PEACE AT WHAT PRICE?
By Ernest Partridge
University of California, Riverside
President Slobodan Milosevic is a criminal. Those who
still believe that there are nonviolent ways to stop his inhuman actions
against Albanians are naive. They forget the nature of the century we
1986 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
From my friends in Russia I have recently received and read with great
alarm and much sorrow, messages of protest against the NATO attack on
These messages have been written and signed by individuals of extraordinary
courage, wisdom and moral integrity. I am personally acquainted with fully
half of the names attached to these protests. Each has lost many personal
friends and family members to the "Great Patriotic War." How could
they not, when over twenty-five million Soviet people -- over ten percent of the
population -- lost their lives in that war.
Moreover, these individuals have placed their own lives and careers on the
line, defending principles of political liberty and environmental sustainability
in the face of personal perils that we, in our national refuge of law, order and
liberty, can scarcely imagine.
These are authentic heroes. I admire them immensely. I share their acute
concern. Yet I can not completely agree. And so I feel that I must answer
them with careful and respectful dissent, and hope that if I am in error, they
can instruct and correct me. In fact, much of what they have written is very
instructive -- as I hope to demonstrate.
And yet, I feel that I can not join their protest of the NATO intervention,
in the face of such reports as these:
. . . a bloodbath is under way. . . Albanians are reporting that hundreds of
civilians [in Jakovitza in southern Kosovo] were killed. And this is just
the latest of several such reports coming from a variety of such sources
that the US considers credible... It is not an exaggeration to say that
something like genocide is going on in Kosovo among the ethnic Albanians
they are slaughtering people there. What we are seeing there are attacks on
villages, and then Serbian police distributing arms to Serbian civilians who
are then carrying out what appears to be random executions. Still, very
sketchy reports, but every day becoming more worrisome... [There is also] a
new and very ominous development, the targeting of intellectual and
political leaders, newspaper editors, and so forth. Assassinations have been
reported in the past several days. (Tom Gelton, National Public Radio, March
And Jonathan Miller of MSNBC reports that
"The price of a human life in Kosovo is 500 German marks -- about $300.
That was the sum demanded by Serb police as they rounded up the inhabitants
of the town of Suhareke, witnesses say. Those who paid were usually allowed
to leave; those who did not were butchered, their throats cut on the
In a chilling echo of Nazi atrocities, there are even reports that Serb
police in the town took their bodies to a local factory where they burned
their victims -- men, women and children -- in a makeshift crematorium.
Local residents known to have connections with the West were singled out for
Eyewitness accounts of atrocities from Suhareke suggest that Serbs
operating there have been guilty of some of the worst atrocities in Europe
since the Second World War.... The preliminary estimates of war crimes
investigators who are starting to arrive here are that across Kosovo
"at least" 10,000 - 15,000 people have been murdered by Serb
soldiers in the past two weeks. The victims include entire families....
(April 7. For the full article, see: msnbc.com/news/256524.asp).
In the statement I received from the Socio-Ecological Union in Moscow, I read that "there are no goals which can justify the sacrifice of the lives
of innocent civilian people and of the principles of international
justice." But have I not described here the wholesale sacrifice of
innocent civilian lives and the wanton violation of the principles of justice.
And if so, is not the NATO intervention precisely an attempt to put a stop to
this sacrifice and this violation? That is the claim of the NATO forces. Our
Russian colleagues are unconvinced. Surely they deserve an argument and
If these and similar reports of atrocities are true, and if an alliance of
nations has the means to prevent them, is this alliance to sit idly by as whole
populations are slaughtered or removed en-masse from an entire province? Do not
the generations of our fathers and grandfathers stand condemned by history for
failing to intervene some sixty years ago until the danger was brought to their
national doorsteps? Did not the victorious allies, including Russia, then
resolve that such barbarism would never again be tolerated on the European
continent? Is not the NATO action thus consistent with this resolution?
Why then, do my Russian colleagues not support the NATO effort to stop, by
force of arms, these alleged "worst atrocities since World War Two?" Perhaps they feel that the means are not appropriate and in this
I can concur,
at least in part. Perhaps they have not been apprised of this dark side of the
Balkan conflict. As NBC correspondent Dana Lewis reports, only "in the last
few days [has Russian] NTV television . . . [Shown] pictures of Albanian
refugees fleeing Kosovo -- pictures everyone else in the world has been seeing
for more than a week but Russians have not been exposed to." Or is it
perhaps the West that has been receiving a distorted picture? I will explore
that possibility further on.
Perhaps it is not the fact or the pretext of the intervention that arouses
the Russian concerns, as much as the agency of that intervention: namely, NATO.
And herein, I submit, the Russians may have a good point. The NATO powers, and
the US in particular, have displayed of late extraordinary insensitivity and
Let's just try, for a moment, to look at NATO's recent history from a Russian
Within a month of the Balkan intervention, NATO accepted into membership,
the governments of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, thus extending
the territory of its members up to the western borders of the former Soviet
Union (i.e., Belarus and Ukraine). The dominant continental European power in NATO is a
reunited Germany. In this century, two German armies marched across the plains
of Poland and into Russia with consequences that all of us know about, but none of us can fully
But surely, I believe, the Russians must appreciate, as I do, that this is
a different Germany now. For the most part, the Russians do. But surely they can
be forgiven if they are not totally and forever comforted by of this
appreciation. For every American GI that fell in battle against the Wehrmacht,
more than one-hundred Soviet soldiers were killed. Not one Nazi shell fell on
American soil. Most of European Russia was devastated by the German invasion.
"But why," we wonder, "must the Russians be so sensitive? Can't
they trust us?" How easily we Americans project our experience with war upon
others! We forget that since the close of the Civil War in 1865, "war" for
the United States has always been "over there." For Russia, it has always
been "right here!" From my friend's
apartment in St. Petersburg, I have looked across the street at "Park Pobedy" ("Victory Park") -- a pleasant plot of trees, ponds and
lawn through which I walked to and from the Metro station. Under that turf lies
the bones and ashes of tens of thousands of Leningrad citizens, victims of "the
900 days." About a kilometer beyond the park on Moskovsky Prospect is a monument
to the siege of Leningrad, and a museum that commemorates that horror. There I saw the small cube of sawdust and wallpaper paste -- the "bread" that
served as a daily food ration -- and lighting the perimeter of that huge room,
the 900 lanterns placed in shell casings, one shell for every day of the siege.
"War," to a Russian means something quite different than it does to
And now NATO, which we are told is a "purely defensive alliance"
has initiated an attack upon Yugoslavia -- literally, "the land of
the southern Slavs" -- upon a people who share an ethnic heritage, a
religion, and a closely related language, with the Russian people. And once
again, the US military has crossed an ocean to drop bombs and launch missiles on
territory barely past the borders of Russia.
Yes, I can well understand the anxiety of our Russian friends as they
contemplate the apparent arrogance of a triumphant NATO -- a military alliance
stationed at their western border and constrained, not by a countervailing
force, but by "conscience" and "good strategic sense." Even
so, for what it is worth, I can assure my friends in St. Petersburg and Moscow
that I have no fear of NATO bombs falling on their cities. This confidence is
quite personal, as my wife and I look forward to our next visit to Russia this
And yet the question remains, conspicuous and unanswered: what are we to do
about the killing fields of Kosovo? Stand idly by as the slaughter of the
But how do we know that these atrocities are actually taking place? I suggest here that the Russians may be deceived by a faulty and biased reporting
of the events in the Balkans. How can we be so sure that it is not we in the
West who are being deceived by artful propaganda?
It is a fair question, and recent events should cause us to take it
seriously. I recall Lyndon Johnson's address to the nation following the
"Gulf of Tonkin incident," which became the justification for an
escalation of the Viet Nam war. We now know that that incident was a fraud.
Richard Nixon was re-elected on the promise that he had "a secret
plan" to end that war. Instead, he extended it to Cambodia. And throughout
that war, we were told that the loss of Viet Nam would lead to the
"loss" of all of southeast Asia. We lost that war, with no strategic
consequences beyond the borders of the victors.
And now we are told that a few cruise missiles and bombs will bring Milosevic
to his senses and end the horror in Kosovo. Well, it hasn't. Instead, we are
discovering, once again, that bombing solidifies national resolve -- as it did
in the London blitz, as it did in Leningrad, as it did in Hamburg, and as it did
in Hanoi. No, to end the horror, we may have to put armed men between the
murdering thugs and their civilian victims, and we may need armed escorts to
bring the exiled populations back to their homes. But our western leaders can't
quite bring themselves to tell us these unpleasant truths.
"Truth is the first casualty of war." Discerning individuals on
both sides of this debate are well aware of the validity of this old proverb.
And so, they are properly skeptical of polarized reports of the
"justice" of "our side," and the iniquity of the other.
And yet .... and yet. There is something about the objective of the
NATO mission, and the reports of the atrocities, that rings true.
We have seen too many images of fields full of thousands of refugees -- not
the sort of image that can easily be faked and synthesized in a video lab. The
scenes of locked railroad cars jammed with ordinary Kosovar citizens, robbed of
all possessions and dignity -- these are chilling reminders of one-way trips to
Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz. And we see and hear the interviews with the
women and children, who the day before sat down to breakfast in their homes and
traveled to work and to school, only to be interrupted by soldiers and told to
march at once to the border or die.
Can we believe all this? These abominations have been reported to a public
with a natural aversion to "foreign involvements" by a corps of
reporters who thrive on exposing official fraud and deception -- whose thirst
for scandal very nearly destroyed an American presidency. An official "Wag
the Dog" propaganda production with "cast of thousands" fake
refugee camps, scripted horror stories, and cardboard villains -- all this
simply could not survive the scrutiny of contemporary "gotcha
journalism." Nothing would please the American public more than to be told
that "this Balkan business" is nothing but political hype. One must
therefore suspect that we have not been told this is so simply because it is not
so. Unfortunately, the war crimes, the genocide, the "ethnic
cleansing" are all too real.
Finally, the veracity of this horrible story is validated by a simple
question: What possible motive is there for NATO intervention, except to
prevent the slaughter of the innocents and the forced evacuation of an entire
population? What does NATO gain by "success"? It ends the killing
and the injustice. But it annexes no territory, extends no hegemony,
expropriates no property, enslaves no one. And as we have seen, success comes
with a price the increased suspicion and alienation of the states and the
peoples of the former Soviet Union. But if success also provides a lesson to all
nations that there is a limit to official misconduct and injustice beyond which
even claims of national sovereignty will not protect the villains, it may prove,
in the end, to be worth the considerable costs.
I close with a plea to our esteemed Russian friends. If this assessment is
wrong, show us the error therein -- show us that the NATO intervention is a
greater evil than the murders and ethnic cleansing which it purports to prevent.
Or if these alleged atrocities are the fictional concoctions of artful
propaganda, then show us the evidence. And if you succeed, I will join you in
your effort to end the NATO attack, at whatever the cost in innocent lives lost
and in injustice for the survivors.
But if, in fact, up to a million innocent Kosovar women and children are
being uprooted from their homes, while their husbands and fathers are being
separated out and slaughtered -- what remedy do you propose?
If not NATO, then what? Perhaps the concerted outcry and intervention of
Americans, west Europeans, Russians and enlightened Serbs?
This would be the optimal remedy.
Dare we hope?
Copyright 1999, by Ernest Partridge