Holocaust Relativism

 "Hitler" analogies betray both past and present

 By Diana Johnstone

 The war was launched to protect an oppressed ethnic minority, to
 punish a massacre, and to secure a New World Order.

 Which war was that? Why, Hitler's war of course, which came to be
 known as World War II. The ostensibly oppressed ethnic minority was
 the Germans in Slavic countries, the aggression was a fake Polish
 incursion into Germany denounced as a "massacre," and the "New
 World Order" was the declared goal of Nazi Germany.

 These pretexts or aims of Hitler's war of conquest are largely
 forgotten in the United States. They are never cited by politicians or
 media drawing parallels between then and now.

 However, everyone remembers the Holocaust, Hitler and Munich.
 Reduced to these three elements, the standard "lesson" of World War
 II goes like this: There was an evil man, Hitler, who wanted to kill all
 the Jews. At Munich, the West failed to stop him. The result was the
 Holocaust. Therefore we must "stand up" to whatever "new Hitler"
 comes along. This simplistic formula discredits diplomacy and justifies
 the use of military force. To call out the hounds of war, all that is
 needed is to identify the latest adversary as a new "Hitler" and to
 dismiss any attempt to find a reasonable compromise as "Munich."

 From the beginning of the Yugoslav crisis in 1991, the media took the
 easy way of reporting on an extremely complex and unfamiliar
 situation by resorting to analogy. The Washington public relations
 firm, Ruder Finn, on contract to Croatia and the Kosovo Albanians,
 took shrewd advantage of this tendency by likening Serb relocation
 camps in Bosnia--horrific places such as exist in conflicts around the
 world, and indeed existed in Bosnia under Muslim and Croat control
 as well--to "Auschwitz." Suddenly, Milosevic was "the new Hitler." A
 journalist who might challenge such exaggeration not only risked
 missing the "big story" but could be accused of "revisionism" or
 "Auschwitz denial."

 More recently, a number of American journalists have indeed
 managed to produce excellent and balanced articles from Yugoslavia.
 Steven Erlanger's reports from Kosovo for the New York Times
 reflect the complexities and ambiguities of a province devastated by
 NATO bombing, obscure combat, crime, intimidation and panic. Such
 serious reporting has a long way to go to counteract years of simplified
 analogies, distorted and inaccurate facts and outright propaganda by
 editorialists, columnists and cartoonists echoing each other in endless
 variations on the "new Hitler" theme.

 The tragic-comic fate of mankind seems to be to fail to see the next
 trap in the effort to avoid the last one. By constantly recalling
 Auschwitz, the collective imagination has projected it onto much more
 ordinary human disasters. At present, the truly successful
 "revisionism" is not denial of Auschwitz but its relativization, by
 seeing it where it isn't.

 The dangers of analogy construction

 Analogies should be employed with care, especially with such
 emotion-laden subjects as Hitler and the Holocaust. When applied to
 unfamiliar situations, they can create a powerful semi-fictional version
 that actually masks reality. Faced with a "new Hitler" and alleged
 "genocide," there can be no inquiry as to the real motives and
 interests of the various parties. Instead, the issue is reduced to
 identifying the "bad guy" and "standing up" to him. This mindset
 virtually precludes serious efforts to grasp why people are acting as
 they do.

 It has even helped to obscure the causes and motives of Nazi
 aggression. In reality, Hitler's vicious anti-Semitism could not in itself
 have led Germany into a war of conquest stretching from North Africa
 to Norway to the Volga. The military, financial and industrial elites of
 Germany were motivated by geo-strategic goals: a German-dominated
 Europe known as the "New World Order."

 The propaganda that incited Germans to fight told them that they were
 on a mission to bring good German "Western" order to the world. To
 achieve such order, elements of disorder had to be identified and
 eliminated. Here is where Hitler's anti-Semitism came in: For Hitler,
 disorder in the form of both communism and capitalism was caused
 primarily by Jews and secondarily by Slavs (considered an
 incompetent sub-race), as well as by minor trouble-makers such as
 Gypsies and homosexuals.

 If parallels are to be drawn between the present NATO war and the
 Nazi blitzkreig, some of them could be extremely embarrassing to the
 NATO allies. But American media have never cared to dwell on the
 fact that the "New World Order" was a Nazi slogan resurrected by
 President Bush once the Soviet Union collapsed, nor on the fact that
 Hitler ordered the bombing of Belgrade to punish it for opposing that
 "Order," while rewarding Croatian and Albanian secessionist
 nationalists with enlarged states from which they proceeded to drive
 out Serbian inhabitants. These, however, are the parallels seen by
 most Serbs, whether they support or detest Slobodan Milosevic. If this
 is not understood, the Serbs cannot be understood.

 Condemning the Serbian "race"

 As the NATO bombing inevitably fails to win the hearts of the Serbian
 people, they themselves increasingly have become the target not only
 of the bombing but also of the propaganda campaign. Their resistance
 is attributed to perverse stubbornness, or to complicity in the
 presumed crimes of "the new Hitler."

 The demonstrable fact that the Serbian people strongly favor a
 multi-ethnic society, the fact that Serbia is indeed the closest thing to a
 genuine multi-ethnic state in the region--this is ignored, or denied, by
 constant reference to the new invisible phantom haunting Europe,
 "Serbian nationalism." President Clinton's claim to be destroying
 Yugoslavia in order to achieve what has long existed--a multi-ethnic
 society--while the United States supports an armed ethnic Albanian
 movement fighting to establish an ethnically pure Greater Albania,
 raises ignorance, or dishonesty, to new levels of absurdity.

 Since they refuse to respond to NATO bombing by overthrowing
 Milosevic, the conclusion drawn by the NATO propagandists is that
 the Serbian people themselves are the "new Nazis." In mid-May, the
 BBC posed its question of the week: Could Serbia reform itself? No,
 said a British academic, Mark Wheeler, who was of the opinion that
 Serbia would have to be occupied militarily, like Germany after World
 War II, and "denazified."

 An individual citizen can sue a publication for libel. There is no such
 recourse for the population of a country that finds itself targeted by
 NATO. Anything goes when it comes to insulting "the Serbs." The
 April 12 Newsweek did not hesitate to characterize the Serbs as a
 "race" displaying uniquely negative qualities, in an article by Rod
 Nordland entitled "Vengeance of a Victim Race." "Serbs," readers
 were told, "are expert haters."

 Malicious generalizations alternate with lies. "This is the nation that
 invented the term 'ethnic cleansing'--as a wartime boast in 1991 when
 they were kicking Croats out of Croatia," wrote Nordland. This is not
 true. As Jim Naureckas points out (Extra!, 5 6/99), the term was
 appearing in U.S. newspapers a decade earlier to describe Albanians'
 treatment of Serbs in Kosovo. The practice is age-old. It has been
 repeatedly practiced in the Balkan region as a forcible way of ending
 border disputes, most dramatically in the huge population exchanges
 between Greece and Turkey in the first part of the 20th Century. As
 for the war in Croatia in 1991, the practice was mutual, as part of the
 dispute over boundaries in a fragmented Yugoslavia. This was the
 inevitable result of Western approval of a hasty and unnegotiated
 dismantling of Yugoslavia.

 Newsweek presumes to delve into the Serb psyche. It finds a "sense
 victimization"--a convenient element to disparage and dismiss
 preemptively in a people selected to be victims of NATO bombing.
 Anything that we do to them is only in their minds. "The other critical
 element of the Serb psyche: inat, which means 'spite' but also includes
 the idea of revenge no matter what the cost. A taste for revenge mixed
 with self-pity is a dangerous combination."

 As it happens, "inat" is a word that also exists in the Albanian
 language, with exactly the same meaning. In fact, "inat" is a Turkish
 word, which was adopted in all the languages of the region from the
 ruling Ottoman Turks. If the existence of the term in the national
 vocabulary is a key to the national "psyche," it applies just as much to
 the Albanians, and perhaps most of all to the Turks. But they are our
 allies, and thus do not require such scrutiny.

 Such an article is nothing but propaganda, which can serve only to
 justify subjecting a whole people to pariah treatment and even
 destruction. The subtitle of Nordland's article is: "The Serbs are
 Europe's outsiders, seasoned haters raised on self-pity. Even the
 'democrats' are questionable characters." Substitute "Jews" for
 "Serbs", and you have a sample of the sort of rhetoric the Nazis
 applied prior to "the final solution." If parallels are to be drawn with
 World War II, it is high time to explore all the angles.