ANCIENT HATREDS AND MODERN DEMONS: The Double Bind on Popular Dissent

Matthew C. Ally



Karsten Struhl



Ecological Devastation Crushes Yugoslavia

Report From the Belgrade Zoo

Who Are the Real Terrorists?

Images and Holocausts

Germany’s Secret Documents

Beating Plows Into Evacs

Television Station Bombed

Just How Did the US Flag Acquire All Those Stars?

Mitchel Cohen


VOICES FROM BELOW: Collateral Damage, Incoming!

Biljana Marjanovic



Omar Dahbour



Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis


BOMBING THE BRIDGE TO THE 21ST CENTURY: Behind NATO’s Bombardment of Yugoslavia

Mitchel Cohen


IS NATO A KILLER COP? A View from the Russian Democratic Left

Alexander V. Buzgalin


ANOTHER INVENTED ENEMY? A Call for a New Peace Movement

Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone


Carl Lesnor









Carl Lesnor


"Whenever the standard of freedom and independence has been unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be. But she does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general by the countenance of her voice and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that, by once enlisting under banners other than her own, were they even banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the powers of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the color and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world; she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit."

John Quincy Adams, July 4, 1821


Though written 178 years ago, no words better express what is at stake for Americans at the end of the century: "dictatress of the world"‚ "Globocop" or "ruler of her own spirit." Adams, together with all the founders of the Republic, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, understood the ever present danger that ambitious tyrants would attempt to usurp the people’s right to decide their own future by embroiling them in foreign wars. For them, war was not only the cause of death, misery, and horror (they could not have imagined the twentieth century’s explosion of technological killing), it was the surest way of destroying democracy.

Madison wrote: "In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and the most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."

This is the reason that the writers of our Constitution insisted that the power to declare war could only be entrusted to the people’s elected representatives. The President, who put his hand on the Bible and swore to uphold and defend the Constitution, now asserts his right to engage in war whenever he pleases. Like his recent predecessors, he contends that as Commander in Chief he has the power of a military dictator, although the Constitution only gives him the right to order military action to repel an armed attack on the United States. For reasons best known to himself he has launched attacks on Iraq (now on an almost daily basis), Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia — hitting Pakistan, Rumania, Bulgaria, and the Belgrade embassies of China, Sweden, and Spain. He has fired off so many missiles that the enormous stockpile acquired during the Reagan administration, which everyone thought greatly exceeded any foreseeable need, are, we are told, almost used up.

Why has he done this? Without any direct access to his inner deliberations and in the absence of documents of communications with his associates, we are obliged to rely on public statements and the record of his actions. That shouldn’t be an insuperable handicap; actions indeed speak louder than words. Observing them is the way we usually figure out what people are up to; only in this case we must bear in mind that we are dealing with a supremely ambitious and resourceful politician, whose reputation for truth telling is such that it would be rash to take any of his statements at face value, notwithstanding that look of utter sincerity that comes over his face when he utters them. (Even those who thought his lies excusable, or at least non-impeachable, would do well to remember that look he had when he was denying that he "ever had sex with that woman." If "oral sex" isn’t sex, then an invasion force can be a peacekeeping force, and if the meaning of "is" is to be deconstructed, then "not taking options off the table" can mean a commitment to using them: a narrowing of options. Peacekeeping forces become warmaking when they enter a "nonpermissive environment." After Rambouillet, the US and NATO never claimed the right to send armed forces into Yugoslavia unless invited to do so by its government. They did, however, assert the right to launch air attacks to extract the invitation. Now, the pretense of an invitation is dropped; now what they mean is a situation in which the Yugoslav army cannot mount too effective a resistance, i.e., a "semipermisssive environment").

The humanitarian motive the President claims is demonstrably false. The bombing attack caused, rather than prevented, the evacuation of Kosovo Albanians. Moreover this outcome was both predictable and predicted: under air attack, threatened with a NATO invasion, and having to fight an insurgency that was acting as its fifth column, it is hardly surprising that the Serbian government, like many others before them, including ours, would resort to brutal methods to combat this threat. The only difference is that, rather than going abroad to expand it’s power, it is seeking to hold on to the little of its nation that remains.

Either the President recklessly chose to ignore this outcome, as more charitable critics maintain, or he knowingly sacrificed the people he claimed to care about for his own political advantage; there is no third alternative. Either answer demolishes the humanitarian pretext; no one who genuinely cared about the welfare of these people would ever unthinkingly expose them to such dangers.

If the humanitarian pretext is in shambles, what other reasons are there? Some analysts suggest economic motives. These tend to be complicated, and require careful research to elucidate, but one thing is clear: there is the obvious advantage to the arms producers who make a killing in this, as in all wars. Our political leaders take our tax money, award these "defense contractors" lucrative orders, and receive a portion back in the form of campaign contributions. If the money were to be spent on providing benefits to the people (and/or returned to them by lowering taxes), this source of political corruption would be eliminated; the expenditures would be subject to public scrutiny, democratic debate, citizen involvement in politics. Nothing strikes more terror into the hearts of our bipartisan political oligarchy than this prospect. No external enemy poses a threat to it. The only threat comes from inside, from the American people, who alone are capable of depriving our rulers of their power to rule over us.

Periodically we have attempted to do so: The populist upsurge of the 1890’s posed just such a threat to the leaders of both parties; the war with Spain put an end to it. When Americans started once more to demand democratic reform, the progressive movement was killed off by US intervention in World War I and dissent ruthlessly suppressed by police state methods. When during the Great Depression, Americans demanded that their government address their needs, the government was obliged to grant some reforms. But these concessions only whetted the popular appetite for more and produced the landslide mandate for reform in the election of 1936. The only way the governing elite found to put an end to it was to discover a foreign enemy (Japan) in1937, put all further reforms on hold, and launch a program of "preparedness." Still, Americans, realizing how they had been swindled into the first war, were adamantly opposed to going to war again. So, in 1940, they were given a choice between two "peace candidates," both of whom privately favored intervention. They elected the one who promised "again and again and again" that their sons "would not die in foreign wars." What they got, of course, was just that, and the suspension of democratic politics for the duration of the war — war being absolutely incompatible with democracy. Once it had been won (estimated cost in lives: between 55 and 85 million), they were hoping that then, finally, their needs and their interests might be addressed. They were in for a rude shock: their gallant Russian allies in the exemplary war against fascism, were discovered to be merely the old enemy in new clothes. The USSR’s attempt to retain a sphere of influence on its borders as insurance against renewed attacks was held up as evidence that it was bent on world domination and anyone dissenting from this claim was branded as disloyal. Democracy was put on hold once again; an enormous political, military, industrial complex was built by a bipartisan elite. Instead of the "Fair Deal" that Truman promised, they got the Korean War, (just as later, instead of the "Great Society" that Johnson promised, they got the Vietnam war.) To defend against the threat of Russian expansion, it was proposed that, for the first time in history, American troops be permanently stationed abroad as part of NATO. This was opposed by cautious conservatives who asked why, even if such a threat existed, the Europeans couldn’t provide their own defense. They were assured that this was only a temporary measure which would come to an end once the Europeans were "back on their feet." Of course it never ended, although the purported reason for its existence has long since disappeared.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the Warsaw pact, posed a real threat to the political-military-industrial complex. We could finally bring the troops home and get rid of NATO. We were looking forward to receiving a "peace dividend" and turning our attention to the unfinished business of America. But that just shows how little we knew. Those who knew better, those in the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA, the think tanks, and the media, discovered other enemies they hadn’t noticed before. Such former allies and clients as Noriega and Saddam Hussein were suddenly transformed into threats, requiring military solutions. NATO, instead of lapsing, was actually expanded eastward. At the time this was widely seen as a provocation against Russia, but it was pushed through anyway. Now it has been given a new mission: to intervene militarily anywhere it wishes, not subject to any control whatsoever, not by the United Nations, not by international law, which expressly forbids attacks on sovereign states, not by its own charter, and, most importantly for us, not by the United States Constitution.

The new doctrine advanced by the war party is that the United States government has the right — indeed the duty — to intervene militarily anywhere on the planet whenever it sees fit. As the reach of their ambition expands, the pretexts get thinner. Since the demise of the Soviet "threat" they suggest that the absence of this danger makes the world even more dangerous. If we have trouble understanding how this is so, there are experts, professors, "senior fellows" and "resident scholars" at think tanks and foundations to explain to us that it is necessary, once again, to turn over our money and our liberties to the government and expect nothing in return, except our perpetually endangered "national security."

The present war, launched in complete contempt for the wishes and interests of the American people, is a foretaste of what is to come in the future. If we grant politicians the right to embroil us in foreign conflicts, we have abdicated our own rights to decide our own affairs. In the name of self-determination for Albanians our own self-determination is destroyed. In the name of democracy, our own democracy is abolished. In the name of war against war, we are embarked on a future of continual wars whenever politicians choose, for their own reasons, to launch them.

Putting an end to the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs is reason enough for ending this inhuman war, but Americans have their own. We have a choice: running the world or running our own country. If we allow the former to be imposed on us, American democracy, that much abused, much degraded‚ ideal which stubbornly survives in the hearts of Americans, will be snuffed out. This is our stake in the battle, and it is no less worthy than those of the people of the Balkans.


* * * * *


This text was written while the bombs were falling; it concluded with an appeal to all Americans to help stop them. Now that the war is "over" it is not too early for us to learn how to prevent the next one. But where will it be? There are any number of pots our rulers keep simmering and which can be moved to the front burner whenever they choose: Colombia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Central Asia, Yugoslavia (again), Iraq (where bombing and starvation continue)...the list is literally endless, since they now claim the right to intervene everywhere. When they do we are sure to be deluged by a massive campaign of disinformation, painting a picture of a dire emergency that requires that we "do something." Of course it would be good if we could refute their claims as fast as they are made, but we will always be at a disadvantage, given the willingness of the media to act in their interests. How many of us knew, for example, that the Rambouillet "accords," which the Yugoslavs refused to sign and which were given as the reason we went to war, called for the military occupation of all of Yugoslavia by NATO? How many of us knew that these conditions were added so as to assure that they would be rejected? How many of us knew of the decade-long campaign waged by the US to break up Yugoslavia by encouraging, financing, and arming nationalist and secessionist movements in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo? Of the "ethnic cleansing" visited upon hundreds of thousands of Serbs living in Croatia? How many of us knew that the death toll in Kosovo in the year preceding the NATO attack was no more than two thousand on all sides (according to American government officials), that the Serbian campaign in Kosovo was in response to a nationalist insurgency by the KLA, who had been described by American officials as "terrorists"? How many of us know it now? Or for that matter, how many Americans know that their government told Saddam Hussein it would have no objection to his occupation of Kuwait and then told the Congress that we had no commitment to defend it? Or that the troops we sent were for the purpose of defending Saudi Arabia? That when Saddam committed all the acts for which we condemn him we were actually supporting him?

This is not to reproach Americans for their failure to know the details of international politics. It is impossible to know enough about hundreds of countries around the world to act responsibly. There is no way an interventionist policy can ever be conducted democratically; it necessarily means allowing the very same politicians we distrust to act at their discretion, relying on them to act in our interests or the interests of humanity. Common sense, prudence, morality, and self-interest all dictate that they should not be given this power. Another lesson that we can learn from this war is that it has revealed just how little support there is for foreign intervention outside of the bipartisan elite. This was testified to by the refusal to seek Congressional approval before the bombing started, by the refusal to explain it to the American people beforehand, and by the prodigious lies told by government and NATO spokesmen. Even more eloquent was the refusal to risk the life of a single American soldier. Another notable consequence of the war was the emergence of a more broadly based opposition than has been seen in our lifetime. Conservatives who had gone along with all military interventions as long as they were directed against Communism defected from the war party and made common cause with anti-war leftists (at least those who hadn’t capitulated to "humanitarian bombing"). The administration was unable to get Congress to approve the war even after it began. Of course the leadership of our two parties will not and cannot renounce the Empire; they use it to prevent the people from interfering in their government, but there is already a broad majority of Americans who want the government to respond to their concerns and have no desire to be policemen to the world. They might disagree on almost everything else, but they understand that mounting crusades to make the world safe for democracy is the surest way of abolishing it and that the dismantling of the warfare state is the precondition for returning power to the people.



Carl Lesnor is Associate editor of Philosophical Forum. Since the Vietnam war he has been attempting to understand and prevent American global intervention and has taken part in numerous efforts unsuccessful, he hastens to add to change US policies in the Middle East.