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On Kosovars, Apaches, and "Ethnic Cleansing"
by Zoltan Grossman, Midwest Treaty Network
Back in 1991, I was a witness during the Wisconsin Ojibwe spearfishing conflict, monitoring harassment and violence by anti-Indian groups. One night, after listening to too many chants of "Indians Go Home" and "White Man's Land," I decided to warm up for a minute in a car. The car radio had on graphic news reports about the war in the disintegrating Yugoslavia. It struck me that the nationalists calling for a Greater Serbia, a Greater Croatia, and a Greater Albania were using the same rhetoric as the anti-treaty protesters on that cold boat landing. Rather than blaming their own leaders for their economic problems, they were manipulated to blame the ethnic group living next door, and to clear them out of "their" territory
Eight years later, we can see the United States at war in Yugoslavia, supposedly to stop "ethnic cleansing"-the forced removal of a population. The bombing and the forced expulsions are mutually reinforcing forms of violence that simply feed off one another.
NATO claims the bombing is a "humanitarian intervention" to prevent the sort of ethnic cleansing that has escalated since the air strikes began. This selective humanitarianism downplays the same abuses being perpetrated by US allies such as Turkey, Indonesia, Colombia, and Croatia.
A 1995 offensive by the Croatian Army—with the help of U.S. air strikes and military trainers—ethnically "cleansed" hundreds of thousands of Serbs from the Krajina region, where they had lived for centuries. The Serbs in Croatia had revolted against a government that prevented their self-rule, much like the Kosovar Albanians later did against Serbia. Many of the expelled Krajina Serbs were resettled in Kosovo, exacerbating the ethnic tensions that have now erupted into war.
...perhaps the greatest irony is the US Army's recent deployment of helicopter gunships nicknamed "Apaches."
In neighboring Bosnia later that year, the brutal Serbian and Croatian "cleansing" of Muslim communities set the stage for the Dayton Accords. The US rubber-stamped the de facto ethnic partition of the country between Serbia and Croatia, dooming any hope for a multiethnic future that includes all three Bosnian ethnic groups. The idea that NATO opposes Balkan "ethnic cleansing" flies in the face of recent US approval of "pure" ethnic boundaries that were drawn by forced removals.
The NATO double-standard overlooks the history of harsh and methodical "ethnic cleansing" to build the land base of the United States itself. This history not only includes the Trail of Tears from the Southeast, but the forced removals of Navajo (Dine) and Apache from Arizona, many Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe from Wisconsin, and most Mdewakanton Dakota from Minnesota. It also includes modern forced removals, including of the Big Mountain Dine. If we cannot understand our own history, how can we dictate to other countries how to solve their historic ethnic conflicts?
"That our government can self-righteously go to war to save Kosovo with helicopters named after the victims of our own ethnic cleansing measures the state of denial we are in."
Given this history, perhaps the greatest irony is the US Army's recent deployment of helicopter gunships nicknamed "Apaches." When the US Army defeated the Apache Nation in Arizona, the troops rounded up the survivors, locked them in cattle cars, and shipped them to a Florida military fort. Most of the refugees died of malaria or other tropical diseases. California State Representative Tom Hayden observes, "The much-touted Apache gunships with American crews are preparing to escalate the conflict. The real Apaches...were victims of a brutal, even genocidal, ethnic cleansing by the US armed forces in the last century. That our government can self-righteously go to war to save Kosovo with helicopters named after the victims of our own ethnic cleansing measures the state of denial we are in."
Other victims of ethnic cleansing were the Sauk and Meskwaki of Illinois. They became refugees who fled into Wisconsin, only to be massacred on the banks of the Mississippi River. They were led by Makatai Meshekiakiak (Black Hawk), whose English name now identifies another Army attack helicopter.
No doubt the US Army will justify the name of its attack helicopters in the same way that schools justify their racist school mascots-as historic symbols intended to "honor warriors." If that is the case, then certainly other national minority groups can be similarly honored by the armies that expelled them from their homelands.
Perhaps, a century from now, when the US government is forcibly removing Native Americans from another reservation, the Serbian Army will intervene to "rescue" the refugees, using helicopter gunships nicknamed "Kosovars."
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