Americans' hands tied during Kosovo crisis

This Just In . . .

April 07, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

WHAT'S frustrating," said a friend, "is you see all this on television and you feel so powerless to do anything about it." He was speaking of the suffering in Kosovo. It is hard to think of much else these days. It makes every other issue in our immediate realm seem trivial.

Monday morning, I was in my old truck, listening again to the Diane Rehm Show on Baltimore's WJHU-FM. Rehm spoke by phone with Tom Gjelten, one of the National Public Radio correspondents in the Balkans. (Gjelten wrote an excellent book on the Bosnian war, "Sarajevo Daily," published in 1994.) On the radio with Rehm, Gjelten said the United Nations estimated that 831,000 ethnic Albanians -- nearly half of the majority population of Kosovo -- were either on the move inside the Yugoslavian province or living in the muddy squalor of camps in Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.

Hard to think about anything else these days.

As I drove, I looked at the land, the rolling hills of northern Baltimore County -- oak trees and bushes starting to show life again, damp fields, a muddy farm road with tire tracks -- and I thought again of Kosovo. In the moving images from television and the heart-searing photographs in newspapers, the land at the Kosovo-Macedonia border appears something like this. It is spring even in the hate-infested Balkans. I looked at the land around me and tried to imagine thousands of desperate people pouring into it from, say, Pennsylvania, turned out of their homes 20 miles away, and 30 miles away. I tried to imagine them standing along the edge of a farm field, nowhere else to go, pleading for food.

Crazy imaginings.

But, if they were here, you know, we could do something for them. We could empty our supermarkets for them, open our homes to them. I have heard friends speak of the frustration of watching this horror on television, unable to do anything about it. We can give money to the aid agencies, of course. We can back the government's efforts to help the refugees and erase the military power of Slobodan Milosevic. But it would be nice to feel useful in this world, at this time.

Maybe our president could airlift a few thousand Americans willing to volunteer to help the refugees.

The president has promised to take in 20,000 of the refugees, shipping them maybe to military bases in Guam or Guantanamo Bay. Other Western nations have pledged to take some refugees to relieve Macedonia, in particular, of the pressure.

But instead of shipping Kosovars all over the world, why not let them stay in Albania? And, if we are to do any human shipping, why not ship 20,000 American volunteers to Albania to help build shelters and feed refugees? It would be a much better use of our manpower and our money, it would leave the Kosovars a lot closer to home. It would make some of the rest of us, who do not know how to fly Apache helicopters, feel useful.

Concerted efforts

This sounds like a winner: Ethel Ennis singing with the Baltimore Jazz Orchestra in a salute to Duke Ellington's 100th birthday, April 17 at Maryland Hall, Annapolis. ... Remember Peter Tork from the Monkees? He's performing in concert with another guitarist-singer, James Lee Stanley, May 14 at Mays Chapel. That's in Timonium, not Clarksville. ... The recent death of Richard Kiley got me yearning for a compact disc of the original Broadway cast recording of "Man of La Mancha." On impulse, I blew into a local store to find it. Kiley wasn't there, but Placido Domingo was. I decided to give the tenor's recording a try. (Domingo as Don Quixote, and the persistently annoying Mandy Patinkin as Sancho Panza; Sony Classical, 1996.) I listened once, listened twice, and the second listen was even more unsatisfying than the first. Placido Domingo is a wonderful tenor, but he's not Midas. More to the point, he's no Richard Kiley. And Mandy Patinkin ... sometimes you just wanna hit that boy with a water balloon. (P.S. There's a 1972 movie version of "Man of La Mancha," in case you missed it. Leonard Maltin's video guide calls it a bomb, but I recommend it to Sophia Loren fans just the same. "I see Heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea...")

Wrestling flair

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