On the Facts

On the Facts

Aryeh Neier’s outrage over a “diatribe against NATO’s military intervention” (“Inconvenient Facts,” Dissent, Spring 2000) is understandable: the issues are too serious for that. His essay is presented as a review of my book The New Military Humanism (NMH), which scarcely mentions the propriety of the NATO bombing. The topic is indeed brought up, three pages from the end, noting that what precedes—the entire book—leaves the question of what should have been done in Kosovo “unanswered,” though it seems a “reasonable judgment” that the United States selected the most harmful of several options available. As explained clearly and unambiguously from the outset, even from the title, the book is about a wholly different topic: the import of the Kosovo events for the “new era” of “principles and values” led by the “enlightened states” (to quote from some of the rhetoric reviewed), a matter that must be sharply distinguished from the question of what should have been done.

I also stressed the point that any resort to force must be assessed in terms of its likely human consequences, whatever the motives or past record of the agent. To illustrate, I reviewed the major post–World War II examples of military intervention with benign consequences, along with the U.S. reaction to them, a matter directly relevant to the topic of the book, as is the matter of regular practice, which bears directly on motives and long-term import.

That these are the topics of the book cannot be missed, and has not been by others. The latest review I have seen opens by observing that “Chomsky, however, does not ‘contribute to the debate about what should be, or should have been done in Kosovo.’ As he explains, the aim of his writing is ‘to examine the framework in which events proceeded on their course, with its terrible human toll.’”

These are among the actual topics of the book, which also suggests easy ways to mitigate or terminate comparable or worse atrocities: for example, by withdrawing from participation in them. A leading thesis throughout is “a psychological truism. One of the hardest things to do is to look into the mirror. It is also one of the most important things to do.” Neier passes over these matters with a few casual words, which seriously understate the crimes for which he and I share responsibility; Washington did not “tolerate” them, as he puts it, but took an active and decisive role in escalating them, a crucial distinction. It appears that my discussion of U.S. crimes and what we could easily do about them is of little significance to him in comparison with what should have been done about the other fellow’s crimes.

I also discussed the reactions of commentators outside of the self-anointed “enlightened states,” who warn that NATO’s reversion to the “colonial era,” “cloaked in moralistic righteousness,” is “a danger to the world,”...

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

For insights and analysis from the longest-running democratic socialist magazine in the United States, sign up for our newsletter: