Montréal, le 1er mai 1999
Numéro 36
  (page 6)
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            Vos commentaires           
 by Ralph Maddocks
          There are undoubted ironies in connection with the NATO war in Yugoslavia. Firstly, we have an American President whose warlike tendencies found expression during the Vietnam affair when he succeeded in avoiding totally any involvement in that conflict, apart from mild protestation. Secondly, we see various British politicians trying to emulate Maggie Thatcher by attempting to show themselves to be as warlike as she appeared when she presided over the unpleasantness in the Falklands in 1982, a war in which British territory had, after all, been invaded. 
Ground level knowledge 
          This war which seems to meet none of the usual criteria such as vital strategic interest, unity of national will, willingness to commit enough force to win, clearly defined objectives etc. may well drag on interminably. The only conceivable strategic interest, at least from the point of view of the mining companies, is the enormous mineral wealth in the Northern part of Kosovo. The national will of many NATO partners is hardly united. There is a continually expressed unwillingness to commit ground forces and I have yet to see or hear what the objectives are; except an intermittent and frequently expressed wish to make Milosevic come back to the bargaining table, or accept the so-called Rambouillet agreement.  
          The appalling atrocities and the concomitant refugee problem should surely have been foreseen as a result of starting to bomb Kosovo. Such things had happened before and the bombing has simply provided additional cover for killing people and handed a unique propaganda advantage to Milosevic. 
          Most inhabitants of North America may perhaps be forgiven for knowing little about Kosovo and its tumultuous history, or even for not knowing where it is. Europeans, being somewhat closer geographically, ought to be a little bit better informed. Listening to some of their politicians would seem to refute this argument.  
          The level of knowledge possessed by some of their commentators and politicians is often hilariously amusing and hardly attests to the quality of the educations they have received. Britain's Deputy Prime Minister is often denouncing « Mr Milloffosoffeffic », but obviously has difficulty pronouncing him. The UK Foreign Minister, whose extramarital philandering occupied the attentions of much of the British press for long enough, has offered his opinion that Kosovo is being ravaged by Milosevic's « Siberian forces ». Mr Cook also reported that the Serbs executed 20 Albanian teachers in front of their pupils in a place called Goden. Britain's National Union of Teachers, and its Canadian equivalent, must be salivating over a place that has such a pupil/teacher ratio; an achievement far beyond their own wildest fantasies. The village of Goden had apparently just 200 inhabitants in total! 
          Listening to Tony Blair telling the UK Parliament that the war is being fought « for a moral purpose as much as a strategic interest » made one wonder what moral purpose it was that led him to become the first Labour Party Prime Minister to lead his country into a war. One wonders if this purpose has to do with hapless Kosovars or more to do with domestic politics. Mr Blair seems to be having problems convincing his electorate to accept some of the domestic matters he wishes to foist upon them. Matters varying from genetic engineering and national DNA registers to please the policemen, through Welsh devolution (who show little or no interest in it), to road building to reduce traffic congestion. A little war can be relied upon to distract the electorate quite nicely. 
The horror of war 
          Of course it is well known that, as someone opined, the first casualty of war is truth. If proof of this is needed then reading much of the information emanating from the Serbs defies belief. Conducting a propaganda war against a totalitarian state which tightly controls all of its media is difficult, if not impossible, to win. So far as the Serbs themselves are concerned we haven't won this part of the war. Finally, after over three weeks, a Cruise missile was dispatched to remove the main television station in Belgrade. The initially expressed concept was that this is a war against Milosevic and not the Serbian people. The sight of the spokesmen contorting themselves into pretzels to explain that they have no quarrel with the Serbian people but did not attempt to bomb an alleged Milosevic palace until after three weeks, stretches credulity. That Mr Milosevic's main home contains a $4 million painting may have had something to do with it.  
          Those of us born in the first half of this century well know that the bombing of civilians, even by accident, simply hardens their will to resist. The Nazis discovered this in 1941 and the British discovered it by 1944 after leveling places like Cologne, Hamburg and Dresden. With the possible exception of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Americans were no more successful doing this in Vietnam. The Persian Gulf War bombing, for all its appearance of surgical precision bombing, didn't end the occupation of Kuwait; ground forces did. Massive ground forces on a largely flat battlefield at that. Not an insufficiently small force in some of the most mountainous terrain in Europe, terrain which tied down over twenty German divisions during much of the Second World War. To assemble a force of sufficient size to deal with the Serbian army, or its remnants, would likely take at least 60 to 90 days if one is to judge by the time it took to start the Gulf War. 
          President Clinton, indulging in his usual verbal obfuscation, has claimed that he does not intend to put US troops into Kosovo to fight a war and would not send his forces into a hostile environment. Clinton also said that he would guarantee Kosovar security but that US troops would not fight for Kosovar independence and they would not create a protected enclave for the Kosovars. When it was pointed out that this amounted to a contradiction, Clinton then said that he meant that the Kosovars were « entitled » to security. A new age socialist word if ever there was one. Then the spin doctors shifted a little and said that US troops could be sent to a « permissive » environment. It was assumed that this meant that Milosevic would cave in to the bombing and « permit » NATO troops to enter Kosovo. Now, seeming to accept that Milosevic may never yield to the bombing, they could mean that the degradation of Serb military assets will create a « permissive » environment. All this from the man who, about a year ago, said that he had not had an affair with Monica Lewinsky.  
          The prosecution of the air war, leaving aside any question of morality or utility, has left a great deal to be desired. Bombing empty buildings and tobacco factories in Belgrade may have kept the citizens awake and unable to smoke, but it is hardly degrading military capability. It was quite late in the day that bridges, oil storage and power stations were attacked although the weather may undoubtedly have played an important role. I don't know how many bridges there are in the country but destroying them all couldn't have taken more than three or four days of determined effort. The US Defence Secretary even claimed in one TV appearance that NATO is winning the bombing campaign because Milosevic is reinforcing his troops in Kosovo! The mental gymnastics required to absorb this statement are beyond me.  
          There has lately been what could be interpreted as a break in the Milosevic facade, a government official has suggested that the Serbian people be told the truth about what is happening. Whether he will keep his head after this unusual display of candour is not known as this is written, but it may be the time to start assembling the ground forces. Ground troops, at least those from the US volunteer army, are not likely to be sent into harm's way until we know exactly how many sons of senators and congressmen and women are presently serving in the infantry! 
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