Human Rights, Peace Activists Split on Kosovo

By Schaeffer, Pamela | National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

Human Rights, Peace Activists Split on Kosovo


Schaeffer, Pamela, National Catholic Reporter


Talk of "humanitarian hawks" and "militaristic doves" filters through debate over Serbia and Kosovo, a sign of what leaders of some U.S. peace organizations say is uncertainty about what position to take over the war in the Balkans.

Some groups have scheduled or proposed demonstrations, teach-ins, vigils and prayer services to protest the NATO bombing campaign. Yet in the early stages of the aerial assault against Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, several analysts noted an uncharacteristically sluggish response from antiwar groups traditionally opposed to the U.S. war machine.

Faced with harrowing television images of refugees fleeing Serb forces, pacifists and human rights activists -- familiar partners in opposing war -- sometimes find themselves at odds.

Amid the debate, one pacifist who actively defies the U.S. sanctions against Iraq proposes training armies, but of a nontraditional kind -- peace armies that would take risks similar to those taken by armies of soldiers in attempting to disarm and calm hostile situations.

Noting the absence of strong, united opposition to the recent bombing of Serbia, Jonathan Broder of MSNBC.com asked in an article in early April: "Where is the antiwar movement? Where are the left-wing demonstrations, protests and peace vigils that historically have flowered when American forces have gone off to war in foreign lands?" Broder asserted that the peace movement has been "largely missing in action" since the air war in the Balkans began.

In European countries, too, the specter of the Holocaust prevailed against pacifism and anti-NATO sentiment. In England, Germany and France, for instance, former pacifists and doves turned into what some labeled "humanitarian hawks" as reports of genocide against ethnic Albanians galvanized support for a bombing campaign and even for ground troops.

Confronted by genocide

"When you are confronted by genocide and mass human suffering, you cannot sit passively with your hands folded and ignore the killing of innocent civilians," said Joschka Fischer in an interview with The Washington Post. Fischer, a founding member of Germany's pacifist Greens Party, the country's foreign minister, said, "I believe there are certain human values that are more important than pacifism, and those are rooted deeply in my conscience."

The NATO campaign in Kosovo marks the first time German forces have taken part in combat since World War II, touching off protests in that country (though polls show a majority of Germans support the action). Many have commented on the irony that it is Germany's traditional "peace parties" -- the socialists and the Greens -- that have led the country into war, justifying the policy on human rights grounds.

The reality of the crisis in the Balkans is also giving some U.S. peace leaders pause. While few strict pacifists have abandoned that position, many are at least acknowledging a need for fresh thinking and strategies if peace efforts are to make any headway in a post-Cold War world.

Analysts involved in the peace movement are calling for more sophisticated political awareness among members of U.S. peace groups -- a better grasp of what is happening in conflicts around the world.

"U.S. peace groups need to realize that Iraq is not Vietnam, and Kosovo is not El Salvador," said Ron Pagnucco, assistant professor at Mount St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Md., and coordinator of the Pax Christi USA Peace Studies Group. "Viewing these new situations through the old anti-U.S. intervention prism is inadequate."

Pagnucco, who will join the Department of Peace Studies at the College of St. Benedict, the sister college of St. John's University, in Collegeville, Minn., this fall, said, "We need to have new thinking about what kind of positive role the U.S. can play in these post-Cold War situations, and -- even more important -- what kind of role international organizations can play. …

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