Comment: Why we are not wrong to compare Milosevic to Hitler

It was public pressure that prevented Chamberlain backing down in the face of Hitler's aggression

FERGAL KEANE'S article in Saturday's Independent was a powerful denunciation of Slobodan Milosevic's catastrophic impact on all the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. But his objection to comparisons between Milosevic and Hitler are wrong, though Fergal is obviously right to point out that, unlike Hitler who had slaughtered half the world's Jewish population before his death, Milosevic "does not care one way or the other about the survival of the Albanian race".

Those of us who have made the comparisons between Milosevic and Hitler are not comparing the situation at the end of Hitler's period in power, but the methods by which he rose to power and engulfed Europe in war. Like Hitler with the Jews, Milosevic has inflamed and exploited the fears of some Serbs about their Muslim and Croat neighbours in order to rise to power. As with Hitler's demand to extend the boundaries of Germany to incorporate all Germans living in neighbouring lands, so Milosevic invaded first Slovenia and Croatia, followed by Bosnia, in order to incorporate all Serbs in a state under his control. Now he is driving the Albanians out of Kosovo in order to find living space for Serb refugees who are the consequence of his wars of aggression.

When Milosevic first sent his armoured columns into Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 I was the first member of Parliament to call for air strikes to defeat his aggression. Air strikes alone at that point might have been enough to deter his future plans, or even lead to his overthrow in Belgrade.

Unfortunately the response of Britain and America was to hope that the problem would go away. Those of us who had no doubt about Milosevic's long-term strategy watched the Tory foreign secretary Douglas Hurd's Chamberlainesque performances in the House of Commons with contempt. Recognising as a weakness our aversion to any decisive action, Milosevic ploughed on to unleash the worst genocide in Europe in 50 years, as his thugs butchered their way through the Muslim and Croat populations of Bosnia.

Once again Britain and America were loath to intervene and it was only when television captured the image of starving Bosnians in concentration camps that the world, including Russia, decided they must stop the slaughter. The same pattern was repeated in Kosovo.

Just as the world objected to Hitler's attacks on German Jews throughout the Thirties, so once again we deplored the suppression of the Kosovan parliament but were not prepared to take action throughout the last decade as almost all the Albanian Kosovars were stripped of their rights to education and work in their own land.

The Nato intervention against Milosevic is a response to growing public revulsion at the way that George Bush, Bill Clinton and John Major stood by and did nothing to help the people of Kosovo throughout this last decade, and a determination that it should not happen again. This is an eerie echo of the situation when Germany invaded Poland and it was only the greatest public pressure that prevented Chamberlain from backing down in the face of Hitler's aggression.

It is these facts that have led many of us to draw parallels between Hitler and Milosevic based on hard historical facts. But Fergal Keane makes another charge, which is that the Holocaust was "the greatest evil of our century", "the crime of crimes", and that Hitler was "a singular figure of evil" who "made all other war aims secondary to the extermination of the Jewish race".

It is simply not the case that the extermination of the Jews was the primary war aim of Hitler. Indeed, the systematic genocide of the Jewish people was not even planned until well after the start of the Second World War. Hitler's immediate war aims were to secure dominance in western Europe, and to drive out all the Slavic and Jewish peoples of Eastern Europe to create Lebensraum for "overcrowded Germany". This was why Hitler desired a deal with Britain in which he would leave the British Empire intact if we were prepared to leave him with a free run of Europe.

Like Fergal Keane, I was brought up to believe that the Holocaust was a unique evil surpassing anything before or since in human history.

While I understand the pain and horror that has led so many to make this claim, it is a myth that prevents us from understanding how easy it is for politicians and the people they lead to sink into genocidal evil. As Hitler drew up his plans for the destruction of Judaism, he wrote: "after all, who now remembers the Armenians?" This was a reference to the policy of the Ottoman Empire, which decided at the start of the First World War to eliminate the Armenian minority who occupied what is now north-eastern Turkey. Not only does almost no child learn of the Armenian holocaust, but we still tolerate the present Turkish government's systematic denial of the existence of a Kurdish minority in south-west Turkey.

As the Hutus of Rwanda unleashed their project to eliminate the entire Tutsi race, the world saw that these were not simply the plans of a few dictators but involved tens of thousands of ordinary Hutus who were prepared to chop their neighbours to death. In one case the terrifying spectacle of a Catholic nun leading the butchery was a clear sign that a belief in Christian doctrine is no safeguard against being drawn into the slaughter.

When we consider Pol Pot's slaughter of one-sixth of his people in Cambodia, Stalin's attempts to eliminate or displace several minorities living within the Soviet Union, the bloodletting between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs that has been unleashed on more than one occasion in the Indian subcontinent, it is quite clear that within this century alone genocide has been a frequent instrument of policy.

Throughout the Cold War both sides were prepared to tolerate abominable regimes; in President Roosevelt's immortal words, "they may be sons of bitches but they're our sons of bitches".

Now, Jack Straw's decision to extradite General Pinochet and the intervention to stop Milosevic eliminating his Albanian minority could be the first steps to creating a global resolve that those with power are not allowed to abuse it with impunity within their own borders. We need to take military action, but we should also avoid the use of depleted uranium shells and anti-personnel cluster bombs. We can then start to convince the world that Nato's actions in the Balkans have honourable objectives.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral