How the media fan war

Wednesday, May 5, 1999 - 10:00

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How the media fan war

By John Pilger

At the height of World War I, the British PM, David Lloyd George, confided to C.P. Snow, editor of the Manchester Guardian, "If people knew the truth, the war would be stopped tomorrow. But they don't know and can't know."

Little has changed. Eight years ago, following the US-led attack on Iraq, newspaper editorials in the West lauded "the miraculously few casualties". In truth, up to 250,000 people were killed or died in the immediate aftermath. Many were the very Kurdish and Shi'a minorities US President Bush and his allies said they were protecting.

Now NATO has bombed residential areas of the capital of Kosova, terrorising and killing the people President Clinton says he is protecting. The bombers were "seduced off target", said the press briefer in Brussels, an astonishing statement that went unchallenged.

The US is using A-10 Warthog aircraft, armed with depleted uranium missiles. Depleted uranium was used in southern Iraq where the level of leukemia among children is equal to that of Hiroshima. Hundreds of allied soldiers who served in the Gulf have been similarly affected. With one or two honourable exceptions, the media are silent about this.

So, the truth about why tens of thousands stampeded in Kosova is blurred. No-one doubts Milosevic's brutality; but before March 23, the UN put the balance of atrocities caused by Serb and Kosovar para-militaries as roughly even.

Voluntary and subliminal censorship is a taboo subject in free societies. One of the most effective functions of "communicators" in the Western media is to minimise the culpability of established powers in war, terrorism and the repression of human rights. This is achieved by repetition of received truths and omission on a grand scale.

Last month, British defence secretary George Robertson claimed that all bombing targets were approved by him and Tony Blair. The US must have found this laughable. Robertson has not been challenged on who had the say of life or death over workers in the Zastava car factory. NATO was warned that 10,000 people were in the plant, yet bombed it, causing an unknown number of fatalities and injuries.

The people of the mining town of Alecksinac had nothing to do with Kosova and they were bombed. Who was responsible for the killing of an old woman whose legs we glimpsed protruding from beneath the rubble of her home?

There are striking parallels with the US assault on Vietnam. Like Vietnam, the attack on Serbia is a liberal adventure. The bombers of Clinton's New Democrats and Blair's New Labour are reminiscent of President John Kennedy's New Frontiersmen, who liked nothing better than to "eyeball" the Russians and save people from themselves.

Then, as now, the media played a central role in organising the public's ignorance and confusion. Stereotypes were important. Vietnamese communists were "Asian Prussians" guilty of "internal aggression" (wanting to liberate their country). An entirely fictitious attack on US warships was used to fool Congress and the press, providing the excuse to begin the slaughter. Later, Hollywood transformed the aggressors to angst-ridden heroes and the Vietnamese people to unpeople.

Today, the Serbs are the unpeople. They have no civilisation, no society, no poets, no history. That they suffered a Nazi savagery surpassed only by the mass extermination of the Polish Jews is forgotten. Like the woman in the rubble, they are unworthy victims.

The Kosovars, on the other hand, are worthy victims — until they seek asylum in other European countries. Careful readers will note they are seldom referred to as Muslims.

"News" of the liberal mission in the Balkans comes largely from daily briefings in Brussels, conducted by a PR man called Jamie and a spin-doctor from the RAF. Standing in front of flags, they remind me of the briefers at the "five o'clock follies" in Saigon who intoned their "interdictions" and "degradation" and "collateral damage" with hardly anyone believing a word, yet almost everyone reporting it.

Today, the unreported news is of a man-made, entirely unnecessary cataclysm in the Balkans, affording Clinton and Blair a special distinction among modern Western readers; they share with a European tyrant the responsibility for virtually emptying a country, leaving its people to fester like the Palestinians, perhaps for generations.

They also share responsibility for destroying the democratic opposition in Serbia. "The air strikes erased in one night", wrote Professor Volin Dimitrijevic, the Serb former vice-chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights, "the results of 10 years of hard work by courageous people. The Kosova problem will remain unsolved, and human rights in Serbia uncertain, for many years."

The real news is that the US is planning to "degrade" Serbia with the same ferocity it destroyed Vietnam and is now destroying Iraq. This week's Boys' Own Annual media images of massing aircraft and ships serve to conceal the fact that the homicidal "turkey shoots" are coming.

The importance of this is a precursor to a future militarised by NATO. The US Congress has passed the "Nato Facilitation" acts, which allow the greatest expansion of US military influence since World War II. Clinton has ended a 20-year-old arms embargo on most of Latin America, and the re-arming of that continent is under way.

In the current "NATO Review", Argentina is welcomed as "NATO's south Atlantic partner". In eastern Europe, a $55 billion bonanza beckons for US and British arms companies. These developments have been scarcely reported in the West.

At the same time, neutral or non-aligned states have been cajoled and bribed into joining "NATO's Partnership for Peace". Albania, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Macedonia and Slovenia have joined. Ireland is next.

NATO describes this as "the most intensive program of military-to- military collaboration ever conceived". The threat to us all, and to our children's generation, is written on the bombs now falling on the Balkans and Iraq. That is the real news.

[This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.]

From GLW issue 359