Saturday, August 25, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [25]



Parenti makes a drawn-out and rather odd analogy comparing civilian casualties in wartime to pedestrians killed by a reckless driver. As Parenti tells it, since a driver who kills bystanders through reckless driving can be held liable for their deaths, then shouldn't the accidental killing of civilians during military action, specifically bombing, automatically be considered a war crime?

Unfortunately, Parenti doesn't delve any deeper into this comparison--which would be necessary, since he makes no exceptions and adds no qualifiers. He does not draw any distinction between precision guided bombs versus carpet-bombing, for example. Because Parenti has written in other places in defense of revolutionary violence, and because he certainly is no anarchist--the man has no problem with state power when the state is socialist (or, preferably, Stalinist), he should have examined this point further. I do not believe he is advocating absolute pacifism, so to leave the analogy hanging is simply lazy.

But no matter--he goes on for several pages attempting to imply that civilian casualties were intended. That is his choice of words; he is not claiming that NATO planners were indifferent to the civilian suffering on the ground in 1999, or that the military and political restraints pushed NATO to use tactics which placed pilot safety ahead of ensuring the highest standards of accuracy (which would have been a fair point to make). No--Parenti says this:

"But there is a real question as to how unintended the killing of civilians has been."

This is a very serious accusation, yet the evidence he gathers is rather weak. It may come out that NATO knowingly dropped cluster bombs onto civilian areas--I am no fan of the manner in which the Kosovo campaign was implemented--but Parenti hardly makes a convincing case.

And so this chapter goes--more quotes and occasional stray facts gathered in an attempt to reverse the guilt. Predictably enough, the fact that most of the expulsions of ethnic Albanians began after the onset of bombing is used to somehow damn NATO--as if the planning for such ethnic cleansing wasn't already in place; as if forcing over a million people out of their homes is a moral and reasonable response to military assault. But this is standard Balkan revisionism, and Parenti adds nothing new to this tired storyline.

There is a list of "Fictions" and "Facts" in which Parenti presumes to uncover various Western "deceptions". The list ends with this "fact":

"The "stiffest military challenge" in NATO's history was actually a sadistic, one-sided, gang-battering of a small country by the most powerful military forces in the world."

I defy any undergraduate to cite that "fact" in a paper.

And so the chapter ends, with yet more protestations that ethnic Albanians were not being driven from their homes in large numbers until the bombing started and the usual outrage about diplomatic hardball at Rambouillet. And then the standard list of past US crimes and foreign interventions and invasions. Noam Chomsky does this too, as does Diana Johnstone, and I can only repeat what I've written previously--for the far-left Balkan revisionists, the problem isn't that we cared too little for the people of East Timor, it is that we care too much about the Muslims of Bosnia and the Albanians of Kosovo. Because the motives of the world's most powerful nation are never pure and wholly altruistic, then those motives must be entirely suspect. And it is the motives--not the actual actions, or the effects of those actions, which matter most to Parenti and his fellow travelers.


Owen said...

The Geneva Conventions cover the situation of civilians during military conflict. There is no absolute prohibition on the killing of civilians but civilians must not be the target of a military attack or disproportionately the victims of military engagement.

I personally agree that cluster bombs should be outlawed on the grounds that their use very often disproportionately impacts on civilians, but my views are irrelevant. Like anti-personnel landmines before the Montreal Convention, until they're outlawed by treaty or their use is found to have been criminal by a court of law mine or Parenti's opinion on the subject of their use may be legitimate criticism but is of no legal significance. Is Parenti claiming otherwise?

Kirk Johnson said...

It's not clear what he's claiming, but his objections do not appear be grounded in legality but rather knee-jerk moralizing.

I feel the same way about cluster bombs, don't get me wrong--but nothing I've read on the subject suggests that NATO targeted civilians directly. Parenti suggests that this might be true, but he has no evidence. It is known that NATO bombing was far from being as precise as it could have been had pilots been given permission to fly below 15,000 feet.