Geert Lovink on Fri, 14 May 1999 19:44:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> (fwd) Vlada Petric: How Susan Sontag Promotes War

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From: Milovan Destil Markovic <>
Forwarded by: Bojana Pejic <>
Subject: Odgovor na Susan Sontag: Vlada Petric


It seems that 50 days of persistent bombing of Yugoslavia, with repeated
"collateral damage" and increasing numbers of innocent citizens killed due
to "unintentional errors," has produced a unique effect on people of
Yugoslav extraction in this country.

This phenomenon is particularly interesting from a psychological
standpoint, because the emotional impact of the inhuman destruction
affects individuals directly, regardless of their political persuasion or
social background.

As a result, more and more Americans of Yugoslav origin, who left the
Communist regime and involved themselves wholeheartedly in the social,
economic, and cultural life of the United States, are beginning to
reconsider their faith in the "New World Order."

Also among the disillusioned are those who were born in this country, but
have become gradually aware of the injustice and double standards their
government exercises towards the land of their fathers.

Vlada Petric, renowned film theorist and professor at the Visual Arts
Department, Harvard University, has spent three decades teaching at
various American universities, and was the first Curator of the Harvard
Film Archive. Throughout this period he did not participate in any
political action in this country, dedicating all his intellectual capacity
to education, but he vigorously supported the massive demonstrations
against Milosevic's authoritarian regime in Yugoslavia.

Triggered by the article in The New York Times Magazine, in which Susan
Sontag justifies the NATO aggression on Yugoslavia, Professor Petric felt
compelled to get involved and wrote a response to Sontag, which appears here.

Why Are We Bombing Kosovo?

- How Susan Sontag Promotes War -

By prof. Vlada Petric

Realizing that the NATO attack on Yugoslavia "has been bungled," the
initiators and supporters of this military intervention in Europe are now
trying to present the action as a "moral" issue. In her article entitled
"Why Are We in Kosovo?" (The New York Times Magazine, May 2, 1999), Susan
Sontag provides for the war a rationalization that sounds like a call to
revenge. Instead of asking her ill-conceived question, it is more
appropriate to ask, "Why Are We Bombing Kosovo?" Because by bombing
Kosovo--and Yugoslavia, for that matter--we will never "be" in Kosovo. To
achieve this and to resolve the Kosovo conflict--which Sontag
irresponsibly proclaims "not that complicated"--there exist only two

a) Instant invasion that would involve bitter fighting on the ground,
resulting in great casualties among the soldiers (which one can argue to
be justifiable), with enormous losses of innocent people on all sides.

b) Persistent negotiations that may last long, yet are worth every
innocent human being destroyed by the brutal military machine and by
single-minded political thinkers like Sontag.

Untouched by the tragic aspect of the situation in the Kosovo province
of Yugoslavia, Sontag recommends war as the best solution, posing yet
another question: "How can you stop those bent on genocide without war?"
It seems inconceivable that an artist, who is supposed to put humanistic
ideals above politics, can conceive such a question, and conclude that
"not all wars are unjust." In her mind, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is
a "just war" (read: "just aggression") although it "has been bungled," but
she fails to explain why this war is doing badly. To do so, she would have
to admit that, after NATO intervention, the number of Albanian Kosovar
refugees who had to leave their homes has increased from a trickle to a
flood, while many hundreds of innocent people have been killed throughout
Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo, due to "technical and logistic errors." In
a "just" war, of course, errors must be justified, and Sontag assumes the
role of an arbitrator who declares that it is "only a small portion of the
suffering that the Milosevic government has inflicted on neighboring
peoples." What a grotesque rationalization: a "small portion" of the
prescribed punishment of a people for the misdeeds committed by both their
own and other leaders! This implies blind retribution that can only ignite
more hatred and continue the killing. As an educator, I fortunately
learned that such a vindictive method of "teaching" people how to behave
does not work, since it expands violence and encourages retaliation.

Dividing wars between "just" and "unjust," Sontag estimates how much
retaliation is "necessary" to punish the nation she proclaims as the sole
culprit for the war in what once was Yugoslavia. She readily equates the
Serbian people with the Milosevic regime, which is like declaring the
Russian people responsible for the Stalinist atrocities, or claiming that
all Germans are guilty for what Hitler did to the Jews, Gypsies, Serbs,
and other ethnic minorities in Europe. Only a mind infected by hatred can
produce and popularize such a monstrous concept.

To support her thesis, Sontag recalls her experience in Sarajevo during
the Summer of 1993, comparing the ethnic civil war in Yugoslavia with the
Nazi slaughter of the German Jews. Again, her comparison is tendentious
and severely flawed, motivated by one-sidedness. Certainly, the shelling
of Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Vukovar--as well as ethnic cleansing--is wrong,
just as the bombing of Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Podgorica, Pristina, and
many other cities in Yugoslavia is wrong and counter-productive. Moreover,
bombing as an ultimatum cannot bring the warring parties to a negotiating
table, particularly if the "supreme judge" unequivocally supports only one
side in the conflict.

Promotion of war, whether labeled as "just" or "unjust," is a crime
against humane consciousness, because it excludes concern for the innocent
citizens trapped in the power struggle for political, military, and
economic supremacy. Deaf to the cries of the innocent Yugoslav citizens
threatened by NATO bombs, Sontag proposes bloody retribution as a "just
reaction" to the Kosovo conflict, and poses her final question "Can we
really say that there is no response to this?" Of course, there is and
should be a response, but not by warmongering and encouraging more
bloodshed, as Sontag does, with the pretense of extinguishing the "radical
evil in the world." By killing innocent people, Susan, you would create
more evil in the world.

There have always been those who glorified war as a means of resolving
discord between states and nations and some even label wars as "holy,"
blessed by God. Today, when nothing is sacred any more, we have to oppose
ideas that place ideology above human life, instead of contributing to the
supercilious militaristic logic that is "a dangerous aberration of human
consciousness," as Mirko Kovac, the great Serbian writer and both Susan's
and my friend, would say. Unconcerned with peoples' suffering and the
multiplication of innocent victims, Susan Sontag promotes her "just" war"
from an Italian coffee bar on the sunny Adriatic coast.

Professor Vlada Petric taught film history at the Visual Department,
Harvard University from 1973-1997. He is the founder and first Curator of
the Harvard Film Archive. Retired, he lives in Cambridge, completing his
two books on film theory and aesthetics.

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