And for the third week running, I find myself inexplicably drawn to write about a war I, in all honesty, care nothing about — it’s looking less like an exploitation movie, and more like a studio franchise. But perhaps its this detached view which makes it so interesting, since I can stand back and view things with my usual degree of cynicism, untainted by mindless patriotism, jingoism or journalism.
For the first casualty in war is truth. Remember the stories of Kuwaiti babies taken out of their incubators by the Iraquis and left to die? Totally fictitious. Or perhaps you recall the vastly over-inflated reports of the casualties in the Romanian Revolution. Or the “sanitised for our protection” news handed out during the Gulf War. It’s inevitable; as soon as hostilities break out, each side will start lying about each other. This demonisation is why I don’t trust history: it’s written by winners. If the Nazis had won World War II, I’ve no doubt we’d be hearing what an evil man Churchill was.
And it’s looking like similar fabrications are going on in Kosovo: take the story of 20 teachers in a village school being slaughtered in front of their pupils, solemly repeated as gospel by the Foreign Secretary Robin ‘Make love AND war’ Cook. However, the village in question only has 200 inhabitants — so unless they’re all children, and Kosovo has a pupil/teacher ration the envy of everywhere else in the civilised world, there is no way the school has 20 teachers. Short of bussing teachers and pupils from a wide area in (and I think the Serbs have better things to do with their limited supplies of fuel), this one has the scent of a scare story, though these facts have received a great deal less coverage than Cook’s promotion of the “reality”.
At the moment, any story coming out of Kosovo is printed as gospel, without any apparent effort being made to check it for accuracy. One headline in the paper from last week: “Children raped and left to die”. No room for discussion, debate or doubt there. However, in the very first paragraph, we discover “Serb soldiers last night stood ACCUSED of raping Albanian refugees as young as 13”. [My emphasis] Ah, not quite the same thing, is it? Print that kind of headline about an alleged rapist in this country and you’d be hit with a contempt of court suit. But these are Serbs, and we all know they’re bastards, so the very next sentence, it’s back to “Women and children ARE being taken from their families, abused and then abandoned”. [Again, my emphasis] This is simple, Media Studies 1.0.1. stuff, and really shouldn’t need to be explained to anyone. These stories are the modern equivalent of the bogey men, urban legends spread by the mass media with a speed and efficiency undreamt of by more traditional methods.
It’s still entirely possible, of course, that these stories are based on factual events, and I’ve no doubt that there are a lot of very nasty things going on in Kosovo. But you can’t separate the wheat from the chaff, and the question has to be asked “If the Serbs are SO bad, why is there this apparent need to exaggerate things?” This is especially true because in war, the things that actually go on are often worse than anything you could make up: the exploits of the Japanese Unit 731, for example, would probably be rejected by Shawn Hutson as “too gruesome”. In such circumstances, it’s far better to stick to verifiable truth, without slipping into gratuitous embellishment, as that just devalues your case.
Plus, I think only an idiot would claim that the Kosovo Liberation Army are just a bunch of pacifists, reliant solely on civil disobedience. Actually, I just typed “Kosovo Liberation Front” — very sensible not to call themselves this. Would you be able to take a war featuring the KLF seriously? On the other hand, after six hundred years, I guess they would be entitled to call themselves justified and ancient…