Pourquoi Guy Debord, pourquoi Jacques Attali (un peu)

jacques_attali2.jpg

There is something oddly fitting about using the categories of modern French thought to critique the Decent Left. A lot of it has to do with their peculiar mode of thought, which mixes the anti-theoretical philistinism of the Anglophone pundit with the normal thought-process of the far-left sectarian, the latter combining a sort of crazed logical positivism with a strong streak of magical thinking. And, given their hostility to a French intellectual tradition most of them don’t understand, it’s quite amusing as well.

So we brought Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacrum to bear on Decency. Old Baudrillard got plenty of things wrong, but this is a case where the simulacrum fits perfectly: you could see this even at the birth of Decency some fifteen years ago, when there was a noticeable division between those small-d decent people who wanted to defend Bosnia on geopolitical or humanitarian grounds, and those for whom “Bosnia” was a Platonic ideal and “defending Bosnia” (which seemed to consist mainly of writing columns in the Graun and Staggers) a measure of personal virtue. Similarly, “Iraq” or “Darfur” or “Afghanistan” in Decent discourse are to be taken not as references to places on a map, but to intellectual categories used to bash the Indecent about the head. You find a lot of this with Professor Normblog, who rarely writes about Iraq the place, and who in his more lucid moments sees the war as a disaster, but is still intent on using the simulacrum of “Iraq” to prove that his support for the war makes him more moral than those who said all along it would be a disaster.

Similarly with Nick’s scattergun attack on “The Left”, a simulacrum that bears only a fleeting resemblance to an actually existing left, but a suspiciously close resemblance to Nick himself circa 2002. And don’t get me started on the Cohen-Wheen-Hari trope of “postmodernism”…

Closely related to the Baudrillardian Simulacrum, but distinct from it, is Guy Debord’s Spectacle, which itself was an expansion from the purely economic into the cultural sphere of the Marxian concept of reification. Now, if you’re one of those people who didn’t throw away his old situationist texts, you’ll recall that in the Debordian schema “liberal democracy” played the part of the integrated spectacle, while “terrorism” was not only the mirror image but the necessarily constructed enemy, the obscene other without which democracy could not exist, the big bad that proved the goodness and superiority of the democrat. And doesn’t this provide an excellent framework for reading Berman’s Terror and Liberalism?

Skipping from this to our own Decent Left, we find something rather striking. While those of us who count ourselves as Indecent generally have positive agendas of our own – shit, even Osama has a positive agenda of his own, albeit a repugnant one – the Decents, qua Decents, literally cannot exist without Indecency. They need to have big bad Obscene Others to define themselves against – this isn’t just rhetorical but existential. Without the ideological simulacra of “the Serbo-fascists” or “the Islamofascists” or “the Chomskyans” or “the SWP”, where would they be? I suppose this is what divides off semi-Decent New Labour hacks like Aaro or Norm, who can always retreat back into New Labour hackery, or a dilettante like young Johann, who can always find another big idea, from ideologues of Decency like Messrs Cohen, Kampf, or Hoare minor, whose self-worth seems to depend on running literary campaigns against straw men.

Back in May ’68, the Situationists reckoned that going beyond our allotted roles as passive consumers involved exploding the Spectacle. Today, the simulacrum-politics of the virtual warriors is as worthy of debunking as anything.

76 Comments

  1. ejh said,

    August 20, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I thought that was Tony Robinson…

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 20, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Tony Robinson, Jacques Attali… right enough, you’d easily mix them up. Jacques has certainly had enough Cunning Plans in his day.

  3. Chris Bertram said,

    August 20, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    I think you are onto something here, as regards the Platonic idea. But I’m not sure you have all the individuals in the right boxes. Specifically, Norm is, I think, in the Obscene Other camp whereas I doubt that’s the right way to think of M.A. Hoare for whom Bosnia is and was a real place, with real mud and real people etc., about which he knows a great deal.

  4. August 20, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    [...] House Pourquoi Guy Debord, pourquoi Jacques Attali (un peu) » This Summary is from an article posted at Splintered Sunrise on Monday, August 20, 2007 [...]

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 20, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Quite so, and even though I rarely agree with Attila I’ll readily concede that Bosnia is a good deal more than a simulacrum to him. What I had at the back of my mind probably was Rieff’s book on Bosnia, which was more about what the Platonic idea of Bosnia meant to Rieff. There’s rather a lot of that about.

  6. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 10:10 am

    He does like his straw men, though, Attila the Hoare. And while it’s plainly true that actual, personal knowledge of another country can be of great benefit in understanding a conflict there, it can (and this is not actually a point about Attila) be used as a stick to beat other people who “know nothing” about it. I recall distinctly, for instance, being told this by more than one South African in the early Eighties (the blacks were different peoples, you know) and for that matter by Israelis. Any Russian might tell me the same about Chechnya and for that matter any Chechen might tell a Russian the same thing. Or, closer to home for this particular blog, anybody from NI (and I’ve had this experience too) might tell any outsider that they don’t know the place and therefore don’t know what they’re talking about: yet at the same time express a view entirely the opposite to someone else employing precisely the same manoeuvre.

    Anyway. The Balkans. It shouldn’t be underestimated how much the roots of Decent thinking originate in the Yugoslav wars and the pressure for the West to intervene. Various Decent-associated individuals were strong supporters of intervention, among them Christopher Hitchens and Francis Wheen.

    Now the general reason I bring this up is that the Decent approach also seems to me to stem from there. I don’t mean it that never happened in history before, but I mean the current run, as it were, seems to me to have started with the Balkans. I’m thinking partly of the invocation of Hitler and appeasement – which wasn’t new in itself, but hearing it from people placing themselves on the Left possibly was. (Ditto the invocation of genocide and its prevention as the cause of intervention, though to be honest current Decency seems to set the bar a great deal lower than that.)

    But I’m also thinking of the attitude to critics of intervention, in which it’s standard to consider them appeasers, supporters of dictators or “apologists” for same. This may be what angers people most about the Decents – not their support of military intervention as such, which view they’re quite entitled to hold, but their desire to smear their opponents. To my mind, although this has become particularly egregious during the current war, including the period immediately preceding it, the habit was developed during the previous decade, in debates (if we can call them that) over military intervention in the Balkans.

    My specific reason for saying this, this particular day at least, is that just this morning I came across this outrageous piece by Stephen Poole, a writer I previously respected but respect no longer. From it, I learn that if I refer to the attack on Yugoslavia as “the attack on Yugoslavia”, I am likely (it is “a rule of thumb”) that I am “an apologist for genocide”.

    He continues by saying that once the phrase has been used, we “may ignore everything said thereafter”, which conceivably renders purposeless any further comment, but it is possibly mworth observing that it is a splendid piece of Unspeak in itself: we have a situation where to describe an event in plain language renders one suspect such that one is obliged to use other, partial language in order not be taken as partial. This, I think, is intellectually and ethically outrageous. We are told (see comments) that:

    “Attack on Yugoslavia” is not literally false [indeed not, it's literally true! - ejh] but carries within it, or so it still seems to me, a particular judgment about the facts.

    It does not, of course, but it would be a normal Decent approach to treat somebody as suspicious for saying something that in and of itself is not remotely suspicious. (As it happens, I had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of precisely this manoeuvre on Crooked Timber when the Great Michael Berubé found it suspicious that I referred to the bombing of Yugoslavia as “the bombing of Yugoslavia”.) Do note that the phrase itself, being, as I say, a plain and accurate one, carries in itself no implication whatsoever. Hence the only weight the accusation carries is its own – the accusation itself.

    This means, in turn, that it can only de backed up by some sort of interrogation as to one’s views on the Balkan conflicts. The accusation is made first: the evidence-gathering process follows it. Which should be familiar to anybody who’s ever been on Harry’s Place, where one will regularly be interrogated for ideological hygiene (and found wanting) without any reference to anything one has said previously. It’s a disgraceful exercise in heresy-sniffing, it’s what Decency is all about and it got going during the conflict in the Balkans.

  7. Chris Bertram said,

    August 21, 2007 at 10:50 am

    But Poole’s point is precisely that it isn’t “plain language”. The phrase “The attack on Yugoslavia” is, in this respect, similar to the phrase “the war between the States” referring the the US Civil War. It tells you exactly where the speaker is situated, politically.

    (EJH probably knows, and it is only fair to reveal, that I think it was a good thing that NATO intervened in the Balkans, and that they should have done so earlier. In that I differ, of course, from Nick Cohen.)

  8. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 10:56 am

    It tells you exactly where the speaker is situated, politically.

    No it doesn’t. This is precisely what I mean by “the only weight the accusation carries is its own”. It is a false assertion which those who make it treat as true, and in doing so they say quite vile things about other people. It is disgraceful conduct.

  9. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 21, 2007 at 11:17 am

    One thing I have in common with Attila is that I have some personal experience and personal ties as far as the Balkans go. Although many (by no means all) of my ties have been with people belonging to the official Bad Nation, so that perhaps colours my view.

    But you did get a lot of examples in discourse on the Balkans. “Greater Serbia” was taken as read, but ethnic Albanians who actually said they were fighting for Greater Albania (or “Albania within its ethnic boundaries”) were routinely presented as fighting simply for “human rights”. The point being, I think, that while you might still decide to support the Albanian nationalists in a territorial war, it was very difficult to avoid supporting them in a context where the argument was framed in human rights terms.

    During the 1980s, state radio in Zimbabwe used to only refer to certain countries with an epithet, like “racist South Africa” or, incongruously, “expansionist Morocco”. You even got this in the weather forecast, as in “a warm front is coming in from the Atlantic across racist South Africa”. It’s a similar sort of thing, isn’t it?

  10. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 11:19 am

    EJH probably knows, and it is only fair to reveal, that I think it was a good thing that NATO intervened in the Balkans, and that they should have done so earlier.

    Of course – and this shouldn’t need saying – the only reason I can know this is because Professor Bertram says so, or has said so elsewhere. I cannot deduce it because I wish to. Nor can Professors Poole or Berubé deduce my opinion about NATO intervention from the use of the phrases “the attack on Yugoslavia” – “or bombing of Yugoslavia” – but can only do so if I express that opinion, or have exprssed my opinion elsewhere. Still less – far less, I should say – can they leap from there to suggesting somebody is probably “an apologist for genocide”.

    To repeat, this should not require saying: this sort of thing is inexcusable, disgraceful intellectual conduct.

  11. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Or, to put it another way (am I getting over how angry I am about this?) what these various people are saying is:

    “We can assume you are an apologist for genocide, and say so. We will do this even though you have never to our knowledge said a single word to that effect.”

    Thne fact that people can do this – people professionally skilled in the use of words – and not even understand how appalling that is – is almost beyond belief.

  12. Chris Bertram said,

    August 21, 2007 at 11:42 am

    I’m pretty sure that Poole isn’t a Professor of any kind.

    I don’t think that ejh can simply exclude the possibility that the plain speaking he sincerely believes himself to be engaged in also encodes a pov. I’m willing to bet that there are similarly sincere utterers of the phrase “the war between the States” (which was, inter alia, a war between the States). Would he concede, however, that on hearing the phrase, I would be entitled to judge “as a rule of thumb” that the speaker had some sympathy with the Confederate cause, even in the absence of an explicit statement to that effect?

  13. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    You might: but you have no evidence to show that the comparison holds, other than that you have made it. I use the term “invasion of Iraq” and I am quite sure the late Saddam Hussein would have done the same. Shall we assume as a rule of thumb that my plain use of that plain phrase encodes his point of view?

    But the compairson is inapt, indeed specious, on another level. Poole’s position is not “when somebody uses this phrase, we cannot exclude the possibility that they are an apologist for genocide”. It is that a rule of thumb is that they are.

    This is grotesque. It is very obviously indefensible and I quite sure that both Professor Bertram and Stephen Poole would consider it utterly outrageous if it were applied to them.

  14. Chris Bertram said,

    August 21, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    I agree that there’s an unwarranted leap from “attack on Y” to “apologist for genocide” though I think hearers are entitled to draw the inference “sympathetic to the Serbs”. Or, to put things less categorically, I can report that if I heard someone use the phrase in question, I would think that I was listening to someone with those sympathies.

    (By the way, ejh, I can’t help but feel that your insertion of academic titles is also a rhetorical ploy of a certain kind. Namely, it involves you saying, “Here are these academics presuming to lecture me, the snobby bastards …”)

  15. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    No, it is an attempt at some sort of formal politeness: but drawing unwarranted inferences is le plat du jour today, is it not?

    I think hearers are entitled to draw the inference “sympathetic to the Serbs”.

    I cannot see so and I would have thought holes and the cessation of digging might apply here. I would have thought the absolute most that the listener might be entitled to provisionally think is that someone using the phrase may well be unsympathetic to the aforesaid attack. Which is of course something different.

    I say “provisionally” because, of course, it would be not only best but basic to wait to see what else they actually said: whereas Poole prefers that we “ignore everything said thereafter”.

    It’s not good.

  16. Cian said,

    August 21, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Justin,
    Well the phrase implies that you think that Yugoslavia still existed when Serbia (be it the country, or the principality) was bombed. That is a political stance in itself, and one largely held by supporters of Serbia.

    I think your complaint is quixotic, in that you are calling for people to behave in a way that is non-human. Unfortunately for you, the majority of people who use the phrase “the bombing of Yugoslavia” are (in my reasonably extensive experience, anyway – and I suspect Poole’s and Berube’s) apologists for Serbs. Now logically that doesn’t mean that all people who use it are, but we don’t operate by logic we operate by rules of thumb. And most of the time we make snap judgements based upon rules of thumb.

    For example, if you’re talking about global warming, there are certain phrases that with 99.99% certainty tell you that you’re talking to a denier. Global warming deniers are virtually always specious, immune to facts and will waste as much time as you’re willing to give them. Which is why my response to those phrases is to simply ignore them.

    And actually I have a certain sympathy with the Decents on Yugoslavia – a reasonable chunk of the left were fairly black and white in their thinking on that particular conflict (though the same could also be said of most decents), or bizarrely conspiritorial – or willing to embrance anybody who was the enemy of the US.

  17. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Unfortunately Cian that won’t do at all. You’re tralking about assuming that people are apologist for genocide. That is an enormous thing to say of anybody and I’m afraid it’s necessary to do rather better than saying you reckon – on evidence that isn’t even on the anecdotal level – that most people who use the phrase are “apologists for Serbs” (which isn’t quite the same thing either). You can’t just say something appalling about people, on no evidence, and then say “well, that’s just my rule of thumb”. Or you can, but not reasonably, not respectably, not responsibly. At best it invovles the abdication of certain obvious intellectual and ethical responsbilities.

    Incidentally, it’s not quite consistent to complain of “black and white thinking” and then sympathise with the Decents, who were and are as monochrome as a zebra.

    Oh, my understanding is that Yugoslavia continued to exist as a political entity, and was internationally recognised as such, until 2003. It is absolutely bizarre, real Orwell stuff, that referring to an existing, recognised international entity by its recognised name should be considered unusual or suspicious. “Largely held by supporters of Serbia”, my arse.

  18. Cian said,

    August 21, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    “You can’t just say something appalling about people, on no evidence”.

    Well in my case (and I think also Poole’s. I refuse to defend Berube on anything) its not so much that I would accuse that person of something, but more deciding on a balance of probabilities that person is probably not worth talking to. A policy for personal social interaction, rather than intellectual engagement/denouncements in magazines/newspapers. One of the problems with the Internet is that the boundaries between these two tends to be quite porous, and people often confuse them.

    Not always the best policy perhaps, but are you telling me you’re any different? If you were at a party and somebody started talking using language that suggested they were a right wing neoliberal/yuppy/whatever, would you hang around or would you find somebody else to talk to? You’d be pretty objectionable if you then denounced them on the basis of that, but quite reasonable if you chose to find other friends on the basis of limited (and possibly erroneous) info.

    “At best it invovles the abdication of certain obvious intellectual and ethical responsbilities.”

    Well not really. I don’t have any ethical responsiblities to take you seriously, unless I actively engage with your arguments.

    Incidentally, it’s not quite consistent to complain of “black and white thinking” and then sympathise with the Decents, who were and are as monochrome as a zebra.

    Aren’t you guilty of doing what you just complained of above? I sympathise with them, that doesn’t mean I agree with their thought processes or conclusions. If there was ever a time when I felt out of step with much of the left, if was over the Yugoslavian conflict. I drew different conclusions from the decents (probably because my thinking isn’t very black and white – more a bland grey), but there’s a part of me that sees them and thinks but for the grace of god. Just as I have a kind of sympathy for people who became very anti-left after becoming disillusioned with the SWP.

    The only country that still considered itself Yugoslavia by the mid-90s was Serbia, and it used the term more as a way of trying to argue that rather than invading its neighbours, it was trying to maintain the unity of Yugoslavia. It was an argument used by a lot of defenders of Serbia to try and pretend it wasn’t the aggressor. All the supporters of the Croats (lovely people – how did they get away with not becoming international pariahs) and Bosnians that I’ve met referred to it as Serbia. Its possible that neutral observers also called it Yugoslavia, but I’ve never met a truly neutral observer of that conflict so I couldn’t say.
    There’s a similar thing with the Israel/Palestine conflict. If somebody talks about Palestine, you kind of know where they’re coming from and that they’re probably not neutral.

  19. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    It was officially known as Yugoslavia, officially referred to as Yugoslavia and thought of all over the world as Yugoslavia. I’m not using it as a synonym for Serbia: it wasn’t just Serbia that was bombed so I couldn’t just say “Serbia” even if I wanted to. It really isn’t any sort of tendentious usage. There are any number of circumstances where the term “Yugoslavia” might be tendentious – and just that, we’re not talking about a usage that’s the province of a few – but I don’t see this as one of them.

    Yes, of course “Palestine” would tell you something, as would “Spain” in certain circumstances, or “Ireland”. But the last two of these are the recognised international names for existing states. As was Yugoslavia. If I went to Haifa, say, I think I’d say “I’m going to Israel” even though I may personally disagree with that state’s existence.

    Aren’t you guilty of doing what you just complained of above?

    No. You wrote that your sympathy for them was connected with the “black and white thinking” of others (unless I misunderstood you) so it seems hardly unreasonable to observe that their thinking was of like hue.

    Well in my case (and I think also Poole’s. I refuse to defend Berube on anything) its not so much that I would accuse that person of something, but more deciding on a balance of probabilities that person is probably not worth talking to.

    Well, Poole did a little more than that: He declared that somebody was likely to be an “apologist for genocide”. He did this, not in the course of deciding not to talk to somebody at a party, but in the course of a blog which deals specifically with the misuse of language as it relates to politics!

    Now, I probably would spare myself the ordeal of talking to somebody who was clearly rightwing and objectionable with it (which in itself is not the same as publically declaring them to be unwholesome) but I think I’d actually wait for evidence of same rather than something as flimsy and indefensible as Poole considers sufficient to make his case. (He’s not actually shown that the term means anything, he’s just asserted it. By contrast, if somebody here were to refer to El Caudillo and start talking about los rojos then unless their tone of voice suggested reportage rather than comment, I might draw some conclusions about their politics.) But Poole is, as I say, doing far more than that, and something far more objectionable than that.

    Y’see, Cian, it’s about smears. I really loathe smears. False allegations, in a way, are easier to deal with, because they’re specific, they can be disproved and if necesary there’s always the courts. But smears are poisonous. Being labelled casually – basically, by default – as an apologist for genocide is deeply poisonous.

  20. Wednesday said,

    August 21, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Cian, do you recall any Ireland vs Serbia games in the Euro 2000 qualifiers? I don’t. They were all Ireland vs Yugoslavia. That was the name of the country then, and it was used by most of the world (Croatia and Bosnia may well have been exceptions). Seriously, where are you getting the idea that it wasn’t?

    Now having said that, I do agree that if I heard someone refer to “the attack on Yugoslavia” I would assume that they were probably not in favour of the attack, but that’s less a reflection on the language itself than on my observation that Nato apologists rarely use it.

    Did you guys see this piece btw?

  21. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    No.

    Having read it, it’s unsigned (which I don’t much like when you’re dishing it out) and it’s not very good.

  22. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 21, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    To be honest I think most people didn’t make such weighty distinctions as between Yugoslavia, the Former Yugoslavia or Serbia, while it is true such distinctions did carry a political weight dependent upon usage. But to suggest that the use of the word Yugoslavia implicitly means one is in favour of genocide appears perverse. The remaining elements of Yugoslavia found it useful to retain the name into the 2000s for various reasons both good and bad. Whether that accurately encompassed a political union that was centred very much on Belgrade is a different issue again. As for serbo-fascist, a very unhelpful term, although I’d point out that having said that my sympathies would have certainly not been with the Croatian regime, mostly with the Bosnians and to some degree with Serbs. That made having a clear line in the 1990s a bit tricky.

    On a slightly different tack, the word apologist is another tricky word. One might not be a NATO, or indeed Serbian apologist but support certain actions of either of those entities – as I did at certain times.

  23. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 21, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    ejh, it’s from the ISN. They’re not the most opaque of organisations. Probably Colm Breathnach wrote it. I’d have some time for him generally.

  24. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    It’s not a dreadful piece and I suspect it’s shorter than its author would like it to be, but it does at certain points accuse people of things without producing evidence for it and it does produce a couple of dicky arguments towards the end. Especially the one about “diminish” and “lend credibility”, which I’m not sure I like at all – what does it mean? Does it mean that if I don’t think there was a genocide in Kosovo, because I really don’t see the evidence for it, then I’m somehow to be condemned as giving comfort to the worst of the Serb nationalists? If so, then how is one to discuss, let alone determine, historical truth?

  25. ejh said,

    August 21, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Incidentally the Harry’s Place answer to that would be “what, don’t you believe Milosevic was capable of that? You think he was just defending himself heroically against imperialist aggression?” or similar. To which the answer would normally be “yes, obviously, that’s exactly what I believe” but in my experience HP isn’t really the place for irony.

  26. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 22, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Can I very tentatively suggest that there is a danger that this discourse faintly treads on the same ground as the “Decents”, in other words there is an inversion where they become the worst of the ‘left’ (although how Kamm can be considered ‘left’ escapes me, and I never really thought of Wheen as such either). Everyone then plays to caricatures. But the “Decents” are no more representative of the left than the most unthinking supporter of the ‘resistance’.

    I hold no candle for them, but I do understand what Cian means when he says ‘there but for the grace of God’. However,unlike Cian (no offence) I tend not to think anyone is beyond talking to and engaging with.

    Like you ejh, I’m dubious that there was a ‘genocide’ in Kosovo, and I’m far from a supporter of Serb nationalism (in it’s revanchist sense), and I agree this sort of rhetorical device where the ante is upped and upped so that there is only one ‘correct’ answer to any given question is intellectually dishonest. But…at the same time events happened in Kosovo and the arguments then should be how should those events should have been dealt with (if at all) and there I think entirely sincere people could have entirely different interpretations and approaches to that – which isn’t even just about discussing or determining historical truth.

  27. ejh said,

    August 22, 2007 at 9:55 am

    I never really thought of Wheen as such either

    Well, he did write a certain biography! Whether he’s had any involvement with leftwing organisations or the labour movement though, I don’t know.

    I do understand what Cian means when he says ‘there but for the grace of God’

    So do I. I linked on a previous post here to Deutscher’s piece about The God That Failed because the phenomenon whereby leftists flip over anti-leftists, sometimes very quickly, is very common. One reason I keep a distance fom politics now is that I don’t want the same to happen to me!

    there I think entirely sincere people could have entirely different interpretations and approaches to that

    Of course. And it’s also quite possible that people can feel that there would have been a genocide, or something close ot it, in Kosovo, had there not been an intervention, or at least that there was a danger of that. To me there’s no question of the sinerity of the supporters of intervention (in contrast to another, more recent conflict). But what I can’t accept is that the same is not extended to the opponents of intervention. To the degree, indeed, that you can’t use the phrase “attack on Yugoslavia” to describe an attack on Yugoslavia without it being assumed that you’re an “apologist for genocide”. Like I say ,that’s poisonous.

    Which brings us back to this:

    there is an inversion where they become the worst of the ‘left’

    I think what upsets people about the Decents is precisely the way they operate and the mud they like to throw. It’s really hard to read HP very long without feeling dirty. Or to read Kamm, or Hitchens, or Geras’ piece about the July bombings, and so on. But as I say, this didn’t begin in 2003, it really kicked off a little earlier (it’s also, I think, connected to the conflict within the UK Labour party the decade before and the way in which it was concluded). And I think a fair number of people who don’t much like the way the Decents conduct themselves were, and are, quite happy to throw around the “apologist” tag when it came to the Balkans.

  28. Chris Bertram said,

    August 22, 2007 at 10:49 am

    I linked on a previous post here to Deutscher’s piece about The God That Failed because the phenomenon whereby leftists flip over anti-leftists, sometimes very quickly, is very common.

    There’s quite a good dissection of this phenomenom in the May-June 1987 issue of New Left Review. The author is Norman Geras.

  29. ejh said,

    August 22, 2007 at 11:04 am

    I almost raised the question a few postings ago when Private Eye was being discussed, as some of their long-standing writers, leftists in the early Sixties, became very reactionary very quickly in the last Sixties when things got a bit more serious. These would include (I think) Christopher Booker and the cartoonist Barry Fantoni, who as I recall suffered from guilt feelings about having “guyed the Royal Family”.

    But there’s two (or more) distinct, if linked, phenomena here: there’s people heavily involved in left politics who suddenly, or very quickly, get very angry about it and reject it to the point of obsession, and there’s the question of people less involved, but holding leftish* views, who quite quickly become reactionary. I thought the recent Andrew Anthony business was quite interesting, actually, because it was a very good and quite honest illustration of how this happens. The key, I think, is that people become afraid – crime would normally be the cause of this, perhaps a specific violent criminal act, but violence more generally, terrorism, might also be a trigger.

    When people became afraid, they become irrational, in fact they become impatient with reason. They also almost automatically bcome suspicious, assume that people hold different opinions than the ones they actually express, because the nature of fear is that you worry not just abut what is happening but about what might happen. You are always afraid and you see people selling the pass everywhere you look.

    These people never come back, of course: you can’t discuss anything with them, not properly, because they’ve given up reason in favour of suspicion, and because they don’t believe that what you say is what you mean.

    We’re all of us vulnerable to this, of course.

  30. ejh said,

    August 22, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Whoops – forgot to explain the asterisk after leftish.

    I remember that some years ago, I placed an ad in the personals in which, among other things, I described myself as leftist. I dictated this over the phone and when it actually appeared in print, it did so as leftish. I considered contacting the service to ask them to change it, but then I decided no, don’t want to put anybody off….

  31. Cian said,

    August 22, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Hmm, I’m certainly sympathetic. I think that its perhaps a more ambiguous post than you allow for,though I’m coming round to your reading. Could you perhaps raise your concerns with Steve Poole and see how he responds? He’s certainly not a decent by politics, or temprement, so it might be worth giving him the benefit of the doubt until the full facts are in. On the other hand, Berube is Decent to the core, and probably did mean to slur you – pompous prick that he is. I say string him up!

    I guess why I’m sympathetic to Poole, is that comment sounds like the kind of thing I’d say off the cuff (and consequently possibly say in a blog, but not in a published article). On the other hand if you then attacked me for posting it, I’d have to agree with you :) I don’t always think through the full implications of what one’s writing and I doubt I’m alone in this.

    My experience is that when somebody mentions the bombing of “Yugoslavia”, I will then be subjected to regurgitated Serb apologetics/propoganda. Now that’s both anecdotal and associational (e.g. – I could have been really unlucky, or I’m a bad sampler), but it is my experience. Now where Steve and I might differ, is that I wouldn’t condemn you until I’d checked to see if you were an apologist. On the other hand depending upon the context of your remarks I might change the subject, ignore them (CiF, say), visit another website. Enough of my life has been wasted listening to Serbian propoganda, and engaging with apologists, to know that its pointless and tedious. In much the same way I tend to move on when certain phrases relating to global warming, Israel, etc are used. I guess its the difference between dealing with somebody who you suspect is going to be intellectually dishonest, rather than someone who simply disagrees honestly. The latter I respect, the former I despise.

    I agree with some of the rest of his post, and disagree with other parts. I think his reading of Neil Clark (odious man) is probably spot on, on the other hand I don’t think its necessarily true that the use of the word “Yugoslavia” is an act of unspeak, though I think he’s write in saying that it tends to obscure the nature of what happened (but then, that’s language games for you). I don’t think there’s a right answer here.

    “It does not, of course, but it would be a normal Decent approach to treat somebody as suspicious for saying something that in and of itself is not remotely suspicious.”

    Well not entirely. Its a Decent approach to denounce somebody as suspicious for using particular phrases, or having the wrong assocations, alone. Poole does substantiate his argument a little more than that. I agree its an unfortunate post, but a decent approach would have condemned you on the basis of calling “Serbia” “Yugoslavia” alone.

  32. Cian said,

    August 22, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Wednesday:
    It was used by most of the diplomatic/international community, at least in public (I have no idea what they called it in private). Most of the people I knew referred to Yugoslavia at that stage as Serbia, probably because it was less confusing (given that Yugoslavia used to refer to Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, but by then only to Serbia and Kosovo, and a few other remenants). From memory, I think that’s largely the name used by the media as well (which doesn’t make it the “right” term, but kind of implies it was probably in common parlance). At least that was the case in the UK. I tend to use Serbia because people know what I’m talking about, and also I guess because I found Serbia’s argument that it was trying to preserve the union of Yugoslavia distasteful.

    I’m not a NATO apologist, btw. Your post rather implies both that I am, and that there’s no position between apologias for Serbia and Nato.

    WorldByStorm:
    “But to suggest that the use of the word Yugoslavia implicitly means one is in favour of genocide appears perverse.”

    I don’t think that’s what Poole was saying, though one can certainly read it into that piece, and its certainly not what I’m saying. It doesn’t imply one’s in favour of genocide, its rather than in my experience (standard disclaimers) there’s an association between the two which is pretty strong. Justin demonstrates that its not 100%. You can’t condemn somebody on an associational relationship, but it might be sufficient to be personally suspicious of them until one has more data upon which to judge.

    Serbo-fascist is a very unhelpful term. Serbo-chauvinism seems fair, though.
    My sympathies were mostly with the Bosnians, loathed the Croatians and was not terribly sympathetic towards the Serbs*. I have very mixed feelings over the NATO action, and have tended to be suspicious of anyone who has a clear position either way. I also agree with Brendan Simms that the actions of the Major/Hurd government were appaling.

    “On a slightly different tack, the word apologist is another tricky word.”
    I tend to use it for people who justify all actions of a particular state, repeat propoganda and try to minimise data/stories that show their favoured state in a bad light. Neil Clarke and Ollie Kamm, say. There are also people who sometimes are apologists, and at other times very insightful (Lenin’s Tomb springs to mind).

    “I tend not to think anyone is beyond talking to and engaging with.”

    Well its more a contextual thing. My wife’s from South Carolina, and I’ll happily talk to the most reactionary redneck. Probably wouldn’t engage with them on Comment Is Free, though, any more than I typically read the comment page of the WSJ/Daily Mail. Its a time/energy/pay off thing.

    I totally agree with the last paragraph of #26 btw.

    * I probably had most sympathy prior to and during the bombings in the Kosovan war, though I kind of thought that they had brought it upon themselves. NATO didn’t play fair, I strongly disagree with bombing civilian targets. On the other hand it was Milosevic’s brinkmanships which brought things to the point where NATO could screw him, the Serbs had largely supported the monster and while there probably wasn’t a genocide occuring at the time (though something happened after the bombing started), the Serbs by this stage had form and were certainly gearing up for something in Kosovo (treating Kosovans as second class citizens, denying them services, access to land, schooling, etc).

  33. ejh said,

    August 22, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    I don’t always think through the full implications of what one’s writing and I doubt I’m alone in this.

    Oh, for sure. Just about everything that appears on the internet is a first draft and first drats are called that for a reason.

    NATO didn’t play fair, I strongly disagree with bombing civilian targets

    Quite so. I tend to discuss this in relation to an intervention I did support, the one in East Timor. I tend to wonder: why doesn’t anybody ask “why didn’t they bomb Djakarta”? Why not just send a load of troops into Kosovo? (It’s also hard to explain some of the Rambouillet provisions except in terms of somebody trying to ensure there was a quarrel.)

    There was something else I wanted to say – that to my mind, there’s very often a link between a decision by a leftist to support a war, and their willingness to use the language of apologism (and treahcery) against those who don’t. You can see Orwell doing the same, if you go back to his writings. Orwell, who among his many virtues was a good apologiser, later regretted this: but there are few who do.

    Not unconnected to this, while it’s by no means at all an inevitable process, it’s to my mind noticeable how often the decision to support a war leads that person to abandon the left (very often, it follows hard upon). I think the rancour involved – on both sides, to be sure – is a strong contributory factor in that process.

  34. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 22, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    The post before last highlights the problem with the whole idea of intervention to defend human rights; human rights are by definition universal within the category of human. To engage in military action requires a categorisation of humans into ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’, which is inconsistent with the presumed universality of human rights.

  35. Cian said,

    August 22, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Well, there were an awful lot of leftists who were apologists for Serbia. Edward S. Herman for example, and there were plenty on places like Pen-L. There was an awful lot of it, and some of it was pretty vile stuff (the Living Marxism end of things, though I’m not sure what they were by that stage). So its possible that some leftwing supporters of Bosnia who were overwhelmed by this stuff came to the conclusion that all those who disagreed with them were apologists. Just as I guess some of us have come to the conclusion that everyone who supported the Iraq war was an apologist for the US, based upon similarly vile stuff. Propoganda does have a horribly polarising affect on political discourse.

  36. Cian said,

    August 22, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Idris,
    what in that post makes you think I’m in favour of intervening to defend human rights?

  37. Cian said,

    August 22, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Yeah, you kind of had to be against NATO and Serbia, which was a pretty hard position to hold. I think its the impossibility of the situation which means that Kosovo has had an affect on the political consciousness out of all proportion to its actual global importance. You can’t really stay on the fence on that one, but…?

    My take on the US’s reasoning is this, based purely on guesswork:
    1) Clinton wanted to distract from domestic issues
    2) Its good to kick a small country around, to remind the world who’s boss (and prior to that Somalia, which didn’t go down well).
    3) Clinton probably thought that it was the right thing to do, and given that no US interests were involved it was a chance to win international brownie points by acting “morally”. I think leaders like to think they’re doing the right thing, unless they’re psychotic.
    4) There was a (fairly reasonable) consensus that Milosevic was a slippery bastard who couldn’t be trusted, and who’d humiliated Europe in the past by pretending he’d do something and then doing the opposite.
    5) He may have been seen as a destabilising force in Europe, though I’m less convinced of this.

    On the other hand, the US didn’t want to risk any of its troops and the airforce had somehow convinced various people that a war could be won purely through the air (which is cheap, exciting and technological – all “good” things). So it was all done on the cheap.

  38. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 22, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Cian, what makes you think I think that? ;-)

    I’m increasingly coming around to the view that Clinton’s thinking re: Kosovo was essentially cynical.

    Refusing to call what was clearly a genocide in Rwanda by that term, while playing up the war in Bosnia (which bad and all as it was, wasn’t as bad as what happened in Rwanda) gives the measure of the man, I think.

  39. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 22, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    ejh, I think you’re onto something there absolutely, particularly WRT East Timor. Without going down the slippery slope of ‘excusing’ things I’d think that one of the crucial aspects of Kosovo was both cynicism and the complete aversion to feet on the ground and winning through air power, which ironically was precisely the wrong lesson to draw from Gulf War 1.

  40. ejh said,

    August 22, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Propoganda does have a horribly polarising affect on political discourse

    It does: but war does so much more. Moreover it puts one in a situation of taking sides even more – far more – than the normal course of political events, and as real people are being killed and maimed people’s patience with one another is almost non-existent, with the inevitable consequences. (It’s worth reading the piece quoted here, which I believe was the subject of a necessarily convoluted argument by Oliver Kamm the other day.) If one disagrees with the bombing of Belgrade, somebody – maybe nearly everybody – will say “you’re an apologist for Milosevic”. It’s bound to happen, and there are some things which once said, are very hard to either forget or apologise for.

  41. Wednesday said,

    August 22, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Cian:

    From memory, I think that’s largely the name used by the media as well (which doesn’t make it the “right” term, but kind of implies it was probably in common parlance). At least that was the case in the UK.

    I’ll cede to your knowledge on the British media. It wasn’t the common usage in either Ireland or the US, the two English-speaking countries I would have been kicking around in in ’99. It’s kind of difficult to find examples now to prove it, but I did turn up this RTÉ piece from May 1999; note the references to “Serbian” television but “Yugoslav(ia)” everything else.

    I’m not a NATO apologist, btw. Your post rather implies both that I am, and that there’s no position between apologias for Serbia and Nato.

    I neither said nor implied anything about you personally. I was drawing a distinction between people who opposed the bombing and people who didn’t, that’s all.

  42. Ed W said,

    August 26, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    As the author of the ISN piece someone linked to above, I might as well reply to ejh’s comments. Entirely your business whether you like or dislike the article, but I’ll just clarify exactly what I meant by the phrases you quoted critically.

    I didn’t use the phrase ‘lend credence’, but I take it this is the part you were referring to -

    ‘Noam Chomsky, for example, is no apologist for Milosevic, and acknowledges the reality of Chetnik war crimes in Bosnia and Kosova. But he has made a number of foolish, ill-informed comments about the subject: giving credence, for example, to the claim that the butchery at Srebrenica was in some way a response to Muslim atrocities. If Chomsky really knew what he was talking about, he would understand that Serb forces began killing Muslims in eastern Bosnia long before there was any “provocation”. ‘

    I’ve found several Chomsky interviews and articles where he discusses Srebrenica, and a couple of things struck me – first of all, the claims made by Emma Brockes, Marko Attila Hoare and co don’t stand up, he clearly refers to it as a massacre and uses words like ‘horrendous’.

    But secondly, he repeatedly suggests that the massacre in 1995 was a response to the atrocities carried out by Bosnian government forces commanded by Naser Oric based inside the town. This is just plain wrong.

    Chomsky may not be aware of it, but it’s common enough for Serb nationalists to start off denying that there was any massacre, then acknowledge that maybe, perhaps some people were killed, but it was only in response to terrible Muslim crimes. This is belied by the fact that the Chetnik forces started killing Muslims in eastern Bosnia right from the start of the war. If anything, you could claim that the atrocities committed by Oric’s men were a response to the initial Chetnik killings.

    I doubt Chomsky intends to down-play the massacre at Srebrenica, but other people do, and he should be a lot more careful about what he says. It’s unfortunate that the Decent mob have caused an almighty distraction from the real issues by denouncing Chomsky for things he hasn’t actually said – there are things he has said about the Balkans deserves to be critised for, but in a far more balanced and restrained way than you will get from the likes of Hoare and Wheen.

    ‘Whenever left-wingers deny or diminish the crimes of the Milosevic regime, they encourage the most retrograde tendencies in Serbia and Bosnia’.

    This sentence was referring to the more obnoxious stuff that people like Ed Herman, Diana Johnstone Michael Parenti, and the LM crowd have come out with – if they can’t deny an atrocity altogether, they will try and diminish the scale of what happened.

    It certainly doesn’t refer to sober discussion of, for example, whether or not there was a genocide in Kosova in 1999. If you said ‘I think there were terrible crimes committed against the Albanians of Kosova but I don’t believe that it was genocide, I think genocide is a very specific term that we should reserve for a handful of historical events (the Armenian massacre, the Holocaust, the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda)’, I would certainly not accuse you of being an apologist for Milosevic.

    There’s a reasonable difference of opinion about what you would call a genocide. The term is often used, for example, by leftists in relation to the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel – that’s even more problematic than using it to describe what Milosevic did in Kosova.

    On the other hand, I would be very suspicious if you started claiming that the Kosovar refugees were fleeing NATO bombing in 1999, not Serbian government forces, or if you started trying to whittle down the figure of deaths which has been reasonably well-established around the 10,000 mark.

  43. ejh said,

    August 27, 2007 at 8:33 am

    I didn’t use the phrase ‘lend credence’

    No – you used the phrase “lend credibility” which is the term I used when quoting in my post!

    that’s even more problematic than using it to describe what Milosevic did in Kosova.

    Is it?

  44. Cian said,

    August 27, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Mostly I agree with what you’re saying.
    However:
    “If anything, you could claim that the atrocities committed by Oric’s men were a response to the initial Chetnik killings.”

    Seems like a slippery slope to me. I don’t like Chomsky’s argument, but I don’t like this one any better.

    nor do I find find this terribly convincing:
    “The term is often used, for example, by leftists in relation to the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel – that’s even more problematic than using it to describe what Milosevic did in Kosova.”

    There might be an argument that you could make here, but its by no means as trivial as you seem to be implying. And it requires some analysis of the situation, and the limitations placed upon the Israelis by world opinion. Not so much that the world can (or would choose to) stop them, but more that Israel’s founding myths could not survive an “unjustified” genoicide. On the other hand there’s a reasonable amount of evidence to suggest that in the right circumstances (war, say) things might be different.

  45. Ed W said,

    August 27, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    EJH –

    “I didn’t use the phrase ‘lend credence’

    No – you used the phrase “lend credibility” which is the term I used when quoting in my post!”

    Nope, just read back over the article and that phrase isn’t there, the nearest thing is the paragraph about Chomsky I quoted. I don’t mean to be pedantic, well I guess I do but you started it … to be honest I think your objection to this is more a matter of semantics than substance. When you write an article of that sort you inevitably have to find many different ways of saying “X said Y about Z” or else it just gets repetitive.

    I could have just said “Chomsky has said repeatedly that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of retaliation for the actions of Bosniak troops stationed in the town”, which is completely
    unambiguous and factually accurate – you can find several articles and interviews with him saying that without much trouble, for example:

    “The Muslim enclave in Serb territory, inadequately protected, was used as a base for attacks against Serb villages, and when the anticipated reaction took place, it was horrendous. The Serbs drove out all but military age men, and then moved in to kill them.”

    http://www.medialens.org/alerts/05/051104_smearing_chomsky_the_guardian.php

    “That’s even more problematic than using it to describe what Milosevic did in Kosova.

    Is it?”

    I think so, yes. I’m talking about current Israel actions in the occupied territories, not what was done in 1948 – I’ve come across many leftists referring to the current policy of the Israeli state as ‘slow genocide’ (John Pilger for example, can’t say where exactly but I’m quite sure he’s used the phrase). There is an argument to be made for this usage – you can certainly say that, while the Israeli state is not about to carry out the physical extermination of the Palestinians, it is gradually strangling them as a people and aborting any chance they have of real self-determination.

    But this would be to expand the definition of genocide to a level where it could easily be applied to the actions of Milosevic in 1999 – ten thousand people were killed in a few weeks, nearly a million were forced to leave Kosova. If that had proved to be permanent, it would have meant that the Albanian presence in Kosova had been more or less totally eradicated.

    Cian –

    “Mostly I agree with what you’re saying.

    However:
    “If anything, you could claim that the atrocities committed by Oric’s men were a response to the initial Chetnik killings.”

    Seems like a slippery slope to me. I don’t like Chomsky’s argument, but I don’t like this one any better.”

    I don’t believe for a moment that Oric can be excused any atrocities carried out by men under his command because of what was done to Muslims in the area by Mladic’s troops. I was pointing out that, if anything is going to be described as “retaliation”, it should be the actions of the Bosniak forces, not the 1995 massacre. The sequence of events is very clear, and Chomsky should really take the trouble to do enough research to find this out.

    “Nor do I find find this terribly convincing:

    “The term is often used, for example, by leftists in relation to the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel – that’s even more problematic than using it to describe what Milosevic did in Kosova.”

    There might be an argument that you could make here, but it’s by no means as trivial as you seem to be implying. And it requires some analysis of the situation, and the limitations placed upon the Israelis by world opinion. Not so much that the world can (or would choose to) stop them, but more that Israel’s founding myths could not survive an “unjustified” genoicide. On the other hand there’s a reasonable amount of evidence to suggest that in the right circumstances (war, say) things might be different.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “trivial”. I’ve explained above that I am willing to hear the argument that Israeli policy towards the Palestinians can be described as “genocide”, taking account of the factors you mention and many others – but if we are going to broaden the definition in that context (which can certainly be justified), it’s not very logical to insist in the context of Kosova that there was no genocide because the slaughter did not compare with the Holocaust or the Armenian massacre.

  46. Ed W said,

    August 27, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Actually now I see that “lend credibility” phrase in the quote for Nerman Jelacic – her wording not mine, but I think it’s fair enough. You can read the full thing here – http://www.iwpr.net/?p=bcr&s=f&o=155750&apc_state=henibcr2004. Most of her criticism is directed against LM and Diana Johnstone, and to accuse them of ‘lending credibility’ to radical Serbian nationalists is a bit of an under-statement – they are shamelessly dishonest apologists for war crimes. She doesn’t discuss what Chomsky himself has had to say about Srebrenica but criticises him, Ali, Pilger and others for signing a letter that endorses Johnstone’s work – I fully agree with her criticism, as I said in the article.

  47. Ed W said,

    August 27, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Shoulda read “Nerma Jelacic”, absent-minded posting in work not good.

  48. ejh said,

    August 27, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    I’m talking about current Israel actions in the occupied territories, not what was done in 1948

    But this is not a specification you made previously. I mean I don’t mean to be pedantic or anything.

  49. Ed W said,

    August 27, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    Well in that case, if you assumed that I was talking about 1948, then the parallel with Kosova in 1999 is about as perfect as you’re ever likely to get in history – several hundred thousand people were forced out of their homeland as a result of a co-ordinated programme of expulsion, involving large-scale massacres of civilians, carried out under cover of a supposedly defensive war with foreign powers.

    IIRC there were fewer Palestinians killed in 1947-8 than Kosovars killed in 1999, that’s about the only difference. So the point about genocide would still be valid – if the term can be used in one case, it can be used in the other, otherwise it shouldn’t be used in either.

    Anyway, it should be clear enough to you by now whether or not my reference to people “diminishing” Serb nationalist war crimes, and Nerma Jelacic’s reference to people like LM and Johnstone “lending credibility” to radical Serb nationalists, applies to you or not. I don’t know what you think about each and every aspect of the Balkan wars and I’m not about to assume without evidence so you’re the only one who can says whether the cap fits or not.

    I don’t regret using the term “diminish” at all, I think it’s a fair description of what people like Johnstone and Herman do when they can’t deny an atrocity altogether; and I doubt Jelacic would make any apologies for her phrasing either, nor should she. As I said before, if you don’t care for the article that’s your business, but if that’s the main basis for your dislike it seems fairly trivial to me.

  50. ejh said,

    August 27, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    Can’t say I care for your penultimate paragraph there. “We cannot say whether the suspect is guilty of murder, since we don’t have any evidence on the question” is not a happy formulation – though not one wholly atypical of your approach.

    More concise, though, I suppose.

  51. Ed W said,

    August 27, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    I’m not entirely surprised by that response – you really seem determined to put yourself in the dock here, you’re going out of your way to make what I wrote apply to you.

    “Anyway, it should be clear enough to you by now whether or not my reference to people “diminishing” Serb nationalist war crimes, and Nerma Jelacic’s reference to people like LM and Johnstone “lending credibility” to radical Serb nationalists, applies to you or not. I don’t know what you think about each and every aspect of the Balkan wars and I’m not about to assume without evidence so you’re the only one who can says whether the cap fits or not.”

    does not by any stretch of the imagination translate as -

    “We cannot say whether the suspect is guilty of murder, since we don’t have any evidence on the question”

    Your implication, of course, is that I have levelled a charge against you (someone has to accuse a ‘suspect’ before they can become one). I’ve done nothing of the sort. I said in plain, unambigious language that I don’t know what you think or say about every aspect of the Balkan wars and don’t intend to assume what your views are, so at present you are the only one who can say whether what I wrote applies to you.

    What more do you want? You are the only one who has suggested that my reference to people ‘diminishing’ Serbian war crimes, or Jelacic’s reference to people ‘lending credibility’ to radical Serb nationalists, is a reference to your own views. Now you seem to be demanding that I give you a blank-check acquittal without actually knowing what you think.

    I’ve already said that I wouldn’t denounce you for arguing that what happened in Kosova in 1999 was not a genocide, as long as you acknowledged that terrible atrocities were carried out against the Albanians by Serb forces. That’s the only opinion you’ve offered.

    You started off attacking Steven Poole for making assumptions about people’s views without sufficient evidence – now you’re criticising me for not doing the same. The thread of logic here seems increasingly frayed. If this is really the best criticism you can muster of my approach, I think I’ll probably take it in my stride.

  52. ejh said,

    August 27, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Excuse me? You’re the one who started speculating “whether the cap fits or not”.

    As for this trash:

    You are the only one who has suggested that my reference to people ‘diminishing’ Serbian war crimes, or Jelacic’s reference to people ‘lending credibility’ to radical Serb nationalists, is a reference to your own views.

    No I haven’t. Not a word to suggest it.

    Christ.

  53. Ed W said,

    August 27, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    Calm down and try reading back over what you wrote -

    “It does at certain points accuse people of things without producing evidence for it and it does produce a couple of dicky arguments towards the end. Especially the one about “diminish” and “lend credibility”, which I’m not sure I like at all – what does it mean? Does it mean that if I don’t think there was a genocide in Kosovo, because I really don’t see the evidence for it, then I’m somehow to be condemned as giving comfort to the worst of the Serb nationalists? If so, then how is one to discuss, let alone determine, historical truth?”

    This is the only suggestion, anywhere on this thread, that my reference to “diminishing” Chetnik war crimes and Jelacic’s reference to “lending credibility” to radical Serbian nationalists could also apply to your own views. You drew the connection, not me. I don’t see any basis for you drawing that link – the article attacked people who say that the camps at Omarska and Trnopolje were really not bad at all, or that there was no massacre of unarmed prisoners at Srebrenica – it was pretty clear that this was the ‘denying and diminishing’ being referred to.

    “You’re the one who started speculating “whether the cap fits or not”.”

    See above. You asked what I was referring to. I think it should have been clear enough already, but I explained it at some length. I then said that you were the only one who could say whether or not it applied to you, since I didn’t know your full view of the Balkan wars. I still don’t.

  54. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 28, 2007 at 7:40 am

    …there was no massacre of unarmed prisoners at Srebrenica

    Well, that isn’t what Diana Johnstone said in Fools’ Crusade. She was and has been very clear that there was a massacre and that it was a major war crime. What she does do is a) put Srebrenica within a context and chronology that some people find disturbing, and b) point out the propaganda uses to which it has been put. This latter point includes the labelling of anyone who questions the 7000-8000 casualty figure produced immediately after the massacre as a “genocide denier”, even though the Hague Inquisition itself admits there is no scientific estimate.

    But that’s nitpicking. Basically, I don’t agree with your premise. That seems to be that Yugoslavia was a prison of nations where the Serbs oppressed everybody else, and therefore anti-Serbian separatist movements have a basically progressive content. This was one of the late JV Stalin’s less inspired ideas, from back when the Comintern was playing footsie with the Croat fascists, and it hasn’t improved much with age.

  55. Ed W said,

    August 28, 2007 at 10:46 am

    ‘There was no massacre of unarmed prisoners at Srebrenica

    Well, that isn’t what Diana Johnstone said in Fools’ Crusade. She was and has been very clear that there was a massacre and that it was a major war crime. What she does do is a) put Srebrenica within a context and chronology that some people find disturbing, and b) point out the propaganda uses to which it has been put. This latter point includes the labelling of anyone who questions the 7000-8000 casualty figure produced immediately after the massacre as a “genocide denier”, even though the Hague Inquisition itself admits there is no scientific estimate.’

    I haven’t read Fool’s Crusade itself (before someone says “how can you condemn Johnstone without reading her book’, I’ve read a fair few of her articles on the Balkan wars and I’ve read a few meticulous reviews of her book – I agree with Bill Weinberg when he said he wouldn’t read Fool’s Crusade unless he had a paid reviewing assignment, and if I can’t criticise Johnstone without reading the full text, then none of us can say a word against Alan Dershowitz, for example, without trudging through ‘The Case for Israel’).

    But I think it’s safe to assume that her arguments about Srebrenica there don’t stray very far from what she had to say in this Counterpunch article:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/johnstone10122005.html

    Gems include:

    ‘Another large, unspecified number of these men were ambushed and killed as they fled in scenes of terrible panic. This was, then, a “massacre”, such as occurs in war when fleeing troops are ambushed by superior forces.’

    ‘One hundred and fifty-three executions of prisoners of war is a serious crime, and there is material evidence that this crime was committed. But 1,200?’

    I don’t think you’d have any trouble seeing this rot for what it is if the context was different – if a Zionist was making the same attempt to down-play the Sabra and Chatila massacre, for example. Johnstone’s take on Srebrenica is a dishonest, contradictory white-wash. She starts out claiming that Izetbegovic really wanted a massacre of thousands of civilians at Srebrenica so the West would intervene on his side (‘General Philippe Morillon, the UNPROFOR officer who first called international attention to the Srebrenica enclave, stated his belief that Bosnian Serb forces had fallen into a “trap” when they decided to capture Srebrenica’ – really? So the poor Bosnian Serb forces were lured in by the dastardly Izetbegovic and had no choice but to slaughter thousands of people?). Then she claims that there was no massacre of thousands of civilians at all.

    The ‘context and chronology’ that she places Srebrenica in is only ‘disturbing’ because it’s such a transparent fabrication – as I’ve said already on this thread, the killing of Muslim civilians in eastern Bosnia began as soon as the war broke out, it had nothing to do with the actions of Naser Oric’s men, it was the product of a racist plan to cleanse the whole area of its Muslim population.

    The estimate of 7 – 8000 deaths is very solid, there’s been intensive study of the massacre by researchers, taking account of the mass graves that have been exhumed, the bodies that have been identified, the figures for the missing supplied by relatives, there’s not much room for doubt. Johnstone just ignores all the serious journalistic work that’s been done on the subject. Setting her ’10th anniversary’ article against Ed Vulliamy’s, I know who I’d sooner rely on:

    http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-yugoslavia/srebrenica_2651.jsp

    And these are a few more examples of the kind of serious scholarship that puts the quackery of Johnstone and Ed Herman (http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=8244) to shame:

    http://www.iwpr.net/?apc_state=hsritri2005&l=en&s=f&o=253778

    http://www.hrcberkeley.org/dna/printreport_allthatremains.html

    http://www.greenleft.org.au/2005/634/34279

    The only thing I find ‘disturbing’ about Johnstone’s work is the thought that anyone might take it seriously.

    ‘Basically, I don’t agree with your premise. That seems to be that Yugoslavia was a prison of nations where the Serbs oppressed everybody else, and therefore anti-Serbian separatist movements have a basically progressive content. This was one of the late JV Stalin’s less inspired ideas, from back when the Comintern was playing footsie with the Croat fascists, and it hasn’t improved much with age.’

    This is either a mis-understanding or a mis-representation of my premise. Pre-Milosevic, Yugoslavia was not a prison-house of nations – it wasn’t ideal, but the balancing-act between the nationalities was a huge improvement on pre-WW2 Yugoslavia. If Milosevic had been allowed to put its programme into practice without any opposition, it would have ended up becoming a prison-house. He was able to put it into practice so far as Kosova and Vojvodina were concerned – the fate of Kosova in particular merits the ‘prison-house’ label very well.

    But it doesn’t automatically follow from this that ‘anti-Serbian separatist movements have a basically progressive content’, and I didn’t argue that anywhere (in fact, I had this to say about the Croatian regime – ‘The Croatian government of Franjo Tudjman was an unpleasant, right-wing nationalist regime, which committed its own war crimes … the Tudjman regime in Croatia was hardly likely to endear itself to any socialist: Tudjman was a mirror image of Milosevic, guilty of his own atrocities’ – not exactly a ringing endorsement of Croatian nationalism).

    I did argue, however, that given the context, and given the other forces at work, the Bosnian government was worth defending – not because Izetbegovic had a programme that socialists would endorse, but because his government was the only side in the conflict not trying to carve up Bosnia with a programme of massacres and ethnic cleansing. And the Albanians of Kosova also deserved support – not because of any sentimental illusion that they were saints incapable of doing any wrong, but because they were on the receiving end of vicious oppression. As I said, this does not mean cheer-leading for the KLA – itself a loose coalition of forces. For what it’s worth, my sympathies would mostly lie with Adem Demaqi and the arguments he made, trying to form alliances with Serbian democrats, urging the KLA leadership not to sign up to NATO’s programme at Rambouillet, and condemning attacks on Serbs in Kosova since 1999 – I think that’s a pretty decent record for anyone under the circumstances.

  56. Cian said,

    August 28, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Dianna Johnstone might have denied that the massacre happened prior to 2003 I guess – it was pretty hard to deny in 2003 due to the archaeological evidence and so most had given up by then. I think (hey its been three years since I read the thing, give me a break) she does claim in the book that the shelling of Sebrenica might have been carried out by the Muslims themselves to gain sympathy, and offers as evidence a speech that she’s distorted out of its original context (and doesn’t provide proof even if in her context). So she’s perfectly capable of it.

    Her book is awful. She has a very poor grasp of the history of the region, or just believes Serbian mythology about their past. Whole arguments are constructed out of almost no facts. Her footnotes are just bizarre. She’ll construct detailed arguments and condemnations, and you’ll look for corrobation and it will be a personal communication, or sometimes no footnote at all. I mean she might be right in some of her claims, but she provides no evidence for them. Lots of polemic, opinion, but no actual facts. Oh, and lots of conspiracies.

    Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a good book on the war, as the other books are no better, typically.

    Incidentally, any books on Northern Ireland conflict you can recommend?

  57. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 28, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a good book on the war, as the other books are no better, typically.

    The books in English are almost all pretty bad… lots by war reporters who don’t have any grasp of the background, and those by regional experts all have their own axes to grind. And then people cite the experts they find congenial, usually the ones supporting their favoured ethnic group.

    There has been useful stuff written in Serbo-Croat, but you need to be aware of the writer’s biases in all cases.

    Incidentally, any books on Northern Ireland conflict you can recommend?

    There aren’t many. Mike Farrell’s The Orange State has held up well, but it’s pretty old now. I’d also say Fionnuala O’Connor’s In Search of a State and Susan McKay’s Northern Protestants are well worth a look.

  58. ejh said,

    August 28, 2007 at 11:50 am

    Is the book of the TV series The Death of Yugoslavia not worth a read? It was when I read it.

  59. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 28, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    It’s not the worst by a long way. It does lean heavily towards the Bad Man theory of history, but then Slobo was a bad man. That also puts it a cut above the Bad Ethnic Group theory of the war (too many examples to mention).

    I should also have made clear that I think the Johnstone book does deserve its fair share of criticism. But she should be criticised for what she’s said, rather than what Attila says she said.

  60. ejh said,

    August 28, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    The Death of Yugolslavia book has the grim bit in the Foreword about the authors not having anybody who thought “their” side had been at fault in any way at all (if I remember rightly).

    One thing I don’t remember. When I saw the TV series I missed the first half of the first programme and when I turned on I’m sure it was to pictures of demonstrations outside the Bosnian parliament opposing independence. I got the impression that the demonstrators were not Serb nationalists, but that may well be wrong.

  61. Martin Wisse said,

    August 28, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    What about Misha Glenny’s books, The Fall of Yugoslavia and The Balkans?

    I liked them when I read them, but I did read them without much more context than several years of television news on “Yugoslavia”.

  62. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 28, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Yes, Glenny has been one of the best, but then he’s a long-time correspondent. And one of those who ended up supporting intervention, but for decent (as opposed to Decent) reasons.

    In re the demo outside the Bosnian parliament, there were still a lot of Titoists left at that time. They dwindled pretty sharply once the war started.

  63. Cian said,

    August 28, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Thanks! I shall check these out. So what’s your theory of the war then :) At one point I had a collection of all the far left’s nuttier theories (oil pipelines, mineral resouces in Kosovo, German banking interests, neoliberal plot against the last true socialist state).

    I don’t really know what to make of the Decent’s habbit of making stuff up, even when they don’t need to. Hoare immediately lost that argument in most people’s eyes when Johnstone quoted the relevant passage from her book. He also managed to alienate non-Decents who largely agreed with him about Johnstone. Is it just a shit throwing reflex that they can’t control?

  64. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 28, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    So what’s your theory of the war then

    Well, I’m suspicious of one-size-fits-all theories. I tend to agree with Richard Evans that most historical events are overdetermined, but some factors I’d point out (not necessarily in order of importance) would be

    Bits of the old bureaucracy fighting turf wars (this existed under Tito of course, but he kept a lid on things)
    Emigrant groups trying to get their old influence back (the North American and Australian Croats especially)
    Gangsters looking for the main chance who could profit from turning into paramilitaries
    Foreign powers playing silly buggers without taking into account the consequences (think of Clinton dicking around with EU negotiation because there could only be one peacemaking power)
    The collapse of Albania into a mafia state

    What I don’t go in for is the theory of Slobo as a Blofeld figure stroking his white cat. The guy did plenty of bad things, but he was basically a pragmatic politician navigating without a compass.

    Is it just a shit throwing reflex that they can’t control?

    There’s an element to that, and I think it’s addictive. Hoare wrote a little pamphlet a dozen years ago claiming that, because the Serbs had military superiority, the SWP’s neutralist position was objectively (love the Stalinist adverb) pro-Serbian. That was tendentious but plausible. These days Cohen, citing Hoare as a source, would have you believe the SWP hailed the glorious socialist regime of Slobo. How Nick or Attila explain the SWP’s enthusiasm about his downfall… well, the perception filter kicks in there.

  65. ejh said,

    August 28, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    I think it’s just that when people start supporting wars then they tend to start treating doubters as apologists for the other side: the fact of violence death on a large scale makes people intolerant of one another rather more than normally.

    Do you know Orwell’s review of Borkenau’s The Spanish Cockpit in which he says something to the effect that Borkenau’s most extraordinary achievement is to have written a book about that War without losing his temper?

  66. ejh said,

    August 28, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    The guy did plenty of bad things, but he was basically a pragmatic politician navigating without a compass.

    One thing about Milosevic – I don’t think he was a Serbian nationalist. I think he used that sentiment but was personally unscrupulous.

    Foreign powers playing silly buggers without taking into account the consequences

    Think of Germany backing Croatia – that can’t have done too much to help, can it?

  67. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 28, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Well thought out NATO plan No. 94 – sending the Luftwaffe to bomb Belgrade. Yes, that’s great public relations.

  68. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 28, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Ed W writes that he’s had trouble posting a reply to my comment on Johnstone – I assume that this is a technical problem as I haven’t seen his reply. Try again – the thread isn’t closed!

  69. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 29, 2007 at 7:45 am

    I’m pleased to note that I have retrieved Ed’s reply from an over-enthusiastic spam filter (#55 above). Notwithstanding the throat-clearing about Tudjman, he doesn’t make any points that I find at all convincing. His article still reads to me very much like Attila the Hun, minus the blatant mendacity that Attila likes to go in for. As for myself, I don’t share either his idea of the “oppressor nation” or his anxiety to write people like Johnstone, Parenti and Herman out of “the left”. They may be wrong – indeed they are wrong on lots of things IMO – but you’re talking about decent and honourable radicals of long standing, and not the David Irving figures Ed is keen to paint them as.

  70. Cian said,

    August 29, 2007 at 9:04 am

    “They may be wrong – indeed they are wrong on lots of things IMO – but you’re talking about decent and honourable radicals of long standing, and not the David Irving figures Ed is keen to paint them as.”

    Well its not just David Irving who does this, though. There are Israel apologists, NATO apologists, US foreign policy apologists, Russia apologists, etc, etc. I don’t really see any difference in the work of Parenti, Herman and Johnstone on Yugoslavia. They distort facts and try to minimise Serb attrocities. What’s worse, is that they often try to blame the victims in ways that is very reminiscent of Israeli propoganda. They may be doing it for different reasons though.

    Why they are doing this is an interesting question and I don’t have a good answer for this. I can make a couple of guesses. I think when you say that they are “radicals of long standing” you inadvertently hit on something. Radicals, particularly American ones, had a particular model of how the world worked. It was either some kind of bastardised Marxist explaination, or following Chomsky sees the US as the main actor in any event involving it. The Balkans didn’t fit that model (and as far as I’ve ever been able to work out didn’t really fit any model). This confused a lot of people, who were already reeling from the break up of the Soviet Union and the general collapse of parliamentary socialism and the lurch towards neoliberalism. Hence, people were already searching for answers, certainty. Good guys and bad guys. Then when the US and NATO got involved, that made the question easier to answer. All US foreign policy is bad, hence… Other factors like Solvenia embracing western European capitalism, Milosevic’s pretence that he was a commie and Croatia being Croatia made it easier I guess to embrace the Serbs.

  71. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 9:16 am

    I think you can be less crude than that. I think that, being in a situation where the mainstream press certainly were taking sides in a big way, minimising atrocities on the side they picked and maximising them on the Serb side led a number of radical journalists to spend quite a lot of time trying to redress the balance. They then took a lot of crap for doing so and as a result some of them at least (I’m thinking of Clark, but he’s not the only one) did basically take “the need to reject the anti-Serb case” as an all-encompassing rule.

    It’s the flipside of what I said above regarding the way in which many pro-intervention leftists started slinging round claims of “apologism” – attitudes harden on every side of the question and nobody wants to accept that there are any flaws on their side of it.

  72. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 29, 2007 at 9:19 am

    Quite. I was going to say that this has gone a long way from the Simulacrum, but maybe it hasn’t. And there is that tradition of anti-imperialism on the US left that I think does lend itself to softness on whoever Washington is against at the moment.

    It cuts the other way, of course. There were lots of people who took Branka as the big socialist authority, and were then shocked when she denounced them for not supporting the NATO intervention. To say nothing about the importance that the Evilserbs simulacrum has for Decency.

    My mind goes back to Vienna in 1991, and leading members of the Austrian Socialist and Green parties being happy to link arms with Croat neo-Nazis. Not an inspiring spectacle, and on balance I’d prefer the company of people like Parenti or Herman, who have stayed radical whatever their blind spots.

  73. ejh said,

    August 29, 2007 at 9:42 am

    The mainstream and Decent blind spot on Croatia is of course enormous (and it’s also odd how many people who think that NATO just weighed in on the side of Bosnia, or Kosovo, when the really big ally and beneficary was Croatia). And yes, I know about Vukovar and I know the JNA was largely officered by Serbs. But Krajina is close to invisible in discussion of the war.

    I recall, when Croatia played in Euro 96, the commentator (Motty or Davies, can’t remember) going on about this new nation and howwonderful it was and so on. He was rather quieter about the very loud racism emanating from the supporters in the game against Turkey. What is it like, I wonder, being Muslim or Serb in Croatia nowadays?

    (PS thanks for the editing – but can we have a preview box?)

  74. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 29, 2007 at 11:12 am

    I’ll investigate the preview box – if there is one, I haven’t found it yet.

  75. Ed W said,

    August 29, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    “Notwithstanding the throat-clearing about Tudjman, he doesn’t make any points that I find at all convincing.”

    I don’t think what I said about Tudjman can be dismissed as ‘throat-clearing’. If you feel I haven’t been sufficiently abusive towards the late Franjo, here you go – I think he was a loathsome character, who headed a loathsome regime.

    “His article still reads to me very much like Attila the Hun, minus the blatant mendacity that Attila likes to go in for.”

    Well, the most objectionable thing about MA Hoare is his dishonesty in criticising people like Chomsky, so the absence of ‘blatant mendacity’ is a pretty big difference (if you scroll down the original Indymedia thread you’ll see what I think about Hoare). Also the fact that he has aligned himself with imperialism – you can imagine what he’d say if a group of leftists set up a “Slobodan Milosevic Society’ to promote the use of military power to spread democracy and human rights. I opposed the invasion of Iraq, I oppose US imperialism in general – also a pretty big difference.

    This exchange between Hoare and Bill Weinberg is worth reading – Weinberg skewers Hoare’s hypocrisy very well I think:

    http://www.ww4report.com/node/1557#comment-15169

    ‘As for myself, I don’t share either his idea of the “oppressor nation” or his anxiety to write people like Johnstone, Parenti and Herman out of “the left”. They may be wrong – indeed they are wrong on lots of things IMO – but you’re talking about decent and honourable radicals of long standing, and not the David Irving figures Ed is keen to paint them as.’

    Cian has already said what I’d say myself about Johnstone and co. Having read a fair selection of their output on the Balkans, I find it impossible to consider them to be ‘decent and honourable radicals’. I may find myself on the same side of the argument as Herman over Iraq, for example, but I’ll never trust his judgement again. A pity, he’s written some excellent stuff in the past (Manufacturing Consent is still a classic book). But I find it very hard to be as indulgent as you. I didn’t mention David Irving, I did mention Alan Dershowitz as a parallel which I think is fairly exact.

    You haven’t really said what points you don’t find convincing. I didn’t use the term “oppressor nation”, but I think Serbian policy in Kosova was certainly oppressive – if you don’t agree, I’d have to wonder what you do consider national oppression. I would invite you to be more specific and say exactly what points you disagree with in my article or what I’ve posted here, but it might be a bit pointless, since I’m going to be away for the next week and a half and nowhere near a computer so I won’t be able to respond to whatever you say.

    Anyway, I stand by what I said, for more detailed elaboration of the points anyone curious should go to the thread on Indy and follow the links to articles by Michael Karadjis for Green Left Weekly and his blog – I agree with probably 95% of what he has to say. There’s a lot of stuff there, on the rise of Milosevic, the Srebrenica massacre, the nature of the Serbian regime, the origins of the KLA etc. Most of it very solid I think.

  76. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 30, 2007 at 7:46 am

    I won’t do a Complete History of the Balkans in the comments box, but I will be posting further on the subject, and of course you’re more than welcome to drop in and have a go.

    Ah yes, the Aussie DSP. A group I normally have a lot of time for. But I’m extremely familiar with the esoteric line on the Balkans they’ve developed over the last 25 years or more. Not to say you can’t get anything from reading Mike Karadjis, but I approach him with caution. It may be worth, if you can find it, reading Ernest Mandel’s critique of the Aussies on this question from the early 1980s.

    And I think I’ll leave it there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 91 other followers

%d bloggers like this: