Objective Truth Versus the "Common Narrative"

In his latest contribution to the Swedish media attack on my
(unpublished in Sweden) book on NATO and the Yugoslav conflicts, Leif
Ericsson concludes grandly with a denunciation of "dogmatism". Yet his
whole text is an illustration of how dogmatism develops and operates.
Ericsson begins with the claim to a grand humanitarian ambition:

"The memory of the war in former Yugoslavia lies like an open
wound, which can only be healed if we form a common narrative about it. In
it, perpetrators must be called perpetrators, victims called victims, and
assailants get their punishment, victims their redress. Such a narrative
makes reconciliation possible. It becomes a common memory of mankind."

Ericsson's aspiration is to "form a common narrative". This is
presented as the necessary means to a noble end: "healing the wounds" and
"making reconciliation possible". Since any dissident viewpoints may
threaten the "common narrative", they must be represssed -- in the name of
Because of the noble purpose proclaimed, the unanimity of the
"common narrative" becomes more important than whether or not it is
objectively true. And by its primary concern for the higher purpose, the
"common narrative" becomes a form of dogma. We must all say and think the
same thing, or else we endanger the "common narrative" and with it the
sacred cause, which in this case is proclaimed as a "healing" process.
In this view, the test of truth is unanimity. His higher,
purposeful truth (the "common narrative") is established by banning
Ericsson's procedures in pursuit of this "common narrative" show
his disregard for mere truth.

(1) He lies about what others have said.
Operating in a media environment which describes as "debate"
unilateral public attacks which exclude answers, Ericsson lies with an
evident sense of impunity. How else could he dare claim that Professor
Edward S. "Herman writes that the Bosnian commander-in-chief Nasir Oric and
his troops probably killed more people in Srebrenica than what the Bosnian
Serbs did"? Herman not only never made such a statement, but never even
mentioned Oric in the text Ericsson is attacking.

(2) He grossly distorts the argument he opposes, in order to attack the
distortion and avoid confronting the argument.
For example, in attacking my book (which he claims --
unconvincingly -- to have read), Ericsson describes my thesis in these
words: "that NATO's military intervention in Yugoslavia was from the very
start a decisive reason for the tragedy".
Here is what I actually wrote: "My main thesis is that the
intervention of the NATO powers in Yugoslavia, far from being a last-minute
rescue, was from the start a major driving factor in the tragic course of
events. At best, the Great Powers intruded with all the helpfulness of
bulls in a china shop. At worst, they deliberately stirred up fear and
hatred in order to serve their own interests." My book is full of
examples to illustrate these points.
Now, a careful reader can see the difference between NATO as an
institution and the "NATO powers". My ample documentation of the role of
the leading NATO powers, first of all Germany and then the United States,
is not challenged nor even acknowledged by Ericsson. Of course there was
no "NATO military intervention... from the very start" and of course I
never said there was. NATO's open organized military intervention came in
short outbursts in Bosnia, and finally as full-fledged war over Kosovo, as
the result of a series of more or less opportunistic policy changes.
Ericsson grossly distorts what I wrote in order to make it sound like the
"dogma" he denounces.
Ericsson writes of me that "she is biased in picking her facts".
Well, as I wrote in my introduction: "The objective is not to recount the
whole story (impossible in a book of this length), but to put the story in
perspective. The inevitable selectivity may be reproached as evidence of a
'pro-Serb' bias. Inasmuch as the dominant mainstream bias has been
blatantly anti-Serb, this is unavoidable in an effort to recover a fair

(3) He argues beside the point, evading serious discussion by dwelling on
things which are irrelevant to the argument he pretends to refute.
Ericsson goes on at great length about the nature of the Trnopolje
camp run by the Bosnian Serbs at the start of the war there. This is a way
of distracting from the real point of the discussion of the Trnopolje camp,
which is essentially not about the nature of the camp, but about the use of
photographs taken there to create a one-sided impression of the Bosnia
Ericsson writes: "Among other things it is being claimed that the
photographer has placed himself inside a barbed wire fence, which
incorrectly makes the refugees look like prisoners". The particular point
about the barbed wire is not simply "being claimed", it has been generally
recognized as fact. Ericsson even notes that one of the reporters at
Trnopolje, Ed Vulliamy, acknowledged that he "happened to write erroneously
about the barbed wire". The use of the barbed wire fence was not "among
other things", it was the whole point. The photo was used not simply "to
make the refugees look like prisoners", but above all to make them look
like prisoners in a Nazi prison camp.
My book mentions Trnopolje briefly, citing examples of how these
photos were used, from British tabloid headlines and U.S. magazine covers
to a large-scale poster campaign in France. This repeated likening of the
Serbs with the Nazis has indeed contributed to the "common narrative", but
it certainly does not contribute to the "healing process".
Shouldn't a salutary "common narrative" comprise all sides of a
civil war? Where then are the photographs of Celebici camp, for instance?
Eventually a couple of Muslims officers running the Celebici camp were
indicted by The Hague Tribunal for their brutal treatment of Serb
prisoners, but the general public is scarcely aware of this, and images of
Celebici are not familiar symbols of the war in Bosnia.
Ericsson writes: "According to Johnstone and Herman for example
neither the massacre of Serbs in the Croatian city of Gospic in 1991 nor
Naser Oric's war crimes against Serbs in and around Srebrenica have been
reported by the media..." This is either an outright lie or evidence that
Ericsson has not in fact ever read my book, since I cite several U.S.
newspaper reports on those events. My point is simply that the media and
politicians constantly remind the public of the crimes committed by one
side, while the crimes of the others sides are mentioned so rarely as to be
scarcely noticed and quickly forgotten.
As for the role of the Hague Tribunal, my lengthy detailed
criticism of its origins, functions and implications is clearly more than
Ericsson cares to deal with. So he grabs a few incidents to brandish,
pretending that by allegedly failing to recognize them, I am guilty of a
dogmatic selection of facts (a truly comic assertion coming from this
artisan of the "common narrative"). He cites an obscure statement by a no
doubt worthy but scarcely influential Hague Tribunal judge named Almiro
Rodrigues as proof that the Tribunal is unbiased! As if this one statement
could outbalance the many biased statements to be found in the public press
year after year.
As proof of my "dogmatism", Ericsson also cites my failure to
mention a few facts that occurred after my book was published. One of these
is the indictment of Nasir Oric, which came not only too late for my book,
but more significantly, too late to correct the general impression of
one-sided guilt of the Serbs in the Srebrenica region. I suggest that
"Ordfront" sponsor a public opinion survey to compare public recognition of
Oric with Mladic, Karadzic or the Serb paramilitary leader Arkan.
But what is far more significant is the fact that the Hague
Tribunal refused even to consider indicting the NATO powers for a totally
illegal war of aggression against Yugoslavia which deliberately destroyed
the country's infrastructure and targeted civilian installations, costing
the lives of many civilians and leaving the entire country as a "wound"
whose healing will need much more than pious words from outsiders with
scant grasp of the situation.

(4) He attempts to discredit facts not by refuting them but by "guilty
Example: where is his proof that Milosevic acted in pursuit of a
"Greater Serbia" project? His "proof" seems to be that M:ilosvic denies
it; therefore it must be true! What's more, I also deny it, making it
doubly true. But where is Ericsson's evidence that Milosevic advocated
"Greater Serbia"? The "common narrative" of course. So we are going
around in a circle.
Goebbels understood "common narrative" : repeat something long
enough and everyone will assume it must be true.

(5) He does not cite any solid evidence for his assumption that this
"common narrative" will produce the salutary effect he attributes to it.
Ericsson concludes that a "common narrative with healing power is
to be created about the war in former Yugoslavia." He seems to aspire to
be among these "creators"... by censoring and condemning any dissenting
opinion that might make his narrative less than "common". Since free
dissent is the only way to determine what is true, the implication is that
unanimity is more important than truth, since the "common narrative" serves
a higher purpose.
This is the attitude toward truth which in the old days was
ascribed to totalitarian states and vigorously condemned. There are two
good reasons for such condemnation.
One is simply that truth is an end in itself.
The other is that without free access to truth, these supposedly
beneficial ends may be -- and often are -- mere illusion. And such
illusion is easily manipulated by the powerful to pursue less noble aims.
There is absolutely no evidence of the "healing power" that
Ericsson claims for his "common narrative". On the local level of
Yugoslavia, the constant insistence on unilateral Serb guilt has in reality
fostered a sense of grievance on all sides. It has helped turn Kosovo over
to the most violent and criminal elements among the Kosovo Albanian
nationalists, who are terrorising the remaining non- Albanians in Kosovo,
and even their fellow Albanians, while pursuing their own goal of an
ethnically pure Greater Albanian into Macedonia and other surrounding
territories. It has enabled a petty trafficker, Milan Djukanovic, to take
over Montenegro and be described as a great "democrat".
But the main, obvious end served by the "common narrative" is to
justify unilateral aggressive war by the U.S. Superpower and its
subordinate allies. Thanks to the "common narrative", the Kosovo war is
repeatedly cited as the precedent proving that the "international
community" -- common narrative- speak for the Superpower and its willing
executioners -- can and should bomb and invade other countries.
I remember Sweden as a country which, thanks to the acts and
principles of Olof Palme, was a beacon of peace and resistance to
imperialist aggression. It is indeed a matter of consternation to see that
today, Sweden is being led into conformity with U.S.-NATO aggressive
ideology not only by the right-wing press such as Dagens Nyheter, but also,
sheepishly, by the chief editor of a supposedly alternative left magazine.
Bringing Sweden firmly into what I call the "imperial condominium" appears
to be the real purpose of the extraordinary campaign against my little

Diana Johnstone 03 12 29

Inte heller Diana Johnstones svar har

publicerats i Ordfront eller DN / Gunnar T. 040120

Tillägg: en översättn. publicerade i Ordfront nr 3 / mars 04
Texten på engelska: Johnstone