February 19, 2001
This article is prompted by an exchange of two posts I have recently read on an Internet Newsgroup Forum. Emotions were running high. Micha, a Netizen of Serbian heritage, was expressing her frustrations in an Open Letter to a certain Richard who in turn answered in kind (their real names have been changed to protect their privacy).
The intensity of these emotions caught my attention. I felt that Richard's post should be addressed as it is by and large an exemplary representation of a flawed and misleading argumentation, hopefully founded on ignorance alone, that perversely and insidiously propagates a "story" based on guilt by association (the Holocaust syndrome), unsubstantiated allegations of genocide, and the age-old rhetorical technique of calling into question the integrity and the credibility of an opponent viewed, considered and treated as an adversary, the embodiment of the perfect enemy.
To this day the majority opinion largely reflects Richard's. The purpose of this article is to bring some clarifications and facts to light in regard to the Kosovo tragedy and, in proceeding, to allow the readers to form their own opinion. This article will focus on the Racak "massacre", the number of fatalities and the accusations of genocide.
You may also want to know that I am a French man, not a Serb, and that my father was one of the 250,000 prisoners from 30 countries who spent part of World War II in Buchenwald (Beech Wood), one of the largest German concentration camps where the iron gate through which prisoners were brought had the inscription "Jedem das Seine" ("To Each His Own" or, roughly, "Everyone Gets What He Deserves"). One fifth of the total prisoners did not come out alive.
Short Review of the Road to the Conflict
The "official" line or rationale for the undeclared war by the 19 members of the NATO (that is, roughly 600 million people of the economically richest countries in the world) against a small country of about 11 million inhabitants battered by a decade of economic sanctions and turmoil in the Balkan region, an undeclared war that lasted 78 days and reduced parts of Serbia into smithereens was as follows:
The Serbs were in the process of committing a genocide against one of its minorities in Kosovo-Metohija with a savagery that, we were told, brought to mind memories of the Holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis during WWII. There were accusations of thousands of summary executions, of mass graves, of "ethnic cleansing." One determining event was the alleged massacre in the town of Racak of 45 Serbian civilians of Albanian and Moslem heritage, in January 1999. The story was reported in heart-wrenching details by the main media. Pressure for war mounted. Meantime the diplomatic track in Rambouillet, France, was failing as a Senior State Department official let it be known that the U.S. had "deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept." They needed "a little bombing to see reason." The OSCE monitors were withdrawn from Kosovo. On March 19, President Clinton said "We should remember what happened in the village of Racak back in January, innocent men, women and children taken from their homes to a gully, forced to kneel in the dirt, sprayed with gunfire-not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were." The Washington Post on April 18, 1999 underlined the importance of that episode, "Racak transformed the West's Balkan policy as singular events seldom do."
On March 24, 1999 the bombing campaign began. It was to last almost 80 days. Pictures of fleeing refugees, trains filled with distraught folks, children crying, old people carrying their meager belongings haunted our conscience. Allegations of new atrocities, new mass graves - like the one in the Trepca mines where eyewitnesses had seen 1,000, perhaps 1,500 corpses thrown in the mines' shafts - were presented night after night in primetime as evidence of the cruelty and "evilness" of the Serbian people.
Secretary of Defense W. Cohen spoke of 100,000, perhaps up to 200,000 people "killed or missing." On April 15, 1999, President Clinton said, "We cannot simply watch as hundreds of thousands of people are brutalized, murdered, raped, forced from their homes, their family histories erased - all in the name of ethnic pride and purity." We kept bombing and the dominant motto became, "We will prevail."
Richard cannot be faulted for his views. After all, like all of us, he watched and read the news day after day. For instance, the Washington Post reported on May 14, 1999 that president Clinton had "delivered one of his most detailed and impassioned speeches yet on atrocities committed in Kosovo by Yugoslav forces." "[Clinton] said persecution of Kosovo's Albanians [a misnomer], like Nazi Germany's Holocaust against Jews, had been a 'vicious, premeditated, systematic oppression fueled by religious and ethnic hatred.'" And in the same speech he reiterated the analogy with Hitler, thus repeating a page of George Bush I's history book of the Gulf War. Again, how could Richard not react the way he does? Even the famous author, historian, Nobel Peace Laureate, and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, as well as the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress, strongly, passionately advocated and defended the "intervention" in Kosovo, making countless references to the analogy between the situation in Kosovo and that of Nazi Germany in the 30s and early 40s!
And how could Micha, with her Slavic name, her immediate and emotionally raw connection to the region, particularly the city of Novi Sad where her sister and her sister's family reside, ever counter the onslaught of contextual data that entirely negates her voice and erases her own humanness as she herself is demonized by association? A tall order to say the least!
So, what about the Racak massacre? What about the 100,000/200,000 killed or missing? And what about the genocide and the analogy with the Holocaust?
The Alleged Racak Massacre
As said, the report of the massacre of 45 people, with their "faces blown away at close range in execution fashion," as US diplomat William Walker asserted to the world, was a determinant factor that lead to the war. This report was challenged from the instant it was broadcast all over the northwestern hemisphere. Here are a few examples: As early as January 20, 1999 the European press conveyed serious doubts about the original report with headlines such as "Dark Clouds Over a Massacre" (Le Figaro) or "Were the Dead in Racak Really Massacred in Cold Blood?" (Le Monde); in February 1999 a team of Byelorussia forensic experts upon examining the bodies said that they had been shot at a distance; their faces were not "blown away at close range in execution fashion;" they had trace of powder on their fingers which indicated that they had been combatants. The forensic report was essentially blacked out. In March 1999, The Sunday Times of London ran a story contending that William Walker and his team was working with the CIA to push NATO into war. The Berliner Zeitung reported that the bodies found at Racak were not civilians but KLA fighters that had been killed in a battle with the Serbian police. The paper also reported that several European governments wanted that the OSCE fire William Walker.
The European Union hired another forensic team from Finland to examine the alleged massacre. The findings, long kept secret, were finally made public last month, in January 2001. The Finnish pathologists largely confirmed the above reports. No mass killing in "execution fashion".
In other words, Racak in 1999 was to Clinton and the undeclared war against Serbia what the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was to Johnson in 1964 and the undeclared war against Vietnam. Neither event ever took place as recorded and yet both fabrications had dramatic and tragic consequences.
[By the way, none of the above, which is fully documented, has ever transpired in the US media (print and TV). There is a solid body of work on the Web regarding Racak. If you want to further investigate, please follow this link on Google.]
[Gulf of Tonkin, Racak… and the Gulf War: The readers may recall the testimony before Congress on October 10, 1990 of a 15-year old Kuwaiti woman, Nayirah (her last name was kept confidential). She had witnessed a terrifying deed by the Iraqi invaders of Kuwait. In her own words: "I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital. While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where . . . babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die." The story about the 312 babies made the news with a vengeance. President Bush (that would be George I) repeated it. The line in the sand was drawn. Like Racak, it turned public opinion and Congress on the path of war. Months later we learned that Nayirah was the daughter of a Kuwaiti prince, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's Ambassador to the U.S. She had left Kuwait before the Iraqi invasion. The story had been entirely fabricated by the PR firm Hill & Knowlton. Tom Lantos, the California Democrat who chaired the hearing was co-chair (with Republican Rep. John Porter) of the Congressional Human Rights Foundation that occupied free office space in Hill & Knowlton's Washington, DC office. (To know more, check http://members.nbci.com/scone/HK.html).]
The Body Count
What an unpalatable and morbid subject to examine and appraise. One lost life is one life too many. And too many human beings on both sides have had their lives indelibly marked by this tragedy. I regret to have to do it. Yet it has to be done not the least to hope that we all learn a lesson from this multi-facetted catastrophe.
William Cohen, the U.S. Defense Secretary on the Sunday's news shows was mentioning the number of 100,000, perhaps up to 200,000 killed or missing in the early days of the war. President Clinton, later on, talked of 100,000 missing. By the time the war finally ended in June 1999, with the Serbian Government obtaining practically all that they had offered at Rambouillet, the number had been reduced to "at least 10,000 killed"; that is, 5 to 10 percent of the original assertions. Then the "at least" was dropped and it became an "estimate" that 10,000 Serbs of Albanian and Moslem descent had been killed.
Remember the 1,000 or 1,500 bodies thrown in the Trepca mines' shafts as reported by the eyewitnesses? None were found. Not 1,500, not 1,000, not 150, not 100, not 15, not 10, not one. None! Yet some people rely upon eyewitnesses to form their opinion…
So, how many people did the demonized Serbs kill? 200,000? 100,000? 10,000? How many really? Well, let's give the floor to Carla Del Ponte, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, a tribunal set up and financed by the northwestern powers, principally the USA.
"Mr. President, let me now turn to the ICTY, and first I would like to give the Council an updated account of our work in Kosovo. As the Council will recall, just as soon as our teams were able to gain access to Kosovo, we embarked upon an ambitious project of exhuming and forensically examining mass graves throughout Kosovo. In 1999 we recovered 2108 bodies from 195 locations. That was as much as could be achieved last year. This year, I was eager to complete the task before evidence deteriorated or was lost. Again working with the assistance of professionals provided to my Office by UN Member States and Switzerland, our teams assessed a further 325 sites, exhumed 1577 bodies and found incomplete remains in a further 258 instances. Pathologists conducted 1807 autopsies on the victims. As a result we have finished our exhumation programme and can now build up a complete picture of the extent and pattern of crimes. My Office has not received all the reports from the various forensic teams and our provisional total over the two years is therefore that almost 4000 bodies or parts of bodies have been exhumed and examined. Of course it will never be possible to provide an accurate figure for the number of people killed, because of deliberate attempts to burn the bodies or to conceal them in other ways." (Address to the U.N. Security Council on November 21, 2000)
"Almost 4,000 bodies or parts of bodies" are actually and according to her own account 3,685 bodies or "parts of bodies"… Indeed the final assessment was that about 2,800 people had died. And this number includes all deaths from all involved parties. Now, in the midst of a nationalist insurgency and of a war, that seems a far cry from 200,000, 100,000 or even 10,000. But, says Mrs. Del Ponte, "Of course, it will never be possible to provide an accurate figure for the number of people killed because of deliberate attempts to burn the bodies or to conceal them in other ways." She does not bring any proof of those "deliberate attempts" for not one has ever been found or documented. So, she simply resorts to a rehashed slander. What she is really suggesting is, "of course, the blood-thirsty Serbian demons had plenty of time to throw the bodies in the Trepca mines' shafts." And, if you have been sold to the idea or notion that the Serbs are evil, a notion easily bought in light of the constant barrage of single-minded attacks on the inner quality of the Serbs, you can simply dismiss the evidence or lack thereof. Not only are the Serbs demons, they also are magicians! But the facts remain; the ICTY has yet to present documented evidence of "deliberated attempts [by the Serbs] to burn the bodies or to conceal them in other ways."
Facts are stubborn things.
Genocide: The Holocaust analogy
Are you familiar with the international Public Relations firm Ruder & Finn?
Ruder & Finn used to list among its clients "[The] Republic of Albania, Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republic of Croatia, Republic of Kosova (emphasis added)" in its Tourism & Economic Development - International Relations Section of its Web site. One of his directors, James Harff, was interviewed by Jacques Merlino, a French journalist, in April 1993 (yes, as far back as 1993!). In that interview Mr. Harff expressed his satisfaction for having influenced - others would say manipulated - the Jewish public opinion. Ruder & Finn had been instrumental in pushing the story of Serbian concentration camps. Eventually, Newsday published those stories. Says Harff: "That was a tremendous coup. When the Jewish organizations entered the game on the side of the Bosnians, we could promptly equate the Serbs with the Nazis in the public mind… By a single move we were able to present a simple story of good guys and bad guys which would hereafter play itself…. Almost immediately there was a clear change of language in the press, with use of words with emotional content such as 'ethnic cleansing' and 'concentration camps,' which evoke images of Nazi Germany and the gas chambers of Auschwitz." Merlino then asks, "when you did this, you had no proof that what you said was true." Harff: "Our work is not to verify information…. Our work is to accelerate the circulation of information favorable to us…. We are professionals. We had a job to do and we did it. We are not paid to moralize."
This, simply put, is how the Holocaust analogy was born and got planted in our collective psyche, as early as 1993!
[Reminder: Nayirah, Hill & Knowlton, 312 babies taken out of the incubators…]
Richard may sincerely retort or counter that there were hundreds of thousands of refugees, trains filled with helpless souls fleeing Kosovo that were repetitively broadcast in prime time with countless personal stories and eyewitnesses reports of atrocities. This is a legitimate point. It was also made to me by Jim Burch, a pillar of the local society where I reside, a councilman of the City of Palo Alto, California, and, ironically, a former executive in a major advertizing firm. He once said upon my prodding him to think, "I watch TV and I've seen the pictures!" And day after day pundits were discoursing the degree of the genocidal policies of the Serbian people. A picture is worth 1000 words.
How does one counter a negative? How does one prove a negative? How many thousands of words to refute the millions of images?
I remember that at the time I would just ask a simple question, always keeping in mind my father's experience. I'd ask, "Were the Nazi trains filled with prisoners locked in their wagons directed toward Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the myriad other camps of slave labor and death or were they directed toward the enemy lines where they could be rescued, fed, given temporary housing?" And I would beg my interlocutors - people I worked with on a daily basis - to extend me the courtesy to think hard about this question, away from their TV sets. "Just answer the question to yourself. You don't need to tell me your answer. I won't ask you again and I won't bother you again. I promise." This is what I used to say…
…And I kept feeling how deeply debasing this analogy was to the victims of the Holocaust…
…And inasmuch as one cannot counter or prove a negative, the facts yet again are stubborn things. The analogy between the 1999 events and those of WWII is at best the consequence of emotional guilt for our anomie between 1939 and 1945 and at worst a deliberately planted hogwash.
It may finally be worth adding that an increasing number of scholars in the U.S. are now openly questioning this analogy. One example:
"The war's supporters justify bombing on the grounds that Milosevic's policy in Kosovo was Hitler-like genocide described in an alleged Serbian document entitled "Operation Horseshoe" that suddenly appeared after the bombing began. But though the evidence is still incomplete, many observers, including some in the US government, note the critical quantitative and qualitative differences between Serbian repression before and after two central events, not to dwell upon the enormous differences between Milosevic and Hitler." (William E. Ratliff, Harvard International Review, Winter 2001, Vol.22 Issue 4)
In Temporary Conclusion
Some commentators have remarked the inconsistencies of our policies in the Balkans. For instance, in Bosnia NATO bombed the Serbs because they allegedly sought self-determination. In Kosovo NATO bombed the Serbs because they allegedly would not allow self-determination. Think about this for a moment.
Meantime, below our very eyes but left unreported in the U.S. media the Hungarian daily Nepszabadag reports that the Albanian nationalists are moving on from their now secure base in Kosovo to foment unrest in the Serbian Presevo valley and laying claim on southeastern Montenegro, northwestern Greece and western Macedonia (including its capital, Skopje); that is, the very definition of the concept of "Greater Albania" that has been around for over one century.
Reasonable people may agree to disagree on the respective merits of one position versus another. Reasonable people may agree to disagree on the significance of the NATO interventionist policies and their long-term consequences. And people may agree to disagree on the rationale, the tools and the policies used for over a decade by our governments to carve Yugoslavia into small independent states in the name of multi-ethnicity and humanitarianism. But reasonable people cannot reasonably argue when they demonize their opponents and refuse to consider any of their documentation and their reasoning without even bringing their own documentation to the table. One may then wonder where reason indeed resides, in the demonized defendant or in the prosecutorial zealot.
For, once again, the "banality of evil" is rearing its ugly head in a humanitarian disguise.
[Note: Open-minded readers who wish to know more about "the other side of the story" should grab a copy of To Kill a Nation, The Attack on Yugoslavia, by Michael Parenti, Verso, ISBN 1-955984-776-5.]
Below are a few inserted comments to Richard's post
>A half-century ago, the free world essentially chose to ignore the
>persecution and killing of Jews by Nazis. The major religious and
>political powers at the time justified their choice primarily on three
>First, the principle of sovereignty dictated that a country be free to
>deal with internal problems as it wished -- even if that meant
>condoning mass murder.
>Second, people could accept denials of atrocities put out by Nazi
>propagandists. There were picture perfect ghettos and camps where the
>Red Cross and others were led in and shown happy interned Jews who
>didn't complain. With this, they could deny the eyewitness and other
>accounts that leaked out of occupied territories.
>Third, of course, was basic racism. They were Jews, after all. But
>more than that, there was the overweaning idea that racial and cultural
>purity was fundamentally a good thing. We *should* keep our cultures
>and races clean from the taint of other, lesser races and cultures.
This is the personal opinion of Richard and while debatable it can be taken at face value.
>When the concentration camps were made public, most folk had to face
>those choices. And these same choices are put before us in regards to
>Bosnia and Kosovo.
Right here the author veers toward guilt by association, equating events that are fundamentally different in context, degree, authenticity and value.
>First, there is the plea to sovereignty. Micha's pleas to sovereignty
>state that a nation should be free to commit wholescale murder without
>interference from abroad. Greg [another participant to the forum] has explicitly stated
>this - the Allied war against Germany was justified because of Perl Harbor. It
>would not have been justified had we done it merely to save six million
I would be curious to see documentation from Richard showing that Micha ever made this charge or held this line of argumentation. I would like to see in writing the quotes of Micha on that issue. Meantime, this can only be construed as an allegation or, as the French would say, un faux procès. (I cannot comment on what Greg "explicitly stated." Here again, quoting the actual words would be helpful.)
>Second is the plea to denial. To Micha, the eyewitnesses are all
>liars. The investigator who find evidence of atrocities are part of a
>grand conspiracy. The documents are all falsified. The siren song
>begging us to ignore the atrocity and death is very appealing.
Anyone familiar with civil and criminal matters will understand the poverty of such argument. Two people witnessing the same event (car accident for instance) practically never have the same recollection. Eyewitnesses are not necessarily liars - though they may at times - they are most often unreliable. Again, reading Micha's own word would be helpful. Does she contend that there is a conspiracy, that the documents are falsified (which one?). Perhaps, Richard would be amenable to bringing his body of proof as I did. Why should the burden of proof always be on the defendant?
>Third is the plea to cultural purity. The laws and policies that
>Serbia put in place prior to the beginning of the murders of moslems in
>Bosnia and Albanians in Kosovo plead to the same emotions and dark
>fears that lead to all racial laws. "Ethnic cleansing," a term chosen
>and used by the Serbians, is justified as a matter of cultural and
>racial self-defense. It's the same plea used by the Nazis in occupied
>Europe, y the Klan as it terrorized blacks in the South, and by racial
>separatists here in the US -- from black racist separatists to white
>racist separatists to Indian racist separatists to hispanic racist
>separatists. The cry to a pure culture and a pure blood can justify
Here is a paragraph that can explain the intensity of Micha's emotions. Those are merely false accusations. When did the Serbs (and not "Serbians" [sic]) ever choose and use the expression "ethnic cleansing"? Where is the proof? Where is the documentation? Date? Name? Please! And beyond the usual guilt by association when in history have the Serbs ever advanced or promoted a culture based on blood and racial characteristics? Does Richard have a name, a quote, the title of a book one could refer to?
>And, so, no. Some folk, including myself, think that sovereignty
>should not protect a nation as it commits genocide. Some folk,
>such as me, think that the cry for racial and cultural purity
>and ethnic cleansing is not a justification for it.
I would venture to say that Micha would be in total agreement with this statement though she would spell it correctly. The question is whether or not there was an actual genocide taking place that necessitated throwing all the international laws that have ever been written and reducing a country to smithereens through economic sanctions and destruction of civilian infrastructure (hospitals, schools, markets, bridges that did not lead to Kosovo whatsoever, etc.). Basing the decision to launch such an impressive armada of death and mayhem against a small country on at best flimsy evidence can bring some people to pause and ponder.
>But, of course, the key here is denial. Apologists for genocide
>attempts know that their arguments start to look week when their
>pulpits are covered with blood. So, apologists for the Serbian
>policies in Bosnia and Kosovo must deny what clearly happened -- just
>as pro-Nazi holocaust deniers must deny what clearly happened 50 years
>ago. This does not mean that they are insincere. But, sincere or not,
>they are still wrong.
Always the good old association… Nothing is denied. There was a nationalist insurgency that was being dealt by a government. Accusations of atrocities and genocide were used to crush a country. Those accusations were unproven and remain unproven.
>Micha makes much that I don't confront people who deny the retaliation
>killings by the KLA. I don't have to. The KLA doesn't have a Micha to
>run around claiming that the killings didn't occur. The killings *are*
>reported, roundly condemned, and make part of the criticism of
>ineffectual UN/NATO actions on the ground.
No, the KLA does not need "a Micha." They had Ruder & Finn as well as the entire U.S. media and political elites. Does Richard know how many Serbs and Romas, Moslem Turks and other minorities have been killed in Kosovo for the past 22 months? Does he know how many historical monuments, churches and monasteries have been destroyed since June 1999? Does he know how many Serbs of non Albanian background have had to flee for their lives? If Richard's only sources of information are the U.S. main media chances are he does not.
>But that is the difference. Micha would have you believe that the
>atrocities which brought about those retaliation killings never
>occurred. Micha would have you believe that NATO and Clinton really
>didn't have anything better to do than pick Serbia at random and just
>bomb the hell out of it for no reason at all. Sorry. There are lots
>of things both NATO and Clinton would have preferred to deal with.
Micha is indeed a demon! One yet has to wonder: What if Micha were correct? What if, indeed, the prosecution had rested its case without bringing any clear and indubitable evidence but only allegations? It may be that some people, faced with the possibility of our immense blunder, cannot reconcile themselves to examining and investigating our deeds with the sober poise those tragic and appalling events deserve.
And with what could have NATO and Clinton preferred to deal? NATO's expansion eastward? The Caspian riches? The free-market globalization? With what really? Because, to achieve each of the mentioned cases Yugoslavia had first to be carved…and Serbia was the most reticent and strongest component of the multi-ethnic federation that refused the Western diktat. So, no, Serbia was not picked at random!
>But westerners, particularly in Europe, have that nasty little legacy
>of knowing what ignoring what people like Milosevich will do given free
>reign. And denial, false excuses, and cries for racial and cultural
>cleansing and purity are not justifications for letting it happen
Native Americans (a.k.a. American Indians), Filipinos, Vietnamese, all people located in Europe… Oops, sorry for my own little piece of rhetoric… Again, where's the beef?
>Oh, sure, those of use who oppose genocide are not completely
>consistent. It takes a consensus to intervene, and we are more
>concerned with Europe than Africa. We did not intervene in Rwanda,
>opponents cry. No we did not. We should have. The fact that we
>failed to intervene in time there is not a reason to fail always.
Where have we intervened before and where are we presently intervening?
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Related Internal Links
TO KILL A NATION, The Attack on Yugoslavia - by Michael Parenti: BOOK REVIEW by Gilles d'Aymery
Open Letter to Richard - by Micha
Answer to Micha's Open Letter - by Richard
The Media and their Atrocities - by Michael Parenti
Explaining Nukes to a Martian - By Deck Deckert
Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath
Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath