Wednesday Book: Tell the truth, but don't expect anyone to listen

The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo by Noam Chomsky (Pluto Press, pounds 9.99)
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The Independent Culture
THANK GOD for Noam Chomsky. In a West ever more saturated by "safe" reporting, by dog-like support for governments who embark on "moral" wars, he is a unique figure: brave, intelligent and independent. Little wonder that no newspaper in America will give him a regular column. His latest book proves why. Ruthless in his analysis of Nato's lies, relentless in his emphasis on the parallels between Kosovo, Central America and Turkey, he believes that this year's bombardment of Serbia undermines what is left of international law.

How many times, for example, did we see on television any serious investigation into the CV of William Walker, the US diplomat leading the OSCE team to Racak after the January massacre of 45 Albanian civilians? Racak was widely regarded as one cause of the Nato bombardment. "I do not hesitate to describe the crime as a massacre, a crime against humanity," Walker told his largely uncritical audience of journalists.

As Chomsky points out, Walker was American ambassador to El Salvador, "where he administered the US support that allowed the government to carry out extreme state terror, peaking, in November 1989, in an outburst of violence that included the murder of six leading Salvadoran dissident intellectuals, Jesuit priests, along with their housekeeper and her daughter". Walker later advised James Baker, the Secretary of State, not to jeopardise the US relationship with El Salvador by investigating "past deaths, however heinous".

Why didn't we hear this background information when Walker was beating the drums of war? Or why didn't we ask ourselves why the Turks couldn't show a little "humanism" towards the Kurds they had driven from their homes? Or why America felt so willing to support "humanitarian" intervention in Kosovo when it spent so much time in 1979 condemning Vietnam's intervention in Cambodia?

As the Kosovo war began, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was invited to visit the huge refugee camps in Macedonia and lectured at the White House on "the Perils of Indifference". Yet, as Chomsky again reminds us, Wiesel resigned the chair of a 1982 conference on genocide for fear that any discussion of Turkey's ferocious 1915 genocide against the Armenians might anger Turkey - a principal American (and now Israeli) ally. I also recall how, after the massacre of Palestinian civilians in Beirut in 1982 by Israel's militia allies, Wiesel's only response was to express "sadness". Yet he had no problem in telling us the Kosovo conflict was a "moral war".

But Chomsky's arguments do sometimes contain a weak link. His strengths - and weaknesses - can be found in one critical paragraph of this short, angry book. Chomsky refers to Serb atrocities in Kosovo, "which are quite real and... often ghastly. We discover that the bombing was not... undertaken in `response' to ethnic cleansing and to `reverse' it, as... leaders alleged". Clinton and Blair instead "decided in favour of a war that led to a radical escalation of ethnic cleansing, along with other deleterious effects".

His point is obvious and true: most of the Kosovo Albanians for whom we supposedly fought the war "to return them to their homes" were still there when it began. Nato knew when it started its bombardment that the Serbs would turn upon the civilians of Kosovo. Chomsky is one of the few voices reminding the world that the aims of the war were changed once the bombing got underway.

No, the problem lies in Chomsky's description of Serb atrocities as "quite real" and "often ghastly". "Quite real" is a cop-out for very real. Atrocities "sharply escalated" after Nato's bombardment, he says, but does not explain what these were: mass executions, rape, torture. The index refers to "atrocities" in Africa, Columbia, East Timor and Turkey without the appearance of "Serbia".

The moral is simple. If you're going to put the boot into the West, don't pussy-foot about the other side's butchery. Equally, if you're going to tell the truth - and Chomsky does - don't expect anyone to listen. He has a minority audience and this book, which should be read by anyone interested in the Kosovo war, will have a necessarily small circulation. When free people want to wear chains, there's not much you can do to help them.