June 18, 1999


Atrocity stories are the very woof and warp of war propaganda: from Belgian babies bayoneted by bloodthirsty Huns during World War I, to Kuwaiti babies murdered in their incubators by Saddam’s sadistic henchmen, the manufacture of lies has been the growth industry of the 20th century. By now, of course, the public is so inured to exaggeration and outright falsehood that most have developed an immunity to anything but the crudest hyperbole: it is the strong stuff, or nothing. This is why the screaming headlines about the Kosovo “genocide” supposedly being uncovered in the wake of the Serbs’ retreat practically jump right off the page at the reader: 10,000 MASSACRED! proclaims the San Francisco Examiner. This turns out to be an “estimate” trumpeted by the Brits, based on nothing but conjecture, but expect this number to double and even triple in the next 48 hours. We are in for an atrocity storytelling marathon, a morality play in which the Serbs are the villains, the Kosovars are the victims, and anything that deviates from this script is simply edited out of the text. Yes, says the Devil’s Advocate, but what about those atrocity stories? Are they true?

Okay, then, we can’t look at each and every accusation in the flood of charges and counter-charges in the space of a single column, so let’s look at a typical article: “Road of death yields up its ghosts,” Right off the bat we are in a semi-fictional framework: this sounds more like the title of a novel or a short story than a “news” article. The leader reads: “Daniel McGrory in Kosovo is confronted by gruesome evidence of Serb atrocities.” [Times of London, June 17, 1999]. As it turns out, however, what he is “confronted” with is pure hearsay.


Kosovars who returned to the village of Lukare, we are told, found “gruesome evidence of atrocities.” What evidence? A farmhouse has been ransacked and partially burned, and “inside the dining room was the charred corpse of a man wearing wellington boots. A single rifle cartridge lay beside the body, which had been wrapped in a lamb’s fleece rug and set alight.” McGrory cites one Ejup Krasniqi as saying: “The man who owns this house is in a refugee camp in Macedonia, so we have no idea who this is.” Now what are we to make of this? Who was this man? What was he doing in someone else’s house? Might he have been a KLA fighter? It certainly seems possible, given his taste in footwear. What kind of a phony “atrocity” is this? It could just as easily have been a gun battle, or a looter summarily executed (which, admittedly, some might deem an atrocity). The point is, however, that this is far from clear-cut. Where oh where is this “gruesome evidence”?


Atrocity stories are all written in an overwrought, melodramatic style: the idea is not so much to state facts as to construct a narrative, complete with a plot, characters major and minor, and those signature touches that add color and enthrall the critics. McGrory’s own literary flourishes come under the heading of unintentional humor. At the end of his paragraph on the mysterious man in the Wellington boots, he adds: “Before they left, the executioners put a final shot through the television screen.” Oh no, not that – not, gasp, the television screen! While the Serbs complain that thirty Orthodox churches have been put to the torch by the KLA, and the holy relics of their most sacred shrines violated, what outrages the limey press is this sacrilege against a TV set, the holy altar of Western culture.


As we get deeper into the piece, it becomes all too clear that McGrory is being given a “war crimes” guided tour by the KLA: “On a tray in a hilltop farmhouse – the makeshift headquarters of the KLA – is an assortment of identity cards from the dead.” The Serbs supposedly recovered these from a “mass grave” of 77 Kosovars allegedly massacred. But who knows where these cards really came from? Are we supposed to take the KLA’s word for it?


There are many suspicious aspects to this story: the forensic evidence, we are told, in many cases has been “tainted,” evidence such as shell cases “taken as souvenirs.” Oh, really: by whom? The paragraph ends with a real whopper: “And vital witnesses are too scared to testify.” This sentence seems almost incomprehensible, until you really begin to think about it: after all, with the Serbs gone, witnesses to Serb atrocities would have nothing to lose and everything to gain (including some kind of material reward) by testifying about these alleged acts of brutality. Just who or what are they afraid of? The obvious answer is, of course, the KLA. Who else is anybody afraid of in Kosovo these days?


Not all the Kosovars supported the KLA: some were loyalists, who supported the idea of a multinational Yugoslav federation, others tried to remain neutral. These the KLA consider enemies, and they have gone after alleged “collaborators” and executed them on the spot. This was one reason why they rushed into Kosovo, ahead of the NATO invasion force: to exact vengeance on their enemies, to settle old scores and consolidate their reign of terror. Who knows how many they executed, before NATO troops were finally given the order to move? We will never know.


A good deal of the Times piece is based on the testimony of Albanian Kosovars, virtually all of it in the form of flat-out assertions, which McGrory reports uncritically, as if it were fact. A woman called Zarife (no last name) accuses Serb soldiers of using what used to be her home as a “rape camp.” The evidence: bloodstained mattresses and piles of women’s underwear. Zarife has spent all day cleaning up the mess (more “evidence” tainted). We are told another story of an ambush, in which all the men were separated out and forced to march along a bridge and face the waters: “When they were looking away,” says Mr. Krasniqi, “they were stabbed in the back of the neck by about 20 soldiers.” Stabbed in the back of the neck? Isn’t that a rather unusual – and problematic – way to execute someone? “It took them nearly an hour to kill everybody and we were too afraid to help.” Krasniqi’s story just does not make any sense: are we supposed to believe that 50 men passively stood on a bridge for an hour while they were slowly stabbed to death? This is not reporting, it is stenography. It isn’t until the fifteenth paragraph of this article that the author writes “such claims are impossible to verify.” The British are so terribly understated, don’t you think?


“It is inevitable that larger massacres will be discovered in the coming days, “ writes McGrory, with what seems like far too much relish. Besides, why is it inevitable? Certainly it is not inevitable unless the assumption is that the Serbs are guilty in advance. “The survivors of the killing on the Lukare to Koliq road hope that what happened here will not be forgotten.” But what did happen on the so-called Road of Death? Even a mildly critical look behind the headlines suggests that there is much less here than meets the eye.


This is not to suggest that the Serbs are angels: but neither are they devils, or “Milosevic’s willing executioners,” as one KLA spokesman – yet another Krasniqi! – put it in a recent television interview. This is a phrase you could tell he was quite proud of, having picked it up from the Susan Sontag-New Republic wing of the War Party – the amen-corner of the KLA in this country. It is an odious phrase, meant to stigmatize an entire people. There is already talk of “arresting” Slobodan Milosevic and others in his government indicted by the phony War Crimes Tribunal, which has been nothing but a kangaroo court from the very beginning. How else would they arrest him without invading Serbia proper?


This is what is on the agenda now, with the Brits – as usual – leading the push to war, and the Germans unleashing their KLA clients to wreak havoc on the ground and provoke the Serbs into a fight. This is the real story behind the headlines, the function of atrocity stories in this war: to dehumanize and justify the annihilation of the Serbian nation. The NATO-crats won’t be happy until they have marched into Belgrade, set up a puppet government, and proceeded to put virtually the entire population on trial for “war crimes.” NATO’s war against Serbia is far from over: phase II is coming right up.

Note to readers: Due to a technical problem, a partial version of this column was posted earlier. We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience.

"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.

Past Columns

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).



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