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One Giant Step for Humankind

NATO intercession advances the march toward ending evil and enforcing accountability.

May 23, 1999|STANLEY K. SHEINBAUM | Stanley K. Sheinbaum is founding publisher of National Progressive Quarterly

It may be that Kosovo will punctuate one of the most significant steps in human relations in history. Fifty years ago, thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the member states of the United Nations. While the declaration has not been firmly established as international law, infinitesimal steps in the few decades since have served to assure that humanitarian and human rights criteria have become respectable both in diplomatic and political arenas.

Humanitarian concerns are no longer merely matters for the idealistic dreamer. The rhetoric of human rights is now clearly part of the discourse, as an infinity of organizations, public and private, are constantly promoting these values at a pace undreamed of before World War II and Nuremberg.

Regardless of the depth of their commitment, politicians understand that even they have to live by and join in the chorus. Inch by inch the International Court of Justice at the Hague has been strengthened and the battle cry for accountability has mounted, painfully slowly.

In the case of Kosovo it is no surprise that the bombing is resisted by those very people for whom humanitarian concerns dominate. "Collateral damage" is readily pointed to as one of the evils of the policy. No argument, but then it becomes a judgment call between short-run culpability and building the longer-run vision.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 25, 1999 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 7 Op Ed Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Opinion; Correction
Wrong identification--Stanley K. Sheinbaum was misidentified in a Commentary article Sunday. He is the founding publisher of New Perspectives Quarterly.

There are those who oppose the bombing for the straightforward reason that they are simply opposed to violence. Again, no argument. However, they then weaken their own position by purporting that ethnic cleansing would not have occurred had not the bombing commenced, a highly questionable premise. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, a very determined man, had resorted to that policy long before the failure of Rambouillet. Eyewitness accounts testify to executions designed to effectuate his evil policy.

There is no doubt that the critics of the bombing are handicapped as they try to prove a negative. The evidence is overwhelming, no matter how discomforting it may be even for the 1960s-type anti-Vietnam peaceniks. The experience of Vietnam is not itself a sound basis for objection. In that case, the devil was in the form of the anti-communist hysteria created by the House Un-American Affairs Committee, and the likes of Martin Dies, Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, then intensified by "the best and the brightest" who saw it as their mission to fight any linkage to the Soviets no matter how unthreatening. That was no less than invented hysteria generated for domestic political reasons.

In Kosovo and in Yugoslavia the devil exists in the real form of ethnic that cleansing, although not adding up to the intensity of the Holocaust, or even "mere" genocide, nevertheless, is very real. That the U.S. and Europe did not intercede in Rwanda and elsewhere is not a reason for passing on Kosovo. As for not interceding in the affairs of another country, why then have we elevated Lafayette for his actions against the English during our Revolution?

As for the justness of any military action consider the eradication of American slavery resulting from our own Civil War. Can anyone who looks at Pablo Picasso's Guernica today argue that the civilized nations should not have interceded earlier against the fascists? Instead, we labeled those who did as "premature anti-fascists" (read communists) and allowed the march of that hysteria to continue even through World War II with traceable steps all the way to Vietnam.

The values of humanitarianism and human rights are sometimes not easy to apply clearly. But that is no reason to avoid action in cases such as Kosovo. Each succeeding application will make it more difficult for the next violation. Human rights can be on the march but only if, as in Kosovo, we keep them on track and fight for them.

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