Air power has changed war forever

June 07, 1999|By Richard Reeves

WASHINGTON -- Ah, peace, it's wonderful! We flew only 610 bombing sorties over Yugoslavia on the night after hopeful declarations around the world that the police action, or whatever we call it, was over, over there.

Over for us, I mean, after more than 30,000 bombing runs. But a new phase in the fighting between the Kosovars and the Serbs has only just begun. If the peace agreement holds and an international peace-keeping force is installed in Kosovo, then begins the countdown to the day the Kosovo Liberation Army opens guerrilla warfare against the peace-keepers to drive them out in the name of an independent Kosovo and a Greater Albania.

Disarm the KLA? That is to be part of the peace plan. But we just finished arming them, legitimizing them and -- something we said we would never do in this civil war -- acting as their air force. Dreams and nightmares die hard in the Balkans. I would be very surprised if our new best friends are not beginning to bury their weapons now (and stealing NATO weapons) to use against international forces in the next uprising a year or a couple of years from now.

We shall see. The good news of the day did not come from here or Belgrade or Brussels. The good news came out of Cologne, Germany, where the 15 countries of the European Union voted to create their own multinational military structure -- a North Atlantic Treaty Organization without the Americans.

Perhaps next time the nations that live there can decide what they can and cannot tolerate on their borders. Common sense tells you there was something crazy about U.S. bombers flying in from Missouri to do the dirty work -- and then heading home, halfway around the world.

The sooner we are out of there, the better for all concerned. The reaction to "victory" here -- if indeed the killing stops for a while -- ranges from odd to ridiculous. The Washington Post chose to run a headline that suggests it is not only the Serbs who have their own distorted morality in this tragedy: "5,000 to Zero" said the paper, celebrating the fact that 5,000 Serbian soldiers and policemen had been killed, but none of us were -- so there! A turkey shoot, but we were not the turkeys. (The number of Serb and Kosovar civilians killed by accident is still uncalculated.)

The reaction that most worries me comes from the millions of Americans who do not care one little bit about what has been going on. I have asked a substantial number of young Americans, my own students among them, how much they and their friends were talking about Kosovo. The answer, almost always, has been never, not at all, zero -- as in 5,000 to zero.

"Why should we care?" said one, a young man who already is running his own computer business. Indeed, what does this have to do with them? Our volunteer military is projected as invincible and invulnerable, invisible to the enemy. A democracy without a draft, without citizen involvement in the death-dealing, is an incomplete democracy. That is the scary legacy of Vietnam: Government has eliminated the governed from the moral questions and sacrifice of war.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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