Jun
17
1999

The New York Times' Yawning Gap

Between Glowing Portrait of Western Idealism and Reality of U.S. Policy

In the June 13 New York Times "Week in Review," Michael Wines cautioned that despite America's "victory over Communism and inhumanity" in Kosovo, all is not well in the world. Americans often perceive their morals as universal, Wines says, but in fact there is "a yawning gap between the West and much of the world on the value of a single human life."

According to Wines, the war in Yugoslavia "only underscored the deep ideological divide between an idealistic New World bent on ending inhumanity and an Old World equally fatalistic about unending conflict."

Amongst the "anti-West club" of Syria, Libya, Iraq, China and India, Russians stand out "by temperament, history and current attitudes" as a particularly amoral people, says Wines. As evidence of this, Wines cites the anti-Jewish pogroms of the early 1900s, the Soviet policy of ethnic gerrymandering and forced migration, and the large-scale ethnic conflicts that spread through the Soviet Union as it collapsed.

Yet Wines ignores examples from U.S. history that would have questioned the U.S.'s commitment to "ending brutality" and the actual "value of a single human life" for U.S. policymakers.

Earlier this year, the New York Times ran several stories and editorials on the release of a report by the Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission, a report that, in the words of a front-page Times story (2/26/99),

concluded that the United States gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed 'acts of genocide' against the Mayans during the most brutal armed conflict in Central America, Guatemala's 36-year civil war.... The panel also found evidence that the United States had knowledge of genocide and still supported the Guatemalan military.

There is ample evidence to suggest that the U.S. is selective in its objection to governments that orchestrate violence against internal minorities. In 1992, at the height of Turkey's repression of its Kurdish minority, a State Department spokesperson summarized U.S. policy (National Journal, 4/15/95):

There is no question of halting U.S. military assistance to Turkey. The U.S. sees nothing objectionable in a friendly or allied country using American weapons to secure internal order or to repel an attack against its territorial unity.

Wines could have calculated the value the U.S. places on "a single human life" by examining the U.S.'s policy of imposing sanctions on Iraq. While malnutrition was almost unknown in Iraq before the Gulf War, "from 1991 to 1998, children under 5 were dying from malnutrition-related diseases in numbers ranging from a conservative 2,690 per month to a more realistic 5,357 per month," according to U.N. figures (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5/11/99). When 60 Minutes (5/12/96) asked Secretary of State Madeline Albright whether sanctions that left half a million Iraqi children dead were "worth it," Albright replied, "I think this is a very hard choice. But the price--we think the price is worth it."

A graphic demonstration of the Western attitude toward human life came in the closing days of the war in Yugoslavia--after Belgrade had already agreed to withdraw its forces from Kosovo, and all that remained to be worked out were the technical details of an international occupation--when the U.S. carpet-bombed two battalions of Yugoslavian soldiers gathered in an open field near the Albanian border, who were skirmishing with KLA fighters. News reports indicated that the number of soldiers killed as a result in this meaningless battle was in the hundreds (AP, 6/9/99).

You can read the Week in Review article in its entirety at NYTimes.com.

Read Michael Wines' response to letters generated by this action alert.

Action Alert:

Please write to the New York Times and let it know that its readers deserve better than simplistic, self-congratulatory analysis. Encourage the Times to provide more thorough and accurate analysis of the U.S.'s role in ethnic conflicts around the world.

New York Times

229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036

Phone: 212-556-1748

Fax: 212-556-3738

review@nytimes.com

Additional contacts:

Michael Wines, miwine@nytimes.com

Jonathan Landman, Editor, Week in Review, joland@nytimes.com