NATO’s psychological projection

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 75 – July 30, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.

 

“I believe there were overlooked or suppressed dimensions such as collective psychology, deep cultural codes and domain Western expansionist/missionary values at work in the West’s handling of Kosovo, and I think we do wise to discuss them.

For instance, does the US-led West in fact hide a latent, deep-seated authoritarian ideology that seeks world dominance while pretending to create global democracy, partnership and multiculturalism? And does it in its own manner – like Milosevic and Hitler in their different manners – thrive on somebody else’s crisis while pretending to help them?

It is fascinating to see how quickly the public, the politico-diplomatic discourse and the media have managed to relegate the crisis, this turning point in contemporary history, to the past. But what has happened in, and to, the West itself during the Balkan wars and during Kosovo in particular deserves a bit of introspection – and perhaps we won’t like what we see if we try,” says TFF director Jan Oberg.

“Norwegian-Swedish philosopher Harald Ofstad 30 years ago analysed the ideology of Nazism. He maintains that Nazism builds on and is an extreme version of Western values, of its ‘Weltanschauung.’ Its main feature is ‘our contempt for weakness’ and a celebration of strength, power and heroism. The Strong SHALL rule over the Weaker. The good/stronger has a right, or God-given authority, to control or eradicate the evil/weaker who only deserves our contempt. The stronger takes upon him a burden of civilisation, sacrifices and acts heroically in the name of a higher principle or ‘law’, of Good.

Thus he is never made responsible for his deeds; he has a higher mandate and is above common law. Those carrying out the leader’s orders are conveniently also relieved from responsibility, no matter how criminal they may be – since they too aim to drive out Evil and (re)install Good. Anti-semitism is not essential to the authoritarianism of the Nazi worldview, rather just a flawed, perverted element in it.

We admire the winner and the strong-willed and despise the deviating, the hesitating, the loser. An integral part of the Nazi ideology is to PRETEND to fight idealistically for high moral goals and against evil while promoting one’s own petty cause and meanness. The world is black and white. Discipline and obedience is rewarded; asking too many questions punished. Nationalism and symbols such as uniforms, medals and flags are important.

The Leader and Leading Nation see themselves as exceptional, as chosen people by God to (re)create Paradise on earth. Personal responsibility does not mean questioning what is right and wrong, but being responsible for meticulously carrying out the mission. Language must be use to seduce, it has to be full of analogies, cliches, euphemisms, – and Nazism is fundamentally anti-intellectual, simplifying, pseudo-scientific. Particularly important is that aggression and idealism melt into one: ‘we do what we do for the good of humankind, don’t judge US the way you judge THEM, our motives are noble, theirs are evil – which permits the criminal to be seen as a hero.’

Conflicts often hold elements of projection. Projection means ascribing to others the ‘dark sides’ we find inside ourselves and abhor. Could it be that Western leaders and media, when calling Milosevic Hitler, signalled their fear or unpleasant awareness that their own project could be seen as ‘Hitlerist,’ i.e. that they knew that at least some of the elements of authoritarianism were at work in their own policies? Could it be that they needed the analogy to the Jews by casting all Albanians in the role of innocent victims and not as participants in a politico-military conflict – in President Clinton’s repeated words they were ‘objects of ethnic cleansing not because of anything they have done but exclusively because of who they are’?

NATO invaded another country, committed aggression and violated international law. It used indiscriminate weapons. It wanted to bring an ‘evil’ nation down on its knees. The West accused Yugoslavia for doing what it did itself, e.g. killing innocent civilians, committing aggression, creating ethnically clean(er) units, sidelining democracy, using disproportionate and overwhelming military power, having ‘evil’ plans (CIA getting rid of disobedient leaders), having a firm grip on media, etc.

A minimum of historical consciousness tells us that ethnic cleansing is not something invented in the Balkans, but an integral part of Western behaviour in other cultures throughout history, not the least against the Indian indigenous people in the United States. Isn’t it quite clear also that the US, for instance, is a nationalist actor, having ‘national interests’ all over the world?

When did you see a State Department press briefing or President Clinton without the Stars and Stripes, how often did American leaders not praise their own country, democracy, freedom, peace, strength and honour the way they interpret it: as exceptional, as Chosen People? What shall we make of false historical analogies about Serbia being Hitler’s Germany?

Here is what TFF Associate Dr. Johan Galtung of TRANSCEND wrote recently about the West’s handling of Kosovo:

“The parallel that comes to mind, mentioned by Solzhenitsyn, is Hitler’s use of the national conflict between Sudeten/Germans and Czechs, the pressure on Czechoslovakia (with the support of England). Japan’s attack on Manchuria 1931-45 and Italy’s attack on Ethiopia 1935-41 were also against the Kellogg-Briand Pact (Briand got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926, Kellogg in 1929): 62 states, among them all major powers, agreed to renounce war as political instrument and to settle all international disputes by peaceful means. The exceptions were wars of self-defence or military obligations from the League Covenant, the Monroe doctrine or alliance obligations – very similar to the UN Charter Article 2(4), with exceptions.

The three dictatorships were above the law and the League, brushing all resolutions aside, lifted by their visions of a New Order. Their propaganda was as massive as the NATO propaganda with its insulting ‘apologies’ for ‘collateral damage’ that so obviously was intended by those on top from the very beginning. Well, the world did not have Internet at the time, that helps.

But the power was on the side of those ‘above the law’ because of a criterion of their own choice (there was probably more popular will behind what those dictatorships did than for the sneaky action by the ‘democracies’). The dictatorships followed up what they started: the Second World War.

The USA, using NATO-AMPO-TIAP is probably tempted to do the same, starting with North Korea and Colombia (?), to implement the New World Order. Time to prevent the Third World War: Now. Place? Everywhere.”

“Projection, of course applies to Serbia/Yugoslavia itself, too,” Jan Oberg continues. “I remember how in 1991 Serbs of all walks of life told TFF’s conflict-mitigation team members how they were victim of Ustasha/Fascism, that they had always suffered and now fought for the Good – democracy, peace, multiethnicity, minority rights, and – survival. They saw and see themselves as victims of a Greater US/Western/EU/NATO imperialist conspiracy (another famous, secret Plan functioning like ‘Operation Horseshoe’ to the West). Like Croats would tell you the same about Serb Fascism/Greater Serbia and the equally secret Science Academy Plan for Greater Serbia.

Serbs and Albanians have projected on to each other a series of features, stereotypes, prejudice and historical dark traits. My team members and I myself have met pure racism on both sides – and people who have tried to convince us about the truthfulness of their noble cause and historical destiny (and suffering) – and told us again and again that something much worse would happen if they didn’t take matters in their own hands or got some help from abroad.

When NATO committed aggression, Serbs felt that they were right in believing that there was a Plan against them. And when the Serbs committed atrocities this spring they greatly helped the West – politics and media – in justifying its law- and human rights violating, disproportionate violence. Thus, they locked each other into a vicious circle – resulting in tremendous human suffering down there, of course, not in technologically superior NATO.

Nazi ideology advocates struggle against those who are, or threaten to be, equally strong and subduing or eradicating those weaker than us.

Kosovo was not only a struggle against Serbia, the infinitely weaker. It was also about fighting potentially strong actors:

a) humiliating Russia a little more with yet another NATO expansion;

b) antagonising China (add to the embassy bombing the spy ‘scandals’, exclusion from the WTO, human rights and democracy lessons, Taiwan, Tibet, nuclearism, etc. and you have more than enough conflict material);

c) undermining the UN as world organization and peacekeeper, and d) eradicating socioeconomic systems that threaten to not succumb under the pressures of ‘globalisation’ or otherwise refuse to obey the power of the stronger. After the collapse of the Eastern bloc there are not supposed to appear any viable competing system to world order à la West and global capitalist integration.

NATO overwhelmingly held all the cards: military power, money, unlimited access to world/global media which are all Western-controlled and cultural power: selling the message of democracy, human rights, humanitarianism. NATO could hit anywhere in Yugoslavia, which had no capacity to hit the West and had not committed aggression against any other state.

This tendential world dominance is much more global, sophisticated and multifaceted than Nazism, but it is sold in ways that make many Western citizens endorse or even embrace it – as did many ordinary citizens Hitler’s Messianic vision of a world without Evil and led by an enlightened, all-powerful, culturally superior Germany.

So, projection? Most likely, yes!” says Oberg. “Nations seem to fight the dark sides of themselves that they have projected onto others – who then becomes the terrible ‘Other’ that must be stopped. It happened between the two main contenders in the Cold War, and it repeats itself now in new conflict formations: Serbia/FRY has been cast in the role of the ‘evil’ Soviet Union, the other republics and peoples playing the role as Western-oriented, peace-loving, democratic, morally right – according to the long-outdated Cold War paradigm, the only one that existed in 1991.

Without projection – and authoritarianism, stereotyping etc – things like Kosovo and NATO in Kosovo would be impossible. The West is so upset about Serbia because they have so much in common – among other things a wildly exaggerated perception of their own mission and importance in the world and their sense of being Chosen Nations for Great Projects, whether regional or global.

Only someone who has never studied conflicts and violence in the field can be surprised that there are MORE similarities than differences between Americans/Britons/NATO on the one hand and Serbs and Russians on the other – deeply Western as they all are, expansive and fearful of revenge from all those they have hurt.”

Concludes Jan Oberg – “some of us have been around in ex-Yugoslavia for too long a time to believe that democracies are inherently peaceful or moral. Look at this century and how it ends! We have more education, more information, more military power, more violence – and more democracy and shrinking wisdom. Politics and ethics, as well as technology and culture HAVE divorced.

I am convinced that Kosovo was not a minor event in contemporary history, that it is quite likely to be a turning point for worse things to come – an evidence that we have learnt absolutely nothing from this century.

Until we challenge the legitimacy of violence and the institution of war itself, world order, civilised state power, humanism, decent manners, fair play and democratic governance will – I fear – decay further. NATO and KFOR are huge steps in the wrong direction and bode ill.

A project worthy of humanity in the next century is to promise ourselves to learn from the 20th century and stop this madness, stop this violence, stop this arrogance and human folly, stop NATO/KFOR-type fraud ‘peace’keeping and to use all our human and cultural skills, our economic and technological resources – in short, our humanity – to learn to do better and handle and solve our conflicts with the least possible violence. And let’s not celebrate before we know how to ‘cleanse’ violence from our thoughts, words and deeds – and thus become able to imagine a more peaceful world.”

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