Issue 231 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1999 Copyright Socialist Review

Stack on the back

Balancing act

'A Guardian editorial explained that, while it supported the bombing in general, bombing of ancient churches couldn't be justified'

Unlike others who write for this magazine, I have long been an admirer of Tony Blair. His dashing good looks, his powerful oratory and his totally radical and modernising outlook have on occasions astonished.

Therefore, when Tony hits out at the media, Stack on the Back takes this seriously, and seeks to redress it. Tony thinks the media are not enthusiastic enough about the war. For hidden away in the depths of our serious newspapers are pro-war views that have not been given the prominence they deserve. I will therefore highlight their arguments, showing their full worth, and try to keep my confused, pacifistic, appeaser's comments to a mininum.

Let me start with a man of substance and gravitas, Independent columnist Dave Aaronovitch. Dave supports the war, although he recognises it has not gone well, and there has been 'tragedy and incompetence'. Nevertheless, Dave is keen to dismiss allegations that such tragedy and incompetence are callously explained away as collateral damage. Dave points out that 'I have only heard the term... mentioned once and then in quotation marks... opponents insist that this and other euphemisms are the common argot of politicians and generals. They are not.'

Good for you, Dave. I share your hatred of such euphemisms for death. I am therefore saddened by the following comments made by our prime minister: 'The Allied effort makes every possible attempt to avoid any civilian damage.' He then goes on to talk about the damaged convoy. Strangely, he didn't mourn the fact that Jill Dando had been 'damaged'.

Still, this damage will only get worse if certain types of weapons are used, so I feel sure we can trust Nato when it explains it is now using 'combined effects munitions', which sound pretty effective and clean type of weapons to me, as long as 'combined effects munitions' is not a euphemism (and surely it can't be) for cluster bombs. One last point on our shared hatred of euphemism. George Robertson on the bus bombing: 'We very much regret... civilian collateral damage.' Doh! as Homer Simpson would say.

Dave is even more adamant on another subject. 'Then there is the objectionable "demonisation" of the Serbs as a people (which I have never heard)', says Dave, denying such demonisation exists. A point well made, Dave, but let me move on, as I wouldn't want people to think yours was the lone pro-war voice.

Let us turn to Polly Toynbee. Polly is a woman of courage. She recently visited the Serb protesters who picket Downing Street to explain to them why dropping bombs was a good idea. Apparently, they doubted Nato was killing out of kindness, and had a stab at why they thought Nato might have ulterior motives. Strangely, she didn't convince them by pointing out that 'no one wants that godforsaken, dirt poor, hate ridden blot on the map of Europe', indeed, she found talking to them like talking through bullet proof glass. Of course it was, and why? For an explanation, let us turn to Harvard academic Daniel Goldhagen.

Let Daniel speak for himself. 'The vast majority of the Serbs are animated by a particularly virulent variant of the nationalism characteristic of western civilisation... The majority of Serb people, by supporting or condoning Milosevic's eliminationist politics, have rendered themselves both legally and morally incompetent to conduct their own affairs.'

Mmm, not very nice these Serbs, are they? While not demonising them or their country, you wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley. Come to think of it, would I recognise one if I did? Fear not, for an article appeared in one paper under the heading 'Do Albanians Look Like Serbs?'

Serbs are apparently dark, swarthy types, whilst Albanians are more like Celts, with blond or rust coloured curly hair, green or blue eyes, freckles, and slender in build. You see, they are just like us, while Serbs, why, they are foreign looking! Which paper provided this helpful guide--the Sun, the Star? No, it was the Independent on the same day good old Dave Aaronovitch was failing to spot any demonisation of Serbs. Incidentally, Dave, according to the article, Albanians also have longer heads. The last time I remember hearing about head measurement being an important racial characteristic was in Nazi Germany, but there you go.

Writing a column on the back page means you have no leeway with the editor for extra space, which is a shame as there are so many more fine pieces I would like to have quoted. There was Hugo Young bemoaning the lack of a proper warmonger in the White House, Jonathan Steele explaining why the plight of affluent refugees was that much more moving than that of your ordinary run of the mill oik refugee, Francis Wheen attacking the antiwar movement for being supported by Ian Paisley, and of course a fine Guardian editorial explaining that, while it supported the bombing in general, bombing of ancient churches and monasteries couldn't he justified.

So let me leave you with an insightful pro-war view on one of the broadsheet letters pages. 'Why', asks the Reverend Michael Hampson, 'were the Chinese in a building in Belgrade at all during an air raid, rather than in a shelter or back in China? Don't they know there is a war on?'

Quite so. Bob Dylan once wrote a song about the press called 'Idiot Wind'. I think I know what he means.
Pat Stack

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