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Sunday, July 25, 1999
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Uncle Sam’s friendly fire
By Manohar Malgonkar

FLYING machines loaded with cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs of terrifying destructive power attacked more than 600 targets every day in Kosovo. F-15Cs, Tomohawks, Fantoms,F-16s, EWACs, EA-6-8 Radar jammers, B-2 Stealths and a dozen other varieties streaked across the skies to strike unerringly at their given targets. They dropped their deadly loads from the heights and positions of their own choosing, in the full confidence that there would be no retaliatary fire, exactly as though they were at their home bases doing practice runs.

Such fun!

Still, those new-fangled Stealths. This was the first time that they were tried out in near-combat conditions; being blooded or, in the jargon of their makers, made their debut. Some scoffers raised doubts about their safety records. And that is why, every time those daring young US crews took them out on missions, it was incumbent upon NATO command to "phone all the wives of their pilots the minute those planes finish over their targets."

Just above how well uncle Sam looks after his fighting men — babysits them, almost.

And rightly so, too. Good for old Sam and his flying men. But...but what about those who live in the area of the targets of these bombers? Don’t they deserve the same consideration too?

Such a question, which might be asked by any person of ordinary intelligence, was studiedly avoided by the storm-troopers of the world’s news networks attending the daily briefings at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Perhaps to raise the question at all, may have deprived them of their accreditation.

Those hour-long daily sessions which were broadcast live on the world’s major TV networks were pure orwell — a replay of 1984 — a propaganda steamroller. It was so boring that had it been a part of a soap opera, no one would watch it. But, because it actually was happening, anyone who wanted to keep in touch with the day’s news just could afford to miss it.

It had one principal star and two deputies and a cast of perhaps a hundred formed by mighty men and women of the fourth estate, listening open-mouthed, writing down every word in their notebooks though one could not help wondering why — for the whole thing is recorded on film anyhow.

And there was Jamie Shea, NATO’s voice and public image, with the face of an impish schoolboy who had just let loose a mouse in the classroom. That look, of secret glee, might well be a mask, for it never changed, no matter what Shea had to tell us: a helicopter, a busload of Kosovans incinerated, a railway bridge blasted it was all the same.

Any questions? A finger aimed at someone in the disciplined audience. Yes, you, John.

It was a highly skilled performance.Awkward questions cleverly parried by stock phrases: we bomb only military targets, we never hide the truth, we uphold civilised values, human rights, moral obligations. Then the ritual winding up. Yes the bombings will go on and on; till Milosevic accepts our terms.

Initially most listeners all over the world swallowed this daily ration of sedation without any questions. But after 50 days attitudes changed. The NATO briefings were no longer merely boring, they had gone on becoming increasingly less convincing. Even people who come under NATO’s umbrella were asking: But how long can this go on? What kind of strategic imperative is this that is prepared to accept the virtual obliteration of an ethnic entity in an effort to protect it from its local enemies? Are you not destroying what you intended to protect, and in the process subjecting innocent citizens to the horrors of saturation bombing and turning them into refugees? — people with no homes, no food, no lights.

No lights? But that is a proud boast of NATO, that they have plunged whole cities into darkness. Jamie Shea himself spoke to it as a singular achievement. But he did not go into the details of the strategic imperative.

So I shall stick my neck out and attempt to define it.

In the army of the Raj, what are today called ‘War Games’ were known as TEWTs, short for Tactical Exercises without Troops. That handy word TEWT, encapsulates — if not precisely defines — the NATO strategy inYugoslavia as imposed by NATO’s ringmaster, the USA.

America has taken on the role of the world’s headmaster.In that role it has to bark orders, wave a finger, and sometimes apply the stick to resolve ethnic problems in distant lands such as Somalia and, Yugoslavia, to name only two among dozens. But that sort of intervention often calls for military action — the sending of troops to these trouble spots. By the nature of such conflicts, at least some of these men will die.

But that reality is totally unacceptable to the American man in the street, and, by projection, to America’s decision makers. They want to bask in the role of being the world’s discipline-keepers without accepting the risks that go with that role. Here the basic, the inviolable rule in that American blood shall not be spilled in wars in Europe, or for that matter, anywhere else.As witness the cushioning of those B-2 Stealth crews.


So the think tank of the Pentagon decided to transform the Raj Army’s TEWTs into a bedrock principle of US military policy: WWT, Wars Without Troops. It was tried out against Saddam, in Iraq, but in Yugoslavia it was given its first real test. Pound the life-support systems of the enemy: Destroy their villages, their houses, their road and rail networks, their radios, phones, food supplies, their water and electricity. Give them hell!

In effect, NATO’s answer to Serbia’s campaign to drive the Albanians out of Kosovo was to pile on such horrendous sufferings on the entire population of the province as to force them to flee from their country panic. Yes?

Of course, not! — Jamie Shea told you with great emphasis, and went on to explain that NATO was obliged to do this to Kosovo and to Yugoslavia because of humanitarian reasons. Because we could not just sit back and watch your sufferings at the hand of the Serbs. Did not President Clinton himself, on his visit to the theatre say so publicly?"We have no quarrel with the people of Kosovo?" It is because we care for you that we have had to carry out our air raids:Roads bridges, electric stations, TV and radio networks, food and water — they’re all military targets. If you have had to flee in panic, we have even opened refuge camps to house you. The moment we have settled scores with Milosevic, you can go back to your houses — love without fear. Did not Bill Clinton also solemnly promise when he addressed you? You will go back?"

Maybe Jamie Shea himself trusted that promises. Nor many of the refugees do.

So there is little that these million or so refugees can do except curse and abuse their tormentors. In all this bitterness and havoc of war it is easy to forget that, even in Serbia, there must be a few people who are not villains and ethnic cleaners just because they happen to be Serbians.One of these, Vokasav Bojovic, who is the Director of Belgrade’s zoo, has his own way of expressing resentment at the suffering that NATO raids have inflicted upon the inmates of his zoo. They have almost no food or water, no lights, and he will soon have to choose between killing some of his prized specimens in preference to seeing them die of hunger. I quote from a report in a prominent American magazine:

"Madeline Albright who, Bojovic believes, is largely responsible for the NATO strikes, has the zoo’s prize boa constrictor named after her." And while he still has not made up his mind about which animal deserves to be given the name Bill Clinton, Bojovic "has named a newborn chimpanzee, Monica Lewinsky."

When all this is over and some sort of peace returns toYugolsavia, these are the people who will have to be convinced that, what they were made to go through was for their own good.

Friendly fire.Back

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