- "We cannot and must not forget the
chilling images of...mass graves unearthed by UN
investigators," said President George W. Bush, on the
occasion of Slobodan Milosevic's arrest over the weekend.
And as Milosevic was beginning his first
day in a Belgrade jail, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
reminded us that he had visited some of the mass graves himself.
One newspaper remarked, "[T]his is only
the beginning of what could be a long procedure leading to Mr.
Milosevic's being tried for war crimes committed two years ago in
Kosovo, where an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians were
killed and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes."
Images of mass graves are indeed chilling. But
has anyone ever seen the mass graves in Kosovo? Did Robin Cook
really visit them? And were there 10,000 Albanian civilians killed
If you want to be spectacularly misinformed,
said author Henry Miller, buy a newspaper.
George Orwell, in his famous essay,
Politics and the English Language, complained that a lot of
political writing consisted of gumming together phrases like the
sections of a prefabricated hen house, an easy way of writing,
he said, once you had the habit. Reach into a handy grab-bag of
weathered phrases, and you don't have to think critically about
what you're writing. To journalists spoon fed copy by government
sources, tacking together ready made, prefabricated phrases and
ideas is an easy way to meet deadlines without a lot of effort.
Dutifully reporting the words of political
figures, without questioning even the most conspicuous
deviations from the truth, goes along way too toward
effortlessly filing copy.
Press coverage of Milosevic's arrest has
been very much like the building of prefabricated hen houses.
The words of Bush, Cook and former US Secretary of State,
Madeline Albright, are reported uncritically, while Milosevic,
just as uncritically, is denounced as a "tyrant,"
"cold-blooded autocrat," "war-lord,"
"strongman," and "iron-fisted dictator."
He's also "terrifying,"
"ruthless," "brutal," "the mastermind
of the worst European wars since the Nazis."
Altogether a bad egg. Certainly, someone
who could exterminate 10,000 Albanians and have their corpses
dumped into mass graves, say, at the bottom of the infamous
Trepca mines, the repository it, is said, of the remains of tens
of thousands of brutally murdered ethnic Albanian Kosovars.
Certainly someone who could be responsible for the mass graves
Bush is chilled by and Cook remembers visiting.
But take apart the cairn of ready made
phrases to see what lies below and you'll find little more than
what Orwell said you'd find behind prefabricated phrases -- pure
wind. And little more than what was found at the bottom of the
Trepca mines, once pathologists were dispatched to excavate the
site -- some rubble and a few scattered animal bones. Nothing
But that's not the only bit of nothingness
that has been found.
Operation Horseshoe, the alleged Milosevic
plan to ethnically cleanse Kosovo, turned out to be a hoax.
The Racak massacre, the slaughter of some
forty ethnic Albanian civilians by Serb security forces -- said
to have provided the impetus for Nato to bomb Yugoslavia --
looks, now, after the release of a Finnish forensic pathology
report, to have been faked by the KLA.
One hundred thousand Kosovars were said to
have been killed by Milosevic's forces, a number later revised
downward to 10,000, and then, after pathologists rushed to
Kosovo at the end of Nato's 78-day air war ready to inspect
dozens of alleged mass graves, was revised downward further
still, when pathologists failed to uncover what Nato darkly
warned the world they'd find. Fewer than 2,000 autopsies were
performed. Bodies were found buried alone or in pairs -- not in
the mass graves Cook says he visited or Bush remembers chilling
images of. Whether the corpses were Serb or Albanian, indeed
whether they met their deaths at the hands of Serb security
forces or KLA guerillas, was never certain.
What then are we to make of this? Most of
the atrocities Milosevic stood initially accused of turn out
never to have happened, which may be why the first press reports
of Milosevic's arrest steered clear of the specifics of the
reasons for his apprehension, preferring instead Orwell's
prefabricated phrases. Being a strongman, ruthless and
iron-fisted, seemed reason enough for his arrest. About as
concrete as anyone got was in attributing "the worst
European wars since the Nazis" to Milosevic, an accusation
that could only be made by turning a blind eye to what was truly
one of the worst post World War II European wars -- the Nato air
strikes on Yugoslavia. And it was hardly Milosevic who initiated
that war, although I suppose, in some perverted twist of logic
it could be said that Milosevic was responsible, in the same way
that a kid who refuses to relinquish his lunch money to the
school yard bully is responsible for his own bloodied nose.
Largely unreported is that Nato's bombing
of Yugoslavia was precipitated by Milosevic's refusal to allow
Nato to occupy the entire country -- one of the ultimata Nato
issued at Rambouilett. Milosevic was ready to agree to a UN
force in Kosovo, something, it will be recalled, Nato finally
agreed to, but only after turning the country into a polluted
Nato's pummelling of Yugoslavia, with its
toll of hundreds, if not thousands of civilians killed, and many
more thousands injured, apparently doesn't count as one of the
worst European wars since the Nazis, though it might be recalled
that before Nato it was the Nazis who last bombed Yugoslavia.
The flexing of Nato's military muscle was
called a humanitarian intervention, not a war, and therefore
doesn't count. Goebbels would have admired the audacity. The
euphemistic evasion "humanitarian intervention" calls
to mind the Fuggs' 1966 underground hit, Kill for Peace.
Kill, it will give you the mental
Kill it will give you a big release
Kill, kill, kill for peace.
It also calls to mind Orwell's charge that
political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and
Human Rights Watch says that Nato bombs
killed 500 civilians.
The total body count for which Milosevic
stands indicted on war crimes is 391, not 100,000 and not
10,000. Less than the number of Yugoslav civilians killed by a
humanitarian Nato. That's never mentioned by the media.
And all of the incidents cited in the
indictment against Milosevic but one -- the phoney Racak
incident -- happened after Nato's bombs started their ugly
exercise of ushering Serb civilians to an early grave or to a
life of permanent disability. Which is curious, because Nato
said it needed to bomb Yugoslavia to stop Serb atrocities.
So what exactly is George W. Bush talking
about when he mentions the chilling images of mass graves? And
exactly what graves did Robin Cook visit anyway?
Chilling images of mass killing, indeed,
are something we should never forget. The near genocide of the
East Timorese by Indonesia, which went on for decades under the
eyes of successive US administrations; the burning of Kurd
villages by Turkish security forces, both in Turkey, and across
its border, in Northern Iraq, where American and British patrols
supposedly fly to protect the Kurd minority -- except when
Turkish jet fighters loaded with bombs, generously paid for by
US military aid, are razing Kurd villages; Colombian peasants
driven from their homes and murdered by death squads linked to
the Colombian military the US has given $1.3 billion to; the
hundreds of Palestinians killed by the Israeli Defence Forces,
and the thousands injured and permanently disabled, in the
latest intifada; these are chilling images we should begin to
notice, much less never forget.
And what of the chilling images of
thousands of Iraqi children dying every month because of the
US-led sanctions regime, or Serb hospitals, schools, bridges,
factories, destroyed by Nato bombs -- can they be forgotten?
Nor should we overlook -- or forget -- the
complicity of the press in lending the appearance of solidity to
the emptiness of the words of the likes of Bush and Cook, a
press which boasts of being free and independent, yet allows
itself to be spoon-fed mendacious drivel which it neither
questions nor parses.
And we shouldn't forget the troubling lies
that roll so easily off the tongues of Nato leaders -- about
massacres that didn't happen, and master plans for ethnic
cleansing that never existed, and death tolls that are wildly