The Nation
May 24, 1999
'Degrading' America
By Stephen F. Cohen

It is imperative to focus on the essential reason Americans must
unequivocally oppose the US-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. There are, 
of course, many reasons-the five-week campaign having utterly failed in 
all of its declared purposes. But for all its other failings, the 
US-led bombing must be opposed first and foremost because it is a moral 
outrage. By so greatly increasing the number of Kosovar victims and by 
having done so recklessly without any precautionary steps to help them, 
the initiators of the air war have compounded Milosevic's evil deeds 
and thus made the United States deeply complicit in them.

Still more, the bombing and missile attacks are growing into an all-out
assault on the economic and other civilian underpinnings of Yugoslav
society. NATO sorties are literally demodernizing Serbia. Two or three
decades of its economic development-the foundation of the elementary
well-being of ordinary men, women and children-have already been 

Nor is this high-tech savagery against a small country inadvertent or
without zealous US advocates. The NATO command's cruel euphemisms about
"collateral damage" are common military obfuscation. But there is also 
the "liberal" bloodlust of the May 10 New Republic, which features an 
article cheering the assault on civilians on the basis of Serbian 
"collective guilt," and of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, on 
April 23, who demands a "pulverizing" of the "Serbian nation" back to 
1950 ("We can do 1389 too"), including Belgrade teenagers "still 
holding rock concerts" and families "going out for Sunday 
merry-go-round rides." Such demands, widely echoed elsewhere in the 
media and even by the White House press secretary,
in effect call upon the United States to commit what are legally 
defined as war crimes.

The Clinton Administration bombers and their apologists must not be 
allowed to represent the rest of us. They have imposed a moral 
barricade on the soul of America, and to that barricade Americans must 
go in moral opposition. The pulverizers' purported morality rests 
primarily on a fraudulent analogy-equating Serbian treatment of Kosovar 
Albanians with the Nazi extermination of Jews. The analogy wantonly 
debases the historical reality and memory of the Holocaust: Milosevic's 
reign of terror has turned most Kosovars into refugees fleeing toward 
sanctuaries; Hitler gave most European Jews no exit and turned them 
into ash. And even given Milosevic's real atrocities, what has become 
of the American ethical axiom, Two wrongs don't make a right? Or the 
central moral lesson of this awful political century, that ends do not 
justify means?

In truth, US political and military leaders now care little about the
morality (or legality) of their actions in Yugoslavia, only the
"credibility of NATO." To this we must answer: We care more about the 
moral reputation of America. In large parts of the world, it too has 
been pulverized, certainly "degraded" much worse than Milosevic's 

Russia, which ought to be our greatest international concern, is the 
most alarming example. Not long ago, millions of its citizens, 
particularly young ones upon whom the Clinton Administration based its 
certitudes about a pro-American Russia, saw the United States as an 
exemplar of civilized political conduct.

Now most of them see us as barbarians in the sky.

We must prove they are wrong by stopping the bombing of Yugoslavia 
before the necessary political settlement is even harder to achieve, 
before the only peace is that of the graveyard and moral redemption is 

Back to texts' page
Back to index page

This page has been visited times.