NATO’s air campaign clearly represents the most accurate and discriminating use of air power in history.
—James Rubin, State Department, Daily News, May 22
Milosevic’s troops are out of Kosovo—and no Americans were killed during the eviction. Congratulations to all concerned.
—New York Post lead editorial, June 22
Jason Vest’s “Human Shields for Clinton” (Voice, June 15) was a necessary exception to the general hallelujah chorus—by liberals and conservatives—celebrating the victorious end of the undeclared and therefore unconstitutional war.
Vest quoted former Nuremberg War Crimes prosecutor Walter J. Rockler skewering “the notion that humanitarian violations can be redressed with random destruction and killing.”
But this underside of the NATO-Clinton-Blair triumph is no longer in the news. We don’t hear any more, for example, of what happened to a town in Yugoslavia where—as The New York Times reported back then—antipersonnel bombs killed “five people, including Bozina Tosovic, 30, and his 11-month-old daughter, Bojana.” (As quoted in the July issue of The Progressive.)
Instead, the June 27 New York Times had a front-page photograph, in glorious color, of Bill Clinton, surrounded by admiring Kosovar refugees in Macedonia. And the American press, print and television, focuses on the increasing, horrifying evidence of Serbian savagery—mass graves and torture chambers. The lethal “collateral damage” to civilians in Kosovo and Yugoslavia has been forgotten.
Quantitatively, the deaths and maiming caused by our bombing do not compare with Milosevic’s crimes. But if our violations of human rights are so easily justified by us, it will be easier to embark again on a humanitarian mission without seeing the faces of the innocent we kill.
Unexpectedly, it has been Henry Kissinger who has most vividly tried to remind us of our own crimes in Serbia and Kosovo. It was Kissinger who was instrumental in orchestrating the 12 days of “the Christmas bombings” of North Vietnam during the Vietnamese War. In Hanoi the bombs fell during a Mass being celebrated in the city’s Catholic cathedral, and the Bach Mai hospital was destroyed. Over 2000 civilians were killed in Hanoi during that gruesome holiday.
But this year, during a May 25 forum at the New York Post, Kissinger said of Clinton’s war on the Serbs:
“Pounding away on a civilian population day by day is, in effect, saying that our moral principles stop at 15,000 feet.”
And on the June 11 Jim Lehrer hour on PBS, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, hardly a pacifist, said that “the way the war was fought seemed to have implied that we put a much higher value on the post-bombing lives of our own professional soldiers than on the thousands of Kosovars and perhaps hundreds of Serbs. That I think has the effect of creating the impression of some sort of technological racism that motivates us.” (Emphasis added.)
Very seldom mentioned during the bombing—and hardly at all since—is the long-term collateral damage we have caused below 15,000 feet. Particularly with regard to our use of cluster bombs.
Steve Goose, program director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, points out that “the submunitions inside cluster bombs have a high failure rate and can leave unexploded ordnance over wide areas, ready to detonate on contact—in effect becoming land mines and killing civilians even years after the conflict has ended.
“Because of the submunitions’ appearance—some are orange-yellow soda-can-sized objects and [others look like] green baseballs—children are particularly drawn to the volatile live remnants. On April 24, five children playing with colorful unexploded submunitions were reported killed, and two injured, near Doganovic in southern Kosovo.”
Milosevic and his cohorts are surely war criminals, but did we commit any war crimes? On National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation (June 3), Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, citing “Milosevic’s terrible war crimes,” went on to say that “the NATO bombing violated specific rules of war. Our government has committed war crimes by bombing civilian infrastructures.
“Things like water-treatment plants,” she added, “sewage-treatment plants, and the electrical grid certainly have military capacity, but they also are a civilian necessity….The United States is responsible, along with its NATO allies, for having deliberately chosen those targets—knowing what the effect would be on the civilian population.”
As Dr. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International, says of our bombing: “Those who act in the name of human rights bear a responsibility to see that their own actions scrupulously accord with human rights standards.”
In the July issue of The Progressive, Howard Zinn quotes an e-mail from a linguistics professor in Yugoslavia: “The little town of Aleksinac was hit last night with full force by NATO bombs. The local hospital was hit, and a whole street was simply wiped off. There were six dead civilians and more than fifty badly hurt. There was no military target whatsoever.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 13, 1999