Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part viii

After three straight paragraphs of almost complete sentence-by-sentence parsing, I hope the reader will trust me to occassionally summarize the contents of a section of text. Remember--I'm reading this so you don't have to.

The final paragraph of section one (entitled "Turning Points"--sorry I haven't mentioned this earlier) contrasts the Kosovo War to the first Gulf War:

"For all its dubious origins, the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq was waged against a militarized single-party dictatorship, condemned by the United Nations for invading another country. And yet, remarkably, the war against Yugoslavia aroused less public protest than the war against Iraq."

I need to be upfront and acknowlege that I was against the first Gulf War at the time, so I have a limited amount of righteousness on this issue. Still, it's amazing that Johnstone can point out that the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was what it was AND it invaded another country and STILL dismiss all that as being seemingly peripheral. But what concerns us is the parallel between that war and the wars in Yugoslavia.

There is no mention here of the different contexts of the two wars: the American public had not spent four years watching nightly broadcasts of concentration camp survivors, breadline massacres, burning mosques, reports of rape camps, interviews with refugees, etc. in Iraq or Kuwait. Of course, for Johnstone this only reinforces another point--in her mind, the public was duped into supporting what was in reality an imperial war waged on a humanitarian pretext. Her tendency to ignore solid reporting and reliable evidence in the former Yugoslavia is well documented.

However, the 'brainwashing' of the American public isn't, in this case, the real culprit. No, the reason is that the NATO war was mostly waged by left-of-center governments. This, she believes, muted any criticism from the anti-war left. You know, in the same way that the anti-war movement was so quiet and passive during Vietnam, which was mostly waged by Democratic Administrations with solidly liberal domestic credentials.

Johnstone is very, very disappointed that 'the Left'--which is synomous with 'anti-war' as far as she is concerned--failed so miserably to protest the NATO assault on "peace and justice." Her assumption is that the Left is always against war (or, it seems, any military action by the United States or the West in general) regardless of circumstance. Also, the reason I put quote marks around "peace and justice," (aside from it being a direct quote--she does use the exact phrase) is that she seems to regard the two qualities as being absolutely linked. The concept of an unjust peace seems off the table; it seems to be a given that, as far as the West or the U.S. are concerned, there can be no such thing as a just war, or a war fought towards just ends.

Yet, as we shall see in future installments, Johnstone does believe that non-Western actors (specifically Serbia, in this case) are not to be held to this same elevated standard, even if seems unaware of the double standard. War is only an absolute evil when carried out by Western powers (especially the U.S.); "peace and justice" are only synomous and inextricable when applied to the 'victims' of Western aggression.

I hope it will become evident that I am NOT downplaying the worthiness of peace OR justice as ideals or goals; in fact, I think Johnstone diminishes both by portraying peace and justice as context-free, absolute values without relation to specific situations, times, and places. Hopefully, as this ongoing critique continues, my meaning will become clearer.


Boo Friedmann said...

I have not read this work, but from your analysis (extremely insightful) it sounds like she is a "moral equivalist", i.e., she tries to support the "ancient tribal hatred" excuse that was also used by many during the Rwandan genocide to deter NATO action. That any resistance to stop ethnic cleansing and murder creates a moral equivalent that erases the possibility for genocide. The Genocide Convention, a document with which not many of Ms. Johnstone's ilk are acquainted, clearly lays out the faultiness of this reasoning.

Great posts!

Shaina said...

Hi Boo, nice to see you on this blog. :)

I haven't read "Fool's Crusade", but I have read other stuff about/from Ms. Johnstone and other reviews of her book.

Johnstone goes far beyond the "all sides are equally guilty" stance. She has done interviews with extremist Serb websites and she has explicitly stated that there was no genocide in Bosnia AND furthermore that the "Muslims" lied about all of the atrocities being committed, just to get NATO intervention.
The "sources" she uses to back up her claims are for the most part, her fellow genocide deniers and extreme nationalist Serb sources.

She usually starts out by asking some good and obvious questions about US foreign policy, double standards etc.
However, when she analyzes the Balkan conflicts, she loses all objectivity and any sense of a moral compass she may have. She seems to view foreign policy in black and white. Whereas, NATO = bad and Milosevic = good. Therefore, any NATO action against the Bosnian Serb Army, Milosevic, etc. is wrong and illegal; AND is only the result of Bosnian Muslim propaganda etc.
Her anti NATO views distorts how she views the Bosnian war.

PS: I think I found a genocide denier whose moral, legal and ethical reasoning pales in comparision to Johnstone. His name is Michael Parenti (sp?) and he actually claims in his book that the siege against Sarajevo was not a war crime & that the civillian capital was a legitimate military target.

Kirk Johnson said...

Thanks to both of you for your comments. I enjoy both of your blogs.

shaina pretty much nails it, I think--I realize I'm risking 'overkill' by going all-out on a blow-by-blow book review, but it doesn't hurt to keep putting people like Johnstone on the spot.

I've heard of Parenti--he's definitely someone I'd like to take on once I've finished my Johnstone work. He's way out there as well--although I should point out that later in "Fool's Crusade" Johnstone does essentially claim that ethnic cleansing is a legitimate military tactic.

Thanks againt to both of you. Reading your excellent blogs inspires me to try and make mine better.

Owen said...

Kirk, as I see it, there are two key themes - double standards and indiscriminate generalisations. Johnstone rarely seems to make her point with clarity, and the way she elides issues is frustrating. The solution to the task of hacking a way through the undergrowth lies in identifying the way in which those two key defects consistently undermine her argument.

Kirk Johnson said...

Great point, Owen. I more or less started this project 'blind', but if it's going to hold together I do need to find a consistent approach.

On top of the two excellent points you make, I also hope to illuminate how Johnstone has embraced the logic of colletive identity; Bosnia matters to me because two different conceptions of nationality were clashing; civic nationalism versus ethnic nationalism. I don't know how much Johnstone realizes she has embraced the logic and value system of ethnic nationalism.

Owen said...

Kirk, as you suggest, Johnstone seems to have ended up championing ethnic nationalism after setting out to defend what she sees as a model of collectivism threatened by collectivism's ideological enemies.

She lacks the critical perspective of someone like Michael Karadjis, whose blog Mihalis shows his determination not to allow the reality of the facts on the ground to be distorted by a compulsion to make them fit a given political viewpoint.

His general analysis sometimes seems distorted by a rather mechanically deterministic attitude towards the actions of the international community but the honesty of his views is obvious. His postings are pretty irregular and not everyone will agree with his political perspective, but what he says is well worth reading.