I've Changed My Mind:
Stop the Bombing
Why is Belgrade a Target?
by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich

April 9, 1999

The world's democracies have a responsibility to relieve the suffering of the people of Kosovo, to insure that the refugees can return to an autonomous nation and to help rebuild the province and prosecute war criminals.

That is why I voted my support for President Clinton's initiatives and for the use of American soldiers in keeping the peace in the region.

Yet NATO is now engaged in a bombing campaign in which the destruction of the civilian infrastructure of Yugoslavia has become part of the strategy to end the war on Kosovo. We say our quarrel is with President Slobodan Milosevic and his army, yet instead of doing all that we can to directly confront that military we are bringing down terror on the Serbian people. What has this bombing accomplished? It has not stopped the ethnic cleansing or the grim procession of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

So I must challenge NATO's justification for its military campaign against civilians -- before we destroy all the bridges in Belgrade and Novi Sad; before we obliterate the power plants, water systems, roads and telecommunications centers that serve civilian populations; before we begin hearing the the phrase "collateral damage" routinely. Otherwise, NATO's actions will destabilize the region for decades to come.

As a start, NATO should honor a cease-fire this weekend of Orthodox Christian Easter -- not because of Mr. Milosevic's feigned concern for the faith of his people, but to show genuine respect for the civilian population's religion.

The bombings in Belgrade and Novi Sad punish people who have already suffered under Mr. Milosevic's authoritarian regime. NATO's actions will only help Mr. Milosevic convert more of the Serbian people to his mix of militant nationalism and religious fervor -- even those who don't believe in his policies will defend their flag and their faith.

One does not need to be steeped in the mythology of the Battle of Kosovo of 1389 to know that the Serbian people will never accept a peace with the ethnic Albanians as long as we are dropping bombs on their heads.

The United States now has to decide whether we will continue to destroy a civilian population misled by Mr. Milosevic. Fifty-three million people died in World War II, 60 percent of them civilians. About half of the 26 million killed in World War I, the 3 million killed in Korea and the 2.3 million dead in Vietnam were civilians.

Civilians always pay the heaviest price -- and in this case it is not just the Serbs who are suffering. This week's bombing campaign has added to the devastation of Pristina, the capital city of the people we are trying to help.

Americans will pay a price, too. If we continue to support NATO bombing, we will have muddied our ethics and tarnished our reputation for defending those who live under dictatorships. W e need to rethink not only the manner in which we wage war, but also the manner in which we manage conflict and keep the peace. We must demonstrate that we know the difference between a legal and just humanitarian intervention on behalf of a civilian population and an illegal and unjust military intervention against civilians. Otherwise, we will have bombed the village in order to save it, and created a war in the name of ending one.

Dennis J. Kucinich, a Democrat, is a Representative from Ohio.

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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