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 leaders.
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. _