The Rhetorical Assault: American Reportage and Propaganda in the Wars of Yugoalv Secession
Date of Award
Master of Arts (AM/MA)
The contemporary political paradigm for democratic states is precariously balanced on the metaphoric scale of public opinion. As such, policy consensus is, in theory, influenced and guided by the public; however, publications like The Crisis of Democracy poignantly illustrate the reluctance of political elites to relinquish control over the state agenda, especially with respect to foreign affairs. To curb resistance to official policy projection, the narrative of current events is manipulated in a way to ensure that public opinion will correspond to the will of Washington. While this does not always indicate nefarious manipulation, it does act to create and perpetuate a docile domestic support base. This is advantageous for policy makers as it allows for resources to be dedicated almost solely to the foreign point of interest as opposed to being divided between campaigns of intervention and quelling public unrest at home. A prime example of this attempt to sway opinion in a specific direction is the reportage of the Balkan wars of succession at the close of the 20th century which used the rhetoric of humanitarianism to validate a policy of intervention under the guise of R2P.
Balkanization, the idea of territorial splintering as a result of irreconcilable cleavages, has plagued both the peninsula after which the term is named for the greater part of the modern historical narrative. From medieval kingdoms and centuries of foreign occupation to collective attempts at nation-building, the Balkan region is best known for devolution and destruction despite its undeniable legacy of perseverance and strength. In her monumental tome documenting her travels through the Balkan Peninsula in the decade following the assassination of King Alexander in 1934, Rebecca West notes the proclivity of those who travel through the region to adopt a preference and general defense for a specific people, area, or culture. Such an intimate and private creation of an in/out group dynamic for a population in which the observer does not traditionally belong easily lends itself to a discourse of victim and aggressor which has further exacerbated the popular perception and internalization of Balkanization. This form of allegiance might be a justifiable way for a layperson to digest a complex region with a complicated history, as mental-mapping is a necessary part of cognition; however, as the 20th century came to a close, it became apparent that the reportage surrounding the wars adopted a model of state personification where the Yugoslav republics were inserted into a dichotomous victim/aggressor framework. The coverage of the Yugoslav conflict by Western news outlets utilized this form of mental shorthand, complete with tantalizing and emotive headlines to direct sympathy towards Bosnian Muslims, and to a lesser degree Croats, while unconditionally defaming Belgrade. Once a victim had been established and a public outcry for intervention had mounted, the United States was able to carry out its policy of intervention in the quickly disintegrating state. One cannot deny the horrific violence that resulted from the implosion of the Yugoslav state; however, in order to serve justice to the region and uphold the integrity of the historical narrative, a sincere analysis must be conducted as to the journalistic devices employed to serve the United States’ policy platform and not the Yugoslav people that it was allegedly aiming to protect.
Chair and Committee
Wion, Sarah Elizabeth, "The Rhetorical Assault: American Reportage and Propaganda in the Wars of Yugoalv Secession" (2014). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 248.