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Jewish World Review July 7, 1999 /23 Tamuz, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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A quagmire and a vision --
THE HEADLINE ON THE FRONT PAGE of the San Francisco Chronicle told the whole ugly story: "Kosovo Albanians Pillage Serb Town." The subtitle said: "Mentally Ill Woman Allegedly Raped, Killed." Another aspect of our Balkan involvement was told by a headline on the front page of the New York Times: "Damage to Serb Military Less Than Expected."

Despite the political spin coming out of Washington, this Balkan war is not about the good guys versus the bad guys, and our intervention has done less damage to Milosevic's military forces than to a lot of innocent people, including Kosovar refugees, the Chinese embassy and Serbian civilians.

Even the NATO officials now in Kosovo admit that the damage done to the Yugoslav military, and especially its tanks, is less than they expected or claimed. These claims are now being described as "exaggerated" and the officials who know the facts as "very subdued." This of course will not stop the White House spin or the hoopla of the editorial office heroes who have been gung-ho for this military intervention from the beginning.

The fact that Slobodan Milosevic is a vile man does not make his Kosovar enemies saints. Throughout history, the Balkans have been a very unlikely place to go looking for saints. The very geography of the region has separated peoples and contributed to the seething hatreds and unspeakable atrocities that have been part of its legacy.

While there have been periods of peace, friendship and even intermarriage among the peoples of the Balkans, there have also been times when the smoldering embers of ethnic identity have been fanned into flames of savage attack. Milosevic has been a key figure in the latest resurgence of lethal hatreds, but his success required an environment in which demagoguery could flourish.

In light of the long history of ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, and especially the history of the West's previous intervention there after the First World War to create Yugoslavia, any idea that we can today come in from the outside to impose a "solution" is childish arrogance.

Why was Yugoslavia created in the first place? Because Woodrow Wilson's doctrine of "the self-determination of peoples" was used to re-draw the map of Europe in the wake of the Allied victory. A young man named Walter Lippmann -- destined later to become America's premier journalist -- was given maps and ethnic census data on which to base his drawing of borders for new countries to be created out of thin air.

As a distinguished historian put it, drawing political boundaries "through this ethnic confusion, with fragmented peoples and uncertain loyalties, would have been a matter of the gravest difficulty even if there had been goodwill on all sides"-- which, he added, "there never was." The mess in what is now the former Yugoslavia is a legacy and a monument to the shallow arrogance that marked so much of what Woodrow Wilson did.

More tragically, that same shallow arrogance has remained the hallmark of those who consider themselves "progressives" at home and abroad. Like Wilson, many of them regard academic credentials as a license to impose their superior wisdom and virtue on others. Ivy League degrees and Rhodes scholarships can be found on the resumes of all too many of those who have presided over American debacles from Vietnam to Somalia to Kosovo.

At home, let us never forget that crime rates soared when the ideas of these "progressives" were put into effect by the courts in the 1960s. So did teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases when their ideas on sex education spread through our school systems during the 1960s and 1970s. So did welfare dependency when their ideas went into the "war on poverty."

Utterly undaunted by repeated failures and fiascoes, the progressives tried to take over the whole medical system of the United States almost immediately after the Clinton administration took office. The fact that none of those who made this attempt had any medical training or any experience in pharmaceutical drugs or hospital administration -- or had even run a drugstore -- did not make them hesitate for a moment.

What they have that is more important to them than specific knowledge of what they are doing is a vision of the world and a vision of themselves. Their test of a belief is not how it fits the facts but how it fits their vision. That is what makes them so dangerous.


07/02/99: The Fourth of July
06/29/99: "Urban sprawl" and liberal gall
06/18/99: A famous victory
06/14/99: A victory in Chicago
06/10/99: Mass shootings and mass hysteria
06/08/99: The other side of affirmative action
06/03/99: Childish labor laws
06/01/99: Demonizing for dollars
05/27/99: The real public service
05/24/99: Income, taxes and demagoguery
05/18/99: Random thoughts
05/14/99: Aborted knowledge
05/10/99: The new "fairness"
05/04/99: Holding parents responsible
05/03/99: Exit strategies
04/28/99: Tragedy and farce
04/26/99: Guilt and cop-outs
04/21/99: Choosing a college
04/16/99: When success fails
04/13/99: A photo-op foreign policy
04/09/99: Russia and the Serbs
04/06/99: Random thoughts
03/31/99: Irresponsible "experts"
03/29/99: Another Doleful prospect?
03/23/99: Random thoughts
03/22/99: Loving enemies
03/19/99: Naming names
03/15/99: Undermining the military
03/10/99: Joe DiMaggio -- icon of an era
03/02/99: Facts versus dogma on guns
03/01/99: Losing the cultural wars
02/22/99: "Saving" social security
02/18/99: Too many Ph.Ds?
02/8/99: A national disaster
02/8/99: Economic fallacies in the media: Part II
02/5/99: Why economists visit dentists so often
02/2/99: Warning: Good news
01/29/99: What is at stake?
01/26/99:Moral bankruptcy in the schools
01/22/99: Who is going to convict Santa Claus?
01/19/99: Seeing through the spin
01/13/99: A trial is a trial is a trial
01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1999, Creators Syndicate