I actively opposed both US invasions of Iraq. I actively opposed US bombing of Serbia.
The two experiences were completely different.
My leftist and progressive friends applauded and supported my opposition to the US invasion of Iraq.
Serbia? "Nuke 'em" was too common an attitude.
In Bloomington, Indiana, a liberal university town, I went door to door, trying to build a coalition against the bombing. I was told to visit a prominent African American preacher who had a record of support for social justice issues. I'll never forget what he said to me, through the crack in the door – he would not let me enter.
"As an African American, I have a historical responsibility to stand with the oppressed people of color against their white oppressors."
He really thought that. He really though that Serbs were white oppressors and their opponents in the conflicts over the breakup of Yugoslavia were historically oppressed, dark-skinned people.
I am not making this up. I wish I were.
Where did America get the idea that Christian, Slavic Serbs were all evil, oppressive monsters and the former Yugoslavia's Muslims were all blameless and innocuous?
Largely from our Democratic leadership at the time. Bill Clinton delivered a profoundly dishonest speech from the Oval Office on primetime TV. Richard Holbrooke used racist terms to discuss Serbs.
My book, "Bieganski," talks about how elite media voices, including the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Newsweek, demonized Serbs in utterly racist fashion. "Bieganski" compares that coverage to coverage of the genocide in Rwanda. When it came to Rwanda, the same media sources, often the same authors, decried racist understandings. Two different languages were used to discuss atrocities committed by Slavic Serbs, and to discuss atrocities committed by black Africans.
NPR has been covering Holbrooke's death, playing clips of him saying things like, "You have to understand the Serbs. Serbs are tribal. They engage in mythological thinking. They are invested in an image of themselves as victims." I'm paraphrasing what I heard on NPR.
Here's the problem with Holbrooke's self-serving propaganda. The Serbs really were victims. They weren't imagining their victimization. And the Serbs confronted enemies who were certainly tribal and who certainly had them targeted, for a very long time, for genocide and enslavement.
Look at a map. Serbs are on the receiving end of the tip of the spear of jihad. Do a Google search of "Turkey massacres Balkans." Learn the word "devshirme." Another word: "sakaliba." Slavic slave boys castrated by Muslim owners. I mention this because the insistence that Serbs must be historical oppressors because they are "white" is ... not supported by history.
The single most unforgettable sentence written during the conflicts around the breakup of the former Yugoslavia appeared in the New York Times on April 17, 1994. General Ratko Mladic was trying to explain to a reporter his rationale for fighting non-Serbs. Excerpt, below, from the New York Times.
Successive United Nations commanders have tried to understand the general's relentless prosecution of the war against the Bosnian Muslims. In one exchange at Sarajevo, Lieut. Gen. Lars-Eric Walgren, who departed last year, asked General Mladic why he kept up his onslaught.
"General, do you remember your father?" General Mladic responded.
"Yes," General Walgren said.
"In my case," General Mladic said, "my son is the first in many generations to know his father. Because there have been so many attacks on the Serbian people, children do not know their fathers."
***No. No one excuses, no one justifies, the slaughters the Serbs committed.
Rather, decent people condemn the blatant racism and open lies employed by the Clinton administration in their propaganda to the American people justifying America's bombing of Serbia.
That is why there is no mourning for Richard Holbrooke here. Rather I mourn the victims of the Clinton's administration's policies in the former Yugoslavia. Those victims include the truth.