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"To the future or the past,
to a time when thought is free,
when men are different from one another
and do not live alone -
to a time when Truth exists
From the age of uniformity,
from the age of solitude,
from the age of Big Brother,
from the age of doublethink -

George Orwell: "1984", p.29

Steve Tesich, Oscar winning movie director:

A letter

The Editor, The New York Times

Hanna Arendt, an expert on totalitarian regimes and totalitarian mindsets, warned us a long time ago that a time could come when not only would philosophical truths be considered irrelevant but factual truths as well. Names and dates. Who did what to whom and when. When facts would cease to exist as facts and be replaced by opinion.

We have arrived at such a time. Events in the world are no longer judged by hard evidence or impartiality to the true causes which gave rise to them. Even the normal journalistic standards of trying, merely trying, to get the whole story have been discarded as too cumbersome, too demanding. What has replaced the tradition of truth seeking, both philosophical and factual, is a kind of lazy drama critic's response to the events on the world stage. In this new way of doing things, events themselves have no intrinsic value in determining who is right or who is wrong, who is guilty or who is innocent. It's all much simpler than that. It's all a matter of who in our opinion seems right. Who moves us.

The Croatians move people. It doesn't matter at all that the first victims of atrocities which triggered this tragic civil war in the former Yugoslavia were, in fact, Serbians. There was no outrage in America nor in The New York Times when the Croatians were killing Serbians, burning their homes, raping their women. It was a non-event when thousands of Serbians fled in horror from their former homes in Croatia to Belgrade in search of survival. Nor was it an event when those Serbians who could not flee to safety were trapped within the resurrected Croatian Fascist state. No. The event came into being only when the Serbians from Serbia came to their rescue. But since nobody really cared about the victims of Croatian atrocities, coming to the aid of those victims was seen as aggression.

Once you ignore the facts you can call an event anything you please.

Once you have decided that Croatians are "freedom-loving people" (who isn't?) then you can ignore the fact that this Free Croatia is a Fascist state where the freedom of the press does not exist, where full citizenship is only granted to Catholic Croatians who can certify the purity of their ancestry. The racial laws governing citizenship in Croatia are not much different from the racial laws in Hitler's Germany. When the Serbian minority fled in horror, and when the refugees from Croatia crowded the streets of Belgrade was this not an example of "ethnic cleansing?" Why is ethnic cleansing in deed not as repugnant as ethnic cleansing in name! Is the fact of it not enough to warrant revulsion? Do events have to be labelled before we can respond to them? And when Mr. Tudjman, the president of Croatia, wrote in his own version of his own Mein Kampf that genocide should not be discounted as a political option why did not the world react with disgust? Was it too late by then since by then we had decided that Croatians were "freedom-loving people"? Was it too hard to simply inquire: Freedom for whom?

The warning that Cyrus Vance issued against recognition of Croatia as an independent state is another fact. He warned that if Croatia were recognized then the civil war between Serbians and Croatians would not only spread to Bosnia but become a far bloodier war of nightmarish consequences. Not only was the fact of his warning ignored, but now the fact that he ever issued such a warning is ignored. The fact that he has been proven right in his prediction is something we hold against him. The man has been pilloried and vilified for being right. In the age of opinions the man of facts is seen as inconvenient at best or even as potentially a sinister figure.

Why is the fact forgotten that the countries of the European Community were against recognizing the independence of Croatia for precisely the reasons Mr. Vance mentioned? And why is it forgotten that the first diplomatic act of unified Germany was to apply economic pressure and to turn the screws on its European neighbors until they reversed themselves and did as Germany bid them by recognizing Croatia? If there ever was a repetition of the appeasement in Munich was it not this?

And if it's not treacherous, isn't it at least interesting as a fact that the first diplomatic act of a Unified Germany was to force recognition of its former Fascist ally and by doing so to seek dismemberment of one of the few countries in Europe which stood up to Hitler in World War II? When the causes of this terrible civil war are discussed, why is Germany's name never mentioned? Does the appeasement go on and on? Why is the meeting in Bonn in 1989 never mentioned, when representatives from Slovenia and Croatia were invited to Germany and offered economic and political favors in return for their secession from Yugoslavia? Why is Bonn totally innocent and Belgrade totally guilty when facts paint a much more complicated picture.

What purpose does it serve to keep on repeating that the Serbians have taken over 70% of the land in Bosnia and never mention a prior fact that before there were any hostilities in that region 64% of the land belonged to the Serbians. Historically, in that part of the world, the Moslems were merchants and the Serbians farmers and peasants. They owned that land, not through usurpation of what was not theirs, but rather by working the land for generation after generation. What harm can it do to include these facts?

What keeps us from wanting to know the truth? Has it become too hard for us to keep it in focus? Is it much easier to simply divide the world in our minds, as we once divided it in fact, into ths simplistic notions of good guys and bad guys? Into worthy victims and unworthy victims.

When factual truths disappear as points of reference for our decisions and judgements, when we lose our regard for truth, we lose the ties which hold civilizations together. And when we dare suggest that there are unworthy victims, we are contributing to violence in an already overly violent world. It can come back to haunt us. Those whose sufferings are not worthy of our attention have nothing left but to strike out in blind rage and make victims of us all.

In the Monday, February 22nd edition of the New York Times, there was a story about Goran Ivanisevic in the Sports section. The placement of the story seemed to fit. Mr. Ivanisevic is a Croatian tennis player, a young millionaire, who "keeps an expensive home in Monte Carlo, with a Mercedes convertible in the garage."

However, toward the end of the story and highlighted in bold print (an editorial decision, I assume) by the words 'Bang! Bang!', I read a description of Mr. Ivanisevic learning to shoot a machine gun. Here it is in his own words:

"They showed me how to shoot, just for fun. They let me shoot a machine gun. It was tough to control, but, oh, it was a nice feeling - all the bullets coming out. I was thinking it would be nice to have some Serbs in front of me."

The key word here is "some". Some Serbs. Not any Serbs in particular, but some. Young or old, sick or healthy, men or women, innocent or guilty, it doesn't seem to matter to Mr. Ivanisevic. Have we not heard this inhuman call to murder, now reduced to recreational murder on a practice range, for too long? Do we really want to give encouragement to those in our own country who also think how nice it would be to kill "some" Jews, or "some" blacks, or "some" gays, or "some" cops, or "some" whites, or just "some" people period. When any of us are relegated to unworthy victims it is alright to kill then we all become "some" in somebody's eyes.

That such a sentiment expressed by a tennis player could appear in the Sports section of The New York Times is a chilling mind-numbing example of the failure of standards in our time. Without the pursuit of truth, there can be no standards and calls to murder are seen as a sports story.

What Hanna Arendt never envisioned is that you can have a totalitarian atmosphere without totalitarian regimes where truth, philosophical and factual, is no longer suppressed but simply doesn't matter anymore.

Steve Tesich

February 24, 1993

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Last revised: March 25, 1997