By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov|
It’s been a bad week for the war and a bad week for what passes for our peace movement.
In Belgrade, the military’s bombs demonstrated — as they demonstrated last year in the Sudan — that they are no smarter than the intelligence agents who identify their targets. The street address of an embassy is not exactly classified information. Is it too much to ask of the CIA that their agents purchase up-to-date Fodor’s guidebooks, or the latest Belgrade phone book?
In our campaign over Kosovo, meanwhile, NATO is facing a quandary. Over half a million Kosovar Albanians, driven from their homes but not from their homeland, are living in the hills and hollows. They are badly, and increasingly, in need of air drops of food and medicine. To date, however, NATO has refused to authorize any low-flying relief drops, for fear that the Serbs will shoot the planes down. Mass starvation and disease are bad things, our leaders aver — but not bad enough to justify putting American pilots at risk.
Most wars don’t present this kind of dilemma. The choice between saving your own troops and saving endangered civilians isn’t really a choice at all. Even in the Good War, World War II, we never undertook rescue missions for concentration-camp inmates. What we undertook was the destruction of the government and the army that had instituted the camps. Saving Private Ryanto the contrary, armies aren’t much on rescue missions.
The peculiar problem with Kosovo, however, is that the war’s stated rationale is explicitly humanitarian: We fight to restore Kosovo to its residents and to oppose the idea and reality of ethnic cleansing. A compelling case could be made — and some of the more courageous activists within Serbia’s democratic opposition have made it — that the war should be fought more along the lines of World War II, with the goal of removing the Milosevic regime and its fascistic institutions. But with the 19 NATO nations unlikely to unify around this goal, the operating and sole raison d’être for the war remains humanitarian. This, however, is substantially undermined unless we are willing to risk some American lives for those of half a million Kosovar Albanians.
Thus one more instance of the void at the center of the Clinton-Blair "Third Way": The war eschews both the "crude militarism" of a ground war against Serbia and the "simplistic humanitarianism" of a relief mission that puts our boys in harm’s way. Like other Third Way policies, it is defined almost entirely by what it is not. God knows what — morally and strategically — it actually is.
One of the most striking things about the war on the home front is that it has generated so little protest from American progressives. At this point in the Persian Gulf War, thousands of demonstrators had already taken to the streets. To date, however, Kosovo has generated fewer protesters than the U.S. raid into Panama to seize Manuel Noriega. Which leaves some on the left wondering, in the words of state Senator Tom Hayden in a recent op-ed article, "Where are the voices of protest?"
Kosovo pits the left’s historic antipathy to U.S. military interventions against its historic antipathy to state-sanctioned ethnic and religious discrimination, brutality and genocide. In my own informal survey of L.A. lefties, I’ve been continually surprised by the depth and the breadth of the ambivalence I keep encountering. A couple of weeks ago, I called a young left activist acquaintance — a full-time union organizer who lives with two other full-time union organizers, one of them the youngest member of the Communist Party I know — and asked him what they’d been saying to one another about the war. "We haven’t really talked about it much," he answered. That seemed a fairly remarkable response in itself, so I pressed him further. "In Iraq, the oil issue was clear to people on the left," he continued. "There’s no equivalently clear connection between the fight in Kosovo and the American drive to expand U.S.-style capitalism."
Within the past week, a local left-wing anti-war coalition has come together — but if its initial statement on the war is any indication, its prospects of activating the ambivalent progressive majority are roughly zilch. On May 5, a number of left-leaning groups — ranging from local chapters of the relatively mainstream Americans for Democratic Action and the National Lawyers Guild, to the more marginal Freedom Socialist Party and the International Action Center — announced the formation of the Los Angeles Peace Center Coalition Against the War in Yugoslavia. The coalition’s statement straightforwardly condemns the NATO bombing, but then quickly moves to seize the moral low ground. The statement makes no condemnation of the Milosevic regime, or of its policy toward the Kosovar Albanians. Indeed, the only specific act of ethnic cleansing referred to is Croatia’s campaign against the Serbs. As to the Albanians — well, the Albanians are as much nonpersons in this document as the Palestinians are nonpersons in the political manifestoes of Likudnik West Bank settlers. That is, they are not mentioned even once.