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<nettime> Susan Sontag in N.Y.Times: 'A Just War'
nettime's_roving_reporter on Mon, 3 May 1999 08:11:05 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Susan Sontag in N.Y.Times: 'A Just War'


<http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/19990502mag-sontag.html>

     [The Roving Reporter notes: "I usually reformat these
      but in this case: "I found that essence rare..."]


          Why Are We In Kosovo?                                    
ENTERTAINMENT
                                                                   Restaurants
          It's complicated, but not that                           Movies
          complicated. There is such a thing as                    Music
          a just war. By SUSAN SONTAG                              Theater &
                                                                   Dance
                                                                   Bars &
          [Image] h[Image]                                         Nightlife
                  Not all violence is equally                     Art & 
                  Museums
          day a    reprehensible, not all wars                     Books &
Talks
          friend   equally unjust: American                        Sports
          from     bombers headed for Yugoslavia                   Getaways
          home,    taking off from a NATO base in
          New      Italy.                                          SHOPPING
          York,    Photograph by                                   Sales
          called   Alberto Pizzoli/Sygma                           Events
          me in    --------                                        Coupons
          Bari --                                                  Yellow Pages
          where I am living for a couple of
          months -- to ask whether I am all                        CLASSIFIEDS
          right and inquired in passing whether                    Real Estate
          I can hear sounds of the bombing. I                      Autos
          reassured her that not only could I                      Jobs
          not hear the bombs dropping on
          Belgrade and Novi Sad and Pristina                       COMMUNITY
          from downtown Bari, but even the                         About
          planes taking off from the nearby NATO                   Community
          base of Gioia del Colle are quite                        Join a Group
          inaudible. Though it is easy to mock                     Create a
Group
          my geographyless American friend's                       Update a
Group
          vision of European countries being
          only slightly larger than postage                        LIFE
          stamps, her Tiny Europe seems a nice                     Food
          complement to the widely held vision                     Home
          of Helpless Europe being dragged into                    Fashion &
          a bellicose folly by Big Bad America.                    Style
                                                                   Health &
          Perhaps I exaggerate. I am writing                       Fitness
          this from Italy -- weakest link in the                   How to New
          NATO chain. Italy (unlike France and                     York
          Germany) continues to maintain an
          embassy in Belgrade. Milosevic has
NEIGHBORHOODS
          received the Italian Communists' party                   Near My Home
          leader, Armando Cossutta. The                            Near My Work
          estimable mayor of Venice has sent an                    Other Areas
          envoy to Belgrade with letters
          addressed to Milosevic and to the
          ethnic Albanian leader with whom he
          has met, Ibrahim Rugova, proposing
          Venice as a site for peace
          negotiations. (The letters were
          accepted, thank you very much, by the
          Orthodox primate following the Easter
          Sunday service.) But then it is
          understandable that Italy has
          panicked: Italians see not just scenes
          of excruciating misery on their TV
          news but images of masses on the move.
          In Italy, Albanians are first of all
          future immigrants.

          ---------------------- But opposition
          Susan Sontag is the    to the war is
          author, most           hardly confined
          recently, of "The      to Italy, and to
          Volcano Lover: A       one strand of
          Romance." She is       the political
          completing a new       spectrum. On the
          novel.                 contrary:
          ---------------------- mobilized
                                 against this war
          are remnants of the left and the likes
          of Le Pen and Bossi and Heider on the
          right. The right is against
          immigrants. The left is against
          America. (Against the idea of America,
          that is. The hegemony of American
          popular culture in Europe could hardly
          be more total.)

          On both the so-called left and the
          so-called right, identity-talk is on
          the rise. The anti-Americanism that is
          fueling the protest against the war
          has been growing in recent years in
          many of the nations of the New Europe,
          and is perhaps best understood as a
          displacement of the anxiety about this
          New Europe, which everyone has been
          told is a Good Thing and few dare
          question. Nations are communities that
          are always being imagined,
          reconceived, reasserted, against the
          pressure of a defining Other. The
          specter of a nation without borders,
          an infinitely porous nation, is bound
          to create anxiety. Europe needs its
          overbearing America.

          Weak Europe? Impotent Europe? The
          words are everywhere. The truth is
          that the made-for-business Europe
          being brought into existence with the
          enthusiastic assent of the
          "responsible" business and
          professional elites is a Europe
          precisely designed to be incapable of
          responding to the threat posed by a
          dictator like Milosevic. This is not a
          question of "weakness," though that is
          how it is being experienced. It is a
          question of ideology.

          It is not that       ------------------
          Europe is weak. Far  Issue in Depth
          from it. It is that  Crisis in Kosovo
          Europe, the Europe
          under construction   Forum
          since the Final      The Conflict in
          Victory of           Kosovo
          Capitalism in 1989,  ------------------
          is up to something
          else. Something which indeed renders
          obsolete most of the questions of
          justice -- indeed, all the moral
          questions. (What prevails, in their
          place, are questions of health, which
          may be conjoined with ecological
          concerns; but that is another matter.)

          A Europe designed for spectacle,
          consumerism and hand wringing ... but
          haunted by the fear of national
          identities being swamped either by
          faceless multinational commercialism
          or by tides of alien immigrants from
          poor countries.

          In one part of the continent, former
          Communists play the nationalist card
          and foment lethal nationalisms --
          Milosevic being the most egregious
          example. In the other part,
          nationalism, and with it war, are
          presumed to be superseded, outmoded.

          How helpless "our" Europe feels in the
          face of all this irrational slaughter
          and suffering taking place in the
          other Europe.

          [Image] nd meanwhile the war goes on.
                  A war that started in 1991.
          Not in 1999. And not, as the Serbs
          would have it, six centuries ago,
          either. Theirs is a country whose
          nationalist myth has as its founding
          event a defeat -- the Battle of
          Kosovo, lost to the Turks in 1389. We
          are fighting the Turks, Serb officers
          commanding the mortar emplacements on
          the heights of Sarajevo would assure
          visiting journalists.

          Would we not think it odd if France
          still rallied around the memory of the
          Battle of Agincourt -- 1415 -- in its
          eternal enmity with Great Britain? But
          who could imagine such a thing? For
          France is Europe. And "they" are not.

          Yes,     [Image]
          this is  Not all violence is equally
          Europe.  reprehensible, not all wars
          The      equally unjust: American
          Europe   bombers headed for Yugoslavia
          that     taking off from a NATO base in
          did not  Italy.
          respond  Photograph by
          to the   Alberto Pizzoli/Sygma
          Serb     --------
          shelling
          of Dubrovnik. Or the three-year siege
          of Sarajevo. The Europe that let
          Bosnia die.

          A new definition of Europe: the place
          where tragedies don't take place.
          Wars, genocides -- that happened here
          once, but no longer. It's something
          that happens in Africa. (Or places in
          Europe that are not "really" Europe.
          That is, the Balkans.) Again, perhaps
          I exaggerate. But having spent a good
          part of three years, from 1993 to
          1996, in Sarajevo, it does not seem to
          me like an exaggeration at all.

          Living on the edge of NATO Europe,
          only a few hundred kilometers from the
          refugee camps in Durres and Kukes and
          Blace, from the greatest mass of
          suffering in Europe since the Second
          World War, it is true that I can't
          hear the NATO planes leaving the base
          here in Puglia. But I can walk to
          Bari's waterfront and watch Albanian
          and Kosovar families pouring off the
          daily ferries from Durres -- legal
          immigrants, presumably -- or drive
          south a hundred kilometers at night
          and see the Italian coast guard
          searching for the rubber dinghies
          crammed with refugees that leave Vlore
          nightly for the perilous Adriatic
          crossing. But if I leave my apartment
          in Bari only to visit friends and have
          a pizza and see a movie and hang out
          in a bar, I am no closer to the war
          than the television news or the
          newspapers that arrive every morning
          at my doorstep. I could as well be
          back in New York.

          [Image] f course, it is easy to turn
                  your eyes from what is
          happening if it is not happening to
          you. Or if you have not put yourself
          where it is happening. I remember in
          Sarajevo in the summer of 1993 a
          Bosnian friend telling me ruefully
          that in 1991, when she saw on her TV
          set the footage of Vukovar utterly
          leveled by the Serbs, she thought to
          herself, How terrible, but that's in
          Croatia, that can never happen here in
          Bosnia ... and switched the channel.
          The following year, when the war
          started in Bosnia, she learned
          differently. Then she became part of a
          story on television that other people
          saw and said, How terrible ... and
          switched the channel.

          If several African  How helpless "our"
          states had cared    pacified,
          enough about the    comfortable Europe
          genocide of the     feels in the face
          Tutsis in Rwanda    of all this
          (a million          irrational
          people!) to         slaughter and
          intervene           suffering taking
          militarily, would   place in the other
          we have asked what  Europe. But the
          right they had      images cannot be
          when they had done  conjured away --
          nothing on behalf   of refugees,
          of the Kurds or     people who have
          the Tibetans?       been pushed out of
                              their homes, their
                              torched villages,
          by the hundreds of thousands and who
          look like us.

          Generations of Europeans fearful of
          any idealism, incapable of indignation
          except in the old anti-imperialist
          cold-war grooves. (Yet, of course, the
          key point about this war is that it is
          the direct result of the end of the
          cold war and the breakup of old
          empires and imperial rivalries.) Stop
          the War and Stop the Genocide, read
          the banners being waved in the
          demonstrations in Rome and here in
          Bari. For Peace. Against War. Who is
          not? But how can you stop those bent
          on genocide without making war?

          We have been here before. The horrors,
          the horrors. Our attempt to forge a
          "humanitarian" response. Our inability
          (yes, after Auschwitz!) to comprehend
          how such horrors can take place. And
          as the horrors multiply, it becomes
          even more incomprehensible why we
          should respond to any one of them
          (since we have not responded to the
          others). Why this horror and not
          another? Why Bosnia or Kosovo and not
          Kurdistan or Rwanda or Tibet?

          Are we not saying that European lives,
          European suffering are more valuable,
          more worth acting on to protect, than
          the lives of people in the Middle
          East, Africa and Asia?

          One answer to this commonly voiced
          objection to NATO's war is to say
          boldly, Yes, to care about the fate of
          the people in Kosovo is Eurocentric,
          and what's wrong with that? But is not
          the accusation of Eurocentrism itself
          just one more vestige of European
          presumption, the presumption of
          Europe's universalist mission: that
          every part of the globe has a claim on
          Europe's attention?

          If several African states had cared
          enough about the genocide of the
          Tutsis in Rwanda (nearly a million
          people!) to intervene militarily, say,
          under the leadership of Nelson
          Mandela, would we have criticized this
          initiative as being Afrocentric? Would
          we have asked what right these states
          have to intervene in Rwanda when they
          have done nothing on behalf of the
          Kurds or the Tibetans?

          Another argument against intervening
          in Kosovo is that the war is --
          wonderful word -- illegal," because
          NATO is violating the borders of a
          sovereign state. Kosovo is, after all,
          part of the new Greater Serbia called
          Yugoslavia. Tough luck for the
          Kosovars that Milosevic revoked their
          autonomous status in 1989.
          Inconvenient that 90 percent of
          Kosovars are Albanians -- ethnic
          Albanians" as they are called, to
          distinguish them from the citizens of
          Albania. Empires reconfigure. But are
          national borders, which have been
          altered so many times in the last
          hundred years, really to be the
          ultimate criterion? You can murder
          your wife in your own house, but not
          outdoors on the street.

          Imagine that Nazi Germany had had no
          expansionist ambitions but had simply
          made it a policy in the late 1930's
          and early 1940's to slaughter all the
          German Jews. Do we think a government
          has the right to do whatever it wants
          on its own territory? Maybe the
          governments of Europe would have said
          that 60 years ago. But would we
          approve now of their decision?

          Push the supposition into the present.
          What if the French Government began
          slaughtering large numbers of
          Corsicans and driving the rest out of
          Corsica ... or the Italian Government
          began emptying out Sicily or Sardinia,
          creating a million refugees ... or
          Spain decided to apply a final
          solution to its rebellious Basque
          population. Wouldn't we agree that a
          consortium of powers on the continent
          had the right to use military force to
          make the French (or Italian, or
          Spanish) Government reverse its
          actions, which would probably mean
          overthrowing that Government?

          But of course this couldn't happen,
          could it? Not in Europe. My friends in
          Sarajevo used to say during the siege:
          How can "the West" be letting this
          happen to us? This is Europe, too.
          We're Europeans. Surely "they" won't
          allow it to go on.

          But they -- Europe -- did.

          For something truly terrible happened
          in Bosnia. From the Serb death camps
          in the north of Bosnia in 1992, the
          first death camps on European soil
          since the 1940's, to the mass
          executions of many thousands of
          civilians at Srebrenica and elsewhere
          in the summer of 1995 -- Europe
          tolerated that.

          So, obviously, Bosnia wasn't Europe.

          Those of us who spent time in Sarajevo
          used to say that, as the 20th century
          began at Sarajevo, so will the 21st
          century begin at Sarajevo. If the
          options before NATO all seem either
          improbable or unpalatable, it is
          because NATO's actions come eight
          years too late. Milosevic should have
          been stopped when he was shelling
          Dubrovnik in 1991.

          Back in 1993 and 1994, American policy
          makers were saying that even if there
          were no United States intervention in
          Bosnia, rest assured, this would be
          the last thing that Milosevic would be
          allowed to get away with. A line in
          the sand had been drawn: he would
          never be allowed to make war on
          Kosovo. But who believed the Americans
          then? Not the Bosnians. Not Milosevic.
          Not the Europeans. Not even the
          Americans themselves. After Dayton,
          after the destruction of independent
          Bosnia, it was time to go back to
          sleep, as if the series of events set
          in motion in 1989 with the accession
          to power of Milosevic and the
          revocation of autonomous status for
          the province of Kosovo, would not play
          out to its obvious logical end.

          [Image] f Europe is having a hard time
                  thinking that it matters what
          happens in the southeastern corner of
          Europe, imagine how hard it is for
          Americans to think it is in their
          interest. It is not in America's
          interest to push this war on Europe.
          It is very much not in Europe's
          interest to reward Milosevic for the
          destruction of Yugoslavia and the
          creation of so much human suffering.

          Why not just let the brush fire burn
          out? is the argument of some. And the
          expulsion of a million or more
          refugees into the neighboring
          countries of Albania and Macedonia?
          This will certainly bring on the
          destruction of the fragile new state
          of Macedonia and the redrawing of the
          map of the Balkans -- certain to be
          disputed by, at the very least,
          Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. Do we
          imagine this will happen peacefully?

          Not surprisingly, the Serbs are
          presenting themselves as the victims.
          (Clinton equals Hitler, etc.) But it
          is grotesque to equate the casualties
          inflicted by the NATO bombing with the
          mayhem inflicted on hundreds of
          thousands of people in the last eight
          years by the Serb programs of ethnic
          cleansing.

          Not all violence is equally
          reprehensible; not all wars are
          equally unjust.

          No forceful response to the violence
          of a state against peoples who are
          nominally its own citizens? (Which is
          what most "wars" are today. Not wars
          between states.) The principal
          instances of mass violence in the
          world today are those committed by
          governments within their own legally
          recognized borders. Can we really say
          there is no response to this? Is it
          acceptable that such slaughters be
          dismissed as civil wars, also known as
          "age-old ethnic hatreds." (After all,
          anti-Semitism was an old tradition in
          Europe; indeed, a good deal older than
          ancient Balkan hatreds. Would this
          have justified letting Hitler kill all
          the Jews on German territory?) Is it
          true that war never solved anything?
          (Ask a black American if he or she
          thinks our Civil War didn't solve
          anything.)

          [Image] ar is not simply a mistake, a
                  failure to communicate. There
          is radical evil in the world, which is
          why there are just wars. And this is a
          just war. Even if it has been bungled.

          Stop the genocide. Return all refugees
          to their homes. Worthy goals. But how
          is any of this conceivably going to
          happen unless the Milosevic regime is
          overthrown? (And the truth is, it's
          not going to happen.)

          Impossible to see how this war will
          play out. All the options seem
          improbable, as well as undesirable.
          Unthinkable to keep bombing
          indefinitely, if Milosevic is indeed
          willing to accept the destruction of
          the Serbian economy; unthinkable for
          NATO to stop bombing, if Milosevic
          remains intransigent.

          The Milosevic Government has finally
          brought on Serbia a small portion of
          the suffering it has inflicted on
          neighboring peoples.

          War is a culture, bellicosity is
          addictive, defeat for a community that
          imagines itself to be history's
          eternal victim can be as intoxicating
          as victory. How long will it take for
          the Serbs to realize that the
          Milosevic years have been an
          unmitigated disaster for Serbia, the
          net result of Milosevic's policies
          being the economic and cultural ruin
          of the entire region, including
          Serbia, for several generations? Alas,
          one thing we can be sure of, that will
          not happen soon.

          Table of Contents
          May 02, 1999
          
        Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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