The Western Response to the Bosnian Genocide
West Stands Silent as Bosnian Serbs Wreak Havoc
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel p.10A
4 August 1995.
By George Will
Two years ago, when there were reports that a Bosnian Muslim in a Serbian concentration camp had been forced to bite off his father’s testicles, it was comforting to recall the European tradition of fabricated stories — German soldiers amputating the hands of Belgian nurses in 1914, and so on.
Today, with abundant evidence of rape used as a weapon of war, of Muslims’ eyes gouged out and ears and noses sliced off by Serbian “soldiers” (it is disgusting to give that honorable title to snipers killing Sarajevo children), with testimony about heads on stakes and a woman forced to drink blood from her son’s slit throat, it is reasonable to suspend disbelief concerning all reports about the cowardly mob called the Bosnian Serb “army,” which is a proxy for war criminals in Belgrade.
The Serbs’ flaunting of their terror tactics reveals their largest advantage in this war to extinguish the Bosnian nation — this war in which, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihand (D-N.Y.) says, “a new kind of war correspondent emerged, reporting massacres rather than battles.”
The largest advantage is not the mountainous terrain and the fogs that often shroud it, making Bosnia so forbidding to military leaders contemplating intervention. Rather, the Serbs’ largest advantage is their realistic contempt for the West.
The West — what exactly does that noun now denote, given the non-response to genocidal aggression? — almost preens about having become too exquisitely sensitive to use force against barbarism. Shall we blame that peculiar notion of moral progress for the fact that there still are bridges standing, across which come supplies from Serbia to the Bosnian Serbs?
Why are Serbian computers still serving the Bosnian Serbs’ anti-aircraft missiles of the sort that shot down Capt. Scott O’Grady?
Shoot down an American plane and the president’s response will be to publicize the fact that he smoked a celebratory cigar when the pilot was rescued.
The disarray of the NATO allies and especially of the Clinton administration arises in part from military leaders equally nimble in devising arguments for procuring weapons and against using them. The U.S. military, which purports to be competent to cope with two regional conflicts simultaneously, has an annual budget more than 20 times larger than Serbia’s gross national product.
Before U.S. military leaders tell civilian officials what so many of those officials want to hear — that U.S. force cannot be effectively used to change Serbia’s behavior — they should ponder some words of House Speaker Newt Gingrich: “You do not need today’s defense budget to defend the United States. You need today’s defense budget to lead the world. If you are prepared to give up leading the world, we can have a much smaller defense system.”
The White House warns that NATO military action might “reignite the war” — how does one reignite a conflagration? — and jeopardize the cruelly misnamed “safe areas.” This fatuity calls to mind the 1944 letter in which the U.S. assistant secretary of war, John J. McCloy, said that one reason for not bombing Auschwitz and railroad lines leading to it was that doing so “might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.” Wouldn’t have wanted to anger the operators of the crematoriums.
Especially scathing criticism of the president is coming from The New Republic, which would like to like him. In the current issue Zbigniew Brzezinski, the last national security adviser to a Democratic president, offers a presidential speech that could be given “if the post of Leader of the Free World were not currently vacant.” And The New Republic’s editors write:
“The United States seems to be taking a sabbatical from historical seriousness, blinding itself to genocide and its consequences, fleeing the moral and practical imperatives of its own power …. You Americanize the war or you Americanize the genocide. Since the United States is the only power in the world that can stop the ethnic cleansing, the United States is responsible if the ethnic cleansing continues. Well, not exactly the United States. The American president is an accomplice to genocide. Not so the American people. The president of the United States does not have the right to make the people of the United States seem as indecent as he is. He has the power, but he does not have the right.”
Strong words, but strong feelings are appropriate. Speaking of the Serbs who sacked the Srebrenica “safe area,” a survivor said, “They hunted us like rabbits.” Reread the first paragraph of this piece. No one treats rabbits that way.
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post