Part II of atrocity stories as a widely-used weapon of war continues in this op ed essay by Philip Knightley, author of "The First Casualty: A History of War, Correspondents and Propaganda," as it appeared in the British paper, The Independent, June 27, 1999:
The atrocity story is a tried and tested way of arousing hatred. It fortifies the mind of the nation with "proof" of the depravity of the enemy and his cruel and degenerate conduct of his war. Your battle against him can then be painted as a righteous one, a test of civilised values over barbarity.
This is exactly what has happened with Kosovo. President Milosevic, from being a pragmatic leader that the West could do business with, became a new Genghis Khan and, significantly, a new Hitler. This link with the Second World War, a war for Britain of national survival, has strong emotional appeal.
Eventually, this invoking of the Holocaust at every turn will so cheapen that image that it will be counter-productive, and claims made will be examined, stripped of their emotional hyperbole. In fact, this by-product of incessant Holocaustomania with no relief in sight is already showing signs of happening.
So all those in government who supported the NATO war, from the Prime Minister down, began to pepper their speeches with words like "Holocaust" and "genocide" (on whose PR advice, one wonders?) until the idea was established that the new Hitler, Milosevic, was guilty not just of atrocities but of genocide against the Kosovar Albanians, and that a new Holocaust was in the making.
Don MacKay of the Mirror worked into a story a reference to "Auschwitz-style furnaces" that may have been used to incinerate Albanian bodies in a Serb-run copper mine. Or they may not have been, although the headline is unequivocal:
"1,000 corpses destroyed in mine furnaces".
This spurious association of Kosovo with the Second World War not only aroused the fighting fervour of the nation and brought back our finest hour, but made it almost impossible for those who felt disgusted, uneasy, or just doubtful about the war to speak out in protest without being accused of "appeasement" (shades of Chamberlain) or worse, of Holocaust denial (shades of neo-Nazism).
Knightley himself seems to have started the process of discounting much of the emotionalized clap-trap! This is a hopeful sign, for what took the Belgians 5 years after World War I, and the Canadians 70 years in the "crucified Canadian soldier" story, took Knightley three weeks with the Kosovo propaganda lies.
Now maybe the world is ready to accept an in-depth, no-holds-barred investigation of all the Allied and Jewish claims - never thoroughly or even superficially examined forensically or historically by the mainstream media. Is liberation finally coming?
(Safe prediction: Not as long as those two big fat cash cows, Germany and the United States, keep shelling out "guilt money"...!)
While the war was on and British journalists had little access to Kosovo, atrocity stories were limited to accusations of "ethnic cleansing". This is a confusing and irrelevant term. Tim Allen of the London School of Economics pointed out in The Media of Conflict that all wars are ethnic wars. So, presumably, all victors could be accused of ethnic cleansing.
When the war ended, NATO was naturally anxious to uncover evidence of Serb atrocities in Kosovo. If there were none, then the whole edifice on which it had based its war would have collapsed. Fortunately, the media, militarised to a degree unknown since the Second World War, was anxious to help.
Teams of frustrated war correspondents raced each other into Kosovo with one story on their minds - atrocities. Who would find the biggest and the worst? The Ministry of Defence had even prepared a map indicating possible sites of mass graves to help them. Local assistance was also available.
Chris Bird of the Guardian was approached in the street by an Albanian "with the hint of the pornographer". The man whispered: "Il y a un massacre pas loin d'ici." And when no one was impressed he added urgently: "Twenty bodies without heads."
Shades of Western TV newsmen staging stone throwings by Palestinian kids in Israel, or paying bystanders as actors in Germany some $1,000+ to shout "Sieg Heil!" and give stiff-arm Nazi salutes, or wearing Ku Klux Klan robes in some forest clearing in Germany to get anti-German sentiment whipped up!
In this scramble for atrocity stories, prudent skepticism was lost. Reporters seemed ready to believe anything as long as it painted the Serbs as monsters. A basement used by the Serbian police was described as a torture chamber. But the evidence appeared rather sketchy. Did no reporter ask why it was that the Serb police could spend three days burning all their records - television showed us the pile of ashes - but had no time to remove allegedly incriminating torture instruments and knuckle dusters? Could these have been items which the police had seized from local criminals? Who knows? Who asked?
Given the nature of Balkan strife and medieval tribalism there, mixed with Marxist ideology and brutality - what proof are a few truncheons and knuckle dusters thrown photogenically and conveniently on a barracks table? How simple-minded and naive would one have to be to believe this?
Mass graves reveal nothing. How did the people in them die? Forensic evidence may reveal the answers, but even then we are a long way from proof that would stand up at a murder trial in a British court. Albanian witnesses may be telling the truth but printing what they tell reporters and seeing how that story stands up under cross-examination are different matters.
Some correspondents offered sources for their stories. Few impress me. Maggie O'Kane of the Guardian is fond of "according to intelligence sources". Will she tell us, when it no longer matters, who they were? Others attribute stories to NATO or army spokesmen. These do not impress me either. It is interesting to note the complete reversal of the relationship between the media and the military since Vietnam. In Vietnam the media were reluctant to believe anything the military told them. In Kosovo the media tend to believe everything the military tells them because the military has stolen the moral high ground by claiming it is anti-war. It bombs in the name of peace, to save or liberate, so those who object are the war-mongers, appeasers, Nazis.
Finally a mainstream media type is using the gray matter between his ears! That is precisely what has happened since the uncomfortable days of the probing questions of reporters to military spin-doctors then! The new crop of reporters are either dumber or more callous - more willing to lie to get an easy story.
It was fascinating to watch the British Army's spokesman being interviewed about the deaths of the two Gurkhas. He tried to avoid admitting that the men had died working on a NATO cluster bomb, so as not to embarrass his Prime Minister who had blamed the deaths on Serbs. Meanwhile, Albanian war crimes against the Serbs appear to have begun. How will they be reported? Dogmatic journalism with no room for honest doubt, no chance for the public to make up its own mind, has brought us to the point where even to express the slightest reservation about the latest atrocity story, or to show the tiniest disagreement with Britain's policy in Kosovo, is regarded as little short of treason, not just unpatriotic but immoral.
Sad days, but if you feel as I do that truth, the most abused and displaced refugee, has had a rough deal, remember that even the Bryce Commission was eventually exposed. So take heart. <end>
I think this is, in general, a wonderful article and a careful assessment of the problem of peddling atrocities - but one thing is missing: Why reach back all the way to World War I to make a point? There was, after all, World War II.
Does this omission mean that World War II has not yet ended - and that, therefore, the "enemy" is still in need of being vilified?
Or does it mean that Knightley knows, like all his colleagues know, what murderous persecution he and his editors would face if he did the honest thing and cited Holocaust lies, or the fifty-year-old lie that the Germans were responsible for the atrocity of Katyn! That one would have been the most apt story to compare the "Serb mass grave" story to - but that would really rattle the cage of those in power in England and America!
Thanks to the Internet and outfits like Truth in Media (and us to a smaller degree) truth is now ushered in much more quickly! Good for the Serbs! Good also for the world!
Thought for the Day:
"Prejudices not being founded on reason cannot be removed by argument."
Back to Table of Contents of the July 1999 ZGrams