Small World

Jewish World Review /April 13, 1999 / 27 Nissan, 5759

Is U.S. Right in Kosovo?
Yes, We Can't Accept Genocide

By Richard Z. Chesnoff

IT'S EASY TO BE TORN about what to do in Kosovo. The idea of risking lives in yet another foreign intervention, especially one as seemingly insoluble as the Balkan civil war, doesn't sit well with most Americans.

But neither do the images of the slaughter and expulsion of innocent men, women and children that have become our daily news staples.

It's also clear that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's decision to continue defying NATO by stepping up his efforts to crush Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority presents us with a situation that we can't walk or fly away from.

Failure to try to defend Kosovars by continuing NATO attacks would turn the allies into little more than windbags. If expanding NATO air strikes in Belgrade this week is what it takes, then so be it. A cave-in would only provoke new repressions by Milosevic and his Serbian forces not just in Kosovo, but elsewhere in the multi-ethnic Balkans.

Bloody ethnic wars there didn't begin yesterday. They hark back eight centuries and are rooted in the same tragic angers, fears and jealousies that so often give rise to self-defeating ethnic and religious hatreds.

Nor have the conflicts in Yugoslavia been consistently black and white. During World War II, it was the Serbs who were slaughtered. Muslim volunteers fought side by side with the German SS. In Hitler's puppet state of Croatia, fascist Ustasi forces helped slaughter tens of thousands of Serbs, not to mention most of pre-war Yugoslavia's Jews and Romanies.

In these current conflicts, it's easiest to place blame on the more powerful Serbs it's they who've orchestrated so much of the ethnic cleansing. But all sides in this many-sided battle have perpetrated their own brands of horror. In Kosovo, members of the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army militia have demanded independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia and have been willing to wage bloody war to win it.

Most of the Kosovar leadership says it's ratcheted down ambitions to autonomy, not secession. Milosevic and his followers aren't buying it. They believe autonomy will be followed by independence and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's Serb minority. Their solution: Crush the Kosovar Albanians before they crush us.

The result is the patterns of wanton murder and rape, of burned homes and farms, of masses forced to flee that have been Yugoslavia's trademark since strongman Josip Tito died in 1981 and his fragile coat of many peoples began to unravel.

No one may ever be able or want to put Yugoslavia back together again, and ultimate solutions for the region have yet to come. But right now, we simply can't turn our backs on human suffering.

Our times have seen too many lives lost because the world shrugged its shoulders. How many victims of the Holocaust might have survived had the world taken firm and early action, had church leaders issued unequivocal condemnations of Nazi killings or the Allies bombed the rail tracks to Auschwitz. How many people in Rwanda might have been spared if the world had moved more quickly. And how much safer would we have been if we had aided the Iraqis who rose against Saddam in 1991 and begged for the help that never came.

Dealing with the Yugoslav mess is the primary business of the European Union. But the U.S., as the world's only superpower, must take the lead.

History and conscience allow nothing else. That's the message that allied bombs deliver in Yugoslavia and that allied troops will carry if ground intervention becomes necessary.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His book on the wartime plunder of the Jews, Pack of Thieves, will be published by Doubleday in this summer by Random House.


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