Johnstone Reply

I have belatedly learned of the October 31 interview with Noam Chomsky by Emma Brockes, in which my name appeared (misspelled) three times. I would like to correct that minor mistake as well as a few more significant ones.

The most basic underlying distortion is to present Professor Chomsky’s defense of free expression as a defense of particular statements or ideas.  A related distortion is to misrepresent such statements and ideas.

As a young star reporter, on the heady assignment of ridiculing a man with the stature of Chomsky, Ms Brockes was obviously not required to check facts or to know much of anything about the subjects she raised in her interview.

One of these was the famous “thin man behind barbed wire” photo taken by ITN in August 1992, which became the emblem of the war in Bosnia. In February 1997, a small magazine called “LM”, or “Living Marxism,”
published an article by German journalist Thomas Deichmann pointing out that the wire fence did not enclose the men in the photos. Rather, it was part of an agricultural enclosure on the edge of the camp. The ITN crew itself went inside the enclosure to take photos of the “thin man” through the wire fence.  Deichmann called this “the photo that fooled the world”.

Ms Brockes writes that the LM report was “proven” to be false in a court of law.

In fact, ITN put LM out of business by winning a libel suit against the magazine. But due to the quaint nature of British libel law, the decisive issue in court was NOT the truth about the wire fence. Rather, it was whether or not the ITN reporters had “deliberately” sought to deceive the public. The issue become one of intentions and emotions. The judge, in his summing up, acknowledged that the ITN team reporters were mistaken as to who was enclosed by the old barbed-wire fence, adding, “but does it matter?”  The jury decided it did not.

I never said anything about the intentions of the ITN journalists.
In my book, “Fools’ Crusade” (Pluto Press, 2002), I refer to the famous “thin man behind barbed wire” photo, to point out the way the photo was interpreted by world media to create the impression that what was happening in Bosnia was a repetition of the Nazi Holocaust.  According to what I have read, Ms Brockes’ colleague Ed Vulliamy himself, who accompanied the ITN team, also objected to the way the media used the Trnopolje photo to liken Bosnian camps to Nazi death camps.

It is not clear which “controversy” Ms Brockes is referring to when she writes that “the controversy flared up again” when I “made similar allegations in a Swedish magazine, Ordfront”.  Which allegations? Ordfront interviewed me as part of a long feature article on media “lies” about Yugoslavia. A series of attacks in Swedish media misrepresented my views, which led Ordfront to abandon plans to publish a Swedish edition of my book.

Ms Brockes neglects to mention my book, or the fact that publication of my book, and not some hypothetical statement about some particular fact, was what Chomsky — among others — defended.

Neither I nor Professor Chomsky have ever denied that Muslims were the main victims of atrocities and massacres committed in Bosnia. But I insist that the tragedy of Yugoslav disintegration cannot be reduced to such massacres, and that there are other aspects of the story, historical and political, that deserve to be considered.  However, any challenge to the mainstream media version of events is stigmatized as “causing more suffering to the victims” — an accusation that makes no sense, but which works as a sort of emotional blackmail.

If some of us dare expose ourselves to such distressing accusations, it is simply because we believe that the single-minded focus on particular massacres, and the hasty application of the term “genocide”, is exploited to justify military intervention which occurs only when it suits United States geopolitical purposes and which on balance makes bad situations worse.  Prevention of an imaginary “genocide” in Kosovo was the pretext for the United States to establish the precedent of unauthorized military intervention, convert NATO to a new mission of “humanitarian intervention”, and thereby reaffirm U.S. supremacy in Europe after the end of the Cold War.  When no “weapons of mass destruction” are found, “humanitarian intervention” to overthrow the “genocidal” Saddam Hussein becomes the retroactive excuse for the invasion of Iraq.  And what next…?

Current issues of war and peace are matters of importance which should be the object of serious public debate, instead of being treated as sacred dogma, from which any deviation is condemned as heresy.

– Diana Johnstone


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