Genocide and the Lessons of History

Daily Mail (London), March 31, 1999 | Go to article overview

Genocide and the Lessons of History


Byline: ANTONY BEEVOR

THE Nazis called it Rassenkrieg, or race war. Today, we call it ethnic cleansing.

It is one of those modern euphemisms which veil a terrible truth. This semantic evasion of reality is part of the legal and political confusion which has handicapped Nato so much.

Right from the start, Western leaders feared to emphasise the political autonomy of Kosovo. As a result, the Serbian terror and massacres are effectively defined under international law as no more than internal strife, and yet the conflict is a doubly, if not triply, lethal mixture.

Worst of all, Nato's political leaders seem to have utterly failed to foresee that the air strikes, far from convincing the Serbs to adopt more reasonable behaviour, would set off population clearance and atrocities on a previously unimaginable scale.

Western leaders do not seem to have imagined the dramatic polarisation the air raids would produce. Slobodan Milosevic, who less than a year ago looked close to being toppled by democratic forces, is now in an unchallenged position, able to distort issues shamelessly.

It is interesting to compare the Nato attacks on Belgrade with the massive raid in April 1941, when the bombers of General von Richthofen, the man who commanded the destruction of Guernica in Spain, destroyed the Yugoslav capital. After the war, Tito's government obtained the extradition of General Alexander Lohr, Richthofen's superior, then executed him as a war criminal.

An astounding confusion of cause and effect has thus been developed in the Serb national consciousness, equating Nato with the Nazis.

One really does not have to look very far back in history to see what happens when a civil war of racial or political extermination is triggered.

The French Catholic writer, Georges Bernanos, recorded a Jesuit priest saying in 1936, early in the Spanish Civil War, that Christianity could only be re-established in Spain after two million 'incorrigibles' had been killed.

It is not just religious, racial or political fanaticism which produces atrocities. The combination of inarticulate rage and suppressed fear creates a state of nervous energy that explodes into violence. The effect unbalances the mind and dehumanises the enemy. The Franco-led rising against the Leftwing republic in August 1936 ignited a terrible Molotov cocktail of emotions in ordinary people who had never dreamed of killing anyone. …

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