it wasn't just the TV talking heads who missed the story,
but the alleged journalists who are presumably peddling more
than just their opinions. As news of the bombing broke in
early May, I cannot recall a single news story in English
that did not assume the truth of NATO-crats' explanation.
The Observer's revelations dramatically illustrate
the sad state of the rest of the English-speaking and especially
the American media. Once purporting to be the guardians of
the public interest and relentless seekers after truth, the
Fourth Estate has long since dropped that pretense and degenerated
into the Praetorian Guard of whatever wing of the War Party
happens to occupy the White House.
IS A TEST
was a real test of the independence and integrity of our vainglorious
media, and virtually everyone failed. I hasten to point
out, however, that Antiwar.com passed the test with
flying colors. We featured a number of news stories and commentaries,
originating for the most part outside the West, that treated
NATO's explanation for the bombing with considerable skepticism.
In my column,
then called "Wartime Diary," for May 10 ,
ME A BREAK
do not anyone tell me that the same people who 'mistakenly'
bombed a hospital, several busloads of civilians, a market,
and innumerable residences [in the past few weeks] have made
another 'mistake.' Everybody knows that the psychological
terrorism practiced on the brave Serbian people has been a
deliberate tactic in the war on Yugoslavia. But this latest
'error' is so fraught with political implications and consequences,
both abroad and right here at home in the United States, that
it cannot have been anything but deliberate. Exile me to the
fever-swamps for daring to say it, denounce me as a 'conspiracy
theorist,' but how can any objective observer possibly swallow
once succumbed to the temptation of self-quotation, it is
not hard to fall into the habit. However, I will risk what
could turn out to be a dangerously self-indulgent and even
addictive course in order to make my point about the nature
and meaning of the interplay between the media and the State,
a relationship that has become virtually symbiotic. At any
rate, the next
day "Wartime Diary" was a daily column
I really got myself worked up:
war is rapidly taking on the qualities of a surrealistic nightmare,
a collective hallucination of horror from which we are all
trying in vain to awaken. That the U.S. government
is now attributing the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade
to an outdated map is the kind of bizarre touch that not even
Kafka could have come up with."
have yet to awaken: the nightmare continues. The collective
hallucination cast by the American media over its narcotized
audience has yet to be dispelled, even with the Observer's
revelations. To begin with, the news has yet to get out there:
24 hours after the story was published, the big American networks
had not even reported it. The sole mention of it was in a
question put to White House strategist John Podesta by Cokie
Roberts, in which she asked him to comment on the allegations.
It was a priceless moment in the history of American television:
as George Will and Sam Donaldson averted their eyes from the
embarrassing scene and stared hard at the table, Podesta looked
utterly stunned. He gazed uncomprehendingly at Cokie, his
eyes wide with astonished innocence, and pretended not to
understand what she was talking about. "I'm sorry,"
he said, "could you please repeat the question?"
He then claimed, with the bewildered air of a virgin whose
virtue has never been questioned, not to have even heard
of these allegations. This is no ordinary arrogance, but duplicity
developed into an art form, blatant lies that nevertheless
are perfectly convincing: for who would doubt that an invincible
ignorance is one of the chief characteristics of government
officials? In this case, Podesta didn't even have to act:
he only had to play himself.
MIXED WITH LIES
then, what is the truth about the bombing of Belgrade's
Chinese embassy? In many ways, the Observer piece raises
more questions than it answers. For it makes the rather dubious
claim that NATO bombed the Chinese embassy "after discovering
it was being used to transmit Yugoslav army communications."
Not only that, but we are supposed to believe that these signals
were, at first, coming from Slobodan Milosevic's home
perhaps he was transmitting them himself, from the "safety"
of his living room. But why would anyone believe that
Milosevic's house was somehow classified as a forbidden target,
along with hospitals and other civilian sites? Talk of "taking
out" the Serbian strongman was rife. Although the NATO-crats
insisted that they wanted him alive so they could try him
in their fake War Crimes Tribunal, chances are they would
have been willing to forego the propaganda benefits of a show
trial in the interest of bringing the war to a swift and seemingly
victorious end. But this is where the story gets really
outlandish. . . .
Milosevic's "compound" as targets of the
US government's wrath, from Waco to Belgrade, are invariably
called was bombed, the mysterious radio signals started
emanating from . . . the Chinese embassy! Oh, this is too
rich for words a cheap spy thriller that might have
come from Hollywood rather than Washington. Can't you just
see it? The movie version, I mean, starring Tom Cruise of
"Top Gun" fame as the fearless but conflicted pilot,
and maybe Jack Nicholson as crafty old Slobodan Milosevic,
always up to no good. In the end, an anguished President Clinton
casting suggestions, anyone? must make the Ultimate
Decision: should he yield to the more pragmatic policy of
keeping the Chinese embassy on the "don't bomb"
list and, it turns out, there was indeed such a list
or should he bomb those gooks into oblivion (in the
name of "humanitarianism," of course)?
don't have to relate the rest of the story line, we all know
how it ends, except to point out that this thriller is really
a mystery story, and the mystery is this: why are government
officials on two continents suddenly coming clean? The Observer
article cites "senior military and intelligence sources
in Europe and the U.S." and furthermore goes on to state
that "the story is confirmed in detail by three other
NATO officers a flight controller operating in Naples,
an intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio traffic
from Macedonia and a senior headquarters officer in Brussels.
They all confirm that they knew in April that the Chinese
embassy was acting as a 'rebro' [rebroadcast] station for
the Yugoslav army (VJ) after alliance jets had successfully
silenced Milosevic's own transmitters."
three anonymous employees of various governments are described
in such specific terms as to make their identification an
easy matter for officials to uncover their identity
if they don't know it already. The question is: why
would these senior officials give us a glimpse of the truth,
however fanciful and self-exculpatory what do they
have to gain by it?
last is the key question in our quest to identify,
as least speculatively, the source of the leak: not in the
sense of identifying specific individuals, but in understanding
the politics of this underreported but explosive story. Note,
first, that senior officials in Europe as well as the US are
cited, and that the nationalities of the others are never
specified. This is one possible clue or partial explanation.
The Europeans, or at least some of them, have lately come
to resent American hegemony on what is after all their
continent, and have begun the process of consolidating their
own continental defense force independent of NATO. The "Europe
First" crowd, in Berlin, Paris and Rome, has every interest
in diverting Washington's attention to the East.
it even necessary to explain the importance of this story,
or to describe the effect it will have on US-China relations?
With China gearing up for a major confrontation with Taiwan,
and various factions within the Beijing regime jockeying for
control of the PRC's foreign policy, the consequences of this
incident could be momentous. The already beleaguered Communist
Party of China is facing several challenges to its supremacy,
and if it is seen as capitulating to the West on this issue
its shaky rule could be further endangered. This is a matter
of national pride, and it could be the rallying point for
a whole new upsurge of aggressive Chinese nationalism
a development that pleases certain interest groups to no end.
ON THE RIGHT
another group, this one domestic, has an interest in the exacerbation
of worsening relations with the People's Republic of China,
and that is the ostensibly 'conservative' Republican wing
of the War Party. I have discussed, at length and often, the
role of the Hate China Lobby as the catalytic agent and organizing
principle of rightwing warmongers. While the Clintonian "humanitarians"
seem to concentrate their world-saving missions on such politically
correct targets as Somalia, Serbia and East Timor, the "Asialationists"
of the GOP, who pride themselves on their unsentimental realism,
prefer to demonize the doddering hierarchs of "Red"
China. This has the added advantage of playing to the reflexive
anti-Communism of their conservative base. However washed-out
pink the capitalistic "reds" of Beijing appear to
be, the neoconservative warmongers of the Weekly Standard
and National Review can always count on the ignorance
of their supporters when it comes to such questions as the
history of modern China: the average conservative generally
doesn't know or care to know the difference between Mao Zedong
and Deng Xiaopoing. Sating the Right's appetite for conspiracy
theories with exotic and farfetched tales of Clintonian collusion
with the Chinese "reds," the Hate China crowd obviously
has the most to gain by a confrontation with China over this
issue. For the Chinese reaction, which will not be long in
coming, is bound to ratchet up tensions with the US
and the possibility of war (in the Straits of Taiwan) should
not be entirely precluded.
speculation that the bombing of the Chinese embassy was anything
other than an "accident" was derided, in the "respectable"
media, as a frivolous and baseless "conspiracy theory."
This, in and of itself, was considered sufficient reasonto
dismiss out of hand the possibility that the building was
deliberately targeted. Whenever the Establishment wants to
discredit any idea or individual, they immediately
brand it a "conspiracy theory" and its progenitor
a "conspiracy theorist" a sobriquet that
conjures images of someone who believes that the Freemasons,
in league with the Knights of Malta, the Queen of England
and the Sanhedrin, exert virtually complete control over current
is all to obscure a very fundamental point, and that is that
all government is a conspiracy of the rulers against
the ruled. Government officials in every nation on earth are
constantly conspiring not only to retain power but to expand
it, to exploit not only their own subjects but those in other
countries. Thus is born the policy known as "imperialism."
A government, overweening in its power at home even
a so-called republic (or a democracy, in modern parlance)
naturally seeks to extend that power geographically,
and to take the road marked "Empire straight ahead."
our rulers and their fawning officials cannot pull all this
off alone: they require the help not only of allied politicians,
but the active cooperation of intellectuals: academics, literary
figures, prestigious "names" from the arts and sciences,
and especially journalists. For it is the purveyors of what
we call the "news" who set the terms of the discussion
and define the context of what is factual and, therefore,
what is within the accepted parameters of debate. This is
especially true when it comes to foreign policy, that is,
when it comes to events occurring in faraway places to unfamiliar
peoples. In that case, ordinary Americans are even more than
usually at the mercy of professional journalists, especially
those who work for the major news corporations. Yet, as of
Sunday evening, only the European and Asian media seem very
interested in the story of how the NATO-crats have been brazenly
lying about the "tragic error" of May 7: only Drudge, the
BBC and Reuters are even running it. There is no mention of
the story in Monday's Washington Post or the New
York Times and aren't you glad we have a free press?
and AP are running NATO's denials, citing British Defense
Minister Robin Cook as saying: "The idea that the United
States has been sitting on a good explanation for all these
months but sought not to share it is, I'm afraid, a delusion.
It was a tragic error. That is the reality of the situation."
These NATO-crats are so clever, particularly the Brits:
note how Cook is pushing the idea that the "radio signals"
story is "a good explanation" albeit untrue.
This has the effect of mollifying those increasing numbers
of reasonable people who are joining the "conspiracy
theorists" in confronting the obvious fact: that our
government has been lying from the get-go. Well, then, perhaps
they were doing it for a good cause this is
the clear implication of what Cook is saying, and we can expect
his American counterparts to take the same line.
DEPARTMENT OF SELF-CENSORSHIP
how, you may ask, do they get away with it?
I read a fascinating story the other day, an Agence France
Presse report [October 4, 1999] about the evolution of the
media in nation of Eritrea, a poor and wartorn country on
the tip of the Horn of Africa. The war with neighboring Ethiopia
may have wreaked devastation on the entire region, and further
degraded an already impoverished people, but it has apparently
been a big boon to the news business, giving birth to no less
than twelve newspapers where before there was one. The Eritrean
media, born in war, is all privately owned, but the article
asks "just how free is the Eritrean free press?"
The answer is: not very, and the explanation, offered by Dawit
Isaac, editor of Setit, the country's oldest private
paper, seems to apply not only to Eritrea: "There is
no government censorship," he says, "but we self-censor."
Mathewos Hebeab, editor of Mehaleh, confides: "If
we are concerned about something, we call and consult a friend,
maybe someone in government. It's not official, but they can
say if it is dangerous or wrong." Does any of this sound familiar?
that sounds exactly like what happens in the "developed"
countries, where the parameters of acceptable dissent may
be a bit wider, but are no less strictly defined and relentlessly
enforced by the "private" media. This is how the
real story of the China embassy bombing was suppressed, not
by bureaucratic edict but by unspoken agreement between government
officials and their media echo chamber. This is how the real
story of Waco was hushed up for so long, and is still
being kept from the American people. And that is the
status of American journalism: not too many notches above
the standard prevalent in Eritrea, a thoroughly wretched Third
World nation ruled by a self-styled Marxist junta.
is yet one more group that had, at the time, a direct interest
in the bombing of the Chinese embassy, and that stood to gain
from its most immediate consequences: the Clinton Administration.
For, if you remember, in the beginning of May, peace was about
ready to break out, with Jesse Jackson just returned from
his trip to Belgrade and a Republican-led congressional delegation
also involved in peacemaking efforts. Clinton was going to
be denied his glorious "victory," and the pro-war
media was clamoring for the introduction of ground troops.
The Clintonites were up against the wall, and something had
to give luckily for them, however, the "tragic
error" of the embassy bombing destroyed all hope for
a negotiated settlement, as the Chinese screamed bloody murder.
The Yugoslav government pressed its advantage, and held out,
hoping that the Chinese would rescue them by vetoing UN approval
of military action at the Security Council level even
if the Russians sold them down the river. Peace was averted,
and the "humanitarian" crusade of the Clintonians
took thousands of more lives before it ground to a halt and
NATO declared its grisly "victory."
YOUR OWN CONSPIRACY THEORY
all these various interest groups benefiting, in one way or
another, from the accidentally-on-purpose bombing of the Chinese
embassy, I will leave it to the reader to construct his or
her own "conspiracy theory" to fit the facts. I
merely note that virtually all the major power centers
in the West gained something from what has been described
as a "tragic accident." This, of course, is purest
coincidence and if you don't believe it, you're probably
one of those dreadful "conspiracy theorists."