Whose Atrocity Is Bigger

Milosovic has committed atrocities. Therefore it is okay for us to

commit atrocities. He is terrorizing the Albanians in Kosovo. Therefore we can terrorize

the population of cities and villages in Yugoslavia.

I get e-mail messages from Yugoslav opponents of Milosovic, who

demonstrated against him in the streets of Belgrade (before the air strikes began), who

tell me their children cannot sleep at night, terrified by the incessant bombing. They

tell of the loss of light, of water, of the destruction of the basic sources of life for

ordinary people.

To the bloodthirsty Thomas Friedman of the NEW YORK TIMES, all Serbs

must be punished, without mercy, because they have "tacitly sanctioned" the

deeds of their leaders. That is a novel definition of war guilt. Can we now expect an

Iraqi journalist to call for bombs placed in every American supermarket on the grounds

that all of us have "tacitly sanctioned" the hundreds of thousands of deaths in

Iraq caused by our eight-year long embargo.

Official terrorism, whether used abroad or at home, by jet bombers

or by the police, is always given an opportunity by the press to explain itself, as is

never done for ordinary terrorists. The thirty one prisoners and nine guards massacred at

Governor Rockefeller’s orders in the Attica uprising; the twenty-eight women and children

of the organization MOVE, killed in a fire after their homes were bombed by Philadelphia

police; the eighty-six men, women, and children of the Waco compound who died in an attack

ordered by the Clinton Administration;, the African immigrant murdered by a gang of

policemen in New York — all of these events had explanations which, however absurd, are

dutifully given time and space by the media.

One of these explanations is in terms of numbers, and we have heard

both Clinton and his forked-tongue counterpart Jamie Shea pass off the bombing of Yugoslav

civilians by telling us the Serb police have killed more Albanians than we have killed

Serbs (although as the air strikes multiply, the numbers are getting closer). They have

killed more than we have, so it’s okay to bomb not just Serbs but Albanian refugees, not

just adults but children, and to use the cluster bombs which have caused unprecedented

amputations in Kosovo hospitals

There were those who defended the 1945 firestorm bombing of Dresden

(100,000 dead? — we can’t be sure) by pointing to the Holocaust. As if one atrocity

deserves another. And with no chance at all that one could prevent the other (just as our

bombings have done nothing to stop the mayhem in Kosovo, indeed have intensified it). I

have heard the deaths of several hundred thousand Japanese citizens in the atomic strikes

on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified by the terrible acts of the Japanese military in that


I suppose if we consider the millions of casualties of all the wars

started by national leaders these past fifty years as "tacitly" supported by

their populations, some righteous God who made the mistake of reading Friedman might well

annihilate the human race.

The television networks, filling our screen with heartrending photos

of the Albanian refugees — and those stories must not be ignored — have not given us a

full picture of the human suffering we have caused by our bombing.

An e-mail came to me, a message from Professor Djordje Vidanovic, a

professor of linguistics and semantics at the University of Nis: "The little town of

Aleksinac, 20 miles away from my home town, was hit last night will full force. The local

hospital was hit and a whole street was simply wiped off. What I know for certain is 6

dead civilians and more than 50 badly hurt. There was no military target around


That was an "accident". As was the bombing of the Chinese

Embassy. As was the bombing of a civilian train on a bridge over the Juzna Morava River,

as was the bombing of Albanian refugees on a road in southern Kosovo, as was the

destruction of a civilian bus with twenty four dead including four children (there was a

rare press description of the gruesome scene by Paul Watson of the LOS ANGELES TIMES).

Some stories come through despite the inordinate attention to NATO

propaganda, omnipresent on CNN and other networks (and the shameless Jamie Shea announced

we bombed a television station in Belgrade because it gives out propaganda). The NEW YORK

TIMES reported the demolition of four houses in the town of Merdare by anti-personnel

bombs "killing five people, including Bozina Tosovic, 30, and his 11-month old

daughter, Bojana. His wife, 6 months pregnant is in the hospital.

Steven Erlanger reported, also in the NEW YORK TIMES, that NATO

missiles killed at least eleven people in a residential area of Surdulica, a town in

southern Serbia. He described "the mounded rubble across narrow Zmaj Jovina Street,

where Aleksandar Milic, 37, died on Tuesday. Mr. Milic’s wife, Vesna, 35, also died. So

did his mother and his two children, Miljana, 15 and Vladimir, 11 — all of them killed

about noon when an errant NATO bomb obliterated their new house and the cellar in which

they were sheltering."

Are these "accidents", as NATO and U.S. officials solemnly

assure us? One day in 1945 I dropped canisters of napalm on a village in France. I have no

idea how many villagers died, but I did not mean to kill them. Can I absolve what I did as

"an accident"? Aerial bombings have as inevitable consequences the killing of

civilians, and this is foreseeable, even if the details about who will be the victims

cannot be predicted.

The word "accident" is used to exonerate vicious actions.

If I race my car at eighty miles an hour through a street crowded with children, and kill

ten of them, can I call that an "accident"? The deaths and mutilations caused by

the bombing campaign in Yugoslavia are not accidents, but the inevitable result of a

deliberate and cruel campaign against the people of that country.

When I read a few weeks ago that cluster bombs are being used

against Yugoslavia, I felt a special horror. These have hundreds of shrapnel-like metal

fragments which enter the body and cannot easily be removed, causing unbearable pain. Serb

children have picked up unexploded bombs and been mutilated as they exploded. I remember

being in Hanoi in 1968 and visiting hospitals where children lay in agony, victims of a

similar weapon — cluster bombs — their bodies full of tiny pellets.

Two sets of atrocities — two campaigns of terrorism — ours and

theirs. Both must be condemned. But for that, both must be acknowledged, and if one is

given enormous attention, and the other passed over with official explanations given

respectful attention, it becomes impossible to make a balanced moral judgement.

There was an extraordinary report by Tim Weiner in the NEW YORK

TIMES contrasting the scene in Belgrade with that in Washington where the NATO summit was

taking place. "In Belgrade…Gordana Ristic, 33, was preparing to spend another night

in the basement-cum-bomb shelter of hear apartment building. ‘It was a really horrible

night last night. There were explosions every few minutes after 2 A.M….I’m sorry that

your leaders are not willing to read history.’

"A reporter read to her from Clinton’s speeches at the summit

meeting. She sounded torn between anger and tears. ‘This is the bottom to which

civilization, in which I believed, has gone. Clinton is playing a role, singing a song in

an opera. It kills me’ As she slept, NATO’s leaders dined on soft-shell crabs and spring

lamb in the East Room of the White House. Dessert was a little chocolate globe. Jessye

Norman sang arias. And as the last limousine left, near midnight. Saturday morning’s

all-clear sounded in Belgrade…."

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