was a Nazi slogan resurrected by
President Bush once the Soviet Union collapsed, nor on the fact that
Hitler ordered the bombing of Belgrade to punish it for opposing that
"Order," while rewarding Croatian and Albanian secessionist
nationalists with enlarged states from which they proceeded to drive
out Serbian inhabitants. These, however, are the parallels seen by
most Serbs, whether they support or detest Slobodan Milosevic. If this
is not understood, the Serbs cannot be understood.
Condemning the Serbian
As the NATO bombing inevitably fails to win the hearts of the Serbian
people, they themselves increasingly have become the target not only
of the bombing but also of the propaganda campaign. Their resistance
is attributed to perverse stubbornness, or to complicity in the
presumed crimes of "the new Hitler."
The demonstrable fact that the Serbian people strongly favor a
multi-ethnic society, the fact that Serbia is indeed the closest thing
to a genuine multi-ethnic state in the region--this is ignored, or
denied, by constant reference to the new invisible phantom haunting
Europe, "Serbian nationalism." President Clinton's claim to
be destroying Yugoslavia in order to achieve what has long existed--a
multi-ethnic society--while the United States supports an armed ethnic
Albanian movement fighting to establish an ethnically pure Greater
Albania, raises ignorance, or dishonesty, to new levels of absurdity.
Since they refuse to respond to NATO bombing by overthrowing Milosevic,
the conclusion drawn by the NATO propagandists is that the Serbian
people themselves are the "new Nazis." In mid-May, the BBC
posed its question of the week: Could Serbia reform itself? No, said a
British academic, Mark Wheeler, who was of the opinion that Serbia
would have to be occupied militarily, like Germany after World War II,
An individual citizen can sue a publication for libel. There is no
recourse for the population of a country that finds itself targeted by
NATO. Anything goes when it comes to insulting "the Serbs."
The April 12 Newsweek did not hesitate to characterize the Serbs as a
"race" displaying uniquely negative qualities, in an article
by Rod Nordland entitled "Vengeance of a Victim Race."
"Serbs," readers were told, "are expert haters."
Malicious generalizations alternate with lies. "This is the
invented the term 'ethnic cleansing'--as a wartime boast in 1991 when
they were kicking Croats out of Croatia," wrote Nordland. This is
not true. As Jim Naureckas points out (Extra!, 5 6/99), the term was
appearing in U.S. newspapers a decade earlier to describe Albanians'
treatment of Serbs in Kosovo. The practice is age-old. It has been
repeatedly practiced in the Balkan region as a forcible way of ending
border disputes, most dramatically in the huge population exchanges
between Greece and Turkey in the first part of the 20th Century. As
for the war in Croatia in 1991, the practice was mutual, as part of
the dispute over boundaries in a fragmented Yugoslavia. This was the
inevitable result of Western approval of a hasty and unnegotiated
dismantling of Yugoslavia.
Newsweek presumes to delve into the Serb psyche. It finds a
victimization"--a convenient element to disparage and dismiss
preemptively in a people selected to be victims of NATO bombing.
Anything that we do to them is only in their minds. "The other
critical element of the Serb psyche: inat, which means 'spite' but
also includes the idea of revenge no matter what the cost. A taste for
revenge mixed with self-pity is a dangerous combination."
As it happens, "inat" is a word that also exists in the
Albanian language, with exactly the same meaning. In fact, "inat"
is a Turkish word, which was adopted in all the languages of the
region from the ruling Ottoman Turks. If the existence of the term in
the national vocabulary is a key to the national "psyche,"
it applies just as much to the Albanians, and perhaps most of all to
the Turks. But they are our allies, and thus do not require such
Such an article is nothing but propaganda, which can serve only to
justify subjecting a whole people to pariah treatment and even
destruction. The subtitle of Nordland's article is: "The Serbs
are Europe's outsiders, seasoned haters raised on self-pity. Even the
'democrats' are questionable characters." Substitute
"Jews" for "Serbs", and you have a sample of the
sort of rhetoric the Nazis applied prior to "the final
solution." If parallels are to be drawn with World War II, it is
high time to explore all the angles.
Reprinted from Extra! (The
Magazine of FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)
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