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CONFESSION OF THE BOMBS

By Eduardo Galeano

The United States and its NATO allies are discharging a torrent of missiles on Yugoslavia, or on what is left of what was once Yugoslavia. According to the official reports, those attacking are moved by the rights of the Kosovo Albanians, victims of a "war of ethnic cleansing" unleashed by Milosevic’s Serbian forces. According to President Clinton, the western democracies cannot stand by and allow this "inadmissible human catastrophe."

The worst "war of ethnic cleansing" and the most "inadmissible human catastrophe" in the history of the Americas in the twentieth century took place not that long ago in Guatemala, above all in the decade of the eighties. Guatemalan indigenous peoples were the principal victims of this massacre: which produced one hundred times more dead than in Kosovo, and twice the number of displaced persons. In his recent tour of Central America, President Clinton asked to be forgiven for the support his country gave to those military men, exterminators of Indians, who were trained, armed, and advised by the United States. Why doesn’t Clinton demand that Milosevic apply this successful doctrine of washing of hands? The bombing raids might be stopped in return for a formal promise, that in the year 2012 or 2013—for example—Yugoslavia’s president could ask the cadavers of Kosovo to forgive him and all would be well, end of story, sin absolved, what’s done is done. And the killing could continue unabated.

The U.S. president was bogged down in his sex scandal, and Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman invented a war in order to distract the attention of the respectable public. In the film, called "Wag the Dog," this invented war was launched on behalf of the Albanians. Now, once again in an effort to save Albanians, the film continues in another medium. Its Hollywoodesque nature remains in tact however: the planes take off, they seem to have been designed on some movie set, and night after night explosions like fireworks light up Yugoslavia’s sky. As was true during the bombing raids against Iraq, this spectacle does not give us images of the enemy’s dead, and there are no dead on our side. As long as the bombs fall from above, this real war will continue pretending to be virtual reality. If ground troops are used, and the attacking countries begin to receive their heroes back in coffins, it will be another story.

Meanwhile, NATO continues celebrating, with fanfare, its half century of life. And, as the old saying goes, they’re throwing the house out the window. This is the most expensive birthday party in history: without counting the value of lives and property destroyed in Yugoslavia, because the long and short of it is that there is no enemy who doesn’t deserve what’s coming to him, and every night of bombing raids costs $330 million dollars. According to the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" (March 30, 1999), on the first night of this war alone the U.S. spent as much money as Clinton promised to the countries of Central America after they were devastated by Hurricane "Mitch." And that’s not all. There were those who were asking what NATO’s role might be, since the Communist threat to Eastern Europe no longer exists. The company’s general manager, Javier Solana, wasted no time in responding to such insidious doubts. Twenty years ago, Solana shouted "No!" to NATO. Ten years ago and speaking on behalf of the Spanish government, he uttered a much-quoted phrase. The U.S. had just unleashed its war against Iraq, and Solana said: "They asked our opinion, but after the fact." Today he explains that NATO is "defending peace," at the tune of a million dollars per missile.

The great powers are the ones who practice crime and recommend it. No one breaks the law so often. These bombing raids poke fun at international law, and also at NATO’s charter. Against a bloody dictator like Milosevic, we are told, anything goes, including the unthinkable. Against Milosevic? On our television screens, at least, the Hitler of the Balkans looks healthy and fit. The people are the ones who suffer. The wars against Iraq, as well--violations of every law ever passed--have been justified in the context of the urgency of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Years pass, bombing raids succeed bombing raids, and the so-called Hitler of the Middle East continues alive and well. Yet how many Iraquis have died? According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics’ official report (January, 1992), 145,000 Iraquis and 124 U.S. citizens were killed in the war of 1991. And how many continue to suffer as a consequence of that blockade theoretically destined to overthrow the dictator? How many suffer the hunger imposed by international economic sanctions? According to the latest Red Cross report, in this decade alone the number of Iraqui babies born with below-normal weight, has multiplied by six.

And if it really were true that NATO’s heart has been broken by "ethnic cleansing"? Is saving the threatened minorities worth destroying everyone? It would be moving, indeed, if NATO was responding to injustice. But in that case, why have they not bombed Turkey? Hasn’t Turkey exercised a systematic purge of the Kurdish people? Why does Yugoslavia deserve punishment and Turkey applause? Perhaps because Turkey is one of our own, a member of NATO. But more likely because Turkey is one of the best customers of the West’s war industry.

This war, like all wars, serves as a giant display case for the exhibition and sale of arms. The prize offering continues to be the F-117, that began its devastating career killing Panamanians at the end of 1989. And anyone can take a tumble; not every marketing campaign is successful. One supposedly invisible F-117 suddenly became visible and was shot down. The accident cost U.S. taxpayers $45 million dollars, not counting the weapons on board.

This war, like all wars, justifies military spending. The great Western powers, armed to the teeth, need clients. And they also need enemies. Not very long ago, at the beginning of this year, when the second war against Iraq was coming to an end, the Pentagon’s generals warned: "Our stockpile of missiles is getting depleted." Immediately, President Clinton announced a $12 billion dollar increase in the already immense military budget. This is 15% of the federal budget called, who knows why, Defense Budget. And Clinton presides over a country with a million and a half soldiers, willing to die who knows why.

NATO was born as The United States’ right arm in Europe. Although Russia no longer supports anyone, NATO continues to grow, and with it grows Washington’s hegemony and the market of the U.S. arms industry. For Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to pass their good conduct test, they had to become members of NATO and buy the latest weaponry from the United States. Yesterday’s bad boys become today’s models of propriety by renovating their arsenals and achieving the level of "interoperationality" NATO demands. So that the U.S. Congress approves these new memberships, Lockheed Corporation and other industries of death grease the legislators’ palms with legal gifts.

Recently a scandal broke out in Great Britain. It was revealed that the most prestigious universities, the purest charitable institutions and the largest hospitals had invested their employees’ pension funds in the weapons industry. Those responsible for education, charity, and public health explained that they were putting their money in the industries that produce the highest earnings, and these are precisely those that make arms. A spokesperson for Glasgow University said it all:

"We don’t make a moral distinction. We want our investments to make money, not be ethical." If the bombs falling on Yugoslavia could speak as well as they can explode and kill, would they speak the truth? "My dear bombs, are you the mortal instruments of Good?" "A little more respect, my friend. We are good business!"