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'Degrading' America | The Nation

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'Degrading' America

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It is imperative to focus on the essential reason Americans must unequivocally oppose the US-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. There are, of course, many reasons--the five-week campaign having utterly failed in all of its declared purposes. But for all its other failings, the US-led bombing must be opposed first and foremost because it is a moral outrage. By so greatly increasing the number of Kosovar victims and by having done so recklessly without any precautionary steps to help them, the initiators of the air war have compounded Milosevic's evil deeds and thus made the United States deeply complicit in them.

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Stephen F. Cohen
Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University. His ...

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Still more, the bombing and missile attacks are growing into an all-out assault on the economic and other civilian underpinnings of Yugoslav society. NATO sorties are literally demodernizing Serbia. Two or three decades of its economic development--the foundation of the elementary well-being of ordinary men, women and children--have already been destroyed.

Nor is this high-tech savagery against a small country inadvertent or without zealous US advocates. The NATO command's cruel euphemisms about "collateral damage" are common military obfuscation. But there is also the "liberal" bloodlust of the May 10 New Republic, which features an article cheering the assault on civilians on the basis of Serbian "collective guilt," and of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, on April 23, who demands a "pulverizing" of the "Serbian nation" back to 1950 ("We can do 1389 too"), including Belgrade teenagers "still holding rock concerts" and families "going out for Sunday merry-go-round rides." Such demands, widely echoed elsewhere in the media and even by the White House press secretary, in effect call upon the United States to commit what are legally defined as war crimes.

The Clinton Administration bombers and their apologists must not be allowed to represent the rest of us. They have imposed a moral barricade on the soul of America, and to that barricade Americans must go in moral opposition. The pulverizers' purported morality rests primarily on a fraudulent analogy--equating Serbian treatment of Kosovar Albanians with the Nazi extermination of Jews. The analogy wantonly debases the historical reality and memory of the Holocaust: Milosevic's reign of terror has turned most Kosovars into refugees fleeing toward sanctuaries; Hitler gave most European Jews no exit and turned them into ash. And even given Milosevic's real atrocities, what has become of the American ethical axiom, Two wrongs don't make a right? Or the central moral lesson of this awful political century, that ends do not justify means?

In truth, US political and military leaders now care little about the morality (or legality) of their actions in Yugoslavia, only the "credibility of NATO." To this we must answer: We care more about the moral reputation of America. In large parts of the world, it too has been pulverized, certainly "degraded" much worse than Milosevic's capabilities.

Russia, which ought to be our greatest international concern, is the most alarming example. Not long ago, millions of its citizens, particularly young ones upon whom the Clinton Administration based its certitudes about a pro-American Russia, saw the United States as an exemplar of civilized political conduct. Now most of them see us as barbarians in the sky.

We must prove they are wrong by stopping the bombing of Yugoslavia before the necessary political settlement is even harder to achieve, before the only peace is that of the graveyard and moral redemption is impossible.

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