By Howard Zinn • The Progressive • May 2, 1999
A friend wrote to ask my opinion on Kosovo. He said many people were turning to him for answers, and he didn’t know what to say, so he was turning to me (knowing, I guess, that I always have something to say, right or wrong).
Several things seem clear to me, and they don’t fit easily together in a way that points to a clean solution.
Milosevic and his Serb forces are committing atrocities.
But bombing won’t help. It can only make things worse, and that is already evident. It is creating more victims, on both sides.
The Kosovo Liberation Army may not represent the wishes of the Kosovar people. It turned to armed struggle to gain independence, ruthlessly putting its countrymen at risk, when a protracted nonviolent campaign of resistance was already going on and should have continued.
I think of South Africa, where a decision to engage in out-and-out armed struggle would have led to a bloody civil war with huge casualties, most of them black. Instead, the African National Congress decided to put up with apartheid longer, but wage a long-term campaign of attrition, with strikes, sabotage, economic sanctions, and international pressure. It worked.
The United States does not have a humanitarian aim in this situation. U.S. foreign policy has never been guided by such concerns, but by political power, economic interest, and sometimes a motive more elusive–machismo. (We want to show the world we are Number One, as President after President has reiterated since the beginning of the Vietnam War).
The hypocrisy of the Clinton Administration is evident after just a glance at recent history. When Chechnya rebelled, demanding independence from Russia just as Kosovo wants it from Yugoslavia now, the Russian army moved in and did terrible things to the people of Chechnya. Clinton did not oppose this. In fact, in fielding one reporter’s question, he compared the situation to the American Civil War, when Lincoln would not permit the Confederacy to secede.
There is no sensible military solution to the ethnic cleansing. It could be stopped only by putting in a large ground force, which would mean a full-scale war, which would greatly multiply the present violence.
What is happening to the people of Kosovo is heartrending, and I think the only solution is a diplomatic one, forgetting the treaty the United States tried to force on Serbia. It will take a new agreement, in which the Kosovars will have to settle for some form of autonomy, but no guarantee of independence: a compromise in order to have peace. And the most likely way this diplomatic solution can come about is through the intercession of Russia, which should exercise its influence over the Serbs.
The United States is violating the U.N. Charter. But any reference to international law may appear futile, since the United States has rendered it worthless for fifty years. The bombing also violates the U.S. Constitution, which requires a declaration of war, and we are certainly waging war.
The United States and NATO (which is the creation of the United States and does its bidding) are floundering, and in the process they are doing enormous damage to human beings. This situation will require the citizens of the NATO countries-especially of the United States–to shout their protest at what is going on, and to demand a diplomatic solution. When a nation issues ultimatums, it leaves no room for compromise and ensures that war will continue.
We learned from Vietnam that the ruthlessness of leaders, the stupidity of “experts,” must be countered by the courage, good sense, and persistence of the citizenry.
Published in The Progressive • May 2, 1999