Christopher Hitchens  Balkans wars

Rejoinder To Christopher Hitchens

By Edward S. Herman

Aug 2008

In a "Rejoinder to Noam Chomsky" in early October, Christopher Hitchens put up two sentences regarding my own writing, as follows:

 "Mr. Herman has moved from opposing the bombing of Serbia to representing the Milosevic regime as a victim and as a nationalist peoples democracy. He has recently said, in a ludicrous attack on me, that the 'methods and policies' of the Western forces in Kosovo were 'very similar' to the tactics of Al-quaeda; an assertion that will not surprise those who are familiar with his style."

 This packs a lot of misrepresentation into two sentences. Nowhere in my writings have I ever used any one of the three words "nationalist peoples democracy" to describe the Milosevic regime and never would, so Hitchens' language is straightforward fabrication and misrepresentation. For Hitchens I must be an apologist for Milosevic because I have "opposed the bombing of Serbia," just as one might be called an apologist for Saddam Hussein for objecting to the "sanctions of mass destruction." But of course he is not an apologist for NATO and Bill Clinton for supporting the bombing of Serbia.

 Notice also that he speaks of my making the "Milosevic regime" the "victim" of NATO bombing rather than the people of that regime. But I have never focused my sympathy on the regime as victim, just the people killed, injured and traumatized. Imagine how Hitchens would assail for outrageous insensitivity to the real civilians massacred an individual who spoke sarcastically of somebody being bothered by the recent New York/Washington attacks which only "victimized" the "Bush and capitalist regimes."  

Hitchens says that I equate the tactics of Al-Quaeda with those of the Western forces "in Kosovo." But the text that he is criticizing was comparing the attack on civilians in New York and Washington with the systematic NATO bombing of civilian facilities in SERBIA, not the military operations in Kosovo. In both the attacks on New York/Washington and Serbia, civilian "collateral damage" was either entirely acceptable or positively desired. In the Serbia bombing case there is solid evidence that the destruction of civilian facilities and inevitable civilian deaths and injuries were planned for and seen as positive, necessary to bring Yugoslavia to it knees quickly after it was found that attacking the Serb military forces in Kosovo was not effective.

 Hitchens obfuscates this NATO focus on civilians by his reference to Kosovo instead of Serbia, and he has never criticized the deliberate bombing and killing of civilians in Serbia. Quite the contrary: in his November 19, 2000 statement of evaluation of the NATO war in The Nation, he says "The NATO intervention repatriated all or most of the refugees and killed at least some of the cleansers. I find I have no problem with that." As he doesn't mention the thousands of Serb civilians killed, wounded, or traumatized by the NATO bombing, he clearly had no problem with that either. (Here and elsewhere he also fails to recognize that the refugees needing repatriation were generated by the NATO bombing that he supported; the UNHCR had no registered refugees from Kosovo before the war.) One can reasonably conclude that Hitchens is indignant at my comparison because of his different evaluation of the worth of civilians in Serbia as compared with those in New York and Washington. This is entirely consistent with his long-standing demonization of Milosevic and denigration of his people as unworthy victims if not "willing executioners."