Thursday, June 14, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [4]

CHAPTER ONE: HYPOCRITICAL HUMANITARIANISM

One thing we learn right off--Michael Parenti would absolutely kick Diana Johnstone's ass in a hyperbole-off:

"From March 24 to June 10 1999, US military forces, in coordination with a number of other NATO powers, launched round-the-clock aerial attacks against Yugoslavia, dropping twenty thousand tons of bombs and killing upwards of three thousand women, children, and men. All of this was done out of humanitarian concern for Albanians in Kosovo--or so we were asked to believe."

And he's off--Parenti, the lone crusader for truth and justice, ready to lance the boil of corporate deceit and injustice...you know the drill. The line of reasoning in the opening pages of this chapter are so predictable and tired, Parenti seems less a writer than a random anti-imperialism-cliche generator. The tired, and ultimately fruitless, logic of the Balkan revisionist school is laid out here without even the pretense of considering the particulars of the situation in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. At least Diana Johnstone made some effort to dress her knee-jerk anti-Americanism with a facade of Balkan scholarship. I don't know what expertise the dubious "experts" Parenti thanks in the acknowledgments brought to the text, but it doesn't show through here.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that, once Parenti notes the US-led war in 1999--in tones befitting the opening scenes of Jerry Bruckheimer production (this chapter should come with a soundtrack)--he immediately shifts gears, and begins detailing other US military interventions around the globe. At first he limits himself to other actions of the Clinton Administration (Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq), but then he can no longer restrain himself, and he not only begins jumping across the globe to places where the US supported governments involved in military operations of some kind, but also lists places in which the US has military bases.

By this point, we are at the beginning of the second page of the chapter, at which point Parenti reminds us that he is one of the elect who see through all this:

"Some of us cannot help noticing that US leaders have been markedly selective in their supposedly humanitarian interventions."

Fabulous insight, that--if only he substituted "Most informed people" for the smug and self-satisfied "Some of us." Parenti apparently desperately needs to believe that, by noting inconsistencies and injustices in the history of American foreign policy, he has somehow found the Rosetta Stone with which to decipher any and all American military ventures. Like most Balkan revisionists, Parenti's critique of the NATO war in Kosovo essentially boils down to "Oh yeah? Well what about the Kurds?"

Or the East Timorese; or the Catholics of Northern Ireland; or the Roma; or the Tutsi. Or the Kurds, to whom he devotes over a page, although he is most focused on hypocritical US support for Turkey. And so on.

Well, what about East Timor? What about the victims of ethnic cleansing in various African conflicts? Would Parenti argue that the US decision to do nothing--or even tacitly or even explicitly support--those atrocities was the right thing to do? If not, when what would he have the US do? And if the answer would be to intervene on the behalf of victims, then is it wrong to intervene some of the time when you cannot or will not intervene all of the time? If previous US Administrations have been on the wrong side of history in the past, should later Presidents feel constrained to stay on the wrong side in order to maintain continuity and balance? What, if anything, does Parenti want?

Noam Chomsky has made essentially the same argument against NATO involvement in Yugoslavia in the past; his point, stripped of all verbiage and rhetoric, seems to come to this: It is not the the US cares too little for the Christians of East Timor, or the Palestinians in the occupied territories, or the Kurds of eastern Turkey; it is that the US cares too much for the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo. Chomsky would never own up to such sentiments, but I don't see any other way to square the circle.

Parenti, however, has darker motives, as we see when he asks the same question I am posing, only to come to very different conclusions:

"Why were Western policy makers and media commentators so concerned about the Muslims of Bosnia but so unconcerned about the Muslims of Lebanon or Iraq?"

He quotes Joan Phillips from an article in the pro-Serbian/pro-genocide rag Living Marxism (the same magazine responsible for the propaganda piece denying the reports of concentration camps; the magazine was successfully sued for libel by British channel ITN--here is a link to the original piece. Warning--it's pure rubbish.).

Phillips give the usual strawman argument--the West portrayed the Serbs as "demons"; the Western media created an "anti-Serb bandwagon"; and so forth. The quote is less interesting in and of itself--these people tend to repeat the same talking points over and over interchangeably--than the revealing use of a now-discredited source. That Living Marxism was put out of business because of a libel lawsuit--that further research and documentation has absolutely verified the original reporting of Penny Marshall and others--means nothing to Parenti. He is not interested in facts; only in sources that say what he wants, or maybe needs, to believe.

But he is only getting warmed up; having blithely stated that all US military interventions are, by definition, imperialist in intent and unjust in execution, he moves on to the main theme of the book--the United States of American and its Western allies deliberately and systematically destroyed Yugoslavia. We will examine the second half of this chapter in the next post.

4 comments:

Daniel said...

"...killing upwards of three thousand women, children, and men."

Yeah right. Belgrade factory of lies, aka: anti-NATO propaganda. The other day, they spoke about hundreds of victims, now it jumped to thousands. They also photographed their victims individualy so they can post gruesome photos of dead people on the internet as a tool of convincing the "rest of us" how NATO and the U.S. are "evil." What about hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians that Serbia killed as opposed to hundreds that NATO killed?

Unfortunately, 8000 Bosniak victims of genocide in Srebrenica did not have "photography sessions" as they were transfered to mass execution sites, tied and shot behind their back, then dug into graves, then dug out and reburied somewhere else so Serbia could hide evidence of its direct undisputable involvement in the Srebrenica genocide (and the evidence that could not be hidden, they censored it, so ICJ could not rule against them).

Serbian propaganda also claimed 700,000 Serbs died in Jasenovac, however, the U.S. Holocaust Museum puts the figure at around 40,000 max.

Good luck...

Alan Jakšić said...

Actually, the 500,000-600,000 figure was Communist propaganda, that Serbian nationalists, of course, later took up. Though it has to be noted that during the 2nd World War, even the German Nazis exagerrated the numbers to as high as 750,000.

I hope that figures from 40,000-50,000 to even 80,000 Serbs are not considered small by people. Besides, the Ustaše are said to have killed over 300,000 Serbs all together. I hope you consider what happened to the Serbs in NDH was genocide.

Interesting website, Kirk. You must be putting in a lot of effort!

However, could you tell me how you think the Western media's portrayal of the Bosnian Serbs and Serbs during the wars affected Diaspora Serbs? 'Cause being one myself, I have to tell you that none of that media coverage was nice to listen to.

Listen, I'm not asking for anyone to challenege what actually happened during the wars, since it's all been well documented by respected institutions like the ICTY. But do you consider that sections of the Western media may have exagerrated things? You know how the media can sensationalise events, even trivialise them.

Like I've mentioned, I'm not - and I repeat - NOT challenging what happened. That's what Diana Johnstone and Michael Parenti have done! Just questioning the media picture in the West.

Thanks Kirk. You can visit my blog and discuss that there.

Kirk Johnson said...

Daniel, I think that that most reasonable observers know that the figures given for Serb casualties around Srebrenica were grossly exaggerated. No doubt about it. And I've seen some of the "war porn" some genocide denial websites use. Disturbing stuff.

Alan--thank you so much for you kind and thoughtful comment.

I have always believed that Western media coverage of the war had an unfortunate tendency to consider the actors in Bosnia to be uniform ethnic groups. Coverage here tended to be about "the Serbs", "the Muslims", and so on. It's unfortunate the individuals who had nothing to do with the atrocities being committed got tarred with the same brush. Collective identity and collective guilt go hand in hand.

I looked at your blog--it seems interesting! I will definitely spend some time reading it when I get a chance.

Thanks for taking the time to read mine.

Owen said...

Alan, in the UK the news coverage of the war in Bosnia tended to reflect the dominant aspects of the violence, so it wasn't surprising that the Serb violence tended to predominate, though I remember fairly substantial coverage of the fighting in Mostar and the HVO's finest hour in Ahmici.

However the current affairs coverage was much more "balanced", in the sense that UK government views favouring non-intervention were featured alongside excessively non-interventionist screen-time for for articulate and vociferous Serbs like Srdja Trifkovic and and the glib Marko Gasic http://www.telegraph.co.uk/htmlContent.jhtml?html=/archive/1999/04/26/tlbori26.html.

I'm afraid many of the the Diaspora Serbs appeared more concerned to express contempt for the West's misunderstanding of their case than they were to explain the evidence on screen that backed what Mazowiecki had reported only too clearly was happening. So though you yourself may have noticed the media bias that may occasionally have surface, my impression was that too often in the interests of a phony "balance" Serb spokespersons were handled much too respectfully and uncritically.