Kosovo and Doublespeak

War, propaganda, and the proliferation of doublespeak have always gone

hand-in-hand. As was the case during the Persian Gulf war, the NATO war

against Yugoslavia witnessed a collapse of mainstream media integrity and a

new surge of doublespeak in the service of the war party. It was grimly

humorous that NATO and its compliant media partners justified the bombing of

Serbian radio and TV on the grounds of propaganda service to Milosevic’s war

machine. In reality, the parallel service of the U.S. and British media

differed from that of the Serbs mainly in their ludicrous self- designation as

objective and propaganda-free.

Let me briefly review here a short-list of purr and snarl words that have

been of outstanding service to U.S. and British propaganda.

Credibility: Credibility is a purr word, that oozes goodness. Hawks always

resort to credibility as a form of flag-waving, using it to make compromise or

withdrawal a form of moral and unpatriotic defeat. But it is an appeal to

irrationality and assures that a mistake can be transformed into a

catastrophe. The media have been extremely lax in giving uncontested space to

Senator John McCain and Zbigniew Brzezinski to play the credibility gambit and

failing to look behind this purr word to the real issues at stake. And they

have thereby allowed it to serve as an instrument of war propaganda.

Humanitarian bombing: NATO allegedly began bombing in March for

humanitarian purposes. Humanitarian is a purr word, but humanitarian bombing

is an oxymoron, blending the warm-hearted with dealing death. As the NATO

bombing exponentially increased the damage inflicted on the purported

beneficiaries, as well as large numbers of innocent Serb civilians, it has

been anti-humanitarian at all levels. The CIA and NATO military officials like

General Wesley Clark have admitted that the negative humanitarian effects were

expected. The phrase is a propaganda fraud covering over a hidden agenda, in

which Kosovo Albanian welfare had little or no place. But the media have never

considered the phrase an oxymoron or the policy a human rights fraud.

Victory: With the end of the bombing, the media trumpet the official view

that NATO won a "victory," but they do not ask whether this triumph

was in fulfilment of the alleged humanitarian aim–they have implicitly

abandoned that purported objective in favor of celebrating a mighty military

victory over another tiny and overmatched enemy power. The NATO and media

celebration recalls George Santayana’s words: "Fanaticism consists in

redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."

Military targets: NATO repeatedly claimed that it was avoiding civilian and

sticking to military targets. However, it steadily expanded the definition of

military target to encompass anything that directly or indirectly helped the

Serb war effort, so that electric and water facilities (among other things)

primarily serving civilians were included as military targets. This is in

violation of international law and the army’s own rules of warfare, and

therefore amounts to the commission of war crimes. Christopher Simpson

recently cited a President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection

finding that the bombing of electric and water facilities in U.S. cities would

be criminal "terrorism." The media have of course never mentioned

this report, which suggests that NATO engaged in wholesale criminal terrorism,

and they have treated the commission of war crimes with the lightest touch. In

fact, pundits like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times have urged the direct

bombing of civilians and thus the commission of war crimes.

Collateral damage: This is our old friend from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf

wars. It purrs, suggesting inadvertence and "errors." But where the

likelihood of "errors" in a bombing raid have a probability of over

90 percent, the damage is intentional even if the particular victims were not

targeted. If somebody throws a bomb at an individual in a crowded theater, and

100 bystanders are also killed, would we say that the bomb thrower was not

clearly guilty of killing the 100 because their deaths were

"unintended" and the damage was "collateral"? The

propaganda agencies reserve such purr word excuses for

"humanitarian" bombing.

Negotiations: During the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, U.S. officials

regularly claimed to be interested in "negotiations," when in

reality they were only ready to accept surrender. With patriotic gullibility

the media swallowed the official propaganda claims and helped pave the way for

war and the prolongation of war. At Rambouillet, NATO offered Yugoslavia an

ultimatum that included NATO’s right to occupy all of Yugoslavia. This offer

was one no sovereign nation could accept and was designed to be rejected. But

just as in the earlier cases, the media accepted the false official claim that

Milosevic rather than NATO was unwilling to negotiate or accept reasonable

terms. And once again the media helped pave the way for war.

Rule of law: This is a purr phrase, that is used only when convenient.

During the Persian Gulf war, at which time the Bush administration could get

Security Council agreement for action against Iraq, President Bush declared

that the issue at stake was the "rule of law" versus the law of the

jungle. However, at the time of the U.S. incursion into Panama in 1989, when

Security Council approval was not obtainable and the incursion was in clear

violation of the OAS agreement, the matter of law was muted. Similarly, unable

to obtain Security Council approval for the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, with

the attack in evident violation of the UN Charter, and with U.S. participation

eventually in violation of the War Powers Act, U.S. and NATO officials were

singularly uninterested in questions of law. And the U.S. mainstream media

cooperated by setting this issue aside as well. They now ignore their old

favorite Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who says today that "The aggressors have

kicked aside the UN, opening a new era where might is right."

Genocide and ethnic cleansing: These snarl words have been frequently

applied to the Serbs, helping justify the NATO war. In a recent masterpiece of

propaganda (June 13, 1999), New York Times reporter Michael Wines explains

that "Fifty-four years after the Holocaust revelations, America and

Europe had finally said ‘enough,’ and struck a blow against a revival of

genocide." The West found a "revival of genocide" in a locale

where some 2000 people had been killed in the year prior to the NATO attack,

which inspired those great moralists Clinton and Blair to act. If this seems

like a relatively small number in the light of other modern day slaughters,

Wines advises us that "there is a yawning gap between the West and much

of the world on the value of a single life." The West is concerned with

each individual life, so 2000 can understandably activate its sensitive


Wines does not mention that Clinton and Blair are the leaders supporting

the sanctions against Iraq that, at the time they had "had enough"

of genocide in Kosovo, had killed a million Iraqi civilians. Blair is still

the biggest arms supplier to Indonesia, and both the moralists sell arms to

and are on entirely friendly terms with the Turkish government that has

ethnically cleansed Kurds on a large scale for many years. The greatest single

case of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia in the 1990s occurred at Krajina in

Croatia in 1995, where several hundred thousand Serbs were put to flight and

many killed. This action was done with U.S. and NATO aid and was not objected

to in any way by NATO.

In short, U.S. and NATO policy toward Kosovo has been riddled with

contradictions and hypocrisies, and has enlarged a local human rights crisis

to a regional disaster. This has been helped by a system of doublespeak that

the mainstream media have not only failed to challenge but have incorporated

into their own usage. Contrary to their proclaimed objectivity, this failure

has made them agents of state propaganda, rather than information servants of

a democratic community. _



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