Issue #08/63, April 22 - May 6, 1999  smlogo.gif


You are here
Moscow Babylon
Book Review

Eight Against The Empire
14 More Reasons This War Sucks
The Enemy Within
Americans Check Into Western Clinic
Negro Comix


A Rape By Any Other Name

by Matt Taibbi

Political correctness was a bigger story in America than it is today a few years ago, when the excesses of the movement were more ostentatiously repulsive, but the truth is that it hasn't been until now, during the Yugoslavian war, that the PC monster has reached its full height. Now the PC mob is not only expert at demonizing words and concepts and placing restrictions on their use; it's also become expert at using the same words as coercive tools.

The most cunning and cynical propagandists among us have known all along that the more a noxious word or idea is censored, the more one imbues it with the power to frighten the herd. It's fitting that the first people to turn the PC movement to their rhetorical advantage weren't lefty ideologues at all, but soulless, ambitious opportunists like the reptilian 12-stepping almost-elderly criminal attorney F. Lee Bailey. In the O.J. Simpson trial, Bailey threw on his PC cowl and, pretending with all his might that it pained him even to say the word in public, barked the word "nigger""out at the jury loudly enough and with such fanfare that the rest of the trial quickly became a formality. The mostly-black jury was so busy staring at redneck Mark Fuhrman, and freaking out every time Bailey croaked out one of his "nigger" questions, that they completely forgot the prosecution's case. It was a brilliant piece of propaganda; while accusing Fuhrman on the one hand of openly using a word which he implied should never be spoken, Bailey turned himself into the fastest nigger-draw in the West in front of one of the largest black audiences in American history--and he got away with it.

That's what good propagandists do. When they can't use it in their favor, a word is pronounced horrible and shouldn't be seen or heard; ears should be covered; children should be shielded from hearing it. But when they need it, they broadcast it to the entire world at full volume, and milk it for every conceivable political benefit.

Which brings us to the recent coverage by the Western press of the war in Yugoslavia, and specifically to the way in which another, somewhat less inflammatory, yet still powerful hot-button word, "rape," is being shamefully manipulated to terrify and coerce the public into supporting the war. The chief offender on this score so far has been a journalist whose name Moscow readers should recognize: former CNN Moscow bureau chief Eileen O'Connor.

Until now, O'Connor has been perhaps best known in Moscow journalism circles for her consistent inability, from the beginning through the very end of her lengthy posting here, to correctly pronounce any Russian name other than "Yeltsin". Now she's in Albania, where she's succeeded in jumping to the front lines of the CNN propaganda effort while having the privilege of regularly doing violence to an exciting new lingual group. Here's the transcript of the lead of her latest TV report, about Serb gang-rapes in Kosovo:

"Tirana, ALBANIA (CNN) -- She is a Kosovar medical student who can only be identified by a nickname - Mer. Her family remains behind as she goes from refugee to refugee, undertaking one of the most difficult missions of war.

"Mer is gathering evidence of war crimes committed against the people of Kosovo -- particularly rape.

"'I take their names and their ages and the dates,' she explained."

At first glance, O'Connor appears to be saying that her good-Samaritan medical student, Mer, has been taking down the names and ages and dates of rape victims. As in, people who have been raped. But if you go back and read closely--a luxury denied those who only saw this report on TV--you'll see that O'Connor has been careful not to say so explicitly. Actually, it may be more accurate to say that she tried to be careful, and failed. By mentioning unspecified "war crimes" in addition to rape, O'Connor at least theoretically allowed for the possibility that the "names and ages" Mer mentions belonged to victims of crimes other than rape.

Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear to me, at least, that O'Connor in this lead means what she appears to mean--that Mer has been taking down the names of actual rape victims. Which is interesting, because it is soon revealed neither O'Connor nor Mer can produce any actual, physical victims:

"The stories she hears are horrifying.

"Vassar, for example, was not a victim of rape, but an eyewitness. Told by Serb police to leave her home, she gathered her young boys and left the small town of Drina on the family tractor. They joined a column of other families that was approached by Serb militiamen outside of Djakovica.

"Soldiers in uniforms, with red and gray kerchiefs on their heads, rounded up the young women, Vasser said. Later, Vasser and the others left the column to try to find the young women. She said she saw the girls lying in a field where the soldiers were raping them.

"Vassar and her neighbors were forced to return to the line. The girls came back later, she said, with their clothes in shreds."

On television, this segment was accompanied by pictures of myriad Kosovar women, apparently refugees, mulling around with doom-stricken looks on their faces. The report doesn't say explicitly that these are pictures of rape victims, but shown in conjunction with this chilling narrative of a gang rape, it strongly implies it.

This by itself is outrageously irresponsible, of course. Getting back to the nigger analogy, it's equivalent to showing footage of a faculty lounge full of white teachers while quoting someone who says he heard a white male literature professor call a student a nigger. Like "nigger", "rape" is a powerful word, and Vassar's story of young girls lying in a field and being gang-raped by Serb police is a powerful story. You can't hear it and not have an emotional reaction. And when heard in conjunction with footage showing multitudes of bereaved-looking women, it automatically multiplies the disgust and horror of the viewer. Viewed in real time, which for most viewers is too fast to allow for any serious critical reflection, the pictures seem, for that fleeting moment, like proof. It's an underhanded, dishonest trick--and yet, not the only one O'Connor uses. She goes on:

"These kinds of accounts from witnesses, Mer said, are too common to ignore. But accounts from actual victims are nearly impossible to find. The shame that keeps rape victims silent even in the West is especially acute among these Muslim families. Often victims who do come forward will describe incidents stopping just short of rape...

"International doctors seeing refugees at makeshift clinics or hospitals in the Albanian border town of Kukes said they have seen girls so traumatized that the doctors suspect they were raped -- but they cannot ask.

"As Dr. Jeff Colyer explained, it is simply not appropriate for a Western male to bring up the subject with the ethnic Albanian women.

"'The additional problem is that people are more concerned about food and shelter and just living,' Colyer said.

"Many refugees who make it across the border enter the hospital suffering from severe dehydration and exposure. Their psychological needs become secondary.

"But international investigators and doctors in the Kosovo refugee camps said it is difficult to have any doubt that the violation and rape of women has become a weapon of choice in Kosovo, as it was during the Bosnian conflict."

Let's leave Kosovo for now and rewind to another, earlier rape story. On December 2, 1980, four American nuns were raped and murdered by members of the National Guard of El Salvador, a U.S. client state. In the wake of that incident, which was extremely embarassing to the U.S. government, prominent American officials went out of their way to discredit the evidence that the rapes had been committed by government forces. Jean Kirpatrick said that the National Guard was "unequivocally" not responsible for the rape-murders. Then-Secretary-of-State-and-budding-lunatic Al Haig went one further, asserting before Congress, amazingly, that there was evidence that the nuns had been trying to "run a roadblock", thereby provoking their assailants. Though the evidence against these claims was overwhelming (and eventually accepted as fact by the U.S. government), the American press dutifully went along with the discredit-the-nuns scheme until the government was forced by public pressure to abandon it. Newsweek was one of many magazines to hint that the nuns may have been asking for it; here's a segment from their story two weeks following the incident, on December 15:

"Many priests and nuns advocate reform, and some of them are militant leftists. Such sentiments mean trouble..."

Despite overwhelming eyewitness evidence that the nuns had been killed by government forces--and despite the extensive efforts of the nuns' families to make the public aware of where the evidence pointed--it was several years before any American publication said anything more definitive about the killings than that they had been committed by "right-wing extremists" outside the control of the Salvadoran government. Furthermore, as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman describe in their book Manufacturing Consent, the gory details of the actual rape and murder were kept out of virtually every mainstream press report throughout the story. And this was a case where the bodies of American citizens--nuns-- had been found mutilated, and showing clear physical signs of rape, with bloodied panties found wrapped around the corpses' ankles...

If the press had been so inclined, it could easily have incited America to war against El Salvador with a tale like this. Just imagine the parade of gruesome details that the press might have marched before the public, if it had been so inclined. But it was not so inclined. The nuns were on the wrong side.

Now compare that story to this Kosovo report by Eileen O'Connor. Where there were bodies in El Salvador, there are no actual, confirmed, concrete victims in the Kosovo O'Connor shows us. Not only that, but she and CNN go to great lengths to discount the inconvenient absence of victims, noting that a) Muslim women are too shy to admit to rape; b) American doctors feel uncomfortable asking Muslim women about rape, and c) Muslim women are too concerned about finding food to complain about rape.

The narrative progression of this report is incredible. It begins with what appears to be an unmitigated factual assertion of a terrifying campaign of rape. It ends with a couple of Americans getting together on camera to guess that the reason they can't find a rape victim is that Kosovar women are probably too hungry to talk about it. This would be funny, if not for the fact that about 100% of America probably took the report seriously.

What if this story were reversed, if this absence of evidence had been observed at My Lai, or in the case of those Salvadoran nuns? What would the news reports have sounded like then? It's obvious, isn't it? There would have been flat denials by government officials that the rapes had taken place at all; there would have been contentions that the rapists the witnesses claimed to have seen had not, in fact, been Serbs (see this issue's lead story, which recalls former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador William Walker's insane assertion that "anyone can have uniforms", given as a reason to discount witness reports of uniformed Salvadoran Guards having murdered six Jesuits); there would certainly have been no colorful, detailed accounts of the alleged crimes appearing anywhere in print or on the air. And there certainly wouldn't have been anything like this next little factoid which we find buried in the O'Connor story, during a description of a different allegedly witnessed rape. This is a little bit of narrative which more or less openly calls for an escalation of the U.S. military campaign:

The Serb police held her by her hair and beat her... taunting her by saying she should get the Americans to protect her. She said she still has back pain from the blows of rifle butts

Of course, there may very well be a lot of truth in O'Connor's story. It may all be true; the Serbs may very well be gang-raping women as a matter of course. I'd believe it; the Serbs have enough sordid misdeeds on their record make a story like that believable. But that doesn't excuse O'Connor, or CNN; what they've done is the worst, most cynical kind of inflammatory propaganda. When you're dealing with any hot-button word--"nigger," "kike," "faggot," "spic"...or "genocide," or "Hitler," or "massacre," or "rape"--you've got to make sure you're right before you use it. That's because if you use it and turn out to be wrong, it's usually too late to undo the damage. There's strong glue in those words; they stick forever.

CNN's report is manna from heaven for Clinton, Albright, Holbrook, and the rest of the warmongering crowd. Now that the rape genie is out of the bottle, they're virtually guaranteed that 50% of the American public won't oppose the war effort. Even those women who are against the war will now find it difficult to speak out against it publicly, for fear of being cast as traitors by other women. It's the oldest trick in the violence-apologist book. It worked pretty well in the same area of the world, in Troy, a few thousand years ago...KKK members used to terrify their wives with tales of black rapists; that might be why you didn't see too many white women complaining about the lynchings.

On the list of things which incite people to fight, rape is pretty much at the top. Which is why you have to exercise discretion in using it. Unless, of course, you're a slavish neo-Soviet propaganda organ like CNN, and you're desperate to help your government find an excuse for a dumb war. Then you can say it as loudly as you want, just like F. Lee Bailey. To hang a jury, you don't need facts-- all you need is a word.

ImageMap - turn on images!!!