Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Fools' Crusade": Chapter One [2]

I. INVISIBLE SERBIA

The first section of Chapter One, titled as above, starts by contrasting excerpts from two speeches. The first is from Bill Clinton's 1999 Memorial Day speech:

"In Kosovo, we see some parallels to World War II, for the government in Serbia, like that of Nazi Germany, rose to power in part by getting people to look down on other people of a given race and ethnicity, and to believe they had no place in their country, and even no right to live."

I'll admit right out that I wish he--and many other Western commentators--left out the 'Nazi' parallels. It's an easy, even lazy, comparison that risks overkill and also can cloud the specifics of the present with a hazy cloud of generalized, broad comparisons to the past.

Still, at leats Clinton was only comparing Serbian actions to the Nazis; as we shall see later, Johnstone holds contemporary Croatians, in particular, accountable for fascist crimes in WWII.

The second quote is Milosevic; it's from his infamous June 28, 1999 speech commemorating the 600th anniversary of the military defeat at the Field of Blackbirds:

"Never in history did Serbs alone live in Serbia. Today more than ever before, citizens of other nationalities and ethnic groups are living here. That is not a handicap for Serbia. I am sincerely convinced it is an advantage. National structure is changing in this direction in all countries in the contemporary world, especially in developed countries. More and more, and more and more successfully, citizens of different nationalitites, different faiths and races are living together. Socialism in particular, being a progressive and just democratic society, should not allow people to be divided by national or religious identity... Yugoslavia is a multinational community, and it can survive only on condition of full equality of all nations that live in it... Equal and harmonious relations amoung Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of Yugoslavia and for it to find its way out of the crisis and, in particular, they are a necessary condition for its economic and social prosperity."


That's a lot of quoting, but I wanted to include both excerpts as originally presented by Johnstone. The Milosevic quote certainly makes him seem like a reasonable guy; if you don't read the rest of the speech, and completely ignore the context in which the speech was given (a climate of ethnic tension, rising xenophobia, and festering violence underneath a repressive police state atmosphere, being artfully manipulated, encouraged, and exploited by Milosevic himself), you might even be inclined to think the guy got a raw deal.

I'll get to that in a moment. But first, let's consider the rhetorical use Johnstone has in store for her two, very selectively chosen, quotes.

"Here we have the contrasting words of two successful politicians, who each in his own country rose to be president with the reputation of being more clever than scrupulously truthful. Which one, in this particular case, is the biggest liar?"

See how neatly Johnstone sets this false dichotomy up? She quotes Clinton making (admittedly somewhat hyperbolic and generic) a specific historical comparison; while Milosevic is heard giving some vague, spongy paeons to multinational tolerance--within the context of Serbs tolerating other nationalities in their land, of course. And now the question isn't even the accuracy of NATO accusations against the Belgrade regime, but simply a contest between two quotes in a rigged competition.

But Johnstone isn't observant or wise enough to see the cheap shot she has just set up. Instead, we get this:

"In all simplicity, the answer has to be Clinton, becuse whether or not what Clinton says in this speech is true depends on what Milosevic said in order to rise to power."

As I have pointed out in a previous post, Milosevic ended up a prisoner in The Hague for his actions, not his words. To be fair, Johnstone does point out that this excerpt is from the oft-referenced speech that is often cited as a defining moment in Milosevic's campaign to harness nationalist sentiment and, ultimately, lead his nation into self-destructive war. Her bait-and-switch isn't a complete non-sequiter. But for all its faults, Clinton's speech does refer to this speech specifically, or even to 'speech' in general; it is not specified how the government of Serbia accomplished this deed.

Johnstone has--rather less gracefully than she most likely would wish--changed the terms of debate. The U.S. and NATO case against Milosevic was based on documented military and political actions over a number of years; Johnstone wants us to believe that it all boils down to a cynical misrepresentation of his words, particularly one infamous speech. By using a simplistic speech by Clinton to represent the far more informed body of knowledge and debate that actually informed the decision to take military action against Milosevic and his government, Johnstone surely feels she has played a strong hand.

However, there is the matter of that speech that has been so grossly misrepresented in the West. Let us take a quick break from the text and see just what cards Johnstone is holding this round.

1 comment:

Owen said...

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.