Editor Urges ’60s-style Activism to Stop the Bloodshed in Bosnia

Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine, has called for the techniques used two decades ago by protesters opposed to American intervention in Vietnam to be used now on behalf of encouraging American intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Speaking at a teach-in on Bosnia last week in Manhattan, Lerner urged the use of U.S. military force to impose a cease-fire on the region.

In addition to saving lives, such force would send the message that “there will be a price to pay for anyone who indulges in genocide,” said Lerner. “Not sending that message is to send a message that there is no price for genocide.”

Lerner said he believed the Clinton administration would have acted forcefully, had it received a positive response from trial balloons floated in the spring.

Instead, “with the exception of some Jewish people such as Elie Wiesel, and some Jewish organizations, there was not a resounding response.”

An official with the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, which represented the Jewish community on the issue at the white House and elsewhere, agreed with this assessment of the Jewish role in a subsequent interview.

“We’ve seen that on an organizational level, it’s the Jews virtually alone on this issue,” said Kenneth Bandler, NJCRAC’s director of public information. “The Catholics and the Protestants have all been silent.”

At the teach-in, the Tikkun editor said that while a majority of Americans did not favor U.S. intervention alone, polls showed wide support for an international effort in Bosnia.

That, he said, implied that the crucial swing group, which was blocking American action, was people, like himself, who had opposed “imperialist” intervention in the past.

The key, he said, was to convince this group that American involvement in Bosnia would be “one of the rare cases where intervention would be for a moral reason.”

FIRST GENOCIDE TELEVISED

To build support for American intervention, “let’s focus on the fact that there are tens of millions of people who in principle agree with us, but those people are not mobilized. Their sense of passivity is a critical thing to overcome,” he said.

“We have to start agitating, doing the kind of things that happened in the early stage of the anti-war movement in the ’60s, where people went into businesses, into shopping malls, and the message went from the level of ‘there are people who are upset’ to the level of ‘we’re so upset we want to do something and won’t simply let this activity continue.’ “

Among others speaking at the teach-in was Robert Jay Lifton, author of “The Nazi Doctors,” who compared the slaughter in Bosnia to previous genocides.

Like previous instances, among them that of the Nazis, the Serbs, he said, are motivated by an enormous historical trauma which finds its response in a “revitalizing ideology, with extreme nationalism put forward in a mystical direction.”

What make the situation in Bosnia different than what has come before, however, is that “this is the first genocide that has been televised and made available to the entire world through the media.

“The Nazis went to some pain to keep their mass murders secret. The same has been true of most other mass murder actions. Here there’s no possibility of secrecy.

“That changes everything. Now, as you see the genocide, all of you share horror, rage, discomfort, guilt and shame. Finally, you say, ‘turn the damn thing off, I can’t stand it.’

“If we do nothing, we are bystanders. We are in this genocide. We are there. If we fail to act. we take on considerable guilt and responsibility for the genocide,” he said.

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