It has been said that truth is the first casualty of war. In June of 1991 war erupted in Europe for the first time since World War II as Serbia attacked Slovenia, then Croatia and then Bosnia. At the same time another war, a war of propaganda and mythology, was launched in the world press. Identical stories surfaced with identical words in different publications written by different journalists throughout the world. The attack was two-pronged. One goal was to tar the fledgling Croatian government with the brush of fascism, despite the fact that the President of Croatia was a Partizan war hero who fought against the Fascists during World War II, the only living European head of state to have done so.
Another purpose was to mask the reasons for Serbian aggression and to blur the realities of a war prosecuted solely to gain territory and to maintain centralized communism in what was Yugoslavia. At first the disinformation was limited to the writings of avowed leftists and Serbian apologists, but as the war dragged on from months to years, the words and phrases of Serbian mythology appeared over and over again in an ever widening circle that would eventually include the editorial pages of highly respected journals. Yet few of the charges and allegations of the campaign were new. The history of Serbian disinformation can be traced back to the origins of Yugoslavia in 1918. The Communist Party controlled Tanjug news agency, and Television Belgrade continued the battle that was lost in the diplomatic community as one nation after another recognized independent Croatia and Bosnia. One of the first of the truly new myths appeared on November 20, 1991, as headlines around the world screamed "Croatian Militias Slit Throats of 41 Children." A major news agency reported: "The children, between 5 and 7 years old, reportedly were found with their throats cut in the cellar of the kindergarten in Borovo Naselje after Croatian forces abandoned it during the weekend." The children were according to the report, all Serbs. This story demonstrated mythology in the making. It was carned on every electronic network and in newspapers throughout the world without any form of confirmation. That the village in question had been under siege for months, that all children had been evacuated months before, and that obviously no kindergarten classes had been held anywhere in the war zone for some time did not seem to catch the attention of a single editor. The following day some papers ran a retraction in small print after a twenty-two-year-old Serbian news photographer, Goran Mikid, admitted that he had fabricated the story. In Belgrade the press never printed the retraction and, in fact, later cited the non-incident in its news coverage as a part of its propaganda campaign.
Propaganda is defined as information and opinions, especially prejudiced ones, spread to influence people in favor of or against some doctrine or idea. Myth is defined as an old traditional story or legend. Mythology represents a body of myths. Over the past seventy years a great deal of propaganda has become mythology with a life of its own, growing and changing with each retelling. Old myths were resurrected and embellished by propagandists and by journalists and others attempting to understand the Serbian wars of aggression. Regardless of motivation, the result was the same: another generation was introduced to the heat of mythology and denied the light of reality.
Some myths are new; others are very old. The myth of the forty-one children reported on one day and retracted the next will no doubt find its way into some history book, somewhere, as fact and will become a part of the mythology. Newer myths were created not only by Serbian mythologists but by the very press that was supposed to report, not create, the news. On August 15, 1995, newspapers around the world ran a wire-service photograph of what at first appears to be a Croatian soldier with his arm raised in a fascist salute with a caption that the soldier was doing exactly that during the playing of the Croatian national anthem.
However, thousands of people all over the world saw the same picture on Croatian television via satellite, with depth arms raised in a "V" for victory with dozens of other soldiers around him doing the same to the cheers of a welcoming crowd, not to the sound of a national anthem.
|A close look at the photo
revealed that the man's left arm was also raised. His
right arm was stiff because he had been wounded and
his elbow was tightly bandaged.
To the credit of the some in the press, The San Francisco Chronicle and other papers immediately removed the photograph and caption from early editions after, as Chronicle editor William German stated, "Some doubts were raised". Despite editor German's request, the wire service not only refused to retract the caption but defended what has come to be called the "salute hoax".
On the following pages, old myths and emerging myths are explored and exposed to reality. Some have simple explanations; others are complex. Some are gruesome and distasteful. This work is intended to shed light, not heat, to bring myths from the shadows into the realm of reality.