Extreme Ambivalence

By Will Baker

I would argue that the "West" harbors a certain level of guilt regarding its reaction, or lack thereof, to the extermination of European Jews at the hands of the Nazis. I believe that this guilt also extends to the inter-related doctrine of Appeasement that many hold to be one of the main causes of the last world war. I would further argue that, although the "vital interests" of our country have been cited, the former issues are the main reasons for the bombing, by NATO, of Yugoslavia. While I can certainly understand why this guilt exists, I am amazed at how it is currently manifesting itself.

Clearly the Yugoslavian President is no candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. And the atrocities associated with the Bosnian experience have demonstrated that the people of the region have the capacity to inflict brutal suffering. Therefore I do not doubt that terrible acts, maybe even state-sanctioned acts have been committed. But we Americans need only to look at our recent national news to observe that we too, as individuals, possess this same capacity to inflict brutal suffering. To illustrate this point I refer you to the poor young man that was recently tied to a barbed wire fence and beaten to death, or the man that was chained to a pick-up truck and dragged until his head came off. But this violence was not sanctioned by the state you say. Well then how about the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, or the treatment, during World War II of United States citizens of Japanese descent, or the manner in which Union prisoners of war were treated at Andersonville prison during the Civil War? If we want to go back further we can look to the experience of the American Indians. To be brutally honest, I have a hard time distinguishing between "ethnic cleansing" and Manifest Destiny. Weren't the American Indians ethnically cleansed as well...and by whom? I am not making these statements because I feel that no action should be taken concerning reports of genocidal "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans... to the contrary.

Some have made the argument that the bombing of Yugoslavia demonstrates that the world's morality has evolved to the point where activities, such as the recently alleged state sponsored acts of barbarity in Yugoslavia, are no longer tolerated --in much the same way that slavery is no longer sanctioned. I do not agree with this thesis. If this were true, the "West" would have gotten involved in a similar fashion to stop the proven genocide that occurred recently on a much larger scale in Africa. The cynic in me wonders if this newly evolved morality is specific only to Europeans or people of European descent.

But to be charitable, I am willing to concede that what our politicians are telling us is probably actually believed by them: that bombing Yugoslavia is in our "vital national interests." So let’s look at the "vital interest" argument. Europe, as a collective trading partner, is clearly of vital interest to us. And the argument has been put forward that the "unrest" in the Balkans is economically destabilizing. The premise is that when people are fighting or fleeing, or when abutter nations are forced to deal with an in-flow of refugees, the region will no longer possess the disposable income necessary to purchase our goods and services. It seems to me that this is a valid premise. The second piece of the "vital interest" argument is what history has to say on the subject. An argument can be made that unrest in the Balkans directly contributed to the start of World War I. It seems safe to say that mitigating an issue that may cause a world war is also in the vital interests of this country.

However, it is my understanding that soon after the bombings began, the flight of refugees began in earnest. Furthermore, even a casual observer can see that NATO was caught flat-footed by the situation. The question: has the bombing worsened the situation, is a valid one. I would argue that the bombing has economically destabilized the region in a dramatic way. By initiating the bombing, not only have we contributed to the movement of upwards of one million individuals, but we are also destroying factories, power plants, rail lines and bridges, the very economic infrastructure of the region. By the looks of the refugees I do not think they will be purchasing products made in the US anytime soon. And as far as the "preventing a world war" argument goes, US/Russian relations are at their lowest point since the end of the cold war. Can you guess the reason? We are indeed very fortunate that Russia is such an economic basket case, or they might seriously consider trying to kick our collective asses.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that the bombings have solidified the Yugoslavian President's power base, which is the exact opposite of the desired outcome of the bombings. No, I do not think the bombings are promoting or protecting the vital interests of the United States. As an aside, I understand that the US Congress has appropriated six (6) billion dollars to pay for this undeclared war. I wonder what the effects of a pre-bombing, six (6) billion dollar Balkan Economic Stimulus Package would have been, and what type of leverage it would have given us over the Yugoslavian President's actions?

At this point in the discussion I should make it clear that I believe that action should be taken by the World Community in response to the reports of so-called "ethnic cleansing" in Yugoslavia. My disagreement lies with the entity taking the action. In my opinion, with the exception of treaty-induced defensive action, NATO is a regional entity with absolutely no authority to violate the territory of a sovereign nation. Had the United Nations undertaken the bombing of Yugoslavia, I would have supported it, but not necessarily agreed with it. As it stands, I neither support, nor agree with the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

So where do we go from here? I believe that the current situation dramatically illustrates that our leadership and the Yugoslavian leadership do not understand each other. I also believe that the reasons why these misunderstandings exist are irrelevant. The fact remains that, had we understood that the bombings would solidify Milosevic's power base, and sharply increase the flow of refugees, they probably wouldn't have been undertaken. Along the same lines, had the Yugoslavian President known what the West was capable of, in terms of unleashing such a violent attack on a former W.W.II ally, he probably would of chosen another course of action.

Therefore, I would suggest the following:

1. Stop the bombing

2. Negotiate, with the United Nations taking the lead role

3. Involve Russia.

It seems to me that any alternative to this course of action would be ill advised. If action is not taken, at the very least, the refugee situation will continue to be an issue, and so will so-called "collateral damage." And the worst case scenario: the escalation of hostilities culminating with the introduction of American ground forces, would be disastrous. The Serbs are hardcore soldiers who fight hard even in defeat, and Russia could be a "wild-card" entrant into the hostilities.

But the way we are made makes it hard for us to admit our mistakes. Doing is harder than talking. Yet I believe that "doing" is exactly what must be done. The bombing is not working. We must admit it and move on. If not, our country might bleed blood, treasure and karma.


(Essay Collection)