Little Massacres, Big Massacres
Jude Wanniski
March 30, 1999


Memo To: Sen. Don Nickles [R-OK]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Balkan Massacres

You were given a hard time two weeks ago for saying we should not be intervening in the Yugoslav civil war unless the massacres got much worse. But I knew what you meant. People in that part of the world have been slaughtering each other for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, depending upon the state of the regional economy. When things are good, Christians and Muslims and Serbs and Kosovars can get along just fine. When there is economic depression, as there is now, everyone remembers stories their fathers and grandfathers told them a long time ago about the evils the other guys perpetrated way back when. Atrocity stories are a dime a dozen these days, and it is futile to sort it all out for purposes of fixing blame. It always starts with one fellow killing another, and the other fellow's family killing the other fellow's family, and then tribes and whole communities escalating to even the scores. It only is because I am almost 63 years old and have been reading about these matters since I was a young man that I refuse to be drawn into these propaganda ploys. For every atrocity by the Serbs against the Bosnians, there were atrocities by the Bosnians against the Serbs. It is pointless for the United States to commit itself to resolving these internecine conflicts by deciding one side or the other is responsible for the massacres. Besides, as you noted, the massacres so far have been small.

A favorite writer of my late teenage years was the British mystery writer, Eric Ambler, who spent a lot of time rummaging around the Balkans. One of his best and earliest novels, "The Mask of Dimitrios," published in 1939, became an interesting 1944 movie of the same name, starring Zachary Scott, who I'm sure you don't remember. But he always played slippery guys up to no good. The Ambler story is what I wish to bring to your attention today, Don, because his little book may have been the first to identify the word "holocaust" with a slaughtering of political innocents. It also helped me appreciate your comment about massacres. Here is how Chapter Three opens:

In the early hours of an August morning in 1922, the Turkish nationalist Army under the command of Mustafa Kemal Pasha attacked the centre of the Greek army at Dumlu Pinar on the plateau two hundred miles west of Smyrna. By the following morning, the Greek army had broken and was in headlong retreat towards Smyrna and the sea. In the days that followed, the retreat became a rout. Unable to destroy the Turkish army, the Greeks turned with frantic savagery to the business of destroying the Turkish population in the path of their flight. From Alasher to Smyrna they burnt and slaughtered. Not a village was left standing. Amid the smouldering ruins the pursuing Turks found the bodies of the villagers. Assisted by the few half-crazed Anatolian peasants who had survived, they took their revenge on the Greeks they were able to overtake. To the bodies of the Turkish women and children were added the mutilated carcasses of Greek stragglers. But the main Greek army had escaped by sea. Their lust for infidel blood still unsatisfied, the Turks swept on. On the ninth of September, they occupied Smyrna.

For a fortnight, refugees from the oncoming Turks had been pouring into the city to swell the already crowded Greek and Armenian populations. They had thought that the Greek army would turn and defend Smyrna. But the Greek army had fled. Now they were caught in a trap. The holocaust began.

The register of the Armenian Asia Minor Defence League had been seized by the occupying troops, and, on the night of the tenth, a party of regulars entered the Armenian quarters to find and kill those whose names appeared on the register. The Armenians resisted and the Turks ran amok. The massacre that followed acted like a signal. Encouraged by their officers, the Turkish troops descended next day upon the non-Turkish quarters of the city and began systematically to kill. Dragged from their houses and hiding places, men, women and children were butchered in the streets which soon became littered with mutilated bodies. The wooden walls of the churches, packed with refugees, were drenched with benzine and fired. The occupants who were not burnt alive were bayoneted as they tried to escape. In many parts looted houses had also been set on fire and now the flames began to spread.

At first, attempts were made to isolate the blaze. Then, the wind changed, blowing the fire away from the Turkish quarter, and further outbreaks were started by the troops. Soon, the whole city, with the exception of the Turkish quarter and a few houses near the Kassamba railway station, was burning fiercely. The massacre continued with unabated ferocity. A cordon of troops was drawn round the city to keep the refugees within the burning area. The streams of panic-stricken fugitives were shot down pitilessly or driven back into the inferno. The narrow, gutted streets became so choked with corpses that, even had the would-be rescue parties been able to endure the sickening stench that arose, they could not have passed along them. Smyrna was changed from a city into a charnel-house. Many refugees had tried to reach ships in the inner harbour. Shot, drowned, mangled by propellers, their bodies floated hideously in the blood-tinged water. But the quayside was still crowded with those trying frantically to escape from the blazing waterfront buildings toppling above them a few yards behind. It was said that the screams of these people were heard a mile out at sea. Giaur Izmir -- infidel Smyrna -- had atoned for its sins. By the time that dawn broke on the fifteenth of September, over one hundred and twenty thousand persons had perished.

Granted, this was a little-bitsy holocaust compared to the Holocaust that took 6 million Jews some years later. But 120,000 folks going up in smoke in just a few weeks is nothing to sneeze at. It also reminds us how these things happen, with one frustrated bunch of men killing noncombatants in their path, thus inviting ferocious retribution. These conflicts rarely are so one-dimensional as to be "good guys vs. bad guys." It all depends on what point you enter the dispute, which by some accounts goes back to the 14th century. Yes, tens of thousands of homeless, dispossessed ethnic Albanians is a terrible tragedy, but why then is no attention paid to the approximately 280,000 homeless and dispossessed Serbians from Bosnia? NATO erred in imposing a "peace" agreement on the Serbs, which in practical terms assured independence within three years for Kosovo. When President Milosevic rejected that dictate, he had to be demonized so as to prepare our population to support the bombing of Yugoslavia. Now we see the menacing dilemma of an ill-conceived strategic policy: Demonize Milosevic so you can bomb Yugoslavia. Portray him as the new Hitler. But then sit down and negotiate with him. As Jack Kemp of Empower America puts it, "Quite simply, NATO miscalculated." The blunders and miscalculations by all parties continue. "Make no mistake. Once we go in, there is no coming out," he warns.

Before we ride further down this slippery slope, I hope you can persuade your colleagues that a cease-fire be in order, and a deal cut that does not require NATO troops on the ground. If they are going to keep these people from killing each other the way things are going, they will have to be there for a hundred years.