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Mick Hume

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 Vietnam.

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 bombers?

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 silence.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 53, March 1993

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