Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [18]


Anyone familiar with the conspiracy-minded arguments of the Balkan revisionist movement will most likely be able to guess both the general theme of this chapter and some of the specific incidents cited with a great deal of accuracy merely from reading the title.

First, he sets the stage by introducing that favorite revisionist strawman--the reflexively anti-Serb--and monolithic--West.

"To accomplish this, [support for "costly, illegal, and often bloody intervention"] they filled the air with charges about brutally depraved Serbian aggressors who perpetrated genocidal atrocities against innocent Croats, Muslims, and ethnic Albanians."

At the end of my previous post, I quoted Parenti's snotty aside about the US media being "propaganda and tools of war" without adding much comment. I still do not feel like addressing this point--there are important issues regarding the corporate nature of the mass media in the US, and various institutional biases which are deeply embedded in the vast majority of major new outlets. And it is certainly true that, all too often, mainstream media outlets tend to be too chummy with government leaders and too deferential to accepted orthodoxies.

None of these criticisms, however, validate Parenti's crude and silly assertion that the US media served as a propaganda arm in Bosnia. Many of the journalists who covered the war so passionately advocated their views so passionately in an effort to influence official policy back home. Parenti blithely ignores the clearly documented record which shows extreme reluctance towards involvement in the former Yugoslavia, so his characterization of the purposes and motivations fueling media coverage should not be surprising. Suffice it to say that both the Bush and Clinton administrations sought to keep Bosnia off the front pages. Warmongering was the last thing they were trying to do.

So what follows is a list of atrocities committed by Croat and Bosnian Army forces--after a disclaimer that:

"Atrocities such as murder and rape are committed in almost every war (which is not to consider them lightly). Indeed, murder and rape occur with appalling frequency in many peacetime communities, and political leaders who wish to fight such crimes could start by directing their energies closer to home."

The cynicism and moral reductionism of such a statement (Diana Johnstone made the exact some point in "Fools Crusade") is hard to overstate. Parenti attempts to elevate his lowest-common-denominator moralizing by going on to state that:

"What should be remembered is that the Serbs were never accused of having committed murder and rape as such, but of (a) perpetrating mass murder and mass rape on a "genocidal" scale, and (b) doing such as part of an officially sanctioned systematic policy."

I had three reactions to this paragraph:

1) Well, DUH. Of course that's what "the Serbs" were accused of. That's why 'they' got the 'bad press,' Michael.
2) About that "the Serbs." Plenty of the press coverage of the war was very simplistic and over-generalized, but I've yet to see a single formal charge from The Hague against "The Serbs" as a whole. Like Johnstone, Parenti regards ethnic groups as uniform, singular entities, and therefore regards any attack on members of the group or of its self-proclaimed leadership to be an attack on the whole.
3) Nice touch putting "genocidal" in quotes--like most Balkan revisionists, I presume Parenti intends to set the threshold of 'genocide' so high that nobody short of the Nazis could ever meet it.

I have already discussed the shortcomings of this intellectual approach in my review of "Fools Crusade" and have no inclination to rehash that discussion right now. Parenti, like Johnstone, deliberately blurs the distinction between often heated, rushed, and often broadly-described press coverage with actual actions taken by and legal procedures implemented by the international community.

And so Parenti begins a tired, predictable, and conceptually disjointed survey of various human rights abuses carried out by different Croat, Bosnian Croat, Bosnian Muslim, and Bosnian Government forces. Operation Storm is here, as well as the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian Croat statelet of Herceg-Bosna; none of these atrocities are defensible, all deserve to be decried. None of them negate the powerful and compelling case made by Norman Cigar and many, many others that the government of Slobodan Milosevic and his proxies in Bosnia and Croatia bear responsibility for planning and committing genocide amidst the wreckage of Yugoslavia.


I will summarize the rest of this chapter in my next post.


Shaina said...

For so called "progressives" Parenti and Johnstone have pretty outdated views of collective idenity.

Anonymous said...

Everythinng Parenti claims in this book is the truth. THis was a war by the imperialist US to break up the socialist leaning Yugoslavia into right wing nationalist bastions. This is what imperialists do, the divide the country up and make them fight amoungst themselves, therby destroying their economy and making them dependent on imperialist powers. As soon as I hear the words "Straw man" I know it's coming from a right wing point of view. Parenti's book is accurate, concise and convincingly argued I recommend it if anyone wants to know the truth about the United States.

Kirk Johnson said...

Hey Anonymous, are you quite sure that "everything Parenti claims in this book is the truth"? That's a pretty broad statement there--are you willing to ignore copious testimony, DNA evidence, video evidence, and even the confessions of some of the indicted war criminals Parenti defends?

The simple-mindedness of your comment suggests that you have little of substance to add to the discussion.