Editorial: From D-Day To Bosnia
Imperial habits die hard. And the final form of imperialism is the most seductive—it involves imposing one’s goodwill on evil governments and peoples.
As we go to print there has been an argument on Radio Four’s Week In Westminster (April 23) between Chris Mullin and a Tory. The Tory argued that Britain had no national interest at stake in Bosnia and therefore should not get involved in a war against the Bosnian Serbs. Mullin spotted the cloven hoof and exclaimed exultantly: So the Gulf war was all about oil! The Tory admitted the cloven hoof.
Mullin then made a profession of faith:
‘I put a higher value on human life and the suppression of tyranny than I do on the flow of oil. ”
And, because he puts such a high value on human life, he wants to kill Serbs, both from the air and on the ground. And, furthermore, he thinks it can be done with safety:
“Serbia is a small tyranny. Bosnia is an even smaller one. Both are very much smaller than Saddam Hussein. ”
And he observed significantly that the Tories who are now reluctant to participate in a war on the Serbs were very eager to make war on Saddam.
For two generations, while NATO was a defensive military alliance which never dropped a bomb in anger, the Left of the Labour Party was hostile to it. But, now that the Power against which it was a defensive alliance has suffered an internal collapse, and NATO is without a defensive function, most of the Left supports its adoption of a warmaking function (called “peace-enforcing” in United Nations doublespeak).
This magazine supported NATO while it had a defensive purpose against the Soviet Union. The way the War declared by Britain in September 1939 worked out was that liberal-democracy only survived in Britain and Western Europe as a by-product of the defeat of Nazi Germany by the Soviet Union. Following its defeat in France in 1940 Britain conducted skirmishes on the fringes of the war for four years.
D-Day was a desperate effort to open a second front in the West before the Red Army got there—though that is not a fact that will be mentioned in the celebrations. Because of D-Day Britain was in at the kill, but the kill was Russia’s. The Red Army was dominant in Europe in 1945 and after because the brunt of the war started by Britain had been borne by it. It made its own kind of settlement in the parts of Europe from which it drove the German Army. That settlement was not of the kind that Britain would have made, if it had managed to Fight and win its own war against Germany. But it did not fight its own war.
Churchill’s basic aim after June 1940 was to spread the war, which Britain had become incapable of sustaining in the main area. He succeeded in spreading the war. Because the war spread eastwards Britain was saved. But it was in the barbaric eastern dimension of the war by which Britain was saved that the bulk of the European Jews were exterminated.
Once Nazi Germany was defeated, Britain began to complain that the settlement made in the Eastern parts of Europe by the Power chiefly responsible for victory was not in accordance with British ideals. But Soviet Russia had never subscribed to British ideals. Neither had it rushed to war as Britain had. It had exhorted Britain to make a general peace settlement, right up to the moment when it was itself invaded. And then it coped with the military power before which Britain was helpless, and inflicted such substantial damage on it that Britain was able to return to the Continent four years after leaving it.
War is an appeal to might to establish what it is that is right. Britain has made the appeal to might more than another state in the last three hundred years. By the standard established through its own conduct in the world, it had no reasonable ground for complaint about Soviet conduct in 1945. The rule that winner takes all was the rule of British conduct in the time when Britain was top dog.
The affairs of the liberal-democratic segment of the world were severely damaged by Britain’s handling of them. The survival of a few liberal-democratic states in Europe in 1945 was a by-product of Bolshevik success in defeating the main power of Nazi-Germany. To protect those states from the destroyer of Nazism, Ernest Bevin, through NATO, implicated the United States, with its new weapon of mass-destruction, in post-war European affairs.
This was not a very glorious state of affairs. But beggars can’t be choosers. And this magazine supported NATO as providing for the continuation of a liberal- democratic sphere in a Western Europe which had handled its affairs so badly that it could be sure of continuation only in this way. And, by the same token, it did not support a continuation of NATO once the state of affairs for which it was established ceased to exist.
It is as well to be frank about these things at this juncture. The fragility of liberal-democracy in the world at the end of the Cold War is a product of real history, whose influence continues to be effective regardless of all the whitewashing done in history books and on the media.
The irrationality of British policy on Yugoslavia is directly traceable to World War 2, when in 1943-4 Churchill betrayed the Yugoslav democracy—essentially the Serbian democracy which overthrew the Yugoslav Government that had made a treaty of alliance with Hitler and installed a Government which resisted Hitler. We have described in earlier issues how Churchill abandoned the democratic Yugoslav resistance and gave moral and military support to Tito for the campaign of terror by which the Communist regime of the Partisans was established in Serbia. After such a betrayal how could respectable British leaders do other than blackguard the Serbs?
The break-up of Yugoslavia on the ground of nationalist passion was encouraged by British leaders. But, on any rational reckoning, Bosnia was even less viable on nationalist grounds than Yugoslavia. David Owen, who a few years ago made the egregious statement that Bosnia was a nation-state, has learned something since then. The same cannot be said of Labour spokesmen of either wing.
It was never likely that the Serbs—who had made themselves a political force in conflict with the Turkish, Austrian and German Empires over two centuries—would accept a situation in which large numbers of them came under the control of Croatian and Muslin rule which was motivated by fierce nationalist passion against them. The Serb experience of World War 2 is that they were savaged by Croat and Muslin detachments of the SS before being subjected to Communist rule with Churchill’s support.
The people of Britain apparently find it intolerable that soldiers of the army of the German state founded by proven anti-Nazis after 1945 should take part in D-Day celebrations. But it is thought highly unreasonable of Serbs not to forget their experiences of Nazi-rule through Croats and Muslims.
Reporting of the detail of the Bosnian conflict has been grossly one-sided. And the basic cause of the trouble is never put—the decision of outside forces that, when Yugoslavia was being broken up on nationalist grounds and should have been replaced by states formed on the greatest possible degree of ethnic homogeneity, this was not to be allowed, because of the menace of ‘Greater Serbia’—which would have been a very small place by comparison with Great Britain.
A war on the Serbs, such as Chris Mullin desires (and many others on the Left along with him) would be a moral crusade. And moral crusades are the most horrifying wars known to history. (Was not Hitler a moral crusader in his fashion?) Wars of interest are altogether preferable, even when the interest is not admirable.
And as to tyranny: why does Chris Mullin describe the elected Government of Serbia as a tyranny? And do not the Bosnian Serbs too have their representative assembly?
But, in international affairs, tyranny is beside the point. Israel has asserted a superior right over neighbouring slates on the grounds of being the sole democracy in the Middle East. But that claim has never been acknowledged in principle, even by the most simple-minded enthusiasts for United Nations ideology. And, if it were acknowledged, it would be a recipe for even greater mayhem than is currently going on in the world.
The notion of ‘safe havens’ was plucked out of the air three years ago at a moment when the UN-inspired Kurdish insurrection against the Baghdad Government was failing. Its function was to prevent the Iraqi Government from restoring its rule in Northern Iraq, and to preserve a base area for the Kurdish movement. (The stimulus this gave to the Kurdish movement brought about intensified repressive activity against Kurds within Turkey, which the United Nations had to condone as Turkey was a valiant member of the ‘world community’ in its operations against Iraq.)
The United Nations tried to do the same trick with ‘safe havens’ in Bosnia. The Serbs said they would respect these safe havens if they were demilitarised zones, but would not recognise UN taboos on places which continued to be Muslim military centres. And, despite all the macho posturing and bombast of UN/NATO, what has been happening in recent months has been a reluctant acceptance, as bluffs have been called by the Serbs, that safe havens cannot be military bases.
This article appeared in May 1994, in Issue 41 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/m-articles-by-topic/.