leadership and elite are ready, willing, and often eager to drop bombs
on the lesser peoples of the world. They can do this without fear of
retaliation because of the huge military advantage of a superpower and
the subservience of the "international community."
U.S. Ieaders are also never constrained by any sense of embarrassment
or shame at using advanced weaponry against essentially defenseless
explaining this readiness to bomb is the elite's long-standing sense
of racial and cultural superiority, and self-serving assumption of the
right to police, rule, and exterminate. Its classic expression was Secretary
of State Richard Olney's 1895 proclamation that "the United States is
practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the
subjects to which it confines its interposition."
But from Teddy Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson and his successors, Olney's
arrogance is matched by a stream of racist put-downs of the "riggers"
and "gooks" we were killing and pacifying. Throughout the post-colonial
wars of our age, the increasingly high tech, capital intensive warfare
we have employed has been openly designed to reduce our casualties,
while increasing the civilian as well as military toll imposed on our
Enemy casualties are given zero weight in the calculus of U.S. military-political
planners, a dehumanizing process reflected in the frequency with which
war casualty enumerations entirely ignore those of the enemy. This attitude
makes bombing easy, but the key factor in stimulating the bombing activity
is no doubt the U.S. imperial role.
forces with global reach, as demonstrated by bombing, serve the interests
of the U. S. -based transnational corporations dominant in the globalization
process, by showing what can happen to countries that are slow to open
markets or to install friendly regimes in power. Using boycotts and
bombs to punish "rogues " who somehow presume to control their own markets
and resources has been an integral feature of U.S. and western policy
Periodic bombing forays also help justify the large military establishment
and allow it to reduce old inventories and display and experiment with
new weapons. A further and related factor in the readiness to bomb is
that bombing is a political winner at home, with the media always getting
on the chauvinistic bandwagon, and the public also regularly rallying
around the flag and in support of our boys. George Bush's poll ratings
rose as he bombed Iraq in 1991, with the reporters and public enthralled
at our new clean war.
With the right-wing and mainstream media helping demonize anybody standing
in our way, U.S. presidents are also regularly under pressure to drop
bombs as a display of macho "character" and "leadership." Weak presidents
are especially prone to bomb in order to quiet their critics and protect
and improve their poll ratings. Clinton's 1993 attack on Baghdad in
the wake of an alleged Iraqi assassination plan against George Bush
was a model case of a bombing response to media/right-wing political
pressure. The rapid bombing response to the attacks on the U.S. African
embassies in August 1998 was also based heavily on the need to do something
forceful to forestall political criticism.
Of course, in the official explanations and mainstream media the bombs
are allegedly dropped only after "agonizing choices," but this is apologetic
propaganda that glosses over the exclusively political considerations
involved in the decisions and the miniscule weight given "collateral
damage" and international law. When the evidence assembled after the
1998 bombing of the pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan showed that
the U.S. claims justifying the attack were false and based on incompetently
gathered and evaluated data, there was very little if any criticism
in the mainstream media. For the media, the U.S. has a right to bomb
another country if it thinks it has any kind of case - it doesn't have
to be sure of the facts, or rush to compensate the victims of its errors,
any more than it is obliged to abide by international law.
Rules of the Bombing Game
of the bombing game are simple: if you are a friend and useful ally,
you automatically possess legitimate "security concerns" and can cross
borders, kill, and ravage, free of any bombing threat; but if you are
an enemy or otherwise obstruct the achievement of our objectives, your
crossing of borders and killing, at home or abroad, cannot be tolerated
and you are bombable. There is even an obligatory and droll tendency
to exaggerate the crimes and threats of the bombables.
Thus, just months before the U.S. attack and proxy invasion of Guatemala
in June 1954, the National Security Council described the virtually
disarmed victim country as "increasingly [an] instrument of Soviet aggression"
in Latin America, as if it rather than the U.S. was about to engage
in an armed attack. Similarly, tiny Nicaragua, under U.S. attack in
the 1980s, was alleged to be carrying out a "revolution without frontiers,"
and when it pursued U.S.-sponsored terrorists across the border into
Honduras, was declared by the U.S. government (and media) to be carrying
out an "invasion." Neither of these bombable countries was allowed the
right of self defense. The governments of both were removed by U.S.
bombs and other forms of violence, although the Nicaraguan government's
final exit was engineered by an election held under conditions of blackmail
after years of devastating terrorist attack.
Iraq, of course, became eminently bombable after its invasion of Kuwait
in 1990. It had crossed us, and there were other important reasons to
bomb: the right-wing pundits were screaming for blood, Bush was in political
trouble, and the military establishment needed a post-Soviet military
budget rationale and had large inventories of bombs to run down and
weapons it wanted to put on display.
With the help of the media, the long appeasement and support of Saddam
Hussein was ignored, and the many efforts to allow him to withdraw from
Kuwait with dignity were brushed aside. So bombs away.
It is enlightening that Iraq was not bombable before the 1990 invasion
of Kuwait, despite its doing some pretty awful things, like attacking
Iran and using chemical weapons against its indigenous Kurds in 1986.
As Saddam Hussein was then a U.S. friend, a recipient of U.S. aid, and
performing a desired service-killing Iranians, when Iran was a high-ranking
enemy-these matters could be overlooked by us and by the "international
community." Never let it be said that principle and the need for policy
consistency would stand in the way of pursuit of our short term interests.
Another notable exception to bombability occurred following Suharto's
1975 invasion and occupation of East Timor. This involved ethnic cleansing
far beyond anything the Serbs or even Saddam Hussein have ever perpetrated.
But as our friend, with an open door and providing an investors paradise,
not only was Suharto not bombed, he was supplied the arms to kill, diplomatic
protection, and the necessary eye aversion in the U.S. and other western
Turkey and Israel
midst of the western furor over the Serbs in Kosovo, in October 1998
the Turkish army launched another pacification-drive against the Kurds
in Eastern Turkey. In 1995 the New York Times acknowledged that the
Turkish army had been "using the F-16s and other American weapons to
strafe Turkish villages...killing thousands of civilians and leaving
millions homeless" (ed., October 17, 1995).
Turkey has also repeatedly invaded northern Iraq in extended campaigns
of pacification, not only killing alleged Kurdish "terrorists" but with
its troops "frequently reported to murder Kurdish villagers at random",
engaging in "beatings, looting and destruction of homes and property"
of the civilian population (Financial Times, August 8, 1995).
Turkey is also notorious for the institutionalized use of torture on
prisoners of all kinds. The Turkish torture, ethnic cleansing and invasions
have been an "embarrassment" to its allies (NYT, September 7, 1992),
who have urged Turkey to be nicer. Although the Turkish attacks on the
Kurds have caused far more death and destruction than Serb repression
of ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo, have been going on for years, and
have also involved repeated invasions of another country (Iraq), there
has never been any call for bombings or even for monitoring of Turkish
actions by the U.S. or international community.
In accord with the rules of the bombing game, as a friendly power, with
an open door and regularly obeying orders, Turkey has "security concerns"
that must be acknowledged, and it is not only not bombable, it continues
to receive U.S. aid and diplomatic support.
In the midst of its further assault on the Kurds, the European Commission
has proposed giving Turkey an aid package of $182 million "to help it
prepare for European Union membership and strengthen a customs union"
(Financial Times, October 23, 1998). The Clinton administration has
exerted no pressure whatsoever on Turkey to stop killing Kurds. It goes
without saying that the mainstream U. S. media have given the Turkish
ethnic cleansing minimal attention and indignation and have failed to
note the remarkable double standard.
of course, is even more closely allied to and protected by the U.S.
than Turkey, and is freer still to engage in ethnic cleansing and cross-border
invasions and raids, without fear of international sanction.
For decades Israel has been pushing Palestinians out of their homes
in favor of Jewish settlers, and has maintained a system of discriminatory
housing and land ownership that has been compared unfavorably to South
African apartheid in the Israeli (but not U.S.) press (see Ha'aretz,
February 10, 1991). The homes of Palestinian protectors throwing stones
are regularly demolished, but following his murder of 29 Palestinians
Baruch Goldstein's home was left intact.
Torture has been used on a systematic basis for decades, the New York
Times acknowledging in passing (August 14, 1993) that 400-500 Palestinians
were being so treated per month. Well over a thousand Palestinians were
killed and over 130,000 injured during the Intifada protests against
discrimination, in which Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin instructed the
Israeli army that they were free to enter Palestinian homes and beat
men, women, and children without fear of prosecution.
No action against Israel was taken by the international community in
response to this brutal repression. The state of Israel has also repeatedly
invaded Lebanon, relentlessly bombing and killing many thousands of
civilians and putting hundreds of thousands into flight. It has for
many years maintained a terrorist army in South Lebanon to serve its
pacification interests there. And Israel has felt free to make periodic
punitive raids into Lebanon and to bomb the country at its discretion.
This ethnic cleansing within Israel, persistently violating international
law as well as UN Security Council resolutions, and the regular invasions
and cross-border attacks against Lebanon, have never led to Israel being
threatened with bombing. It has never even been subjected to any reduction
in U.S. aid or the flow of supplies of bombs and other weapons to carry
out its repression and invasions. Although Israel has had towering military
superiority over the Palestinians and the neighbors which it has periodically
invaded, Israel's behavior is justified by its allegedly serious "security
concerns," whereas its victims have none.
Israel is also declared to be a victim of "terrorism" and its massive
ethnic cleansing and discrimination, and cross-border attacks, are counter-terrorism
and retaliation, by virtue of its status as a U.S. client state (even
if a case where the tail wags the dog).
These truths are institutionalized in the U.S. mainstream media, so
that Israel can obtain subsidies to do things that would make an enemy
power extremely bombable.
Serbs are the latest in a long line of demonized bombables. Its president
Slobodan Milosevic is furiously denounced by editorialists as a world
class villain, and cartoonists can portray "the Serbs" as pigs without
being reprimanded for racism.
The crimes for which the Serbs must be severely chastised, however,
are frequently equaled or exceeded by that of U.S. client states, who
can remain beneficiaries of western aid even while engaging in genocide
in an invaded territory (Indonesia's Suharto regime in East Timor).
Mass murder alone is not enough to merit demonization and bombability.
Behind the carefully channeled outrage lies the geostrategic interest
of the U.S. and its leading Western allies. While great understanding
is displayed for the "security concerns" that drive U.S. clients to
violence, instances of violence by the bombables are attributed to a
defiant and perverse desire to "test the resolve" of Western leaders.
This unlikely motive is played up, while any genuine fears of a country
that finds itself singled out for pariah treatment are ignored.
Yugoslavia's post-World War II leader Tito may have been a communist
dictator, but his quarrel with Stalin turned him into an ally of the
West. Yugoslavia was relatively open and prosperous, and received lavish
Western credits. The resulting debt burden was a major factor in splitting
the country along economic and ethnic lines in the 1980s.
Once the Soviet Union collapsed, Yugoslavia lost its strategic interest
to the U.S. The newly reunited Germany, along with Austria, could resume
its traditional hostility to a unified Yugoslavia, sponsoring Croatian
and Albanian nationalism against the Serbs. German clout forced rapid
international acceptance of an unnegotiated breakaway of Slovenia and
Croatia, turning the Yugoslav army into an "aggressor" on its own territory.
For the Serbs, who had seen Nazi German conquerors carve Yugoslavia
into separate pieces in 1941, it was deja vu all over again. Under pressure
from media always on the lookout for villains, the U. S. soon got on
board this destabilization bandwagon, largely to reassert its leadership
role in Europe, and also to forge new ties with its closest Near Eastern
allies (Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia) by creating a new area of domination
in the Balkans at the expense of what had been a relatively autonomous
and less amenable power.
Yugoslavia, after all, had been known both for its own special brand
of "self-management socialism," in contrast to the Soviet model, and
for its international role as co-founder of the Non-Aligned Movement,
with close ties to Third World countries. These were aberrations that
U.S. Ieaders were only too happy to get rid of once and for all.
As ethnic Serbs had been targeted for liquidation in the "Independent
State of Croatia" (which included Bosnia) run by the Nazi-backed Croatian
Utasha movement during World War II, German support for the breakaway
of Croatia under a nationalist leadership openly sympathetic to the
Ustasha tradition, posed a real security threat to the large Serb population
in Croatia. This could only strengthen nationalist forces in Serbia.
In various ways, Western policy encouraged Croatian, Slovenian, and
Albanian nationalist movements to seek to exit from the Yugoslav state.
By thus endorsing ethnic identity as the basis for territorial sovereignty,
the West encouraged all factions in Yugoslavia to seek spatial domination-which
entailed pushing out members of rival ethnic groups, often by murdering
them to scare the rest.
The Serbs participated aggressively in this terrible process, but they
were not alone. Leaving aside the question of who started what and who
killed and drove out more people in the "ethnic cleansing" in Croatia
and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995, what is certain is that the U.S. media
focused on Serb crimes and played down those committed by Croats and
Muslims. There was no great display of moral indignation in the media
and from Western leaders when a quarter of a million Serbs in Krajina
were driven out of their homes by Croatian forces in August 1995 (with
substantial killing). In fact, those Croatian forces had been (illegally)
rearmed with German weapons, trained by U.S. "retired" generals and
given the green light by the U.S. ambassador.
Moreover, it was just as this was happening that NATO designated the
Serbs as their first bombable target on the European continent since
the end of the Cold War. When trouble flared this year in the Serbian
province of Kosovo, the most difficult trouble spot in all the troubled
Balkans, the West immediately reverted to its stance in Bosnia: the
Serbs are to blame and must be bombed.
Knowing this, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which seeks to detach
Kosovo from Serbia and form a Greater Albania has a simple strategy.
Depend on Serbian repression to bring in NATO forces to attack the Serbs
and allow the KLA to take over. This scenario has been obvious and predictable
from the start. For several years the KLA assassinated not only policemen
and Serbian officials, but also ethnic Albanians who opposed the violent
In the summer of 1998 the Serbian security forces finally took the bait
and went into the Kosovo countryside to root out the KLA. As usual in
such cases, hapless civilians suffered and the guerrillas simply regrouped.
Untold thousands of civilians were driven from villages believed to
be sheltering KLA fighters before security forces battered down walls
and set family compounds on fire.
Between 500 and 1,000 people have been killed in this conflict. Both
sides have massacred civilians, with the stronger Serb army very likely
responsible for a disproportionate share. But only the Serb side is
threatened with any kind of NATO action. In this way, the U.S. propensity
to bomb becomes an instrument that can be wielded even by a relatively
small armed rebellion to break up a recognized nation. The KLA may be
the first "liberation" movement in history to consider NATO its virtual
air force. This opens up new horizons for the uses of NATO.
armed forces have generously offered to take time off from destroying
Kurdish villages in and beyond Turkey's borders to participate in NATO's
humanitarian crusade against the Serbs for having done roughly the same,
but on a much smaller scale and only within Serbia.
The selectivity of the West's humanitarian concern is blatant. And in
this case, Western policy has actually fanned the flames of conflict.
Whereas fair and friendly mediation is called for, the West's bias toward
one side, and contradictory signals have made it virtually impossible
for the Serbs and Albanians to work out a solution among themselves.
The ethnic Albanians say they want to secede. The West rules that out,
as it would set a bad precedent for the Bosnian Serbs who want to secede
from Bosnia. Some Serbs suggest partitioning Kosovo between Serbia and
the Albanians. The West rules that out, as it would set a bad precedent
for Macedonia, where Albanians would then also want to secede. The Serbs
offer to negotiate without preconditions, the Albanians refuse to sit
down at the table, and the West thereupon threatens to bomb the Serbs
"to force them to the negotiating table."
However provoked, Serbian security forces are almost surely guilty as
charged of "using excessive force." In its righteous indignation, NATO
has assembled a mighty armada of warplanes, stealth bombers, and cruise
missiles which threaten to wipe out Yugoslavia's entire national defense
capacity, including command and control centers. This is because NATO
abhors the use of "excessive force."
in Z Magazine
S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of
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