Revolution #257, January 29, 2012
The Land of Blood and Honey...
and Deadly Self-Deception
An Open Letter to Angelina Jolie
We received the following correspondence:
Over the holiday, I went to see the movie The Land of Blood and Honey. The movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, is about the “ethnic cleansing” that went on in Bosnia in the early 1990s—in particular, the war waged by the Serbian majority against the Muslim minority to drive them out of Bosnia. This war featured not only the massacre of thousands of civilians by the Serbs, but the mass rape of thousands and thousands of Bosnian Muslim women.
This movie does include some powerful scenes showing the way in which this war was played out against women. But I could not help feel as I was watching this —and the person I saw it with agreed—that without ever quite coming out and saying so, the film made an implicit argument that the only solution to this kind of horror would be for the so-called “international community” (that is, the imperialist powers headed by the U.S.) to have intervened militarily in Bosnia.
Sure enough, several days later, I came across a column by Nicholas D. Kristof in which he writes of an interview with Jolie. Jolie, he says, “wants viewers to meditate on humanitarian intervention and what can be done to prevent mass atrocities. ‘I hoped people would watch the film and think, “Why didn’t we stop it?” she said.’”
It’s not entirely clear from the context whom Jolie meant by “we,” but in this day and age a statement like this almost always means the U.S. military. Kristof is a journalist who does quite a bit of exposure of issues around the oppression of women internationally, but who always points away from the system with these exposures and pushes supposed solutions which are well within the framework of capitalism-imperialism and specifically U.S. domination. Kristof, for instance, was a major cheerleader for the U.S.-led military invasion of Libya this spring—an outrageous violation of another nation’s right to self-determination and a pure imperialist power play that was justified with the rhetoric of “humanitarian intervention.”
Angelina Jolie, have you thought about this? I mean, really thought about it? Who is this so-called international community?
France, which waged a war against the Algerian people to keep them as a colony in the 1950s and 1960s that resulted in the loss of one million lives.
Britain, which waged war against the people of Kenya in the 1950s in such a way that they detained and tortured almost every single member of the Kikuyu people, the main social base of the independence movement in Kenya, and murdered thousands. This was to maintain Kenya as a British possession—and the people of Kenya as British subjects with no rights. (“Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya”—revcom.us/a/116/kenya-en.html)
And then there’s the United States, which not only has either directly murdered millions in its “interventions” (as it did in the countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the wars against Indochina in 1961-1975), but has through its clients and agents murdered millions more as well (Guatemala, for example, where 200,000 people were massacred by U.S.-backed regimes from the 1950s to 1980s, or Indonesia, where between 500,000 to one million were murdered in 1965, to take only two of myriad examples). And let’s not even mention the twin genocidal pillars of America: the wiping out of the native peoples of this continent and the theft of their land, and the kidnapping of millions of Africans and their enslavement to create the wealth that gave life to the U.S.
Indeed, at the very time that Jolie thinks that “we” should have “intervened” in Bosnia, the United States was enforcing sanctions on Iraq that were killing 5,000 children a month, according to UNICEF; and the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Madeleine Albright, declared on the TV show 60 Minutes that the political effect of these sanctions on the Hussein regime were worth the horrendous cost in human life and suffering. And both France and the U.S., by the way, were waist-deep in the genocide going on at the same time in Rwanda, as they jockeyed for control over East Africa.
These are only a very small slice of the crimes that have been carried out in the centuries-long history of the genocidal vultures who have sat atop the powers that head up the “international community.” And each of these crimes was justified by talk of the suffering of the people that was happening or might happen if military action were not undertaken, and each of them was justified by whatever synonym for “humanitarian intervention” was being used at the time. The British, for instance, used to call their mass murder and naked plunder “taking up the white man’s burden of civilizing these primitive people.” The U.S. still likes to talk about “bringing democracy” as it kicks down doors and leaves bodies lying in the streets. But the real history says something else. The cold truth of the matter has been put by Bob Avakian: “The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures that enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.” And if you wish to dismiss this as “rhetoric,” then show an instance where it has not proven true!
As it happens, the U.S. did finally militarily intervene in Bosnia, at a point where it thought it could use its military to dictate the terms of settlement—how the spoils would be divvied up. The imperialist powers always determine the use—or non-use—of their armies by what suits their imperialist interests.
This is not to say that people like Angelina Jolie are not motivated by real and decent concerns. But this view of the so-called international community as saviors—this notion that the biggest killers in the history of humanity are the only force that can be relied upon to bring peace and/or to save women—is utterly poisonous self-deception. It reflects nothing so much as the view of the person who is horrified by what goes on in the world, but refuses to look at what actually keeps that horror going, the kind of revolution that would have to happen in order to stop that horror, who must be mobilized to carry out that revolution, and what it would actually take to make that happen. People like Jolie have to come to understand that they cannot have both their humanitarianism and their imperialism... that if they are to live up to the ideals that makes them cry out against the outrages in the world, they have to keep both eyes open and follow things out to their conclusions.
Oh, and one more thing: Once the imperialists do decide that direct military intervention is in their interests, they will pimp you out and give you a platform to put humanitarian clothes on the monsters they are about to unleash. This was disgustingly true in Libya most recently, and it was certainly true in Afghanistan, when that war was launched. At that point, the betrayal—of the people you have convinced yourself you are supporting and of the ideals that may originally have led you to be concerned—is complete.
People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.
Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism,”
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.