Saturday, June 30, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [12]


Anyone who takes up the cause of Bosnian mulit-ethnic nationalism and who defended efforts to maintain the territorial integrity of the Bosnian state during the war of aggression maintained by Belgrade's proxies must, at some point, come to grip with the problem of Croatian nationalism as practiced and exploited by Franjo Tudjman and the HDZ in both Croatia and Bosnia.

I am not for one second suggesting that any sort of equivalence can be drawn--as loathsome as the rhetoric used by the HDZ leadership, including Croatia's wartime leader, there was clearly never any systematic, prewar planning for large-scale ethnic cleansing. Comparisons between the numbers of Krajina Serbs who fled in the wake of "Operation Storm" (over 200,000 people, at least a third of the entire prewar population of Croatian Serbs) and the Muslims of the Drina valley in eastern Bosnia are not as damning as Parenti, Johnstone and others would like us to believe since they substitute quantitative data for qualitative information.

However, the following points are not in doubt, and should not be downplayed by anyone who wants to lift the cloud of disinformation from the Bosnian war:

1) Franjo Tudjman was a genuine nationalist.
2) The HDZ was a hardline nationalist party that utilized extreme propaganda and worse, aimed at non-Croats--primarily ethnic Serbs.
3) The HDZ in Hercegovina often acted in bad faith, and the attempt to set up the statelet of "Herceg-Bosna" was little different, in rhetoric or in substance, from the efforts to create Republika Srpska by force.
4) "Operation Storm" was an often brutal operation that favored vengeance against the Serb civilians of the breakaway Krajina republic at the expense of justice and fundamental respect for human rights.

I could list more, but hopefully any informed reader will already know what I am trying to convey. Downplaying the sins of nationalist Croats simply because the HDZ has much less blood on its hands, and because the Croat republic was at a distinct disadvantage at the onset of war in terms of military and infrastructural resources only leads to further obfuscation. And, it should be noted, it provides ammunition for those like Parenti, who wish to create a bogus case for equivalence.

The case of Croatian nationalism and the darker motives of the Tudjman regime merit serious attention. Such concerns will inform my review of Chapter Five, in the next post.

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [11]


This chapter is only interesting if you accept Parenti's thesis that Yugoslavia was deliberately destroyed by "free marketers" intent on carving out Third-World ethnic enclaves out of the carcass of socialist Yugoslavia. The entire chapter (only five pages) selectively presents some post-war economic and political changes in the republic, trying to show that the success of Slovenia's independence will soon be subverted and destroyed by Western capitalists. Lots of projection, very little context, and virtually no connection to those who directed and instigated the bloodshed of the 1990s.

Move along people, nothing to see here...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [10]



In the last post, I considered the easily refutable assertion that the Bosnian Serb army was merely "holding" 70% of Bosnian territory, rather than taking it by force--and clearing non-Serbs out by terror and force. In the next paragraph, Parenti manages to top that statement with an audacious callousness that should infuriate any informed reader:

"A ceasefire, the "Dayton accords," was brokered by the Western powers in Nobember 1995, with terms that insured Western suzerainty over a thoroughly partitioned Bosnia-Herzegovina. The larger portion became the Bosnian Federation (Muslim-Croat) and a smaller territory became Republika Srpska, into which the Bosnian Serbs were corralled, those who had not fled to Serbia."

In light of events at Srebrenica, Zepa, and a thousand other smaller, less infamous places, it is an act of spiteful dishonesty and revisionism which can lead a writer to describe the ratification of separatist Serb territorial gains as Serbs being "corralled". "Blaming the victim" simply doesn't capture the level of callousness in that statement.

At this point, the chapter veers into a tangle of tired, abstract legalisms familiar to anyone who read my review of "Fool's Crusade." I won't even bother--if Parenti sees no difference between the right of Bosnia to secede from an increasingly Serb-nationalist dominated rump Yugoslavia versus the status of Scotland within the UK, then there is no point continuing the discussion--the man will not even acknowledge the raw facts on the ground, let alone the subtle distinctions between the various examples he provides. It is not that some of his examples aren't relevant, but he brushes facts and complexities aside with such contempt that any measured debate would be impossible. For example--he compares the status of Puerto Rico in the USA to the status of Krajina Serbs as if the parallel were absolute and self-evident; yet I would assume that even the most passionate of Puerto Rican nationalists hoping for independence (and I acknowledge--they have a strong case) would argue that the government in Washington has engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing against islanders. And, if they had--is Parenti arguing that two wrongs make a right? Like Johnstone, Parenti is not interested in practical, just solutions--he just wants to smear the US and the West in general.

Not only does he argue that the secession of the republics was illegal under the Yugoslav constitution (ignoring the actions of the Belgrade regime at the time), he also frets that the recognition of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia were both illegal and interventions in Yugoslavia's internal affairs. That's what we in the reality-based community call "disproportionate outrage."

How far is willing to take this insistence on abstract legalism over the reality on the ground? This far:

"The United States does not acknowledge the right of any state or other constituent political unit or ethnic community within its boundaries to secede from the Union or, for that matter, to override the supremacy of federal power in any way. This was made perfectly clear in 1861-65, when the Southern Confederacy's secession was forcibly repressed in one of the bloodiest wars of the nineteenth century."

He does go on to quote Jefferson, using the same logic that Confederate leaders used to justify their actions. He does seem to be arguing that the United States was both the aggressor and in the wrong during the American Civil War. I will let the reader draw his or her own conclusions.

He concludes the chapter by comparing the effect of the sanctions against Serbia to those imposed against Iraq. This is, in itself, not a bad point--I find the use of sanctions distasteful since they mainly target the civilians of a country, not its leadership or military. It took 34 pages, but Parenti has finally said something that I can agree with.

But he uses this insight to draw very different conclusions--but first, he puts the cart in front of the horse and claims that the sanctions contributed to the rise of "ethnic violence" when a simple look at any almanac would demonstrate that sanctions were not imposed until after the outbreak of war and the onset of ethnic cleansing.

But never mind that--we know how cavalier Parenti is when it comes to chronology. He goes on--by quoting Susan Woodward (both he and Johnstone rely heavily on Balkan Tragedy, which I have skimmed but not yet read--it may be next, to give fair warning), who claims that:

"Tensions along ethnic, racial or historical fault lines can lead to civil violence but to explain the Yugoslav crisis as a result of ethnic hatred is to turn the story upside down and begin at its end."

We are now going to "learn" how the West manipulated the situation they had deviously created in order to create a convenient bloodbath in the middle of Europe. In the next post, we will begin to see how Parenti manipulates reality in order to bring this paranoid fantasy to life.

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [9]



For the record, the closing paragraph of my previous post was not strictly accurate--Parenti does acknowledge the distinction between ethnic nationalism and, if not exactly civic nationalism, at least the notion of sovereignty as being predicated on geopolitical entities:

"The separatist movements in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia revived Serbian nationalists' dream of a nation-state, as promoted by those who believed that self-determination belongs to ethnic nationalities not to republics or federations."

That sentence, for all its faults, at least gives the illusion that Parenti is not taking sides or serving as a mouthpiece for the aims of hardline Serb nationalists. Such flawed but at least ostensibly even-handed objectivity proves to be an illusion, however.

Slovene independence, we are told, was the wedge that broke up the rest of Yugoslavia. Parenti is all-too casual with the facts here:

"Secession for Croatia proved more difficult. Fighting between Croats and the large Serbian population that had lived in Croatia for centuries reached intensive levels and lasted several years."

First, there is no mention of war crimes committed by the Knin regime. Second, Parenti, like Johnstone and other revisionists, loves to point to German and American recognition for Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia, but neglect to mention that the United Nations itself also recognized all of the newly independent republics of Yugoslavia.

More importantly, note how the language of collectivism creeps into the text--the fighting is not between the armed forces of the breakaway Krajina republic and the Croatian army, but between "Croats" and the "Serbian population." The masses act as a single unit, indistinguishable from the actions of their leadership.

In the same paragraph (this chapter is the shortest history of the Yugoslav wars you will ever read), Parenti goes on to decry the actions of Operation Storm. I will not defend the atrocities carried out against the Krajina Serbs in 1995; since Parenti, like Johnstone, has not another word to say about their fate after their flight, and since he exaggerates the death tolls by implication (his book is remarkably bereft of hard data and footnotes compared to "Fools' Crusade"), it is safe to assume that his concern has little to do with outrage and simple compassion; this is simply a propaganda weapon to use against the US.

He gives Macedonia all of two sentences, yet still manages to misrepresent reality.

"Spurred by US support, its independence may be something less than complete, given the US troop occupation that Macedonia has had to accept."

What is significant about this statement is not the fact that the presence of 300 US peacekeepers along the Macedonian-Serbian border is characterized as an "occupation." Such dishonesty and hyperbole is to be expected from a book like this. Rather, we see that Parenti's tendency to see the people of the Balkans and their political leadership as being helpless pawns in the hands of the West, no matter what. The fact that Macedonian president Gligorov was actually a pretty astute leader who played a weak hand as well as he could, and managed to take his ethnically divided, landlocked republic (surrounded by unfriendly, or at least unsupportive, states) out of Yugoslavia without descending into war and chaos should evoke at least a small degree of separation. But Parenti cannot conceive that the people of Yugoslavia were in any way responsible for, or capable of, controlling their own destiny.

His "history" of Bosnia's war is equally brief and selective with the facts. Bosnian revisionists often twist the chronology of events in order to uncover post de facto "proof."

"It is a matter of public record that the CIA fueled the Bosnian conflict. Consider these headlines: the Manchester Guardian, November 17 1994: "CIA Agents Training Bosnian Army", the London Observer, November 20 1994: "America's Secret Bosnian Agenda", the European, November 25 1994: "How The CIA Helps Bosnia Fight Back."

[As always, underline text in quoted sections was italicized in the orginal.]

Thus, events from 1994 and 1995 somehow "prove" the true instigator of a war that was already several years along.

Parenti then quotes Charles Boyd--approvingly and in agreement--who makes a statement as shocking in its dishonesty as it is callous and indifferent to the reality he is covering up:

"Charles Boyd, former deputy commander of the US European command, commented: "The popular image of this war [in Croatia] is one of unrelenting Serb expansion. Much of what the Croatians call 'the occupied territories' is land that has been held by Serbs for more than three centuries. The same is true of most Serb land in Bosnia--what the Western media frequently refer to as the 70 per cent of Bosnia seized by rebel Serbs. In short the Serbs were not trying to conquer new territory, but merely to hold onto what was already theirs." As a result of the war, Serbian land holdings in Bosnia were reduced from 65 to 43 per cent."

Where does one begin? Boyd seems to be living in the Dark Ages, where land is "held" by tribal groups as a collective. This idea that land was being "held" in a modern nation-state by homogeneous social collective united by blood and religion is almost as troubling as his complete disregard for fundamental facts--how does he square his assertion that 'the Serbs' "held" 70 percent of Bosnia prior to the war? How does one define "held." It is true that the Muslims were more urbanized and therefore were the predominant group in a proportionately smaller part of Bosnia, but 70% is simply an outrageous figure even if Jones is only arguing for a simple majority in a municipality. These are basic, easily verifiable demographic facts that Jones and Parenti simply ignore. The crudeness of the lie is stunning.

Even darker is this--once you have asserted that an ethnic group in a modern nation-state "held" 70% of the land, the next question is how did they "hold" it? What demographic realities verified that a given geopolitical subunit of Bosnia was "held" by the Serbs?

Important questions--which Parenti ignores completely.

We will conclude this chapter in the next post.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [8]



The bald revisionism of this chapter--a ten page "summary" of the wars in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia--is breathtaking. I truly do not know where to begin.

Having blamed the breakup of Yugoslavia entirely on Western economic pressures (which were, we are told, all part of a deliberate plan), he only needs to mention that Slovenia and Croatia were "more prosperous" to explain why they left first. It is true that these were the wealthiest republics, and that some separatist sentiment could be attributed to resentment at having to subsidize the economies of some of the poorer republics, so Parenti has the kernel of truth that every conspiracy needs.

Then he gets to the "Serb Autonomous District of Krajina," and any pretensions Parenti might have to intellectual serious go up in smoke. His claim that the situation is

"...parallel to the the US Civil War. When Virginia seceded from the United States, the northwestern region of that state seceded from Virginia to form West Virginia, in a successful effort to remain a loyal part of the Union."

is ridiculously oversimplified--how many "ethnic Virginians" were driven out by ethnic "West Virginians"? More problematically, this is the point where Parenti echoes the racially-based collectivism which is the central premise of Diana Johnstone's "Fools' Crusade." Like Johnstone, Parenti doesn't even seem to realize what a moral quagmire he has wandered in to. Put simply--Parenti defends the Serbs right of "self-determination" by claiming that ethnic Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia had the same right to break away from those republics as those republics had to break away from Yugoslavia, yet he completely ignores the fundamental question--where do you draw the borders when group ethnicity, rather than geopolitical entities, are the core unit of state sovereignty? How could "the Serbs" (or any ethnic/cultural/relgious/other) group in a mixed region exercise self-determination? Diana Johnstone managed to write 269 pages about the breakup of Yugoslavia, all the while championing ethnic nationalism, without ever addressing this question. Parenti, on page 28, stumbles into the same problem. As we shall see, his evasiveness is, if anything, even more callous and anti-modern.

Friday, June 22, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [7]


Quick takes on the first two sentences of Chapter Three:

"Some people argue that nationalism, not class, has been the real motor force behind the Yugoslav conflict."

Yes, "some people" do argue that. Almost all of the participants and victims on all sides, for example.

"This presumes that class and ethnicity are mutually exclusive."

It does? Really?

"In fact, ethnic enmity can be enlisted to serve class interests, as the CIA tried to do with indigenous peoples in Indochina and Nicaragua--and more recently in Bosnia and Kosovo."

And there you have it--the Yugoslav wars were really class warfare, instigated by--and largely benefitting--the capitalists in the US. Parenti still doesn't have any proof for any of this, but at least now he has an ideological peg to hang his hat on.

No matter--Parenti "knows" that the West conspired to destroy socialist Yugoslavia through draconian austerity measures, proof be damned--but it gets worse. The worsening economy apparently led to social disharmony and increased inter-community tensions--but not quick enough for those evil global capitalists:

"In order to hasten the discombobulation of Yugoslavia, the Western powers provided the most retrograde, violent, separatist elements with every advantage in money, organization, propaganda, arms, hired thugs, and the full might of the US national security state at their backs."

When I read that, my first thought was "Wow--Parenti is claiming that the United States armed Arkan's Tigers and Seselj's Chetniks. I sure would like to see what proof he thinks he has for this." Unfortunately, no proof is forthcoming. Which isn't surprising, since none of the groups allegedly supported by the US are subsequently identified. The self-referential circle of Balkan revisionists sometimes come across as a secret cabal, conversant in an esoteric application of previously uninteresting or unimportant facts and privy to arcane sources of ambiguous information. Perhaps I need to go through some sort of initiation process before I would be allowed access to all the assuredly riveting sources Parenti doesn't bother identifying.

He repeats the usual overblown point about Germany's rash recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, and then dismisses US statements about the importance of keeping Yugoslavia intact (at least Parenti acknowledges such statements--Diana Johnstone didn't bother) as a smokescreen to hide the intendeded effects of IMF shock therapy.

He does, finally, offer some "proof" that the breakup of Yugoslavia was a deliberate policy of the US--a secret paper from 1984. That the Reagan Administration might have planned for the dismantling of Communist regimes through free market reforms should surprise no one, but Balkan revisionists like Parenti and Johnstone specialize in such fundamental naivete. The other "proof" is that the US threatened to cut off aid in 1990 unless elections were held. Again, Parenti's pretensions to sophistication are betrayed by his own sensibilities--it is any surprise to any reasonably aware reader that the US uses foreign aid as leverage? This is not proof of any secret plot--this is how the real world works.

Throughout this part of Chapter Three, Parenti harps again and again on Western support--economic and otherwise--for the various republics while scorning the Federal Government all the while completely ignoring the context of events in the early 1990s. Like Johnstone, Parenti ignores the larger context whenever it is convenient, so no mention is made that the republics were already fighting for independence from Belgrade during this period. The West did not forment secession, it merely acknowledged what was already happening. But Parenti is only interested in what he considers a "repudiation of its [Yugslavia] sovereignty by the Western powers."

He has more:

"So, for a number of years before hostilities broke out between various national groups in Yugoslavia, measures were being taken by the major powers and financial interests to undermine the Belgrade government and the national economy."

Yet the only one of these measures (I haven't detailed all that he includes) dates from before 1990, and that was the debt restructuring measures imposed by the IMF which were in response to then-contemporary economic conditions. All others date from 1990 and 1991; but a strict adherence to temporal rationality is not Parenti's strong suit.


Another box aside: "Free Texas! Free Corsica!" Parenti describes seeing this graffiti in Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombing. He dutifully describes it as a clever comparison between the situation of Mexicans in Texas and Corsicans under French rule to Albanians in Kosovo made by Serbs protesting heavy-handed NATO tactics. To date, no mass graves of Mexicans have been found anywhere near San Antonio.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [6]


I wish I were a better prose stylist, if only so I could more righteously scoff at the awkward syntax of this opening sentence:

"Unlike most nations, Yugoslavia was built on an idea, Ramsey Clark once noted."

Any high school English teacher could tell you that the sentence would read better as:

"Ramsey Clark once noted that Yugoslavia, unlike most nations, was built on an idea."

It may be a direct quote from Clark, in which case it should probably read:

"Ramsey Clark once noted "Unlike most nations, Yugoslavia was built on an idea."

Either option is preferable to the original. But perhaps Parenti has a good reason for the clumsy construction of the opening sentence of Chapter Two; perhaps deep underneath his sense of righteous superiority lies some shred of respect for truth and honesty and integrity. Maybe, in spite of himself, Parenti subconsciously realizes that there is something shameful and disingenuous in using a comment by Ramsey Clark to illuminate Yugoslav history.

Perhaps. But I doubt it. I don't think Clark is in here accidentally, any more than Gregory Elich and Barry Lituchy are the Balkan "experts" mentioned first in the Acknowledgments by chance, or that somehow Joan Phillips of Living Marxism is the "journalist and filmaker" quoted in Chapter One. No accident at all.


At any rate, the idea that Clark was referring to was "Yugoslavism", a somewhat progressive strand of nationalism that was later more or less co-opted by Tito; Parenti wastes not a word on pre-WWII Yugoslavia. Parenti approvingly lists some of the social and economic accomplishments of the socialist Federation (which were not negligible), and then states:

"This was not the kind of country that global capitalism would normally countenance."

And so, with the end of the Cold War, "global capitalism" but Yugoslavia in its crosshairs. This is standard left-Balkan revisionism, but it is remarkable how Parenti does not even bother finding biased sources for his accusation that the US set out to

"transform the FRY into a Third World region, a cluster of weak right-wing principalities with the following characteristics:"

The characteristics are: being incapable of acting independently of US control; natural resources open to exploitation by international corporations; the population impoverished in order to create a literate and skilled by desperate labor pool; the dismantling of the industrial infrastructure in order to remove competition to Western firms. And, of course, completely dismantle the public sector and social services. That's quite an ambitious plan--pity that Parenti doesn't share his copy with the reader. I would be very curious to learn how he knows all this.

Parenti, like Diana Johnstone, cribs from Susan Woodward's "Balkan Tragedy" to retell the sad tale of Yugoslavia's descent into debt to Western creditors and the IMF. We are asked, again, to believe that this very real--but hardly apocalyptic--economic crisis precipitated the wars of the 1990s. The inefficiencies and deficiencies of Communist Yugoslavia's system are simply not considered at all. Evil Western bankers had the Yugoslav government by the pursestrings and they squeezed until they could get no more blood. At least that is the intended impression.

There is another of those "box asides" at this point; a segment from an NPR broadcast featuring an administrator from USAID and a delegate from the European Commission discussing the likelihood of involvement of the US and European private sector in the economic reconstruction of Yugoslavia. I suppose if I were an orthodox Communist this would all be terribly ominous.

Woodward, as far as I know (at some point I will need to tackle her book), believed that Western economic intervention was a factor in sparking the wars; Parenti, like most Left Balkan revisionists, prefer to imagine that such intervention was the primary policy of the US and its allies. So while she blames IMF austerity measures for helping to destabilize Yugoslavia and create a social crisis, Parenti and company believe that this is the key to understanding the entire mess.

So at the end of the chapter, Parenti summarizes the situation in two paragraphs which manage to ignore all else that went on in the Western Balkans during the decade of the 1990s. The second to last chapter starts with this sentence:

"By 1991, the international creditors were in control of monetary policy."

That paragraph goes on to claim that the country was actually divided up by these creditors--his authority on the subject is fellow revisionist Michel Chossudovsky. And then the next paragraph, like any text by a Balkan revisionist, follows a narrative with no temporal constraints and floats from one decontextualized 'fact' to another in service to a predetermined theme. Here are some excerpts:

"Through all this, the Serbian Republic was to prove especially troublesome." "In the 1990s the rump Yugoslav federation...continued to prove refractory." "As late as 1999, more than three-quarters of its basic industry was still publicly owned."

It's as if there was nothing of interest other than privatization going on in the former Yugoslavia during that period. And if I were to look for a fact about Serbia that was relevant to the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo during that period, I don't know if the the percentage of the national economy still under centralized control would be the first thing to leap to mind. But, in Parenti's warped view, this rather uninteresting fact is all the proof the reader should need to prove that Yugoslavia was bombed in 1999 in order to privatize its economy.


There is a second boxed aside at the end of this chapter, entitled "Not Cleansed Enough", and this one doesn't even bother to find facts to twist and misrepresent. Parenti makes note of the streets and buildings in Belgrade which still bear Communist names. Parenti writes

"Surely, I thought to myself, as I read such street signs, US leaders will not leave this country alone until those names are changed to "IMF Avenue" and "Morgan Trust Way", or at least renamed after some orthodox saints or reactionary military heroes of yore."

Gosh, I bet Parenti is a hoot at parties--"IMF Avenue"? The labored unfunnyness of that crack in cringe-inducing. What is funny, in a cyncial way, are the second pair of options. It is simply laughable that he would think it would be American overlords--rather than truly reactionary Serbian nationalists--who would rename streets after Orthodox saints and, say, Draza Mihailovic.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [5]


Parenti makes no bones about it--Western leaders

"contrived to break up the large multi-ethnic federation of Yugoslavia, itself a nation of twenty-eight nationalities--and form fear-ridden mono-ethnic statelets."

Not blunt enough? How about this gem:

"The fact is, there was no civil war, no widespread killings, and no ethnic cleansing until the Western powers began to inject themselves into Yugoslavia's internal affairs, financing the secessionist organizations and creating a politico-economic crisis that ignited the political strife."

Parenti, then, isn't even willing to concede secondary responsibility to the political and cultural leaders within Yugoslavia who dragged their country to the abyss.

So, we are all set to learn the details of the Great Western Conspiracy To Destroy Socialist Yugoslavia; but that will wait until at least the next chapter. Before Parenti is willing to close this chapter out, he first needs to do two things--set up a strawman to knock down; and to obfuscate the specifics of the issue with vague generalities.

The strawman is easy and predictable:

"Are the Serbs really the new Nazis of Europe? For those who need to be reminded, the Nazis waged aggressive war on a dozen or more nations in Europe, systematically exterminating some nine million defenseless civilians, including six million Jews, and causing the deaths of millions of others during their invasions, including twenty-two million Soviet citizens. The charges of mass atrocity and genocide leveled against Belgrade will be treated in the chapters ahead."

The reader could almost write the rest of the book him- or herself; instead of answering specific charges about specific acts of war crime and genocide, Parenti wants us to believe that the issue at hand is whether or not the Belgrade regime were as bad as the Nazis--not only in intent but also, or even primarily, in scale.

The smug tone in the above quote is, I fear, going to become all too familiar as we work our way through this book. Aside from the hint of condescending contempt for anyone foolish enough to believe the dominant paradigm, Parenti's prose betrays a staggering level of arrogance for someone holding such poorly-supported alternate views. His prose is sometimes comical in its rhetorical overreach:

"Truly remarkable are the people throughout the world who remonstrate and demonstrate against these "humanitarian" interventions."

"Truly remarkable"? Possibly, if one accepts Parenti's thesis that the Western mass media is a monolithic organization working in lockstep with its corporate/military-industrial overlords, and feeding the masses a steady diet of misinformation and lies. Of such crude, paranoid simplifications of complex reality are conspiracy theories made. Discounting "establishment" or "elite" or "corporate" information sources clears the field of any inconveniently conflicting facts or accounts.

And we're off...



I don't know what else to call them; but throughout this book Parenti includes various short (a paragraph or two) vignettes or anecdotes which do not belong in the context of the text but which he clearly believes reinforce the gist of his arguments. The purpose of these "box asides" is somewhat impressionistic, as they are out of context and include little if any commentary by Parenti himself other than identifying information.

The title of the aside near the end of Chapter One is entitled "When Terrorism Is Not Terrorism," and consists of a short exchange between State Department official Michael Sheehan and a reporter, who, in response to a statement by Sheehan attempting to clarify when an act of violence is an act of terrorism and when it is a legitimate military action, asks Sheehan if it is terrorism when the US drops a bomb "in barracks or in tents."

Parenti wants the reader to make much of the fact that the transcript of the briefing did not include the laughter that Sheehan's automatic "No" triggered. But, really--the reporter said "barracks," which would imply a strike on a military target. It is true that Sheehan himself brought "barracks" into the discussion when he clarified that the 1982 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon was an act of terrorism; however, the reporter did not bother to provide any context or qualifiers to this question; it was a blanket statement.

Parenti would like to believe that this is a glimpse of an evil and imperialist mentality; it never occurs to people like Parenti that sometimes military personnel aren't lying, and that some questions get laughed at because they're not very good questions.

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


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 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.

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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [2]


My last post was rushed and not well-developed. While I do believe the linked articles by the respective "experts" Parenti chose to single out speak for themselves, it doesn't hurt to emphasize the dubious authority and questionable-at-best objectivity of these two gentlemen at slightly greater length. First, let us look at this gem by Mr. Lituchy:

Barry Lituchy on Yankee Imperialist "Bloodsuckers"

First, note the source--our good friends at "Srpska Mreza", the 'Serbian Network'. There's nothing like an avowedly nationalist website when looking for solid, objective academic writing. Most "experts" publish in boring academic journals and other outlets--give Mr. Lituchy credit for thinking outside the box.

Secondly, the title of this article is, shall we say, not without passion. Which is not necessarily a problem--I don't mind heated rhetoric and bias-on-the-sleeve polemics. However, the tone of this article is not so much impassioned as it is hysterical. The differently-colored passages of text only serve to emphasize the nearly unhinged tone Lituchy takes. Calling the death of Ron Brown and others in that famous plane crash "payback time" is barely rational, especially given that the crash was, after all, an accident. Who was dishing out this "payback"? God?

Lituchy throws hyperbolic, unsubstantiated vitriol in a nonstop barrage; there is very little else to this article. Typical is this quote:

"U.S. foreign policy always amounts to one thing: the rape of the world for the benefit of the tiny elites at the top of U.S. capitalist system."

Anyone capable of writing such crassly simplistic drivel has no business presenting themselves as an authoritative expert on, well, anything. This is simply not how rational, intelligent people--even impassioned ones--communicate. Lituchy fancies himself a radical who sees through the dominate discourse; like all such self-appointed elects, he speaks without restraint or shame. The faith-based always do, don't they?

As for Gregory Elich, he is another True Believer of the "The West Destroyed Yugoslavia" school of thought. The aricle I posted is also available from that online library of Balkan revisionism, Jared Israel's "Emperor's Clothes". Like most revisionist pieces, this article relies on fractured chronology as well as considering NATO/US/Western actions without the context of prior or qualifying events.

It's a closed loop, indeed.

"They Would Never Hurt A Fly" by Slavenka Drakulic

Croatian-born (I would guess that Drakulic would say "Yugoslav," but I'm not sure)writer Slavenka Drakulic's book is the result of several months spent observing prisoners being tried by the ICTY at The Hague. The book is economical and minimalist in technique--there is no introductory section detailing how she came to The Hague, or a Preface summarizing her investigatory techniques. Instead, the book consists almost entirely of quietly, wisely observed portraits of various war criminals from a variety of backgrounds, of varying degrees of guilt.

Drakulic does not explain how she discovered the information and details she uses to flesh out her portraits of this diverse group of mass killers, rapists, war crime planners, and leaders. She turns her attention equally to a sadistic prison guard who once loved fishing, to Milosevic himself. She also portrays one indicted criminal who is notably absent--Ratko Mladic--in a piece that manages to find the flawed human being beneath the monstrous exterior that is all too familiar from Srebrenica footage.

And that, really, is the point--Drakulic freely admits that she is not breaking new ground here; once again, we are faced with the "banality of evil." In the last of the thirteen chapters, entitled "Why We Need Monsters," she revisitst a lesson of Nuremburg--how can the monsters who committed such acts look and act just like you and me? Does that mean they ARE like you and me? And, if so, what does that say about all of us?

These questions haunted many of the participants and observers at the first war crimes tribunals in the 1940s. Drakulic shows that we still do not have answers.

The Epilogue of this book, on the other hand, is as particular to the Yugoslav wars as the final chapter is (tragically) universal. Entitled "Brotherhood and Unity," it is a painfully ironic look at the inter-ethnic cooperation and peaceful coexistance that has developed between the indicted war criminals from different ethnic groups at The Hague. These ostensible blood enemies have developed a community that overcomes or simply ignores differences. They are defined not by their different national backgrounds or by which side they took during the war, but rather by their common situation as fellow prisoners.

So, many of the architects and actors of the bloody wars that destroyed their native land blithely put aside all the supposedly intractable hatreds and divisions that claimed thousands of lives and shattered a society. In the end, Drakulic notes with just a hint of anger beneath her cooly ironic posture, the war was "for nothing."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [1]



I have a copy of "To Kill A Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia" by Michael Parenti, which on cursory perusal appears to be a cruder and more blatant piece of revisionism than "Fools' Crusade". I will begin the review in the next post.

First impressions? Well, Diana Johnstone eased into her revisionism, presenting herself as a disinterested outsider and academic who approached the Yugoslav wars from the perspective of a Western-based critic of American/NATO/Western "imperialism." Parenti, on the other hand, seems to be pretty nakedly in the pocket of right-wing anti-American nationalists from the get-go.

We'll get to that in the next post, when I begin with Chapter One. In the meantime, Parenti is so eager to show his hand, he cannot even wait until page one--in the very first sentence of the Acknowledgments Parenti lets us know where he is coming from:

"Gregory Elich and Barry Lituchy, two superb Balkan specialists, did a critical reading of the text and generously put their deep expertise at my disposal."

It only takes the magic of Google find out that these two men have been active Balkan revisionists for years now. Before he has even begun, Parenti makes it clear that he will not step out of the closed loop of Balkan Revisionism.

Barry Lituchy on Bosnia

Gregory Elich on Bosnia

These two articles should warn the reader not to expect balance, reason, or a deference to reality in Parenti's book. We are in blatant revisionist territory here. Be warned.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"With Their Backs To The World" by Asne Seierstad

Asne Seierstad, the author of "The Bookseller of Kabul" (I haven't read it yet--I'd welcome any input from someone who has), has written a deeply felt and perceptive portrait of contemporary Serbian society over a period of years; the edition I read was updated after another visit in 2004. Each of the fourteen chapters is devoted to one person (and, sometimes, their families and loved ones) whom the author interviewed and often befriended over several visits to Serbia.

The Serbs Seierstad became familiar with are a varied lot--tired, aging peasants pining for nationalism; a pro-democracy mayor who finds his political career on ice; a young man working for the Socialist Party and parroting pro-Milosevic dogma without enthusiasm or any apparant self-reflection.

One theme that runs through this book is neatly encapsulated in the title--contemporary Serbs, whether they realize it or not, are cut off from the rest of Europe and the world. There is a disconnect which seems odd in a developed country within Europe. Some of the interviewees seem only dimly aware of this distance, and their attempts to articulate their "Serbness" to the Norwegian author are touching in their clumsiness. Most of them, however, are all too aware of the psychological and cultural distance between themselves and the outside.

People constantly speak of being 'stuck,' or unable to accomplish their goals. Frequently we see the subjects trapped in a grinding stasis, unable to find work--meaningful or not--or to engage themselves in life at all.

It's a very good read. Someday I might revisit this book and write more on it.