SOLOMON: Spinning the Cycles of Grief and Retribution

Many of us can dimly remember classic Greek plays about revenge. In those ancient tragedies, sorrow and rage fuel an endless spiral of anguish and retribution. The themes are apt to seem as modern as recent events in the Balkans.But here at home, mainstream news outlets tell us that U.S. foreign policy stands apart from such primitive cycles of violence. The prevalent conceit is that we stay above the barbaric fray -- even when dropping bombs from on high.After 11 weeks of bombing Yugoslavia, top U.S. officials were pleased to take a virtuous bow in the media spotlight as refugees from Kosovo prepared to return home. With steadfast U.S. leadership, we're told, NATO forces of decency persevered and won. Yet few media commentators have explored how the bombing actually fitted into the region's recurring cycles of violence.The regimes based in Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo can point to horrible massacres perpetrated by each other during the 1990s. Those governments insist that the atrocities they committed did not really occur -- or were justified in response to earlier monstrous offenses."The tendency to justify atrocities by pointing to those committed by the opposing side will merely ensure that the pattern of reciprocal massacre remains unbroken," BBC correspondent Misha Glenny observed in his book "The Fall of Yugoslavia."Three months ago, when NATO launched a massive new wave of destruction in the Balkans, officials declared that the purpose was to end the cycle of violence. That's what they always say.But no amount of media spin or proclamations of saintly intent can change the fact that the U.S.-led alliance has signed into the indelible volume of Balkan massacres. For many people on the ground, its bloody signature will be unforgettable.Far from being antidotes to the Balkans history of carnage, the atrocities committed by NATO are now part of that history. We may take comfort from the fact that high-tech weaponry was involved. Or we may savor the claims of moral intent from Washington, London and Brussels. But for thousands of grieving relatives and millions of shaken survivors who withstood 78 days of widespread bombing, the perception is bound to be very different.The severe damage to Yugoslavia's infrastructure includes an extensive array of basic medical facilities, bridges, electrical plants and water systems -- the kind of targets that are quick and easy to destroy, but slow and difficult to rebuild. In the interim, many deaths will follow.In the United States, major news outlets continue to evade the extreme selectivity of the American moral stance. For instance, the enormous quantities of media coverage have included scant mention of what occurred in August 1995 when the Croatian government -- with a bright green light from the White House -- sent in troops to inflict grisly "ethnic cleansing" on large numbers of Serbs living in the Krajina region.The president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, ordered the assault. Dubbed "Operation Storm," it quickly drove at least 150,000 Serbian people from their homes in the Krajina. Meanwhile, the U.S. news media -- taking a cue from the Oval Office -- just shrugged."The entire offensive was undertaken by the authorities in Zagreb with the support of the United States government," Glenny wrote in his authoritative book. "President Clinton himself welcomed Operation Storm, suggesting that it may open the way to a solution of the Yugoslav conflict. The rest of the international community was visibly shocked by America's encouragement of Croatia."But the U.S. news media weren't shocked. After all, the White House said the slaughter and expulsion of Serbs from the Krajina was OK. Nothing to be alarmed about. No big deal.At the time, a mediator for the European Union made a statement that is now chilling to read. Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minster, said: "If we accept that it is all right for Tudjman to cleanse Croatia of its Serbs, then how on earth can we object if [Boris] Yeltsin cleanses Chechnya or if one day Milosevic sends his army to clean out the Albanians from Kosovo?"The failure of the U.S. media to embrace a single standard of human rights is a continuing tragedy of immense proportions, clearing the way for all kinds of duplicity.Is it possible to drop so many bombs on so many people without fueling deadly cycles of violence? Rarely asked by America's journalists, the question remains.Norman Solomon's most recent book, "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media," was published this spring.


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