Abraham Lincoln and Slobodan Milošević

He became President of his country at a critical moment in its history, exactly at the point when the contradictions baked into his complex, multiethnic nation had begun to tear it apart at the seams. A tall, physically powerful man, his inner revolve matched his imposing stature, and he was determined to keep his government, long considered an unworkable left-wing experiment by the world’s more conservative powers, together by any means necessary.

He quickly realized that it wouldn’t be an easy task. His country, as much a collection of semi-autonomous federal republics as it was a unified nation, now faced an important crossroads. Would it be united under its most important, populous ethnic group, and go onto become a great power that would dominant the region? Or would it descend into a collection of banana republics, easily picked apart by the imperial elites of Western Europe? Deciding that his country was far too important to die, he took off the gloves. He raised an army. Eventually he put that army in the hands of his most radical, most brutal generals, three men who had little patience for traditional chivalry, who believed that if you wanted to win a war, you couldn’t spare the civilian population.

But he went far beyond what at the time was called “hard war” or what today we refer to as “total war.” He used the power of the federal government to support the theft of land by white Christians against a non-Christian ethnic minority, ordering the largest mass execution in his country’s history and kicking off decades of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Of course in the age of social media, Black Lives Matter and “Land Back,” I’m not fooling anybody. You all know I’m talking about Abraham Lincoln, not Slobodan Milošević. Yet why do we continue to view both men so differently? Even the most radical, left-wing Americans, the kind of people who talk about how “the United States was founded in slavery and genocide” and how “we’re all living on stolen land,” will occasionally tip their hats to Abraham Lincoln in a way they won’t to Thomas Jefferson, who raped his slaves, or George Washington. At least Lincoln unleashed William Tecumseh Sherman against the Plantation owners in Georgia.

But this only begs the question. Phillip Sheridan, Lincoln’s most effective general, the man who ended the Confederate threat to Washington DC by turning the magnificent Shenandoah Valley into a moonscape, was also the architect of the genocide against the Plains Indians. As far as I know, Slobodan Milošević never said anything quite so openly genocidal as “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

There’s also the issue of slavery. By issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln transformed a war to preserve the Union, and in the end, New England and Midwestern dominance, into a war against slavery. It was a brilliant gesture that in one stroke ended the danger of intervention by the British Empire, but it was only a gesture. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in those parts of the south in open rebellion against the federal government, and it would be another 100 years before black Americans gained full citizenship.

What’s more, and you will never hear about this in the western media, Slobodan Milošević, in his famous, infamous, St. Vitus Day Speech of 1989, invoked the centuries long struggle of the Serbian people against Ottoman attempts to enslave them, reminding us all that the word “Slav” is the basis for the word “slave.” Indeed, in some ways Milošević’s speech in Kosovo was the Serbian answer to Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech. The choice is simple. Unity or death. One side will win. Worse yet, if one side doesn’t, the country will be at the mercy of foreign occupiers. If Lincoln was a better writer than Milošević, Milošević was also a bit more honest. He understood that, in the end, Yugoslavia depended on Serbian nationalism as much as the United States depended on White Anglo Saxon Protestants, the Puritan descendants of the English Civil War.

Today, it is difficult to say what is the historical truth about the Battle of Kosovo and what is legend. Today this is no longer important. Oppressed by pain and filled with hope, the people used to remember and to forget, as, after all, all people in the world do, and it was ashamed of treachery and glorified heroism. Therefore it is difficult to say today whether the Battle of Kosovo was a defeat or a victory for the Serbian people, whether thanks to it we fell into slavery or we survived in this slavery. The answers to those questions will be constantly sought by science and the people. What has been certain through all the centuries until our time today is that disharmony struck Kosovo 600 years ago. If we lost the battle, then this was not only the result of social superiority and the armed advantage of the Ottoman Empire but also of the tragic disunity in the leadership of the Serbian state at that time. In that distant 1389, the Ottoman Empire was not only stronger than that of the Serbs but it was also more fortunate than the Serbian kingdom.

http://www.slobodan-milosevic.org/spch-kosovo1989.htm

Let’s be completely cynical. The only reason we (by by “we” I mean Americans) remember Slobodan Milošević as a war criminal and Abraham Lincoln as a hero is that Lincoln won and Milošević lost. Power doesn’t follow morality. Morality follows power. Had the British and French decided to intervene in the United States Civil War the way Bill Clinton intervened in the Yugoslavian Civil War, and had the Confederacy gained its independence, we would be talking about Lincoln pretty much the same way we talk about Milošević. He raised a gigantic army and invaded his own country. He killed his own people. He committed war crimes and engaged in ethnic cleansing. He betrayed the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. He was a traitor who used illiterate German and Irish immigrants against against an army led by the descendants of George Washington and Patrick Henry. He destroyed the United States of American pretty much the same way Milošević destroyed Yugoslavia. And the debate over whether or not to join the British Commonwealth would probably be as tedious as the current debate in Serbia about whether or not to join the European Union.

And those are my thoughts on the Fourth of July.

One thought on “Abraham Lincoln and Slobodan Milošević”

  1. Stan,
    Were Stalin or Mao Tse-tung heroes or villains? It depends on perspective, and we each have our own. I believe historical events have their own lives and do not remain static. They have ramifications over time, as Lincoln’s war did.

    Was FDR a hero or villain? It was under his aegis that the first atomic bombs were developed in secret government enclaves in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and New Mexico, among others. After FDR died at the beginning of his fourth term, Harrt Truman gave the order to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Who were the heroes and villains here?

    Albert Einstein, a pacifist, had explored the potential uses of nuclear fission in his theoretical research and contacted FDR to suggest atomic bombs were possible. Was Einstein a hero or villain? He hailed originally from Prussia but moved to Switzerland to escape military conscription.

    My point is these were each unique human beings with specific talents and failings, who were motivated by internal forces none of us can fully grok.

Leave a Reply