Bosnian war helps us realize our limits again

MIKE ROYKO

March 08, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

There's just no pleasing some people. Your heart can be in the right place but they still complain.

An example is President Clinton's decision to airdrop food and medical supplies for trapped Bosnian Muslims who are being ethnically cleansed by the Serbs.

Can anyone deny that it's a nice thing to do? Of course not. Even those who don't number any Bosnian Muslims among their best friends think we should do it.

But what do the critics say? That it is almost a complete waste of time, an empty gesture.

They say that most of the stuff we drop for the Bosnian Muslims is landing where the Serbs can get it instead. Well, even if that's true, would they prefer that it just lie there until the squirrels eat it?

As the old saying goes: "Waste not, want not."

And they complain that even when the Bosnian Muslims manage to find some of the packages, Serbian snipers shoot them. While that seems harsh, it's all part of the ethnic cleansing process. Is it our fault that there's such a shortage of regular dry cleaning establishments in Bosnia?

Finally, the critics moan, even if every relief bundle landed smack in a Bosnian Muslim's parlor, there still wouldn't be enough supplies to help more than a fraction of the unfortunates. That may be true, but you can say the same thing about the lottery, yet millions of people play it.

All the criticism is probably true, but the gripers are missing the whole point. It is the sentiment that counts.

What we're doing, in effect, is sending a greeting card, as considerate people do when someone has fallen upon hard times.

The airdrops are our way of saying: "Get well quick." Well, maybe that isn't the message. It could be, "Hope you're feeling better." No, that isn't it either. Not with the enthusiasm for ethnic cleanliness that the Serbs have been showing.

I've got it. What we're saying to the Bosnian Muslims is: "We're thinking of you." Yes, that's it, and a fine sentiment it is.

So why didn't the White House just send a card instead of dropping supplies that will wind up in the hands of the Serbs, who don't have time to unpack them anyway, they're so busy cleansing all those Bosnian Muslims?

Anybody who asks that question doesn't know much about the Bosnian postal service. Even in the best of times, which nobody in Bosnia can remember, mail delivery was erratic.

And in times such as these, it's virtually impossible to get a card delivered. That's because any sensible Bosnian Muslim postman busy trying to avoid being cleansed. It might be inspirational to say of postmen: "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." But any postman who says that has never been pursued by a Serb with an ethnic cleanliness fetish.

So we've done about all we can under the circumstances. We've sent our respects, our regrets, our condolences. Even as the world's most powerful nation, the only remaining bona fide, verified and certified Superpower, we have our limitations. We can't be the world's riot squad, SWAT team or bouncers.

There's just too much craziness in the world. At any given moment in dozens of places, one group is trying to murder another group, whether it is called ethnic cleansing, nationalism, revolution, civil war or religious devotion.

About all we can do is express regret and, if they are determined to go insane, let them go at it. In some parts of the world, they've been doing it for centuries. And they'll be doing it 100 years from now, if any of them survive.

Have you ever really listened to Serbs and Croats debate the issues? They quickly hop back 25 years, then 50, then 100. If you listen long enough, you'll wind up hearing about a Serbian cave man named Ugh starting it all when he threw a rock at a Croat cave man named Ach. Or maybe it was Ach who threw the rock at Ugh.

Or get in the middle, if you are suicidal enough, of a debate between an Irish Catholic and an Irish Protestant. Or an Israeli and an Arab. That gets nasty because God is allegedly involved. Maybe God is, but I don't believe it because by now he would have whacked them all on the hindquarters with his terrible swift sword.

And it's going to get worse before it gets better, if it ever does. That's because the collapse of the Soviet Union has a downside.

As bad as communism was, it gave all those states, satellites and ethnic groups something they could share: the misery of Soviet oppression.

But with that gone, its former victims have a bright new opportunity. They now can say: "At long last, we are free of Soviet oppression. So what are we waiting for? Let's start oppressing each other."

So we're going to be sending out a lot of greeting cards. It's not much, but it is better than making house calls.

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