Letter to a Bard College professor


posted to www.marxmail.org on June 1, 2005


Dear Professor Mark Danner,


One of the reasons I didn't attend my Bard College 40th anniversary reunion this year is that I don't feel any connection to a school that Leon Botstein has transformed after his own image, namely a hodge-podge of the NY Review of Books, George Soros's latest project to change the world and garish Gehry architecture.


Generally, I try to ignore pronouncements from President Botstein or any of his illustrious hires nowadays, but your musings seem to have a way of being picked up on the left-liberal wing of the Internet that I keep track of. Today, for example, Commondreams.org saw fit to post your commencement speech to the Berkeley English department graduating class of 2005, which was filled with all the usual sorts of high-minded recommendations to go out and change the world, just as long I suppose as their ambitions do not collide too much with George Soros's class interests.


Since you referred the students to one of your Serb-bashing articles in the NY Review of Books, I felt a bit of pique. A bit hot under the collar, so to speak. Since you have cultivated the image of a tough-minded journalist like the one James Woods played in Oliver Stone's "Salvador" ready to confront the establishment, especially in those countries you refer to as TFC ("Totally Fucked-up Countries" in State Department parlance), one might expect a bit more willingness to dig deeper into a story. But on the wars in Yugoslavia, you never really did anything except function as a State Department operative. Your articles, like Christopher Hitchens's, served the same purpose as William Randolph Hearst's correspondents in Cuba--namely to fan the fires of imperialist war.


Furthermore, there is little question that the abject posture of people such as Hitchens and yourself on the Balkans wars prepared the ground for the current operation in Iraq. By lending credulity to the idea that the USA can bring freedom to the long-suffering peoples of the Balkans through the agency of B-52's or Cruise Missiles, it became easier for George W. Bush to run the same scam in the Middle East.


Your commencement speech contains the following recollection about Sarajevo:


"Let me give you another example [of evil]. It's from 1994, during an unseasonably warm February day in a crowded market in the besieged city of Sarajevo. I was with a television crew -- I was writing a documentary on the war in Bosnia for Peter Jennings at ABC News -- but our schedule had slipped, as it always does, and we had not yet arrived at the crowded marketplace when a mortar shell landed."


I must say, parenthetically, that writing material for ABC TV is not exactly what I would consider risk-taking journalism. This is not exactly how John Reed made a living, is it?


But returning to the matter at hand, you seem utterly shocked by Radovan Karadzic's denial of Serb responsibility, an outrageous claim that you described as requiring the talents of Dostoyevsky or Conrad to fully understand. I must say that raising the question of Serb evil is not exactly the sort of thing that will get you hounded out of the journalism business. A Lexis-Nexis search on "Serb" and "Evil" returned 306 articles for 1995 alone.


Unlike you, NY Times reporter David Binder found the inner resources to resist this war hysteria. In a October 2, 1995 Nation Magazine article titled "Bosnia's Bombers," he referred to the 1994 marketplace bombing you witnessed and other such bombings blamed on the preternaturally evil Serbs. This is what he said:


"Amid the roar and blinding flashes of NATO's airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs, the impetus for the bombing was obscured: the August 28 explosion in a narrow, enclosed market in the center of Sarajevo that killed thirty-seven people.


"Within a day of that explosion, investigators for the U.N. Protection Force under Lieut. Gen. Rupert Smith 'concluded beyond all reasonable doubt that the lethal mortar round had been fired from a Bosnian Serb position in the suburb of Lukavica, 1.5 to 3.5 kilometers southwest of the marketplace. On August 30, NATO's bombs began to fall.


"The crucial U.N. report on the market massacre is classified, but four specialists--a Russian, a Canadian and two Americans--have raised serious doubts about its conclusion, suggesting instead that the mortar was fired not by the Serbs but by Bosnian government forces.


"Similar suspicions were raised following the February 5, 1994, mortar shell explosion that killed sixty-eight Sarajevans in the adjacent Markale marketplace. The origin of that shell was never determined officially. The U.N.'s after-action report in 1994 (also classified) was based on separate examinations of the impact sight by eleven artillery specialists over a period of nine days and ran forty-six pages. General Smith's report was based on three hours of on-the-spot investigation and covered only one page. Yet virtually nobody has questioned how the blame was assigned this time almost immediately to the Bosnian Serbs."


I think I can answer why nobody questioned this. There was far too much of a gung-ho mood in the American media to go to war against humanity's latest version of Adolph Hitler--that is until Saddam Hussein was dredged up once again. Your role in creating this mood was critical. By writing pro-war propaganda in the NY Review of Books, the journal favored by academics and other opinion makers, you helped Bill Clinton get the respectability he needed to plunge our country into an illegal, unjust and immoral war. You performed the same function in the mid 1990s that people such as Judith Miller performed a couple of years ago. This ill-befits somebody advising Berkeley English majors about how to use their degree: "To be a humanist, that is, means not only to see clearly the surface of things and to see beyond those surfaces, but to place oneself in opposition, however subtle, an opposition that society seldom lets you forget..."


Yours truly,


Louis Proyect '65