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This War is Immoral, and There Is an Alternative



April 7th, 1999

LONDON- By one of those quirks of opportunity I was able to spend most of the morning of Good Friday talking with Jose Saramago, last year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, near neighbour to my daughter's home in the Canary Islands. The writer, who left his native country, Portugal, because of the outcry over his book, "The Gospel according to Jesus Christ", was outraged at the bombing of Yugoslavia, angry in particular at those who tried to put a moral gloss on it. "We are in the hands of inconsequential people. Sensible people have little influence in the world. We do what we can, we can't do much". "What irony", I replied, "that an anti-Vietnam war protestor who went to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship should have re-ignited the Cold War".

As usual in war time, the anti-war faction is in a minority. It is painful to see how the relatively cultured (never have there been so many good books read) and now very broadly educated western peoples still rally instinctively to their leaders' call to war, for no better reason than their chauvinistic juices are being stirred. If only patriotism were the last refuge of scoundrels such as Slobodan Milosevic, but sadly all over western Europe and North America war is making a lot of people's blood run faster. It was the same at the onset of the war in Vietnam, a state of affairs seemingly wiped from the consciousness of our present leaders, as were their own early dallyings with sex and dope and all the other trimmings of the defining nineteen sixties and early seventies. Never has a generation so quickly taken on the sins of the fathers, despite having been nurtured on their mistakes. Are we no better than those human beings whom Erasmus chided for being worse than animals "who don't in packs hunt their own kind"?

The lesson of millenia of war-making is that it doesn't take us very far: that the cost in the blood of our loved ones is rarely commensurate with the outcome. Who today can put up a case for the First World War or Vietnam or the three wars between India and Pakistan? World War 2 still remains the only defensible war of this bloody century (in which the Anglo-Saxons have fought more than anyone else)--because of the concentration camps which, in point of fact, were nothing to do with the initial reasons for declaring war. Hitler at first was merely applying a larger-than-life version of the Wilsonian principle of self-determination for German minorities outside the Reich. Only when it came to Hitler trying to reclaim Danzig and the West Prussian corridor from Poland did Britain say "enough".

President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Tony Blair and, not least, "Green" German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, have all in their time struggled against the kind of war-making they are now authorizing. But once in office they have discarded their beliefs in the face of the juggernaut of "professional" foreign policy advice, over-awed by the sophistication, knowledge and self-confidence of this class when meeting them face to face in a sustained way for perhaps the first time in their lives. It is true that the intellectuals of the foreign policy establishment, whether they be Zbigniew Brzezinski, Pierre Lellouche or Pauline Neville-Jones, are no fools. There is nothing wrong with the size of their brains or their skill (the "fatal felicity") in presentation. Yet they are all profoundly both amoral and philosophically short-sighted. Amoral because although they may appeal to moral sensibilities by underlining the humanitarian crisis brought on by the growing numbers of refugees, they discount the appalling consequences of going to war--the obliteration of much of Vietnam and Cambodia, leading in the latter case to creating the conditions in which the genocidal Khmer Rouge thrived, or the suffering of the children in contemporary Iraq. Not to mention, with the fall out from Vietnam, the social disturbances that are still at work in the U.S. today--the drug taking culture, the destabilised families, the sophistication of the gun culture, all of which, of course, had antecedents but which were given an enormous boost by the war.

For all their academic self-discipline, these foreign policy professionals and their friends in the military-industrial complex and the intelligence services are often incapable of taking the long view either forward or historical. Just to take the most obvious casualty of the war with Belgrade--can there be any good reason for discarding the central and most important policy aim of post Cold War Europe, to integrate Russia fully into the western world?

How do we get out of the hole we have dug for ourselves? The first law of holes is to stop digging. Nato would compound the mistakes it has already made if it were to commit ground troops--although if helping refugees were its real concern that would actually make much more practical sense than the Yugoslav-nation-uniting aerial bombardment.

The second would be to understand that a new peaceful Kosovo, where the lion and the lamb lie down together, is no longer feasible. We must accept, as we once were forced to accept for Cyprus, a divided Kosovo. We have to work with Albania--and Macedonia too--once a divorce of the Serb and Albanian areas has been agreed, to build a greater Albania, as an Albanian rump in ex-Kosovo is not a viable national state.

Given Albania's quasi-anarchic, precarious state of being this will be difficult. If the prize for Albania is a greater Albania then they should be prepared in return to allow themselves to be run for some years as a European Union protectorate. The vast sums of money that Nato today spends on a war should go instead to putting a new Albania on its feet. There is a precedent: Bosnia today is effectively an international protectorate.

Of course, Milosevic may get too much if we compromise, and also live to do damage another day. But we always have to keep his malevolence in perspective, asking ourselves a hundred times over, do the means justify the end? Are we making a bad situation worse? What price are we paying for the policies we self-righteously pursue? And, most important, how what we do will look in the cold light of twenty years hence?


Copyright © 1999 By JONATHAN POWER


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