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[Emperor's Clothes]


Susan Sontag and the Rape of American Thinking
by Jared Israel (5-30-00)

(With thanks to Bill Gordon, the NY reader who suggested this essay and Nebojsa Malich for ideas on Serbian strategy during the Bosnian war.)

The western media is beginning to report - most likely underreport - a crime beyond belief.

Young women (as many as 500 000 a year, according to the London Sunday Times) are being kidnapped from Eastern Europe. 500 000 a year. They aren't forced to work in sweatshops. They are forced into prostitution all over Europe. Tens of thousands are held in Bosnia and Kosovo, where they service NATO troops as well as the employees of UN and humanitarian organizations.

These are teenagers, many as young as 14. How are we supposed to think about this? Thousands of young people, raped every day.

A decade ago, the West promised East Europeans a rosy future for their children if they got rid of communism. This is the future.

Which brings us to Susan Sontag.

Do you remember Sontag? She's the essayist who along with Bianca Jaeger and other feminists attacked the Serbs during the Bosnian war for supposed crimes of mass rape.

Being an essayist isn't the easiest way to make a buck in the USA, but don't feel bad for Sontag. She does fine.

Her books get published. More: serious money is spent advertising her books, which is good for sales. More: she gets plugged by the media (which is great for sales) including TV shows like public television's 'News Hour with Jim Lehrer' where critic Roger Rosenblatt said "The [American] essay shines in the imaginative hands of ...Susan Sontag." (May 6, 1999)


Sontag shined during the Bosnian conflict.

She traveled to Sarajevo half a dozen times and wrote about it. Her writing may be melodramatic; also devoid of fact. But the theme is epic, a story of good and evil. The US' Bosnian ally (the Islamic Fundamentalist government in Sarajevo) is good. The Serbs are evil.

Writing along these lines in the Dec. 25, 1995 issue of the once-principled 'Nation' magazine, Sontag compared herself (flying into Sarajevo as a super-VIP) to the intellectuals who went to fight fascism in the 1930s (dying in the dirt in Spain.)


She argued that their (and her) actions stood in sharp contrast to:

  • "the morosely depoliticized intellectuals of today, with their cynicism always at the ready, their addiction to entertainment, their reluctance to inconvenience themselves for any cause, their devotion to personal safety (I can't count how many times I've been asked, each time I return to New York from Sarajevo, how I can go to a place that's so dangerous.)"

Note that while Sontag appears to be criticizing "morosely depoliticized intellectuals" she is really doing two very different things.

First, she is praising herself.

Second, she is using a tricky writing technique to make readers more receptive to her theme: that 'the Serbs' are monsters.

Nowhere in the article does Sontag offer actual evidence of Serbian monstrousness.

Rather, she employs a technique I call 'The Consequent Argument'. The way it works is, the writer doesn't honestly state what she is trying to prove and then provide evidence. Instead she writes in a way that takes for granted that what she wants to prove is already proven, that it is obviously true, and then makes comments that would follow if in fact it were true. This tends to sweep the reader into accepting the unproven point.

Thus, Sontag says, "I can't count how many times I've been I can go to a place that's so dangerous."

Frankly, I find it unbelievable that "uncountable" (i.e., very large) numbers of people actually went up to Susan Sontag and breathlessly praised her bravery for going to Sarajevo.

I doubt that one person did it unless said person was a shill.

  • shill (shl) Slang. noun - One who poses as a satisfied customer or an enthusiastic gambler to dupe bystanders into participating in a swindle.

"Imaginative hands?" This isn't imagination. Let's dispense with Mr. Rosenblatt's "imaginative hands."

This is hogwash. The hog is washed to some purpose.

By first castigating other intellectuals as physical cowards (as if they had all been offered and declined invitations to go on expenses-paid, media-hyped trips to Sarajevo) and then making the preposterous claim that "uncountable" numbers of people expressed amazement at her bravery, Sontag tries to create in readers minds the impression that Sarajevo was the victim of unimaginable horror (perpetrated, of course, by 'the Serbs'.) That impression is intended to put readers in the proper frame of mind to uncritically accept some truly bizarre charges.

Sontag's accusation

Sontag claims that Bosnian Serb troops indulged in:

  • "the rape by military order of tens of thousands of women throughout Serb-captured Bosnia." (ibid., my emphasis)

By military order, mind you.

Now keep in mind that the Bosnian Serb army numbered somewhere around 30,000 men, "many of whom were engaged in desperate military engagements."(1)

Aside from the absurdity of this small, hard-pressed army, stretched out along a one thousand mile front, raping tens of thousands of women, the mass rape stories rely on a false impression, carefully cultivated by the Western media: that the Bosnian Serb army was an aggressive invading force that "captured territory". This is wrong on both counts: they were mainly a defensive force and they were in fact defending their own territory.

A local army

The classic army rape situation occurs when young men occupy a hated/feared country far from the home, separated from wives and girlfriends.

The Bosnian Serb Army was not an army of occupation, far from home. For example, Serbian forces did not 'take over' the hills outside Sarajevo. Serbs have lived in towns around Sarajevo for over a thousand years (or, more precisely, since the Seventh Century.) Indeed, for centuries ethnic Serbs have made up most of the inhabitants of Bosnia. Bosnian Muslims, so-called, are mostly Serbs (sometimes Croats) who switched from Christianity to Islam under the pressure of Turkish rule.

Before the fighting began in Bosnia, the Serbs, mainly farmers, owned the majority of land. Their army, allied with moderate Muslim units led by Fikret Abdic, had a defensive strategy during the war. That's one reason they never seized Sarajevo. (Incidentally, Sarajevo was about 25% ethnic Serbian; the villages around it were almost entirely Serbian. Sarajevo was surrounded by Serbs not due to intrusion but by virtue of demographics.)

Because the Bosnian Serb army was a homegrown army, the soldiers had regular relationships with their wives and womenfriends.

Why would the Serbian Command order troops to engage in criminal actions that would inevitably destroy these sustaining relationships?

Isn't it unconscionable for Sontag and other feminists to accuse an entire people of committing horrendous crimes on a grand scale without offering the least bit of factual evidence?

In her article 'Yugoslavia Seen Through a Dark Glass," (2) analyst Diana Johnstone notes the following:

  • "No one denies that many rapes occurred during the civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, or that rape is a serious violation of human rights. So is war, for that matter. From the start, however, inquiry into rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina focused exclusively on accusations that Serbs were raping Muslim women as part of a deliberate strategy. The most inflated figures, freely extrapolated by multiplying the number of known cases by large factors, were readily accepted by the media and international organizations. No interest was shown in detailed and documented reports of rapes of Serbian women by Muslims or Croats. The late Nora Beloff, former chief political correspondent of the London Observer, described her own search for verification of the rape charges in a letter to The Daily Telegraph (January 19, 1993). The British Foreign Office conceded that the rape figures being bandied about were totally uncorroborated, and referred her to the Danish government, then chairing the European Union. Copenhagen agreed that the reports were unsubstantiated, but kept repeating them. Both said that the EU had taken up the "rape atrocity" issue at its December 1992 Edinburgh summit exclusively on the basis of a German initiative. In turn, Fran Wild, in charge of the Bosnian Desk in the German Foreign Ministry, told Ms. Beloff that the material on Serb rapes cam partly from the Izetbegovic government and partly from the Catholic charity Caritas in Croatia. No effort had been made to seek corroboration from more impartial sources. Despite the absence of solid and comprehensive information, a cottage industry has since developed around the theme. See: Norma von Ragenfeld-Feldman, "The Victimization of Women: Rape and the Reporting of Rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1992-1993," Dialogue (Paris), No. 21, March 1997; and Diana Johnstone, "Selective Justice in The Hague," The Nation, Sept. 22, 1997, pp. 16-21." (2)

In 'The Media and Their Atrocities', (1) Michael Parenti, an essayist whom the Lehrer Hour has yet to praise, notes that: "Common sense would dictate that these stories [of mass rape] be treated with the utmost skepticism--and not be used as an excuse for...punitive policy against Yugoslavia."

Indeed. And common sense might also suggest some consistency of outrage, especially in cases where abuses against women are actually taking place. Which brings us back to Susan Sontag and the forced-prostitution industry in Kosovo and Bosnia.

Susan Sontag's silence

Using Lexis, the Internet search tool, I scanned most of the English speaking media worldwide. My search covered the last nine months. During that time there is not one reference to Susan Sontag speaking out against the forced prostitution industry in Kosovo and Bosnia. If Sontag is really concerned about women, why is she waiting? Is it because nobody is offering to make her a star for covering this story? Is it because the prostitution industry in Kosovo is run by US allies (the "former" KLA), that it operates with the tactic approval of UN and NATO big shots?

Is that why Susan is silent?

And/or is it because the women involved are mostly Slavs whose suffering it is politically acceptable to ignore? (3)

Bill Gordon, a New York reader, provoked this column by asking the question: "Where are the Susan Sontags, the Bianca Jaegers and all those concerned feminist celebrities (paid for hire) who demanded that the Western governments dismember the "anti-woman" Serbian state (read: Yugoslavia)?"

Where are they indeed?

Hired minds?

Gordon says these people are "paid for hire." Is that too harsh?

Recently there have been several articles in the Western media reporting the existence of a special CIA program during the bad old days of the cold war. (One such article is posted at the end)

It seems that starting in the early 1950s, the CIA paid out huge sums to intellectuals to make sure they adopted the proper views.

Supposedly this all ended with the fall of communism.

But why would it have ended? Why would the CIA drop a successful intelligence program?

Isn't the intelligence apparatus many times bigger and vastly richer today then, let us say, during the early 1950s? If they bribed intellectuals then, why wouldn't they bribe intellectuals today?

Payment doesn't have to take the crude form of handing out wads of cash the way the CIA did in the 50s - though I wouldn't underestimate the power of crude cash. Some say it makes the best wedding present.

Payment can also take the form of professional recognition and advancement.

In the tightly controlled mega-world of American arts and media, access is denied to those who disobey the rules. And the main rule is: parrot the line of the American Empire.

Parroting is the predictor of position.

As the English poet William Blake said two hundred years ago:

  • "The enquiry in England is not whether a man has talents & genius, but whether he is passive & polite & a virtuous ass & obedient to noblemen's opinions in art & science. If he is, he is a good man. If not, he must be starved." (William Blake, Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds)

Recently I had a direct encounter with the rules of Empire. I was contacted by the assistant editor of the NY Times op ed page. (4) She wanted to run a piece by Blagovesta Doncheva, the Bulgarian political writer. Doncheva had published an article with Emperors-clothes called 'Open Letter to the Serbian Opposition'. It described the ruin of Bulgarian society under pro-Western 'democracy'. It warned that the Serbian opposition would, if successful, preside over the West's devastation of Serbia.

I asked the NY Times editor if there were any limits to what Ms. Doncheva could write. The editor answered, 'Of course there are. She can't mention Serbia.'

The cardinal rule of the New World Order is: 'If you don't have anything bad to say about Serbia don't say anything at all."

"She can't mention Serbia." A striking restriction for an article addressed to the Serbian opposition, wouldn't you say? But the editor informed me of this rule in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, without apology: a rule is a rule.

Are you thinking (or hoping) that maybe this is a peculiarity of the NY Times, not the American Empire? Then please consider: during the past three years, the First Prize in each of top three photo-journalism awards has been awarded to a picture depicting an Albanian woman crying. (5)

There is one exception: this year's First Place award in the prestigious World Press contest went to a photo of an Albanian man with a bandage on his nose. Also given prizes were pictures of Albanian women crying, taken by the same Greek Reuters photographer who won last years' Pulitzer Albanian women crying.

Sounds as if we've entered a whole new universe, doesn't it? As if we're characters in a 'Twilight Zone' episode. Or maybe the world has been taken over by aliens and we're in 'The Body Snatchers'.

How could all these awards go to pictures of suffering Albanians if the artistic and intellectual life of our society were not organized to serve the New World Order?

Or consider book publishing.

Not only have a slew of books appeared during the 1990s demonizing the Serbs as villains in Yugoslavia. Not only are these anti-Serbian books often given big advertising budgets, major media exposure and reviews in choice publications such as the NY Times. Not only has no major Western book company ever published any book defending the Serbs and arguing the highly arguable (because factual) case that the US and Germany secretly encouraged the breakup of Yugoslavia (6) even before the secession of Croatia and Slovenia.

Not only is all this true, but in addition older books have been altered, altered to reflect the new anti-Serb line. I am talking about books as reputable as the Encyclopedia Britannica. (7)

Does the American essay in fact "shine in the imaginative hands" of Susan Sontag? Or does Susan Sontag receive favorable reviews in places like the Lehrer Hour because she prostitutes herself in the service of empire?

It is fitting symbolism that on the same evening that the Lehrer News Hour glorified Sontag it also featured an interview with Blerim Shala, editor of the Kosovo weekly, 'Zeri'. In that interview (and elsewhere) Shala was touted as an independent ethnic Albanian political thinker. There are indeed independent ethnic Albanian political thinkers, but Shala isn't one of them. He is a key agent of the US State Department and a leading advocate of the terrorist-secessionist forces in Kosovo.

Why do I refer to 'fitting symbolism'? Because while Shala, who told listeners that bombing was the best thing for Kosovo, was presented as an 'independent' thinker, Sontag, who has achieved star status by spreading lies about a people, was presented as an imaginative intellectual. Thus Lehrer showcased two important types in the American Empire: he who organizes racist terror and she who slanders the victim. And all in the name of justice.

*** (Note: the article on CIA bribing of intellectuals is posted below)

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Further reading...

1) The Media and their Atrocities by Michael Parenti at

2) Yugoslavia Seen Through a Dark Glass, by Diana Johnstone at

3) Europe's Dirty Secret by Rick Rozoff at

4) A Tale of Two Articles by Blagovesta Doncheva, with transcript of conversation between Jared Israel and the 'NY Times' at

5) Art in the New World Order at


7) The Black Hole by Petar Makara, Intro. by Jared Israel at

From The 'Independent', June 28, 1999


A grainy black-and-white photograph from the Fifties graces the cover of Frances Stonor Saunders's new history of the CIA's cultural cold warriors. Four men sit hunched round a table strewn with the remains of a meal; there are wineglasses smeared with fingerprints and the dregs of a bottle, while an afternoon sun slants through large windows. One man throws a menacing glance over his shoulder at the photographer.

That look, and this clutch of figures, speak volumes about the mission of that tight network of intellectuals and espionage agents who worked alongside the CIA to promote the ideal of a new age of enlightenment - the pax Americana. Fearful of the Soviet Union's cultural influence, the agency operated a sophisticated cultural front to win over leftist artists and their audiences. This was the cold warriors' "battle for men's minds", stockpiled with a vast arsenal of journals, books, conferences, seminars, exhibitions, concerts and awards.

Among the agency's most powerful operators was Michael Josselson, a former agent in the intelligence section of the Psychological Warfare Division. He went on to head the influential Congress for Cultural Freedom. Stonor Saunders vividly captures both Josselson's character, and the dynamic appeal of the pax Americana to a young Jewish intellectual with a passionate interest in literature and the right political bent. His network relied on his friends, many former members of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, and on his wife, Diana Dodge. After their wedding in Paris in 1953, he confessed that he was not really in the import- export business. Together, the couple formed an effective partnership.

Diana describes an idyllic life in postwar Paris where "you felt you were in touch with everything going on everywhere - things were blossoming, it was vital". She also succumbed to the romantic fantasy of the intelligence world, and was given her own code name. An agent would hand over memos and cables from Washington to Michael during their Martini hour at the Josselsons's apartment. "We'd read the incoming cables, then I'd flush them down the toilet."

But there was more to the American cultural frontline than romance and ideological conviction. The agency's biggest weapon was its bank account. From its inception in 1952, the Congress that Josselson headed received millions of dollars to act as America's unofficial Ministry of Culture. "We couldn't spend it all," recalled former CIA agent Gilbert Greenway. "There were no limits, and nobody had to account for it. It was amazing."

Radio Free Europe alone received a budget of $10m at its founding in Berlin in 1950. Elsewhere, a former case officer described piling his car high with bundles of dollar bills for distribution into "quiet channels". By the Sixties a joke was circulating that, if any American philanthropic or cultural organisation carried the words "free" or "private", it must be a CIA front.

While thousands reaped the benefits of their position, others were victimised by the agency's relentless pursuit of Communist "fellow travellers" in the arts. During spring 1953, when the impact of the Rosenbergs' treason trial and execution had exposed resentment at America's presence in Europe, the United States Information Agency conducted a purge of "pro-Communist writers". More than 30,000 books were banned from USIA libraries, including works by Dashiell Hammett, Langston Hughes, John Reed and Herman Melville. The number of titles shipped abroad by USIA in 1953 plunged from 119,913 to 314.

When the CIA's involvement in American culture was finally exposed in the Sixties, it revealed a staggering number of household-name artists who had received its tainted funds. Through myriad projects, from cash- heavy prizes to magazines such as Encounter and international conferences, the beneficiaries included WH Auden, AA Milne, Nancy Mitford, Mary MacCarthy, Stephen Spender, Jackson Pollock, Isaiah Berlin and George Orwell. Did they realise they were being used? Stonor Saunders argues that most of these artists knew where their money was coming from and "if they didn't they were... cultivatedly and culpably, ignorant".

The damage the CIA caused was irreparable and pervasive. Behind the "unexamined nostalgia for the `Golden Days' of American intelligence lay a more devastating truth," Stonor Saunders writes. "The same people who read Dante and went to Yale and were educated in civic virtue recruited Nazis, manipulated the outcome of democratic elections, gave LSD to unwitting subjects, opened the mail of thousands of American citizens, overthrew governments, supported dictatorships, plotted assassinations, and engineered the Bay of Pigs disaster." "In the name of what?" asked one critic. "Not civic virtue, but empire."

Who Paid the Piper? illuminates a dark corner of America's cultural history, drawing on an extraordinary range of interviews and recently opened documents. Frances Stonor Saunders is strong on biographical sketches, and a thorough researcher. But questions about the real impact of the cultural cold war remain to be answered. In spite of its murky sources, did this money still produce some of the most significant art of the 20th century?

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