David H. Hackworth
August 22, 1995
BEWARE: TV NEWS IS ONLY ENTERTAINMENT
'In war, truth is the first casualty." -- Aeschylus, 525-456 B.C.
Fifty years ago, a tough looking Serbian soldier baptized me to fire. For the next four years, my elite 351st Infantry Regiment buddies and I locked horns with the Serbs along the Italian/Yugoslavian border, and I learned firsthand that Serbian soldiers are meaner than junkyard dogs.
I also learned something that's been reinforced over the last 40 months of Balkan genocide and during several extended reporting visits to the former Yugoslavia, where I observed all sides up close: The Croatians and Muslims are just as brutal.
But what comes out of ex-Yugoslavia as TV news for American consumption is distorted and misleading. We are rarely getting any objective truth. Instead, the Croatians and the Bosnian Muslims are coming off as poor, suffering white hat victims of the forces of darkness, that is, the Serbs.
This ain't so. All three sides in the vicious Civil War, which has turned former Yugoslavia into a mass graveyard, are equally monstrous. They all do ethnic cleansing, mass rape, torture, indiscriminate killing, concentration camps and slash-and-burn operations with similar brutality. The Bosnian Serb leadership just doesn't seem to care when its warriors come off on the tube as Evil Empire serial killers.
The Croatian and Muslim governments, however, work overtime to present their soldiers as squeaky clean freedom fighters defending peoples victimized by the Serbs for centuries. Both have cleverly imprinted these messages through U.S. television, which has become an ex- tension of their propaganda machines, conning a vast number of Americans into believing as gospel that only the Serbs wear the black hats.
If the Vietnam War was lost -- as is suggested by many of the "we were stabbed in the back" U.S generals who served there -- by the negative television images presented by our own reporters, then the Balkan Disinformation War has been long won by the Muslim Bosnian and Croatian spinmasters.
The first major victory occurred when Washington was sucked into taking sides against the Serbs, a big no-no in a civil war and a lesson we should have learned from Vietnam.
More recently, when the Serbs took Srebrenica and Zepa, the fourth-hand stories of Serb mass killings, rape and torchings thundered into our living rooms each night as if they were eyewitness reports. These horror stories were breathlessly reported by the likes of CNN's Christiane Amanpour as the word according to TV news.
Yet, when the Croats blitzkrieged their way through the ancestral homes of the Serbs in Krajina several weeks ago, the tube simply showed long lines of Serb refugees trying to flee. Their torched homes, the slaughter and the atrocities committed by Croatian soldiers got barely a frame.
Also, nowhere has it been reported on prime-time news that for over a year the Bosnian Muslim military has been on the offensive, attacking the Serbs, initiating all the same slash/kill/burn tactics as their enemy employed, while -- incredibly -- sustaining their image as pious, oppressed, long-suffering.
Retired Gen. Charles G. Boyd, until last month the deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, recently commented on this one- sided reporting: 'Ethnic cleansing evokes condemnation only when it is committed by Serbs, not against them."
U.S. TV reportage has again become a tool for foreign propagandists, just as in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and horrified American TV audiences watched as a young Kuwaiti mother told how babies were yanked out of incubators and dumped on the floor by Iraqi storm troopers.
Only months later was it revealed that the "mother" was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, starring in a made- up drama produced by an American PR firm to get the American people behind their 'Free Kuwait" promotion campaign.
Napoleon wrote, 'Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets." Today, the evening news becomes more powerful than a fleet of bombers every time we unquestioningly accept what's reported as 'nothing but the truth. '
Long ago, I learned to believe only what I saw, smelled, touched
and heard. Much of the time, I look upon TV news as entertainment
-- and so should you.