Exposing a Hoax

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Ljubica Stefan, the Croatian ghostwriter for front man Philip J. Cohen.

One of the most disturbing and disgusting propaganda hoaxes that occurred during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was that perpetrated by dermatologist Philip J. Cohen. He is completely forgotten now and his propaganda tract, Serbia’s Secret War, is in the trash bin today. Cohen is a dermatologist. He was never even a historian. Yet he purported to author a major book on history.

But his revisionist propaganda tract that masqueraded as scholarship was at one time advertised in Foreign Affairs and cited and lauded by Richard Holbrooke and Margaret Thatcher. How did they pull it off? How did this hoax succeed?

In exposing this outrageous hoax, we have to analyze and examine the evidence. Philip J. Cohen is a medical doctor, a dermatologist with no background or training in history, let alone the World War II history of Serbia. Moreover, he has no knowledge of the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian languages. How could he have written Serbia’s Secret War, which required a detailed and exhaustive analysis and research of Serbian language documents? Such a massive undertaking would require a thorough knowledge of the historical debates and nuances involed in the issues examined. Cohen couldn’t have written it. And he didn’t write it. Cohen was the front, the front man in a Croatian propaganda hoax. Because Croatia was a satellite, proxy, and client state of the U.S., Cohen received U.S. support and backing. The screed buttressed the anti-Serbian U.S. infowar and propagnada war. But if Cohen did not write the screed, who did?

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American dermatologist Philip J. Cohen fronted a racist propaganda tract that originated from the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Could Stjepan G. Mestrovic have written it? Mestrovic is a  sociologist at Texas A & M University. He has no training or experience in history. He may have played a role in the hoax, but he was not the writer, the ghostwriter for the book. Serbia’s Secret War was published by Texas A & M University, which also published racist, virulently anti-Serbian books by Mestrovic and Norman Cigar, who had been a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College and also taught at the Marine Corps School of Advanced Warfighting and at the National Defense Intelligence College. Like Cohen, Mestrovic, and David Riesman, Cigar had no historical training or background on the Balkans, or Serbia in particular. Absurdly, Cigar had “a strong academic background in Arabic”, not Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, or Serbo-Croatian.

On the Texas A & M website promoting Cohen’s book, he is described as follows:  “Philip J. Cohen, a medical doctor, has done extensive research on history and politics in the Balkans. He is widely published in scholarly journals and books.” This is patently untrue and constitutes a lie. A bibliography search for Cohen shows that he is not published in any relevant historical “scholarly journals”. He has been published by Ceres in Zagreb, Croatia. Outside of Texas A & M and the Mestrovic and Cigar clique and a pro-Croatia policy paper he wrote for Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992, he is not published anywhere in scholarly historical journals. Cohen could potentially be censured for ethics violations. This is potentially fraud in the manner of Clifford Irving. Irving spent 17 months in prison for his fraud and hoax.

Who then could have written it? There is only one candidate. She died in 2002. She had lived in Belgrade, Serbia for 30 years before she left in 1992 to go to Zagreb to orchestrate and mastermind the anti-Serbian propaganda war for the Croatian government under Franjo Tudjman. Her name was Ljubica Stefan.

All the pieces fit. She had the motive, the opportunity, the means, and the background. Although she lived most of her life in Serbia, she was an ethnic Croatian. She lived and worked in Belgrade. She knew the Serbian language. She had access to Serbian documents and archives. Also, as a hack historian, a pseudo-historian,  someone below the radar, she did not have to concern herself about academic or scholarly accountability. Moreover, everything that appears in the Cohen text also appears in propaganda screeds published by or attributed to Stefan when she worked for the Croatian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stefan worked closely with Croatian ultra-nationalist Franjo Tudjman in rehabilitating the Ustasha regime and engaged in historical revisionism by attempting to equate Serbia’s role during the Holocaust with that of Croatia’s Ustasha NDH government.

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A Croatian Ustasha NDH government pamphlet issued during the Holocaust that listed Jewish-owned businesses in Croatia and Bosnia.

Serbia’s Secret War is essentially an expanded version of  Stefan’s 1993 book From Fairy Tale to Holocaust: Serbia: Quisling Collaboration with the Occupier During the Period of the Third Reich with Reference to Genocide against the Jewish People, by Ljubica Stefan, published by the Croatian Government. The full publishing credit is listed as:  “Zagreb: Culture and Promotion Dept., Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Croatia, 1993.” The text that Cohen fronted was actually a compendium of Stefan’s earlier publications. Moreover, the covers of both books were almost identical, using images of German-occupation postage stamps. They needed some shocking, anti-Jewish  image. German-occupation “anti-Masonic” postage stamps were the best they could do.

Serbia’s Secret War was ghostwritten by the Croatian Ljubica Stefan who was funded, recruited, and endorsed by the Croatian government. Justly and deservedly the racist propaganda tract has been thoroughly discredited and debunked. The ghostwritten hoax is largely forgotten today.

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A 1942 Croatian government poster for an anti-Jewish exhibition in Zagreb with the Croatian word for Jews, “Zidovi”.

Why did the Croatian government and the Croatian lobby hire Philip J. Cohen as the front? Isn’t this outrageous audacity and contempt? Why hire a dermatologist with no background or training or experience in history to front a propaganda tract? Isn’t this a mindless and inane exercise in propaganda worthy of derision and contempt? It all depends. It depends on what audience you target, the target group. The Croatian government was not targeting scholars and academics. This was not meant for them. The primary appeal was emotional and intended for an uncritical mass audience. It was an exercise in public relations, a PR stunt. Of course, the screed was nonsensical and illogical. The screed was propaganda to justify and rationalize the genocide and ethnic cleansing committed by the Croatian government, supported and assisted by the U.S., committed against the Krajina Serbs. In 1995, with U.S. support and backing, the Croatian government ethnically cleansed over 200,000 Krajina Serbs in the alrgest act of ethnic cleansing since World War II and the Holocaust. It was genocide under the Genocide Convention.

The book had a two-fold purpose. To justify the genocide committed against the Krajina Serbs and to rehabilitate Croatian ultra-nationalism, to exonerate and to minimize and to trivialize the Ustasha genocide. The ghostwritten book acted as a smokescreen to obfuscate the real genocide committed by the Croatian NDH Ustasha regime against Serbs, Jews, and Roma.

The premise of the book relies on a Tu quoque argument,  from the Latin, meaning “You, too” or “You also”. The argument runs as follows: Serbs have accused Croatia of genocide during the Holocaust against Jews. Serbs have accused Croatia of being an ally of Nazi Germany and of engaging in the systematic murder of Jews during the NDH Ustasha government. But Serbia too “collaborated” with Nazi Germany and played a role in the Holocaust against Jews. You, too. Legally, the tu quoque argument is rejected because it relies on a logical fallacy. It is a variation of the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy. The Croatian propaganda argument runs as follows: Serbs accuse Croatia of genocide against Jews. Serbs committed genocide against Jews. Therefore, Croatia did not commit genocide against Jews. This is an illogical and illegitimate conclusion because whether or not Serbs committed a genocide against Jews is not connected to the issue of Croatian genocide against Jews. The glaring fallacy in this instance is that Serbs are not the only ones who accuse Croatia of genocide. This is a well-documented fact in the historiography of the Holocaust. The issue is not whether there was a genocide, but only a controversy over the extent or magnitude. The argument seeks to smear and to discredit the accuser by ad hominem attacks or attacks aimed at an entire country, people, nationality, or religion. The use of the tu quoque argument by Stefan, and front man Cohen, is thus illogical, illegitimate, and fallacious. The appeal is not to logic and reason, but to racism and ethnic and religious enmity and raw emotion.

Whom did the Croatian government target? What specific audience was targeted? The target audience consisted largely of Jewish Americans. American Jews and Israeli Jews were the principal targets. If Ljubica Stefan or the Croatian government put their names on the text the book would not be as convincing and persuasive and credible. The illusion had to be manufactured that the book was unbiased, neutral, and written by a non-Croatian. The way the Croatian government and lobby got around this problem was fairly easy. All you had to do was to hire a front. Someone was needed to sell the Croatian propaganda. Cohen, although a dermatologist, a skin doctor, nevertheless, had a Jewish name and was an American citizen. It was the name of an American Jewish author. This lent the book a certain modicum of credibility and legitimacy. Moreover, the preface was written by another prominent American Jewish author, sociologist David Riesman.

The Croatian government and the Croatian lobby reckoned that no one would challenge the book or Cohen’s credentials. Who would even dare? If anyone tried, they would be branded as anti-Semitic. Moreover, the name value of Cohen and Riesman itself would sell the book. This is why the name of the actual author, Ljubica Stefan, did not appear on the book. Instead, the name of Philip J. Cohen was placed on the cover as the author.

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The Nazi-allied Croatian Ustasha government stamps commemorating Croatian volunteer troops that fought alongside Axis troops at Stalingrad, the Sea of Azov, Sevastopol, and the Don.

Propaganda is always destroyed and discarded after it has served its purpose. Cohen’s outrageous hoax is not any different. He is back to being a dermatologist. The Cohen hoax does, however, demonstrate how easily people are manipulated and hoodwinked, regarded hardly any better than cattle. This outlandish hoax did not occur in a totalitarian state, but in the U.S.