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Synthesis/Regeneration 20   (Fall, 1999)


The Permanent War Machine and the Rise of Deathwashing

by Don Fitz, Gateway Green Alliance


The collapse of the Soviet Union and explosion of the computer age have propelled the world into the era of the Permanent War Machine. Since the 1970s, the US has sought to overcome the "Vietnam Syndrome"- the unwillingness of people to march mindlessly to war. This syndrome was exacerbated by a vacuum of enemies when the Soviet Union was gone.

A few years later computer technology decisively altered complexities of the military-industrial complex. Just as research makes software obsolete within months, microchips spawned an incredibly rapid turnover in war technology. Redesigned weapons systems cannot be assumed to work simply because an abstract simulation says they will. They require real homes to destroy and actual human flesh to burn. A new war must happen every few years.

As this millennium closes, the Permanent War Machine is characterized by its continual creation of new images of Evil against which breakthroughs in killing technologies can be tested.

Many parts of Yugoslavia saw massive suffering, much of it due to Serb brutality. But there is a difference between a bloody civil war and ethnic extermination. Those who believed what came from the lips of Bill Clinton and trusted what they saw on TV news stories were convinced that Slobodan Milosevic initiated the worst "genocide" in Europe since the Nazi era. Even many who understand how the media "manufactures consent" believed the claim that war was necessary to "stop the killing."

But as the weeks went by, more and more questions arose. The press image of one-sided "genocide" by Serbia had to ignore many things besides the obvious fact that it was US bombing that forced the exodus of the overwhelming majority of ethnic Albanians who fled Kosovo. It had to ignore the many ethnic Albanians who remained in their villages without being bothered by Serb forces. It had to ignore Serbian soldiers' allowing ethnic Albanians to return to their homes in May, 1999, before the treaty was signed. It had to ignore Albanians murdered by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for their willingness to work with Serbia. It had to ignore the ethnic Albanians who were armed by Serbs so they could protect themselves from the drug-running KLA. In short, the portrayal of a civil war as "genocide" had to ignore all evidence showing that Serbian brutality was focused on Albanians who fought against the Yugoslav state and not against all Albanians as an ethnic group.


...the portrayal of a civil war as "genocide" had to ignore all evidence showing that Serbian brutality was focused on Albanians who fought against the Yugoslav state and not against all Albanians as an ethnic group.

Why then did the US have an undeclared war against Yugoslavia? The bombing did not occur because of some failure in State Department diplomatic efforts. The war was emphatically not to protect the people of Kosovo. Though we may never know the true death count, as of this writing, the best estimate is that, at most, 2000 people on both sides were killed during the year before the bombing began on March 24. Most were Albanians killed by Serbs but many were Serbs and Albanians killed by the KLA. Deaths from the bombing may have exceeded that number by several thousand. There could well be tens of thousands of deaths over the next decades (or centuries) from the use of depleted uranium, poisoning of crops, contamination of the water supply, destruction of electrical and heating grids and bombardment of factories and petro-chemical plants.

The war happened because it was the right place and the right time to deploy the Permanent War Machine. It was an opportunity to transform NATO into an aggressive military force. It seemed time to lift the taboo on German participation in military campaigns in Europe. It was time to crush the last memories of the strike wave that swept Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. It was time to give restless workers of Russia an example to convince them that there is no turning back from the path of a market economy.

Reasons why the war happened can also be found by looking at its results. The war helped Milosevic crush opposition groups. The war thus gave Milosevic an even greater hold on Yugoslav political power.

There is a more than a coincidental similarity between the careers of Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevicóall owed their power in no small part to the US, which found it opportune to demonize a former ally. Time will tell whether Milosevic is, like Noriega, to be removed for the entertainment spectacle of a trial, or, like Saddam, to be left unscathed as a symbol of Evil justifying aggrandizement of the Permanent War Machine.

The essence of the war, the great outcome of the war, the truly great victory of the war was the propaganda machine. In Vietnam, the press was fairly free to report what it saw alongside Washington's fabrications. By the time the Gulf War rolled around, the military had learned to limit access to only those journalists who would report its side. The Yugoslav War brought the full participation of Public Relations firms, who rushed to create the imagery sought by NATO. Demonization of Milosevic, a faked massacre at Racak, the transformation of a vicious civil war into ethnic "genocide"-whatever the military needed to get the public gung ho for bombing.

An early image coup was elevation of the person of Milosevic to status of eternal Demon. By objective standards, Milosevic, who oversaw the killing of his civil war opponents, was a second rate mass murderer, deserving somewhat more notoriety than a Richard Speck or John Wayne Gacy. But the press raised him to the level of a Genghis Khan, Adolph Hitler or Richard Nixon. PR firms demonstrated that nonstop focus on Milosevic and the Serbs could persuade people, including many progressives, to forget the massive expansion of the Permanent War Machine that was going.

A key group which participated in the demonization-in-the-service- of-war campaign was the German Green Party. Clinton praised the role of Germany's "Green" Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, in rallying support. Fischer, in turn, echoed Clinton's rationalizations for war.

It has now come to light that, as head of the Foreign Ministry, Fischer had access to internal documents showing that the Serbian campaign was directed against its military opponent (KLA) and not against Kosovars as an ethnic group. Fischer chose not to make these documents public and, instead, to vigorously support the war effort.

What greater plum could the Permanent War Machine ask for than the leader of a supposedly pacifist party who would publicly and repeatedly argue for war in the service of peace? The word "greenwashing" describes corporations' using environmental rhetoric to draw attention away from their practices of contamination. The word "deathwashing" describes Fischer's use of Kosovar suffering to divert attention from Clinton's expansion of the Permanent War Machine.

The problem for Green Parties is how to garner votes when business- controlled media fabricate the Big Lie. Greens can explain the truth and win some votesóbut the majority simply will not believe them because they hear the Big Lie so often that it appears to be reality. The other road is that Greens can give in to the lie, go along with what they know is wrong, and whisper to the inner circle that it is only by being in power that that one can prevent things from being worse. Those who get caught up in this deadly game often believe this delusion. But those who give in do not, in fact, change the systemó they are changed by it as they become part of the Big Lie.

Fischer could have exposed the Big Lie for what it was, brought down the government, and precipitated a national debate on the crimes visited upon Yugoslavia. He chose not to do so.

It is the height of cynicism for German Greens to decry the use of depleted uranium while endorsing military action by the only nation which has used nuclear weapons and has done so repeatedly. Once you join in military action with the most destructive force of mass murder in the world it is silly to attempt to extricate yourself from your partner's crimes with the claim that you found yourself facing conditions for which you bore no responsibility. Who isn't born into a world not of one's own creation?

Is Joschka Fischer a lone betrayer of Green values? He is not. Fischer represents an entire tendency within the German Greens who, on the infamous day of May 13, 1999, voted for the synthetic threads of power over the principle of supporting humanity.

But we must also say that Greens who voted to back Fischer were not alone. Their guiding principle was to grab power and keep it, whatever the cost. Ultimately, every Green who counts the number of votes before weighing morality participates in the Deathwashing of Bielefeld.





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