800,000+ Homeless Mean War Makes Things Worse: James Carroll FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 10 Apr 1999 19:30:41 -0700 (PDT)

"NATO says 831,000 driven from homes in Kosovo" according to a Reuters
article of that title on April 5.  See below for a progressive ex-priest's
take on the lessons of but one more homeless diaspora in this century of

FWD  Boston Globe - April 6, 1999 - page A19


     By James Carroll [columnist]

`The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved
that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?'' This question
was put, prophetically, in 1941 by A.J. Muste of the Fellowship of
Reconciliation (Howard Zinn is my source). The United States was the
victor, first after World War II, and then after the Cold War. Each time it
seemed that the usefulness of ''war and violence'' had been vindicated. No
one was there to teach us otherwise.

After World War II, we were left with the illusion that bombing from the
air is a good way to conduct warfare. Because the Nazis were so evil, and
because we were immediately thrust into a dangerous contest with the Soviet
Union, we never confronted the moral meaning of our policy of saturation
bombing of cities. Our pursuit of victory had rolled into a quest for
vengeance, pure and simple, which is why the vast majority of civilians
killed by Allied bombing died needlessly in the last months of the war - a
crime that was never adjudicated. The postwar strategic bombing survey
exposed the limited military value of bombing, but the lack of an
equivalent moral survey left us clinging to the myth that we could freely
hurl thunderbolts from the sky, like God.

After the Cold War, too, we failed to learn about the limited usefulness of
violence, even nuclear violence. Hadn't our readiness to hurl the ultimate
thunderbolt brought us victory? We convinced ourselves that it was the
1980s arms buildup that finally defeated the Soviet Union. Thus we refused
to turn away from the narrowest notion of national security. Without a
military rival, we entered an arms race with ourselves. Instead of
dismantling NATO as an outmoded structure of Cold War, we expanded it, not
imagining that such a reinvestment of treasure and hope in war readiness
would bring its own momentum toward new conflict. Then we resuscitated
''Star Wars,'' sending a sharp signal around the world that missiles must
still define national self-worth.

Believing that military solutions are the only ones to trust, we failed,
when faced with the real challenge of Slobodan Milosevic, to mobilize the
moral force of true diplomacy or serious economic pressure aimed directly
at him and his clique. Then, two weeks ago, in a culmination of such
choices, we put our absolute faith in bombing again. And look what
happened. At last the thunderbolt illusion seems to have burst.

A.J. Muste's question remains: Who will teach us the lesson that ''war and
violence'' make things worse, not better? The answer is not Milosevic,
whose faith in killing exceeds ours. The teacher, this time, is that mass
of refugees who have been driven from their homes by a perverse combination
of NATO bombing and Serbian brutality. Perhaps never before have the limits
of warfare been made more apparent more quickly or more dramatically. At
the beginning of the NATO bombing campaign, as I observed a week ago, the
watch word was ''credibility'' - a sure signal that bombs would be dropped
to protect NATO's self-image instead of the Kosovar Albanians. Now we know
that even US intelligence warned that bombing might unleash Serb forces
against civilians, as it did. Their safety was never our priority.

Now the word that defines NATO's purpose is ''victory.'' Half-panicked NATO
leaders speak of doing whatever is necessary to ''win.'' Once more, the
needs of the men, women, and children in the fields and valleys of Albania,
at the borders of Macedonia, and on the roads of Kosovo are being given
short shrift. ''Victory'' is the code word for vengeance. Settling the
score with the ruthless Milosevic is taking priority over saving the lives
of the innocent masses. Their plight, finally, must be our teacher here.

How do NATO choices affect the real situation of real people on the ground?
NATO airstrikes are what enable Milosevic to keep his criminal program of
ethnic cleansing going. That is the first reason to stop the bombing. The
life-and-death needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees must be NATO's
absolute priority. That is a second reason to stop the bombing. NATO's
enraged determination to punish Serbia for the humiliation it has suffered
turns a moral mistake into a chosen moral catastrophe, which is a third
reason to stop the bombing. Stop the bombing now.

Everything has changed. Once again, war has proven its unpredictability.
The motives, strategies, and even good intentions of two weeks ago are
irrelevant now. Questions of winning and losing no longer count. All NATO
talk of ''perseverance,'' and ''persistence,'' and ''steadiness,'' disguise
a terrible failure that has already occurred.

At bottom, it is the failure to learn the one lesson this century has been
trying to teach. NATO must face the tragic fact that it has inadvertently
joined forces with the heinous Milosevic in a war against an innocent
people. Whether Milosevic stops his part of that war will not matter until
NATO stops its part. A million shivering, starving, frightened people are
asking us to forgo saving face for the sake of saving them. Stop the

[James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Boston Globe.]


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