Magazine article The Christian Century

Faulty Logic, Faulty Ethics

Magazine article The Christian Century

Faulty Logic, Faulty Ethics

Article excerpt

Many pronouncements made by Serbs and by ethnic Albanians in Serbia, including Kosovo, are half-truths. Half-truths have also corrupted the pronouncements of many people, including the U.S. government and military and the media. And half-truths lead to total error. Thus, again in this latest Balkan conflict, truth is one of the first casualties of war.

The following truths should be kept in mind as one evaluates the bombardment of Yugoslavia and the espoused goals of the U.S. and NATO:

* The lives of Albanians and Serbs (and other inhabitants of multiethnic Yugoslavia who have been almost completely forgotten) are equally precious.

* Both Serbs and Albanians have lived in Kosovo for centuries, sometimes in isolation from one another, with occasional bloody conflicts.

* Attempts at ethnic cleansing in Kosovo are mutual; Serbs would like to eliminate the Albanian presence and vice versa.

* Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have been and continue to be subjected to a persecution verging on genocide.

* The tactics of ethnic Albanian guerrillas, both from Kosovo and outside Kosovo, are as brutal toward Serbs as those of the Serbs are toward them.

* The two groups are afraid of each other and are able to see only their own victimization. They do not regard the suffering inflicted by their own side on the other as of any significance.

* For the Serbs, Kosovo has the significance of a "holy land" without which Serb identity is unthinkable. Many are ready to kill or to be killed for this land.

* Albanians' gradual demographic growth has created for them a sense that this land ought to be theirs alone, independent from Serbia, and eventually annexed to Albania.

* Each side would rather be destroyed than give up these claims.

* Each side has harbored and nurtured the collective memory of previous attempts at genocide and repression.

The most pressing tragedy has been the rising toll among ethnic Albanians. It is well known that the most difficult ethical decisions are those where two or more rights collide. In this case, the right of a sovereign state to prevent secession of one of its integral provinces has collided with the right of the ethnic Albanian minority to receive protection of its human rights either by the state or by the international community. The protection of minority rights must take priority, especially when the abuse threatens to develop into genocide. (This principle is not recognized by Yugoslavia, however, or by other states defined by ethnic identity.) I supported the use of U.S. troops to end the Bosnian conflict in the name of preventing an even greater loss of life.

But to intervene on behalf of the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo requires an extraordinarily subtle approach. That subtlety has been entirely lacking. Needing to drum up popular support for military intervention, the administration compared Slobodan Milosevic to Hitler or Sadam Hussein. Such a comparison is an unwarranted magnification.

The demonization of all Serbs quickly followed, which made it palatable to assert that we can and must bomb Milosevie into submission and that it will be his fault if he does not succumb to NATO'S ultimatum. Never mind that this entails destroying a multiethnic country whose inhabitants have been told that, though they are being killed, our quarrel is not with them but with Milosevie (who is, needless to say, well protected). We also overlooked the fact that the ultimatum given to Milosevic was unacceptable not only to him but to the vast majority of Yugoslavia's citizens.

The Kosovo problem, like the Bosnian problem, will not go away with the defeat of this or that leader. But Americans lack the stomach or patience to confront intractable problems. Americans offered a set of simple solutions, which consisted mostly of threats and not enough enticements. NATO declared it would bomb Yugoslavia into submission unless or until it invited the soldiers of the very same countries that had just bombed it to patrol it. …

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