Tips On Talking with Advocates of the Bombing
An essay for those who are already strongly and even passionately against the bombing and
struggling with how to discuss it fruitfully with its advocates...
By Michael Albert
People supporting bombing argue that it is better than nothing and is somehow dealing with horrible ethnic crimes in
the Balkans. They either claim that that was the bombing's purpose and the purpose is being met -- or they admit that
the motive was something else but add that even so the bombing is doing good as a by-product, so they are for it
despite its bad motives.
People holding these views often do so with a great tenacity. The evidence and analysis offered on ZNet's Kosovo
Pages is more than sufficient to technically counter such views, and so I heartily recommend it to you and wonΆt
repeat such content here, but to get this evidence heard by folks sometimes one has to penetrate defenses by other
means than just offering the data and logic, and I suspect that how one does that is in large part personal.
Nonetheless, here I offer to whoever might be interested some of the techniques I have seen meet with some
"After all, Milosevic is horrible and there was genocide going on and someone had to do something and
NATO did something, so that's good...right."
I reply by using the information available at the ZNet site to explain in detail about the actual level of the crimes
transpiring before the bombing, and about the motives and results of the bombing. I emphasize how and why we
know that concern for humanitarian values isn't operative as a factor in U.S. policy-making, and what the bombing's
effects are, including, for example:
worsening the plight of the Kosovars
strengthening Milosevic and wiping out the work of those valiantly fighting him in the democratic opposition
weakening the nonviolent voices of the Kosovars
exacerbating ethnic hatreds even beyond their prior condition to perhaps intractable levels
directly killing and exiling more Kosovars and unleashing all restraints on the Serbs doing likewise
smashing Yugoslavia back decades and maybe a century in development with who knows what long-term
human costs and doing likewise specifically in Kosovo and perhaps worse
dramatically weakening the UN, tearing international law to shreds
informing the world that yes, the U.S. is ready willing and able to bomb anytime anywhere it suits us
elevating NATO to a war machine, and providing rationales for further defense spending, etc.
And I also note, not wanting my list to be only negative, that the only good result that will come out of this situation is
if well intentioned people can bring about widespread resistance, consciousness raising, curbs on future horrible
undertakings, and maybe even movements that begin addressing and getting at underlying causes.
This makes some headway for a bit...but then the bombing advocate most often just slides back and says:
*But even if the U.S. has been bad and bad and bad through all these cases that you offer (that is, the
evidence offered about Vietnam, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Guatemala, Timor, Colombia, Turkey
and whatever cases I happen to mention), we should support and celebrate that at least this time around
the U.S. is doing good.*
And I try to restrain the primal scream tunneling through my mind and answer that, well, I would be the first to shout
hooray and to celebrate if the U.S. or NATO undertook to do good and seriously went about doing it somewhere,
sometime, but that is not occurring. Instead, from the options (a) do nothing, (b) make things better from the point of
view of life and limb, and (c) make things worse from the point of view of life and limb, the U.S. is actually doing the
last, and doing it systematically and aggressively. And then I use the data on the ZNet Kosovo pages to make the
And the person may give a little ground for a minute and even let a ray of possibility through and say:
*Well, okay, then why is the U.S. bombing if not to save the Kosovars?*
Here, if you will excuse a diversion from the main purpose of this little essay, I think some leftists go off track.
Leftists know into their toes that U.S. foreign policy is imperial so they look at this case and they start to see it in the
most dramatic and familiar imperial terms at their disposal. They begin talking about grand designs over Eastern
Europe or about oil pathways or even about Yugoslavia as some kind of obstacle to U.S. agendas or maybe even as
a good example trying to extricate itself from U.S. hegemony which cannot be permitted to do so*and it seems to
me that all of this is shoehorning events into a framework rather than finding a framework that explains events.
Anyhow, instead of those more explicit and straightforward (but, I believe, inaccurate and non-applicable types of
explanation) I reply that the Serb/Kosovo conflict became a crisis for the U.S. and NATO not out of concern for the
Kosovars (or pursuit of resources or desire to punish a rogue nation) but because there was a growing danger that
the areaΆs conflict would spread and affect important relations and assets in surrounding Europe and a growing
sentiment that, well, what is the worldΆs cop going to do about this*itΆs legitimacy as enforcer becoming ever more
threatened as well. At that point, one can imagine the Security Council and Clinton and what-all meeting and
unanimously agreeing on the need to respond both to contain the local conflict and to fulfill their role to police what
are for them untoward world events. So they chat it up and consider their options, nary a voice raised mentioning
human costs and suffering, and they notice that the only tactic for interceding that they have which is consonant with
the U.S.'s broader aims and orientation is bombing. (And to make this claim compelling, I then of course have to use
the data on the web pages to demonstrate that diplomacy, and UN involvement, and international law, etc., are as
much as possible rejected as means of intervention by the U.S. because they are contrary to U.S. interests, while
bombing is clutched as a favored option to be employed, even wildly, because it advances U.S. agendas.)
Okay, after all this, with much evidence amassed in considerable quantities, some people do waver and even change
their views. But, frustrating as it may be, many other bombing advocates just revert to:
"Well, I don't know, I hate war, yes, but surely bombing is better than doing nothing."
And if I don't lose all communicative self-control at this point, as you may find yourself doing as well, I reply
(knowing I already have on the table all required data about U.S. policy generally, about the bombing and
circumstances in this instance, etc.)...Suppose that you see someone step out of a shoe store and look across the
street fifty yards down to see a big guy mugging someone smaller. There are people around the mugging, too, but
they have no means to deal with it. And, watching, you notice that this fellow exiting the shoe store wants to
intercede, and you see him pause a second and realize that he can't get there in time. He needs to act from a
distance and quickly. He looks in his duffle bag and you can see that he finds only one thing he is willing to use, a
wide angle shotgun. Aha, he can do SOMETHING. So he picks up the shotgun, aims, and fires, killing the mugger,
maiming the muggee, and crippling some bystanders as well.
Do you then defend what you have seen saying, "surely it was better to act than to do nothing"?
I pause a beat, and then relentlessly * sometimes likely too relentlessly for effective communication -- I point out that
this isn't yet a good analogy because in fact the U.S. didn't have only the shotgun in its duffle bag, but also had
diplomatic and other interventionary options that could have been pursued (such as a UN peacekeeping force), but
ruled those out as contrary to its geopolitical interests despite their potential to end the violence without violent means.
And more, having rejected other options the U.S. didn't pick up and shoot the shotgun out of concern for the mugee
(who it hit along with the mugger and bystanders and which would have been bad enough), but because a block down
from the mugging the guy with the gun--or the U.S., by analogy--owns a store with a big picture window, and he was
worried that the mugger/muggee battle was going to move down that block and break that window -- so he deduced
that to prevent THAT he must intervene and keep the conflict contained, and he knows that he doesn't want to use
anything but his gun, and so, even at the expense of hitting everyone in the vicinity, involved or not, he fires.
That's a closer analogy, nauseating as it may be--though to make it more real, I add, we would have to also notice
that the reason the guy only wants to use his gun and not other means of containing the conflict is because any other
course of action (using international law, the UN, or diplomacy) would undermine his role as enforcer of the rules of
the neighborhood, while using the gun preserves that role and protects his window simultaneously.
And, if that doesn't jog anything, I say okay, then think about this: imagine watching the Mafia intercede to correct
serious race tensions in a high school because some of the participants are dealers so the Mafia fears that the racial
conflict might spill over to disrupt their business as usual in the neighborhood, And so the mafia intervenes and puts a
lid on the racial fighting, but of course it does this by treating the kids in the school as potential addicts, dealers, or
targets, and by violently pacifying or employing them. Do you look at this and defend the mafia saying, well, yes, but
even if the mafia is generally not out for the well being of our kids maybe in this case it was, or maybe in this case
even though motivated by its own crass criminal interests it is having a positive effect as an accidental by-product?
And meanwhile anyone with open eyes realizes that the kids are being enlisted to deal, are being strung out, or are
being shot. And when challenged by a person seeing that, do you say *but the racial situation is horrible and we have
to SOMETHING, don't we?*
Finally, I just want to add for those who may get frustrated in scenarios like the above, that we all have to realize that
when we start trying to change minds it doesnΆt always happen. And so with all the above and everything else you
add, sometimes the person just stands pat. And the really intractable ones might even say, after all of it, still again:
*But for whatever reason, it may do good, and the achievement will be the measurable success of the
Yes, I might reply, a moonscaped terrain, a devastated UN, a ravaged international law system, vastly more graves,
lasting production of more corpses due to the devastation of Yugoslavia and Kosovo by air, the annihilation of the
anti-Milosevic movements in Yugoslavia, the enhancing of the U.S. military threat worldwide... all of which are fine
from elite perspectives since the only drawback for them comes if (a) the conflict grows without limit to affect
serious assets and (b) resistance and dissidence causes a rise in consciousness that actually curtails the bombing and
undermines U.S. global agendas or perhaps even those at home―which achievement is largely up to people like us.
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