The 10 deadly Western sins: The acts of omission – and U.S. military culture

By Johan Galtung

Written 2002

[1]  The failure to take seriously the European macro-divides, Catholic-Orthodox and Christian-Muslim, playing with fire inside Croatia, Serbia and B-i-H, playing with fire in the near context and in the remote context; EU, Russia, Ottoman/Muslim countries; and the USA that ultimately came down on the side of the latter. To get an “anchor” in Eurasia? An oil corridor? An Osman empire?

[2]  The failure to take seriously Yugoslav divides: the Croat spring 1971, Serbian action 1987-89, minority autonomy demands in Kraina/Slavonia, B-i-H and Kosovo/a; the fascism of Ustasha and Chetnik para-military forces. Atrocities were predictable.

[3]  The failure to take seriously outside party histories, like Austria and Germany wanting revenge for the First and Second world wars and their loss of empire, possibly also Italy.

[4]  The one-sided demonization of the Serbs, as the center of Evil in Yugoslavia, oblivious of where the shooting started (in Slovenia), and the blatant ethnic discrimination (in Croatia).

[5]  The one-sided demonization of Milosevic, as the center of the Center of Evil, oblivious of harder nationalists like Seselj and Arkan, also failing to understand Milosevic’s appeal as a reaction to Titoist anti-Serbian policies, and his efforts to protect (like Saddam Hussein) a kind of welfare state.

[6]  The failure to take Pérez de Cuéllar’s warnings to Genscher seriously: no undue haste in recognition, protect minorities, no one-sided policies, have a policy for Yugoslavia as a whole, take time; indeed, the failure to make his views public at all.

[7]  The failure to call a general Conference on Security and Cooperation in Southeast Europe as an alternative to a Contact Group of six heavily involved big powers with their own agendas.

[8]  The failure to grant the parties in Yugoslavia “equal rights to self-determination”; not only for Slovenes and Croats, but also for the Serbs in Krajina and Slavonia; for Bosniaks, but also for Serbs and Croats in B-i-H; for Serbs, retaining their UN and OSCE membership, but also for Hungarians in Vojvodina and Albanians in Kosovo/a; for Macedonians, but also for Albanians in Macedonia.

[9]  The failure to think in terms of a Yugoslav confederation. With Montenegro as one entity, equal self-determination leads to 12+ entities as opposed to 8 in the 1974 Yugoslav constitution; not a dramatic change and a very preferable alternative.

[10]  The failure to take the religious dimension seriously; the conflict is not over theology, but religion serves to identify the parties across state borders and produces true believers.

[11] The failure to take the economic dimensions seriously; there are debts to be collected, and oil pipe lines to be built.

[12] The failure to take media manipulation seriously, like by Hill & Knowlton and Ruder Finn; and by governments in ex-Yugoslavia.

Do failures serve as an excuse?  Errare humanum est? At that gigantic scale, with those gigantic consequences? The major Yugoslav actors did what they were programmed to do, very much of it dictated by their history, particularly by the Second World War.

For Serbs to draw the conclusion that Serbs shall never again to be governed by Zagreb, Sarajevo or Pristina is not paranoid. It borders on the rational in spite of Serb proclivity for the narcissistic/paranoid. Nor should it be confused with having Great(er) Serbia as a goal. On the contrary, it opens for a lot of possibilities for creative conflict transformation, some of it indicated above.

The Serbian – stupid – crime was to not grant to Kosovo-Albanians, who were even fighting nonviolently, what the Serbs demanded for themselves in other parts of what was once a proud, well administered, rapidly growing FSR of Yugoslavia. With a terrible past hidden under the carpet and a stifling inability to go beyond Reconstruction to the other 2 R’s after violence: Reconciliation and Resolution.

But nothing of this absolves US/UK-NATO from the crimes committed by and in the NATO-Yugoslavia war.  Interventionism it certainly was, leaving behind two protectorates (so far) with very uncertain futures and a host of unsettled problems. It was not humanitarianism, it was not focused on human suffering, impartial, neutral, independent. There has been some empowerment of local institutions of affected communities; how sustainable remains to be seen.  But there certainly has been an imposition of “clear examples of right and wrong in international conflicts”, as seen by and partly provoked by outsiders. Instead of understanding and helping the Yugoslav peoples out of their predicaments a basis has been laid for future violence, for future wars.  For a simple reason: the text was a pretext.

A note on the military culture of the U.S.

“The Military” is a social institution, with a culture = standards for true-false, right-wrong, good-bad, sacred-profane,  beautiful-ugly, etc.  Given its enormous destructive power the US military culture ranks among the more important cultures in the world. And the USA today is a country unfit for “humanitarian intervention”.

Here are some recent excerpts from US military journals telling you why:

“In essence, US forces are imbued with the spirit of the offensive, characterized by an indomitable will to win and an aggressive determination to carry the battle to the enemy. The aim is to inflict on the enemy an early and decisive defeat.  This spirit, while likely to produce battlefield success, is often at odds with instincts of political leaders, who may prefer a more graduated force application concurrent with diplomatic and other pressures.”

“US forces preferably wage war as part of a multinational force, one having the widest possible international representation.  The object is not simply to gain additional power, but to enhance legitimacy.”

“Peace monitoring, peacekeeping, disaster relief – – nation assistance, counterdrug support, antiterrorism and noncombatant evacuation operations-while perhaps politically essential or morally desirable-often degrade combatant force readiness to perform their prime mission-warfighting and preparing for war.”
(From Colonel Lloyd J. Matthews, “The Evolution of American Military Ideals”, Military Review, January-February 1998, pp. 56-61).

The excerpt identifies a contradiction between warfighting and other military activities, developed further in:

“What do I mean by the term “warrior spirit”?  Above all, it is a state of mind. A soldier with the warrior spirit thinks aggressively, always seeking ways to close with and defeat the enemy. He is confident that he is tough enough to meet the enemy on any level.  He is less concerned for his personal safety and more concerned with inflicting as much pain as possible on the enemy.  – – He draws his satisfaction from continually developing his fighting prowess. He takes it personally when he loses in training because he knows it is unacceptable to lose in combat. In sum the warrior spirit drives a soldier to fight and, or die trying. – – In recent years – – technological advances – – have brought about a decline in the development of the warrior spirit. – – peacekeeping deployments – with the necessary emphasis on following strict rules of engagement and preventing the outbreak of hostilities-have further contributed to the weakening of the warrior spirit.”

“Most of our potential adversaries know two things about the United states that they will try to use against us: We are very sensitive to casualties, and our strength is in open terrain, where our technological superiority is at a premium”.
(From Captain William M. Connor, “Developing the Warrior Spirit in Ranger Training”,  Infantry, Vol. 89 No. 2 May-August 1999, pp. 45-47.  The author recommends boxing and pugil stick training). And here is a third example:

“–simple military operations, such as observation and traditional peacekeeping with a political influence dominant over token military forces and involvement-all predicated on the belligerents’ acceptance of a UN presence-are the core competence of the UN.  The more dynamic military operations should be undertaken only by rehearsed military alliances or coalitions leg by a major military power.  The Gulf War comes quickly to mind. Most Americans, opposed to UN command and control of U.S. military forces, probably would agree with these conclusions of Mr Hillen.”
(Colonel George G. Eddy, reviewing John Hillen, Blue Helmets: The Strategy of UN Operations, in Infantry, Vol. 88 No. 3 Sep-Dec 1998, pp.49-50)

But this is then contradicted in the politically more correct A Force for Peace. US Commanders’ Views of the Military’s Role in Peace Operations, Peace Through Law Education Fund, 1999:

” The senior officers interviewed unanimously agree that participation in these operations is in our interests and strengthens U.S. leadership.  This conclusion contradicts a suspicion in some Capitol Hill circles that the military is reluctant to engage in peace operations and would prefer to preserve all of its resources for war-fighting”.

That was 1999.  Three years later we read – note the change in title – in A Force for Peace and Security: US and Allied Commanders’ Views of the Military’s Role in Peace Operations, Peace Through Law Education Fund, 2002:

The European Approach: “[Peace Operations] are operations amongst the people.. If you’re in your shirtsleeve and your weapon is down the side of your leg and you’re no looking aggressive, then you have a calming effect…The more you seek to isolate yourself from the people, be it in your helmet and flak jacket, be it in your large four man vehicle patrol, the less you will be able to find the person or people who matter to you, among those people. (General Rupert Smith)

The U.S. Approach:  “It’s pretty simple.  When you’re under arms, you wear your combat kit.  We insist on helmets in HUMVEES and trucks because it saves lives when there’s an accident. The U.S. Army’s philosophy on this is, ‘Look, if you want us to go to the field and do peace enforcement, under arms, you get an organization with military discipline that’s ready to respond to any kind of lethal threat. If you don’t like that, send for the U.N’.  (General Montgomery Meigs)

As an afterthought, about images, convictions:

“The PSYOP /psychological operations/ teams helped convince the villagers that US troops were there as peacemakers, not foreign conquerors – a very important distinction in gaining public acceptance”.  Colonel C.H. Swannack and Lieutenant Colonel David R. Gray, “Peace Enforcement Operations”, Military Review, vol.77,No.6.

Conclusion:  US military, particularly younger officers, may see others as “sissies” and “wimps” and themselves a doing the real job.  Others may accept that division of labor. Added to the warrior ethos “characterized by an indomitable will to win”, comes the postmodern aspect of targeting civilian infrastructure and civilians.
This seems to have been the US Air Force doctrine from February 1943, already  practiced in the massive bombing of German and Japanese cities during the Second world war, and carried over in the major operations afterwards in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.

Of course, any civilian target destroyed will have some indirect military impact. But the impact is not necessarily negative; it could also strengthen the morale by strengthening the hatred of a cruel enemy, in our times also breaking the laws of war.  The basic US theory (not confirmed by the studies of the massive bombing of civilian targets in the Germany and Japan campaigns) is that civilian hatred will be deflected toward their own leaders as the cause of the suffering due to the war on civilians. The civilians may focus on the immediate cause, like the US way of waging war, compatible with “we are very sensitive to casualties, and our strength is in open terrain, where our technological superiority is at a premium”.  Bombing civilian targets from high altitude meets that bill.

Added to this comes a third factor. Commanders-in-chief (CINCs) exercise a power on US foreign policy incompatible with the theory of civilian control of the military (Washington Post, 27/09/2000): They travel non-stop, oversee multimillion dollar foreign study institutes and round-the clock intelligence centers – – American generals and admirals – – have long exercised independent influence abroad – – jockeyed with diplomats and intelligence agencies to shape U.S. foreign policy. – – peacekeeping and nation-building has steadily pushed the uniformed CINCs into expanded diplomatic and political roles.  The CINCs control their own aircraft, can call up a fleet of helicopters, and often travel with an entourage approaching 35.  The commanders are routinely received by heads of state who offer gifts, share secrets and seek advice.


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