Moral Tourism

15 June 1999

Whatever Nato says, the war was waged against innocent civilians and the tyrant is still in place.

Walter Rockler, the American lawyer who prosecuted the Nazis at Nuremberg, recently referred to the crimes of Milosevic. "The notion that these can be redressed," he wrote, "with random destruction and killing by advanced technological means is mere pretext for our arrogant assertion of dominance and power [and] constitutes a continuing war crime."

He quoted the playwright Henrik lbsen: "Don't use that foreign word 'ideals'. We have that excellent native word 'lies'."

The "humanitarian victory" in the Balkans is false, because it is based on lies. The biggest lie was Nato's declared objective.

"It is clear cut," said George Robertson on March 25. "It is to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe."

The opposite was true. "Bombing will imperil the lives of tens of thousands of refugees," pleaded the Catholic Relief Services from Kosovo. Nato provoked a wave of Serb atrocities and expulsions, giving Milosevic the catastrophe he wanted, all of which was "entirely predictable", remarked General Clark, forgetting the script.

What kind of humanitarian victory leaves 10,000 innocent civilians dead or maimed, their country and region poisoned, and Kosovo in ruins, littered with explosives and an atomic dust from depleted uranium?

What kind of just cause undermines the very democratic forces capable of removing a vicious tyrant? For all Blair's moralising and media stunts in refugee camps, he saw to it that Britain took a miserly 2,000 Kosovan refugees. Even far-away Australia took double that figure.

The "crusade for civilisation" was the cowards' war. From heights of 15,000 feet, heroic pilots hurled hi-tech nail bombs. The unpublished list of targets hit shows a clear pattern of a deliberate campaign of terror.

Was there really any difference between the massacre in Racak, when Milosevic's special units killed 26 people, and an American pilot blowing a bus in half during rush hour on a bridge, leaving the bridge intact and killing 40 people?

Or another destroying a passenger train, then returning 20 minutes later to shoot up those attending the victims? In all these cases, it was claimed that civilians were the regrettable victims of attacks on military targets. The "we must do something" propaganda could never justify the absurdity of punishing a crime by killing its innocent bystanders .

The biggest lie was that all the suffering and destruction was unavoidable. On June 2, Milosevic accepted, with a smile, terms almost identical in principle to those he had agreed at Rambouillet six weeks before the bombing began - terms which then so excited Robin Cook that he boasted to parliament about a "90%" peace agreement.

On March 23, the day before the bombing began, the elected parliament in Belgrade called for an "international presence in Kosovo immediately after the signing of an accord for self-administration in Kosovo ... to be decided by the [UN] Security Council".

That is the situation now, yet Nato bombed for more than two months before accepting it. What was gained?

Another big lie was spun by those echoing Queen Victoria's description of the Crimean war as "popular beyond belief". At least a third of the British people were against it, a remarkable figure when you consider the barrage of pro-war propaganda.

In the countries where most of humanity lives, there was massive opposition. According to the Washington Post, a majority of Americans rejected the notion that Nato "did the right thing".

It was the opponents of the bombing who exposed the hypocrisy of western leaders and their long appeasement of the blood-soaked Milosevic as "the man we can do business with, who understands the realities of Yugoslavia".

As recently as last October, Robin Cook and other EU ministers were arguing Milosevic's case - that his actions in Kosovo were in response to the KLA's "terrorism" and its violations of Security Council resolution 1199. A senior US official described Milosevic as "Nato's indispensable partner in the effort to stabilise Kosovo."

The author David Edwards describes "a kind of moral sightseeing whereby we observe the 'terrible tragedy' of human rights abuses, but do not even discuss, let alone deal with their true causes".

An almost wilful refusal to trace the contours and true motives of great power, simply because it is "ours", transforms those paid to keep the record straight to mere moral sightseers of the Diana school. Will they dare look into the shadows now forming?

Last year, Jonathan Steele described in this newspaper an American strategy to launch a nuclear bomb at "rogue" states. That is, of course, quite possible now.

In the meantime, Serbia and forgotten Iraq provide the enforcer's blueprint. Destroy the country, terrorise the people, keep the tyrant.

In Iraq, 4,000 infants die every month as a direct result of Anglo-American-led sanctions. Robin Cook's new comrade-in-arms, Madeleine Albright, was asked about this. "This is a very hard choice, she replied, "but we think the price is worth it."

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library