Tell it like it is
When the British government banned an exhibition of photographs showing
atrocities committed against Serbs, we knew that Living Marxism would
have to go to Serbia and get the story and the pictures. Because we knew
that nobody else would.
The conflict in the former Yugoslavia is a dirty war, in which forces on
all sides will do whatever they can get away with. The overwhelming impression
given by governments and the media in Britain and the West, however, is
that the Serbs are the arch-villains of the piece. We have been presented
with a singularly distorted, one-sided view of the war, to the point where
it looks less like the odd reporting mistake and more like a systematic
misrepresentation of the facts.
There can be no excuse for the way in which the media has broadcast fantastic
tales about alleged Serbian atrocities, while more or less ignoring what
has been done to the Serbs themselves. It is not as if it is impossible
to discover the facts.
Joan Phillips, the assistant editor of Living Marxism who went to
Belgrade to see the forbidden exhibition, has been into the Yugoslav war
zones several times over the past year, seen at first-hand what is happening
to Serbs as well as to others, and returned to tell the truth to our readers.
Yet the great Western newspapers and television stations, with all of their
technology, their money, and their permanently on-the-spot reporters, have
somehow managed to miss more than half of the story.
The problem is not one of poor journalism. It has to do instead with the
willingness of the media to accept the terms of discussion laid down by
Western governments today.
The American, German, British and French governments have all declared the
Serbs to be the guilty party in the conflict, and competed with one another
to put forward anti-Serbian measures, from sanctions to air-strikes. For
their part, meanwhile, the media appear to have swallowed the line from
the ministries whole.
Instead of asking basic questions about unsubstantiated claims of Serbian
war crimes (like 'where's the evidence?'), they have published horror stories
as fact. Rather than asking simple questions about the West's interference
in Yugoslav affairs (like 'what gives Bill Clinton or David Owen the right
to dictate to these people?'), the media have devoted most of their energy
to calling for yet more and firmer Western intervention.
The result of the suspension of critical thought is a public silence on
important issues in the West, such as the banning of the Belgrade exhibition.
We seem to be witnessing the creation of a consensus of know-nothing stupidity,
an unprecedented willingness among liberal-minded media people to believe
whatever the authorities tell them.
In this uncritical climate of non-debate, a Washington empire-builder like
Clinton can do more than get away with threatening gunboat diplomacy against
the Serbs or with strafing Iraq. He can act like a warmonger and still be
treated as a peacemaker by the media.
Guardian journalist Ed Vulliamy recently claimed on BBC 2's Late
Show that Western journalists who support intervention in Bosnia still
have the same principles as they did when they opposed America's war in
So where were the voices of protest in January, when the US navy blockaded
Haiti to prevent desperate refugees from poverty and repression fleeing to
the USA? Even president Clinton's risible claim that this military action
was launched on purely 'humanitarian' grounds - to save Haitians from drowning
in leaky boats, you understand - was reported as a reasonable argument.
And where were the voices of protest when first George Bush and then Clinton
ordered yet more air-strikes against Iraq, some of which involved British
The official pretexts for this latest display of Western power in the Middle
East were even flimsier than usual. Yet the media faithfully reprinted the
tired stories about non-existent Iraqi nuclear facilities, alongside the
tales of 'Iraqi incursions into Kuwait' which ignored the fact that the
'Kuwaiti territory' in question had just been stolen from Iraq and handed
to the emir by the UN security council.
At first, some Western reports even tried to give credence to American claims
that the cruise missile which hit the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad was an
Iraqi propaganda ploy. Good story: shame about the piece of cruise shrapnel
discovered in the rubble, complete with the address of the American manufacturer.
This has all gone much too far. It is high time to put the criticism back
into commentary. So let's not mince words.
What happened in Iraq, in the Gulf War and in January, was murder, the slaughter
of civilians and conscript soldiers carried out to prove that the USA and
the West call the shots in the third world.
And the bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia is not primarily the responsibility
of the Serbs, or of the Croats or the Muslims. The moment the Western powers
decided to meddle in Yugoslav affairs, they sealed the fate of the peoples
on the receiving end of their attentions. As argued elsewhere in Living
Marxism, at every stage of the conflict, the West has been responsible
for raising the stakes - and so increasing the body-count.
The advance of Western troublemaking around the world, and the retreat of
criticism and opposition to it, is a dangerous development that demands
a hard-hitting response. That is why the politics of the moment must be
anti-militarism. Its importance now overrides all other issues.
The rise of militarism is the crucial dynamic behind everything that the
Western powers are doing today. Militarism is about more than air-strikes
and diplomatic bullying in the East and the third world. It is also linked
to the economic slump and the crisis of capitalism in the West. Which makes
it doubly important to take a stand against it.
Foreign adventures provide Western governments with an easy way to distract
attention from domestic problems, be they unemployment or political scandals.
But more than that, economic problems themselves are now often addressed
first through the prism of militarism - as in the debate about the balance
between rearmament and public spending cuts in Britain. This is a complex
issue to which we will return at greater length in the forthcoming issues
of Living Marxism.
For all of these reasons, there is a pressing need to cultivate a critical
and anti-militarist climate of debate today. This is the spirit in which
Living Marxism has helped to launch and to publicise the new Manifesto
Against Militarism, as the focus for a campaign against what the Western
powers are up to from Baghdad to Belgrade.
An important step towards exposing the truth about Western militarism is
to counter every government and media distortion of the facts. Living
Marxism, in its self-appointed role as The Lie Detector, is the magazine
for that job.
Our decision to go it alone and publish the pictures from the forbidden
Serbian exhibition in this month's issue is a sign of our dedication to
open debate, and our determination to tell it like it is. In the months
to come Living Marxism will do all that it can to provide an alternative
source of information and arguments, to fill the gap left by the new consensus
of stupidity which incorporates much of the media.
At a time when critical discussion is distinctly out of fashion, and gagging
libel actions and press censorship are in, there is a crying need for somebody
to publish the pictures they don't want you to see and reveal the facts
that they don't want you to hear. We depend upon you, our readers, to support
us in this aim. Spread the word, sell the magazine, and help break the selective
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 53, March 1993