LATimes, Wednesday, May 5, 1999
As the Innocent Die, Where Are All the Voices of Protest?
Balkans: The liberals' silence on the NATO bombing and
its 'collateral damage' is keeping us from talking about alternatives.
By TOM HAYDEN
Where are the voices of protest against the suffering inflicted on
civilians and children by our bombardment of Serbia?
The moral rationale provided by the Clinton administration at the
outset of the bombing was that the brutal ethnic cleansing of Kosovo
could be stopped in a short military campaign. That promise was either a
deception or a delusion. The war has turned into a horrific quagmire, and
yet even liberal Democrats remain strangely tongue-tied about the
suffering, which our government lamely calls "collateral damage."
Every day seems to bring news of civilians being killed and the White
House apologizing. Worse, according to the Wall Street Journal, President
Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed in mid-April for a
wider definition of targets that would increase the danger to civilians.
The result is the death of cleaning ladies and bus drivers, evacuation of
85,000 people from Belgrade neighborhoods poisoned by toxic chemicals,
the unemployment of 100,000 Serbs and laying waste of Serbia's civilian
infrastructure with what the New York Times calls "greater effects on the
gross domestic product than the Nazi and, then, the Allied bombing of
Yugoslavia" during World War II.
And the silence continues. Perhaps the silent ones think these are all
regrettable accidents, or that war is hell, or that bombing Serb
civilians who have opposed Milosovic in the past will help them to
overthrow him now.
What then of the intentional indiscriminate infliction of shrapnel
wounds on children? Unexploded cluster bomb units are turning whole areas
of Yugoslavia into a "no man's land," wounding large numbers of children
in the process. According to the Los Angeles Times, the director of
Pristina's hospital says he has never done so many amputations as he has
since victims of the weapon started coming in.
I keep an early model of the cluster bombs used in Vietnam on my shelf
as a reminder of the evil done in the name of good intentions. The bombs
are dropped over a broad landscape, where they explode via timers or the
simple vibration of a passerby. The blast causes up to 300 pieces of
deadly shrapnel to scatter in all directions. The shrapnel is very
difficult to remove because of its deliberately jagged design.
Liberal silence on these issues allows Pentagon and NATO spokesmen to
systematically and routinely utilize doublespeak and refuse to discuss
the kinds of weapons they are using.
There seem to be two reasons for the Democratic war fever.
First, invocation of the Holocaust analogy has led many to accept Ted
Koppel's admonition to "get used to the idea of civilian casualties." But
is this the Holocaust or is it intervention in a long-standing Balkan
religious and ethnic war? Whatever the answer, is there no level of
civilian suffering that makes the bombing unjustifiable? And most
important, isn't the U.S. and NATO military commitment to stop ethnic
cleansing in the Balkans even slightly suspicious given the ethnic
cleansing that they tolerate in Tibet, Turkey, Guatemala, Rwanda and
Angola? Is this war really about human rights or about consolidating the
U.S. and NATO as an alternative to the United Nations?
Second, the fact that President Clinton and his European social
democratic allies started the bombing leads a majority of Democrats to
rally behind their party leader. This was acceptable when the issue was
belittling the president's sexual indiscretions to avoid impeachment, but
it is quite something else to become apologists for the killing of
children with anti-personnel bombs to shore up Western "credibility."
The Democratic Party's domestic agenda will be unraveled by the new
liberal militarism. Already the Republican Congress has forced Clinton to
accept $13 billion in military funds, twice what the president requested.
By contrast, the president will ask for just $1 billion this year for new
teachers and $5 billion over five years for school overcrowding.
I want to continue deepening and expanding the president's domestic
agenda of investing in schools and jobs in the inner city, providing
health care and restoring the natural environment.
Three decades ago, I was pursuing the same agenda when the Democratic
Party started the Vietnam War and abandoned its commitment to a great
society. That experience should not be repeated.
Before this becomes a Vietnam in the Balkans, it is time for liberals
to start breaking their silence. The Jesse Jackson mission, opposed by
the White House, plainly proves that diplomatic alternatives, like a
partitioned Kosovo under the U.N., have not been exhausted.
Instead, the much-touted Apache gunships with American crews are
preparing to escalate the conflict. The real Apaches, the Native
Americans, were victims of a brutal, even genocidal, ethnic cleansing by
the U.S. armed forces in the last century. That our government can
self-righteously go to war to save Kosovo with helicopters named after
the victims of our own ethnic cleansing measures the state of denial we
Tom Hayden Is a Democrat Representing Parts of West Los Angeles and
the San Fernando Valley in the State Senate
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved