Book review: "Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis"

Over the last year Socialist Appeal has carried a number of articles on the Balkans conflict which have challenged the official interpretation of events. This is also considered in depth by a number of the contributors to "Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis." Although, as the title suggests, this book deals mainly with the role and actions of the media, it does start with a consideration of the conflict itself.

"They need some bombing!"

Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis

Edited by Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman Pluto Press. ISBN 0 7453 1631 X Price:£14.99, 256 Pages

Over the last year Socialist Appeal has carried a number of articles on the Balkans conflict which have challenged the official interpretation of events. This is also considered in depth by a number of the contributors to "Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis." Although, as the title suggests, this book deals mainly with the role and actions of the media, it does start with a consideration of the conflict itself. Diana Johnstone explains how the Clinton regime sought to use Kosovo as an excuse to justify the continued existence of Nato, on its 50th anniversary, and the bill that went with it: "Corporate America was well aware of the importance of Nato as a source of long-term, guaranteed profits. US Congressmen had been heavily lobbied by a special 'US Committee to Expand Nato', presided over by Lockheed's chief executive. " (page 9)

Several of the contributors comment on the way in which the Rambouillet agreement negotiations were fixed by the US so that they would collapse. As one US official quoted in this book put it: "We intentionally set the bar too high for the Serbs to comply. They need some bombing, and that is what they are going to get" (page 103).

The plan was to initiate a bombing war, with zero US casualties, which would show the world in general - and Russia in particular - who was now boss. Serbia was identified by Washington as a suitable target who could be demonised and turned into the "enemy". In that sense, as Diana Johnstone notes, Kosovo was not a problem but a solution. The KLA was whipped up and painted in glowing terms by Nato and the world's press, all their misdemeanours strangely forgotten. Suddenly the newspapers were full of stories about Serbian war crimes and lurid accounts of mass graves, pogroms and terrible massacres. The ground was being prepared for the selling of the concept of the so-called "humanitarian war." Needless to say most of the figures of those killed were subsequently proven to be wild over-estimates.

The grand Nato plan was to use the KLA on the ground to engage the Serb forces, drawing them out so that the bombers could get to them, although in no way did the USA actually support the separatist aims of the KLA and certainly did not want to see a "Greater Albania". However, as the conflict started to drag on, it became more and more obvious that this would not work. At that point it was decided that the inflicting of "collateral damage" i.e. the striking of civilian targets was the only way forward. In other words using bombing for its main historical role, that of mass terror.

Of course with this the handling of the world's media now became very critical. Nato understood that it was essential to avoid an adverse reaction to their efforts to bomb Serbia into the ground.

As the book's introduction describes, it had started with the reworking of the English language. Alongside "Ethical Foreign Policy" we were treated to reports whereby "Soldiers are called 'peace-keepers', deliberately destroyed infrastructure and dead civilians are called 'collateral damage', and the occupation of part of a sovereign state by Nato troops and United Nations administrators is referred to as 'liberation'."

John Pilger reminds us that only a year earlier the US ambassador to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke, had described Milosevic as "a man we can do business with, a man who recognises the realities of life in former Yugoslavia." Now he was a "maniac."

By and large the Western press accepted all this uncritically and added to it. Pro-Nato commentators and "experts" were allowed to dominate the reportage of the press and television and any reporters who did not stick to the line were soundly trashed by the representatives of Nato and their friends. Even some on the Left abandoned a class position in their rush to "take sides"

However this book notes that this conformity did not exist in all countries. In Greece the opposition to the bombing was massive, one poll giving a 98.6% figure against, with daily anti-war demonstrations throughout the country. Although some of the press supported Nato, many journalists -reflecting the pressure from below - were able to speak out against the conflict. Similar opposition was raised in newspapers published in Russia and India, albeit for very specific reasons.

Several times the question is asked: why was the press not only prepared to repeat the Nato lies but enthusiastically add to them to the point where it seemed they were pushing Nato not the other way round? The answer lies in the issue of ownership. The Western press may prattle on about being "free" but in reality they are nothing of the sort. They are totally dominated by wealthy multinational companies. Linked together by a thousand threads they reflect the interests of the ruling class and their representatives. As journalists like John Pilger discovered - put a view which the bosses don't like and you will soon find the doors being shut. The power of the press cannot only be used to shape the views of the general population, it can also be used to put pressure on those at the top to toe the line.

Since the end of the bombing campaign the Western press has largely fallen quiet over the Balkans. Meanwhile, all the Kosovan refugees, welcomed here a year ago in a blaze of publicity, are quietly and quickly being forced back home. No-one wants to show the aftermath of this war in case questions are asked. "Degraded Capability" deserves to be read by all those interested in the realities of the new world order, that is to say, as this very useful book puts it, "the world as ordered by the United States."