San Jose Mercury News (California)
May 28, 1999
EDITORIAL: Losing the moral war
President Clinton should be ashamed of the attacks on civilians
ADMITTEDLY, the line separating the justifiable from the inexcusable
in NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia is not clear. But wherever it is, we
crossed it this week.
We got into this nasty little war to save innocent civilians in
Kosovo. Now we are punishing innocent civilians in Serbia.
This is no longer just the occasional bomb or missile gone
accidentally astray, although that continues as well; an 8-year-old
boy and his 5-year-old sister died Thursday when NATO bombed their
home in a Belgrade suburb. Now, however, such accidents occur in the
context of a cynical, calculated campaign by NATO to victimize the
entire civilian population -- to make life such hell for them that
they turn against their elected president, Slobodan Milosevic.
By all accounts, it is not working. "Reduced to a `Caveman' Life,
Serbs Don't Blame Milosevic," a Page 1 headline in the New York Times
The story quoted a Serbian woman who had worked for the American
embassy in Belgrade. She is 64, and remembers the city being bombed by
the Nazis and the Allies in World War II.
``If NATO wants to overturn the government, this is not the way to do
it,'' she said. ``I am absolutely certain this will not make people
revolt against their government -- they will revolt against whoever is
doing this to them. NATO is terrorizing 6 million civilians in large
cities in Yugoslavia. Making people's lives miserable is not solving
Other Serbs say the same: far from loosening Milosevic's hold on the
nation, the bombing solidifies his power and makes it impossible for
others to oppose him.
Now, in the heaviest bombing yet, NATO has targeted Serbia's electric
power grids, blacking out much of the country. That had been done
before. But this time the damage is more devastating and less easily
repaired. Without electricity, water pumping stations and filtration
plants don't work. Hospitals cannot bathe patients or sterilize
instruments. In private homes, scarce food is spoiling in freezers.
Cold, dirty, thirsty and hungry, the Serbs are pleading with the
United Nations and other international agencies to intervene.
Officially, NATO still says it is bombing military targets. But this
week senior military officials admitted they also want to damage the
quality of everyday life for the people of Serbia.
Bill Clinton should be ashamed. He began this war by promising that
the bombing would be confined to military targets, and that ground
troops would not be used. Steadily, little by little, those assurances
are eroding. NATO has authorized 50,000 soldiers, calling them
``peacekeepers.'' Obviously they could also fight.
Clinton and other NATO leaders are frustrated that the air war hasn't
succeeded, and they are stung by criticism that they undermined its
effectiveness by taking ground war off the table. Now, they are
putting it back on.
At the same time, they are intensifying the bombing. NATO now has
1,000 planes over Yugoslavia, about 700 of them ours. The bombing goes
around the clock, up to 500 missions a day. Thursday it began to hit
suburbs around Belgrade.
This week also brought the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic as a war
criminal, which he surely is. But whatever impact that might have had
on Serb civilians is overwhelmed by their conviction that NATO is
committing war crimes against them.
This war has taken a subtle but sure turn for the worse. President
Clinton's earlier denials that we were at war with the Serbian people
apparently are ``no longer operative,'' as Richard Nixon would have
put it. We are destroying Yugoslavia, little by little, day by day.
Our side began this war with a moral imperative. This week we lost it,
somewhere in the skies over Belgrade.
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