Hitler's invasion is lesson for NATO

May 05, 1999|By Gregory Kane

WELCOME to Yugoslavia, graveyard of the Third Reich. Now that the Rev. Jesse Jackson has caught Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in a good mood, the Serb leader might do NATO leaders a favor: Post a sign bearing the above message at his borders before President Clinton and the NATO horde decide to invade. History tells us that now that Jackson and Milosevic have opened the door to a diplomatic solution, the boys in NATO had best take it.

Historian William Shirer noted in his "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" that Yugoslavia was the place that Adolf Hitler lost World War II. It happened in 1941. The Nazis installed a puppet government in Yugoslavia. Air Force officers in Belgrade overthrew the quisling regime and Der Fuhrer went ballistic, delayed his invasion of the Soviet Union for four weeks so he could send in troops to punish the contumacious Serbs.

"This postponement of the attack on [See Kane, 8b] Russia," wrote Shirer, "in order that the Nazi warlord might vent his personal spite against a small Balkan country which had dared to defy him was probably the most catastrophic single decision in Hitler's career. It is hardly too much to say that by making it... during a moment of convulsive rage he tossed away his last golden opportunity to win the war and to make of the Third Reich ... the greatest empire in German history and himself the master of Europe."

Winston Churchill, Britain's World War II prime minister, wrote in his history of the conflict that Hitler's first reaction was to send in the Luftwaffe to bomb the Serbs into submission. When that failed, Hitler sent in troops, about 700,000 to the Serbs' 150,000 guerrilla fighters. The three-year struggle was, even by war's standards, brutal and nasty. The Nazis failed to punish, they failed to intimidate and they failed to win.

If the Serbs didn't knuckle under to a professional brute like Hitler, why would they cave in to some pathetic amateurs like Clinton and NATO? The guess is the Serbs won't. If NATO sends in ground forces, they may be in for the same type of guerrilla war that brought down the Third Reich's army, one of the most powerful military machines to ever take the field of battle.

Before we get ourselves deeper into the Balkan quagmire, Americans had best ponder if we're willing to pay the potential cost. We should also think of the ironic situation in which we find ourselves. An American president has let his mouth write a check that he wants to cash with the butts of our young men. Doesn't it seem odd to anyone that this same president avoided fighting in Vietnam to protest our intervention in a civil war and now sends American bombers to support one side in what is essentially a civil war?

And how does this president justify our intervention? We're doing it, he claims, to prevent Milosevic from ethnically cleansing Kosovo of Albanians. Clinton leads a country that owes its very existence to ethnic cleansing. In fact, we're the model for ethnic cleansing. We're the epitome of it. To paraphrase a popular saying: look up ethnic cleansing in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of an American next to it.

The systematic removal of Native Americans from their traditional lands and onto reservations was ethnic cleansing. The Trail of Tears, in which the Cherokees and other tribes were forcibly marched from eastern states westward to Oklahoma was ethnic cleansing. Florida was at one time an African and Seminole state. No longer. It was ethnically cleansed after three bloody conflicts known as the Seminole Wars in the 1800s.

A Florida town named Rosewood was ethnically cleansed of its blacks in the 1920s. The incident was not an isolated one. If Milosevic really wanted to get under Clinton's skin, he might suggest that as no one butted into America's internal ethnic cleansing, we have some nerve butting into his.

Assuming, of course, that's what's being done. Milosevic may be doing nothing more than what Americans did in the Vietnam War and the British did in South Africa during the Boer War: removing the civilian population that gives aid and comfort to guerrilla forces. In Vietnam, we called the camps we herded Vietnamese peasants into "fortified hamlets." In South Africa, many Boer women and children died after being forced into similar camps.

In Yugoslavia, it's the Kosovo Liberation Army that is at war against Milosevic's government. Observers not buying into Clinton's propaganda spin on our "just war" in Yugoslavia have called the KLA a bunch of drug-dealing cutthroats. It would be a terrible historical twist if they were the beneficiaries of our humanitarianism-through-bombing program.

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