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The Right Fight?

JD Lock, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

6 May 1999


I’m glad the colonel in question (see below) ‘worked with AFSOUTH and the ARRC’ but…if he is representative of the senior staff evaluators who help shape national policy…we are REALLY in trouble.  Milosevic another Hitler?  That’s all he can get out of his seven years of ‘secret data’?  No wonder NATO is in the mess it now is with analysis such as this.


Let’s deal with facts and not emotional hyperbole and put one thing to rest.  Hitler led a nation that was the equivalent of a world power in the late 1930s.  His desire was to EXPAND the borders of Germany to conquer numerous other sovereign nations…across continents…and, he had the military resources, national support, and fighting allies to try it.  Remember Mussolini?  Remember Tojo?  They all had a role to play in Hitler’s expansionist aims. 


Milosevic, on the other hand, while also a dictator, is the despotic leader of a borderline second-rate military that can barely project anything beyond its borders other than displaced refugees.  With the exception of Russia, who is not willing to fight alongside their Slovic cousins, Milosevic has no allies.  Serb interests have always been confined within the borders of the former republic of Yugoslavia.  At no point has Milosevic ever attempted to expand beyond that border.  A potential Hitler if not stopped?  Please….


While the Serbs certainly have been ‘creative and bloodthirsty,’ there is a long history of such cruelty and barbarity on all sides.  They are quick learners…each and every faction…whether Serb, Croat, Bosniac, or Kosovar.  Who committed the first atrocity?  Who developed the ‘standard’?  Who established the sadistic trend?  Hard to say.  One could look back to 1941 and the pro-Nazi Croat Ustase—with some more than generous assistance from Balkans Muslims—who viciously ‘did unto’ the Serbs as it would later be done unto them in 1992.  Or, one can go back even further, as the colonel does, to the turn of the century citing accounts of Serb atrocities.  The trail is long, wide, and brutal…bright red with blood and resounding with the screams of pain and agony…in multiple languages and dialects…throughout the centuries.


Is the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo vile and inhumane?  Certainly.  It is despicable and, from an American point of view, incomprehensible.  But, again…there is the issue of which came first.  Has anyone ever questioned why Kosovo, the ‘Mecca’…the Holy Land of the Serb people…is only populated with 10% Serbs?  Maybe it had something to do with a mass exodus of Albanians from Albania after the Second World War, fleeing a repressive Communist government for a less repressive form of communism under Tito?  Maybe, over time, those interloping Albanians became Kosovars and began their own campaign of terror against the Serb Kosovars who originally lived in Kosovo?  Maybe, Tito, of Croatian and Slavinian heritage, with a bit of disdain for Serbs, cared not what was happening in Kosovo as long as relative order was being maintained?  Maybe, over the course of four decades, the Muslim Albanians were able to successfully change the demographics of Kosovo to reflect 90% Albanian and only 10% Serb…through their own subtle form of ethnic cleansing?


There is also the ‘other’ issue in Kosovo…the one everyone has conveniently overlooked.  What of the KLA…the terrorist organization supported by the Muslim Kosovars?  When were they elevated to Sainthood?  And, since when do terrorists become US or NATO allies?  The KLA were the cutting edge of an ethnic cleansing campaign that transpired for decades prior to their recent reversals.  If one recollects, there was a fragile cease-fire that held until February of this year.  The world recalls the slaughter of forty or more innocent victims by Serb security forces that month.  But, can anyone recall the KLA act that precipitated that slaughter?  The killing of three Serb policemen by the KLA?  Their act reminds me of the Old Testament…Moses…and how, from the mouth of Pharaoh was delivered the edict that would result in the death of the first born of all Egypt.  Such might be claimed of the KLA’s action?


National leaders who do not understand the definition of the word have publicly stated how Milosevic is performing ‘genocide’ on the Kosovars.  Hitler performed genocide on the Jews and Gypsies…seeking to eliminate, to exterminate, the last man, woman, and child of complete races or ethnic groups.  Milosovic is not pursuing ‘genocide.’  If he were, there would be no refugees to worry about…they’d all be dead, executed in their homes, villages, and in the mountains.  Milosovic is pursuing a terrorist campaign…to not only force people out of their homes but to also remind them why they will not wish to return…by executing or raping a small percentage of that population.  Contrary to the ‘popular’ notion, ethnic cleansing has never been an issue of genocide…it’s always been a ‘technique’ to solidify geographical gains through tactics of terror. 


In no way do I condone the Serb atrocities or their ethnic cleansing…as I do not condone anyone else’s, either.  As a group, I condemn and loath all of the military, paramilitary, and security forces of Serbia, Croatia, the Bosniacs, and the KLA.  They are inhumane and uncivilized animals…unfit to be referred to as human beings.  But, does that mean any American soldier or airman should be required to combat them…to sacrifice limb or life in the defense of those they wish to oppress?


Personally, I would have no qualm joining the colonel and an elite group of American ground soldiers in Kosovo to demonstrate to Serb soldiers that American warriors are significantly more difficult to deal with than women, children, and unarmed men.  But, do I have a right, morally or ethically, to order my fellow warriors to follow me in?  I don’t think so.  Where is the national interest and with which self-seeking autonomous group does it stop?  Where in the oath that swore me to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic did I swear to defend Kosovars?  Allies, such as those in NATO, yes.  Vital national interests such as oil in the Persian Gulf, yes.  All of these are implied.  But, the Balkans?  I thought that was ‘Europe’s war’…as I heard the Commander in Chief refer to it recently.


Agreed, there was a moment of Balkan history that, at one point in time, was the spark that ignited a global conflict.  Can the same claim be made today?  I think not…unless we force Russia to involve itself militarily in this horrendous mess we’ve created…and, fortunately, it would appear they’ve passed on that opportunity.


Why, then, has Kosovo all of a sudden become the ‘poster child’ conflict to shed American blood and to expend American wealth and resources?  We know where we did not take such actions in the past…Cambodia and Rwanda just to name two more horrendous internal conflicts with over one thousand times the dead of Kosovo.  Why not?  They were true victims of genocide.  Were they somehow not ‘worthy’ enough? 


Based on NATO’s actions in Kosovo, will the West now take up the ‘defense’ of Chechnya in its efforts to seek autonomy from Russia or of the Tibetans as they attempt to throw off the Chinese shackles of oppression?  Or of Taiwan as it seeks recognition in the United Nations?  If NATO and US support of civil unrest and self-autonomy now starts with the Balkans, where does it end?  In Ireland?  In Waco, Texas?  While it may sound ‘silly’ to us, it certainly does not seem quite as ludicrous to Russia or China.  With this sole action, NATO and the US have established the non UN supported precedence of militarily intervening within the internal struggle of a sovereign nation when they do not approve of the ‘corrective’ measures employed by that sovereign nation.  


It is consistently cited how Milosevic started the Yugoslav civil wars and is ultimately responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people.  In 1861, a major ‘event’ occurred in the United States called the War Between the States, and we Americans killed 650,000 Americans, slashing and burning a significant portion of the South, in the process.  It may not have been ‘ethnic cleansing’ but it was the next best thing…the dead do not know the difference and a torched home looks the same.  Even with that ‘resolution’ of issues, it still took decades to settle North/South differences…and that was with a declared ‘winner.’  Why does the West feel it can resolve these exceptionally complicated Balkan issues more effectively or quickly?


It’s been stated that we will employ the ‘Bosnia Model’ for Kosovo.  Now there is a scary thought.  All the Bosnia ‘model’ has achieved…after three years and $10B in cost from the US alone…is a cessation of fighting.  It has not resolved the root causes of the conflict…that go against the very grain of what the President hopes to achieve in Kosovo.  The plain and simple fact in BiH is that the Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and Muslims do not want to ‘coexist.’  Are we really naive enough to believe that Serbs and Muslim Kosovars do?


Last month, the President stated that ‘people have a right to live together.’  While there may be that ‘fundamental right’ somewhere in an utopian society…who are we to say people have to live that way…when they, themselves, indicate differently?  A recent International Community (IC) report clearly stated that within days following an SFOR withdrawal from BiH, all three factions will be back killing themselves.  Is this the model we want to employ in Kosovo?  The one that has instilled no virtue of tolerance?  The one that has failed to resettle even five percent of the 1.5 million displaced BiH refugees three years after the Daytona Accords were signed and IFOR/SFOR ‘occupied’ the country?  Is this the model we want to employ when displaced families are still returning to vandalized homes, escorted by SFOR security patrols because the refugees are not welcomed by their neighbors?  Do we really know what it is we are saying when we say the Bosnia Model?  I don’t think so.


Is there a solution?  There is always a solution…though it may only be the best of a number of ‘bad’ solutions.  And, sad to say, the best solution in this instance is to just let the people of a sovereign nation determine for themselves their own geographical boundaries within the FRY.  Why has this civil war taken on a new meaning that centuries of other wars and conflicts, to include our own, never had? 


Life’s tough, rarely fair, and we all have to make sacrifices at some point in time.  For less than half of the $10B spent by the US in BiH and the additional $10B or more we will pay in Kosovo, we could have subsidized some incredible relocation areas for those displaced and saved ourselves the problem of another ‘Korean’ short tour assignment for the next half a century…and longer.


As the colonel noted, our grandparents did put Fascism in its place but…this is not Fascism…and it is not an attempt at world domination.  Despite what the colonel may “know,” we have picked the worse fight! 

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