Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [3]


Give Michael Parenti this much--unlike Diana Johnstone, he doesn't make you guess where he's coming from:

"This book deals with the lies our leaders have been telling us for more than a decade about events in the former Yugoslavia, and how these events fit into the broader context of US global policy. In the pages ahead I investigate the conflicts leading to the dismemberment of that country, and the interests motivating US leaders and their NATO allies.

"I am not one of those critics who think that Western policy vis-a-vis Yugoslavia has been misdirected or confused. Top policy makers are intelligent, resourceful, and generally more aware of what they are doing than those who see them as foolish and bungling. US policy is not filled with contradictions and inconsistencies. It has performed brilliantly and steadily in the service of those who own most of the world and who want to own all of it."

He goes on in this vein at some length, but hopefully the gist of his argument is clear--Yugoslavia was destroyed from without by the United States of America and its global capitalist overlords. All in the name of neoliberal economic reforms, sugarcoated with a patina of concern for democracy.

Being that Parenti has this all figured out, then, how does the reader know whether or not to trust him? Well, he assures us, he has figured out how to sift through what Edward Hermann called the "remarkable body of propaganda" produced by the (Parenti repeats this point, phrased with slight variations, several times) "corporate-controlled" media and political classes. And while he pays lip service to the notion that there would also be difficulties in discerning the truth from government-controlled sources in Serbia, he hastens to add that his book is based entirely on Western sources. Which he goes on to identify at some length.

In a nutshell, his brilliant method for determining the reliability of Western accounts is for when they contradict the general thrust of most information and reporting from Western sources. In other words, Parenti turns the quest for "the truth" into an exercise in textural analysis. Which is much, much easier than relying on tired old fact-and-evidence-based paradigms.

This, then, is the tone and the approach we can anticipate for the rest of this book. Parenti, armed with the preconception that Yugoslavia was destroyed by the West simply for the crime of being a socialist country which had outlived its usefulness in the post-Cold War era, dives into the world of manipulated pro-Western images and corporate-controlled facts, determined to sniff out the suspiciously ill-fitting pieces of puzzle which, he is quite sure, contain the key to the real story.

In other words, he will point to over-generalizations in the Western media as proof of conspiracy to mislead the public, and inconsistancies in Western political and military actions as proof of sinister hidden motives. It's easy to be a conspiracy theorist--reality has a way of being messy and imperfect, and messy imperfections provide the true believer plenty to work with.


knibilnats said...

Thank you for writing this. I was trying to learn more about what happened in the 1990s in the Balkans and picked up Parenti's book. I was so disappointed with his arguments, sources, and overall methodology. I'm still looking for Parenti's motives in demonizing every former Yugoslav republic save Serbia, but I haven't been able to find anything online.

Kirk Johnson said...

Parenti is part of a group of far-Left revisionists who chose to believe that socialist Yugoslavia was deliberately destroyed by the USA and its Western allies. They believe this despite the paucity of evidence to support this position, and the mountains of evidence that the country was destroyed by a combination of rising nationalism in the post-Tito era and bad leadership ("bad leadership" here means anything from incompetent to ill-advised to simply evil).

I'm glad you found my blog. Please see some of the other sources I've linked to--there are many places to look.

I would HIGHLY recommend the following book:

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Laura Silber and Allan Little. Probably the best, and most thorough, one-volume history of the war for general readership.

There are many other excellent works out there, but if you want to read ONE book that is trustworthy and fairly comprehensive, that would be the one.