The ongoing NATO bombings of Yugoslavia reflect the enormous disparity in the United States today between the public’s conception of morality and the State’s conception of morality. For the most part, the public, meaning ordinary people like you and me, has a general understanding of good and evil, right and wrong, and tries to make decisions accordingly. The State, on the other hand, meaning NATO and the United States, has no such understanding, and would have no real use for this understanding if it did in fact possess it. This discrepancy is the basic problem underlying both the war in Yugoslavia and the crucial popular support for it.
In pondering NATO’s “humanitarian” involvement in Kosovo, we must understand why the tiny region is a problem. It is a problem not because people are dying but because Yugoslavia is on the fringes of Europe, which makes governments and businesses in Western Europe feel a little uncomfortable. Thus, in this era of the globalization of capital, it becomes a problem for the United States. The United States, being the ruler of the world, is used to resolving its problems quickly. So when it tells the “tin-pot” dictator Milosevic to quiet down, and he doesn’t comply, the United States gets angry.
(As a side note, I think we should understand exactly what “doesn’t comply” means. Milosevic didn’t “comply” not in that he refused to stop killing ethnic Albanians. He, rather, didn’t “comply” in that, at the Rambouillet “peace” talks, he was only willing to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force in Yugoslavia. The United States and the United Kingdom, of course, refused, insisting that a fully equipped NATO base in Yugoslavia as well as 30,000 heavily-armed NATO troops was the only way to secure the “peace” that they so desperately wanted. It seems a truly international effort, as proposed by Milosevic and the rest of the non-NATO world, was not worth serious consideration.)
Milosevic, as everyone knows by now, is a brutal thug, like most politicians with some degree of power. But this is not the reason the United States is angry. It is angry because they gave an order and it was not obeyed.
World rulers cannot let such things just slide by. So, naturally, force was the only option â€“ the only way to ensure, in President Clinton’s words, NATO “credibility” (meaning, non-NATO obedience).
That this force was not exerted through any humanitarian concern seems obvious. For if it were humanitarian, how could one explain our compassion for the Kosovars, and at the same time our utter contempt for Iraqis, Kurds, rural Colombians, Cubans, and East Timorese? These people are all currently suffering, and dying in large numbers, in fact, because of either direct (as in Iraq and Cuba) or indirect (in Turkey, Colombia and East Timor) U.S. aggression.
But let’s pretend we don’t have these examples for comparison, and that the crisis in Kosovo is our only mode of analysis. According to NATO commander Wesley Clark, the disastrous effects of the bombing were “entirely predictable.” In other words, the escalation of mass murder and territorial dispossession does not come as a surprise to NATO leaders. Nor should it come as a surprise that Kosovars may never find peace in Yugoslavia as a result of NATO’s willful escalation of the conflict. Unfortunately for the Kosovars, their collective fate never really figured into NATO’s plan. Their innocence was just something useful, something NATO knew could be used to manipulate public opinion.
In light of these facts, I think we can take the Clinton Administration’s “human rights” policy in Kosovo for what it is: an absolute joke. I do not, however, think this implicates the majority of Americans, who support NATO, as frauds as well. When average Americans speak of “human rights,” it would be inaccurate to assume that they were simply lying as well. Rather, they are reacting to what they see every day: images of death and visions of an evil enforcer, Milosevic, causing this death. They are sincerely making moral decisions based on what the media (or, the government, as it seems the terms are at the moment interchangeable) carefully selects and shows them.
The United States, that is, the State, does the opposite. Unlike us, it is not limited to CNN for information. It sees everything; it has all the facts. The State knows that it is an enforcer, acting at all times to maintain and increase its power. It knows that it is only intensifying the violence in Kosovo. It knows that its Black Hawk helicopters are used to gun down civilians in Turkey and Colombia. And yet, with access to such a wealth of information, it sincerely makes immoral decisions.
We can attribute the State’s unsettling decisions to a simple deficiency: the inability to distinguish between right and wrong. Thankfully, most human beings are not totally deficient in this category, which is why we are “humans,” and not “the United States” or “NATO.” But despite its massive moral shortcomings, we can only go so far in our criticism of the United States. After all, it is a world ruler; as with all the empires of the past, this position is not attained through compassion or a respect for humanity. It takes years of cultivating and enforcing its power. This is exactly what it is going on in Kosovo.
The challenge to ordinary people is to see through the veils of rhetoric and the mass media and recognize that morality and State interests are almost always incompatible. After this breakthrough in public awareness, the next step is understanding that when people like the Kosovars are in need of help, a powerful, immoral State is the last resource one should draw upon; better to let real people, endowed with a basic sense of humanity, handle the situation.