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Hey, Balkan Bill; what did you kill?

By Barry Crimmins

MAY 10, 1999:  Former anti-war activist Bill Clinton now so completely embraces militarism that he has even declared a war with himself.

Who will win? Touchy-feely Billy, who shares pain with freaked-out adolescents, or Camouflage Clinton, who just marks time at photo-ops until he can get back to dispatching Texaco tankers to five-alarm blazes?

Wouldn't you just know that the all-things-to-all-people president seems to have found a way for both of him to prevail?

On April 22 Clinton visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, where he asked students and all Americans to ponder how graphic violence in the media and on the Internet figured into the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. He also told kids that violence was not an appropriate response to being dissed. (I swear, the italics were visible.) He told them that even the president gets dissed on occasion. In doing so he courageously broached the subject that has stained dresses and headlines for the past few years. And he did it in an age-appropriate manner. What a leader!

Any questions about the president's personal conclusions on the matter of media culpability were loudly answered less than 24 hours later, when a NATO air strike knocked Serbian state television in Belgrade off the air. The station had taken to broadcasting obscenely violent footage of the results of NATO bombing missions. Clinton did what he had to do to keep those images from reaching impressionable adolescents in the greater Belgrade area.

Let's hope the kids from T.C. Williams High don't find out that the Serb station had also regularly dissed Camouflage Clinton.

The conflict in the Balkans is a tale of ancient antipathy. The only thing older and more hateful that's available for study in US society is Jesse Helms's stance on human rights. Well, actually, Senator Helms's views predate the concept of human rights, but the point is that this disagreement is really old.

Each ethnic group in the Balkan region seems to take turns as victim and villain. You feel sympathy for one group and then learn that their grandparents were tight with Hitler and took their own shot at genocide. The Serbs and Slobodan Milosevic are getting their licks in now. Considering that ethnic cleanliness is next to Satanism, the impulse to halt their barbarous behavior is noble.

But Willy-Nilly Clinton's methods of confronting the pugnacious little monster are suspect. Clinton has approached the conflict with all the discretion and level-headedness he has brought to his sex life.

Oh, to be a kid again and allowed some face time with the prez at that T.C. Williams hugfest. I would have asked him a few questions.

For example: Bill, at the exact moment you are responsible for directing ongoing air attacks in both Europe and the Middle East, you are telling us that violence is not how we should resolve teenage conflict. While you're at it, how about a lecture on chastity?

Where has aerial bombardment ever driven a thug from power? (If you answer "Japan," you're wrong, but that's another essay for another day.) And haven't the bombings intensified the suffering of the refugees? Haven't they given Milosevic a rationale to impose more misery at a faster rate? Haven't they created a common enemy for Milosevic and many of his traditional Serbian adversaries and, in doing so, strengthened Milosevic's political grip? Hasn't the bombings' din drowned out opposing voices? And snuffed out innocent lives?

You are thinking about ground troops? Uh-huh. Well, that certainly could become a legacy that would provide plenty of exercise for young Americans throughout the next millennium -- or so. However, if you do attack on the ground, what becomes of the estimated one million Kosovars who remain behind Serb lines? You don't suppose Milosevic would decide to intensify rapidly his predilection for slaughtering any male who might be of use to the KLA, do you?

Henry Kissinger has given his tacit approval to this endeavor -- isn't that enough to sober you up?

Why Kosovo and not East Timor or Tibet or any number of African nations where mindless massacres and oppression have taken place and persist?

Isn't it a bit late for the US to spout off about moral authority? Shall I read the litany for you? How about Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Libya, Panama, Iraq? You want to add up what the US did to innocents in those and many other countries and contrast it to Milosevic's misdeeds? Compared to Uncle Sam, Slobodan is a piker. The world needs to stop this thug; it does not need the US to use him as a precedent for imposing its mighty will on the next country it chooses to hopelessly overmatch.

And finally, what about Russia? They seem kind of annoyed about all this, and now that they have had enough time to realize that American fast food will kill them quicker than anything the Pentagon would dare loose in their direction, they may stop Minsking words and actions about their distaste for the USA and its Balkan policy. This could be the surprise showdown many of us so assiduously worked to avoid. Yeah, what about Russia?

And as the Secret Service group-hugged me from the auditorium, I would have made one last bid to reach an accommodation with the president. I would have promised that if he'd used his influence to get the NRA to move its annual meeting to Belgrade, I'd have been happy to reverse my position and wholeheartedly endorse NATO's bombs.

Barry Crimmins is a long-time "Boston Phoenix" contributor and a political and social satirist.

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