War cry.

Sometimes it’s funny what speaks to you. Not funny, ha ha. Just…odd.

In late 1993 it was a bridge.

Not just any bridge. The 16th century bridge in Mostar, a concrete victim of the wars that ripped apart Yugoslavia in a bloody mess that struck horror through the hearts of people around the world.

Why the bridge and not the scores of people dying? Honestly, I can’t quite say for sure.

When I traveled to Yugoslavia for the first of many visits in 1981 it was still Tito’s land. Sure the “great” man had passed the year before, but the ugliness that would consume Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia had yet to overwhelm the country. One of my fondest memories (keeping in mind I was all of 10 years old at the time) was sitting near the Mostar bridge after an adventure in a restaurant bathroom that ended with my mother’s wet shoe. She had slip-stepped into “the hole” during a desperate bid to outrun the water cascading down the walls. (If you don’t know what I mean? Two words: Turkish toilet.) That memory still makes me smile.

When the Bosnian War claimed the Mostar bridge over a decade later, I was incensed. I was also still young, passionate and naïve. So I took action.

I hand-wrote a petition to then U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton begging him to take action to stop the carnage. I begged (forced) friends and family to sign my letter (I think the final count was 33 signatories). And then I faxed it off to the White House from the office of a local congressman.

I haven’t thought about that youthful adventure with the White House in years.

But last night, as our current President Barack Obama invoked the memories of the Bosnian War and the human costs of delayed and, in some very memorable cases, ineffective action (think: Srebrenica)  I found myself nodding at the television screen.

Obama said:

As President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action

 

And I agree. All these years later I still believe that people of good conscience have a duty to their fellow man to intercede when possible to prevent atrocities or human rights abuses on a major scale.

At the same time, I find it galling that this standard of intervention is applied by the international community selectively. What about Iran? What about Burma? Or North Korea? If we look back over the 15-plus years since the end of the Bosnian War how many dozens of examples could we find of governments brutally repressing the aspirations of their people without really trying all that hard?

As it happened I wasn’t the only one thinking it. @TechSurgeons and I began a short conversation on Obama’s Libya defense and I almost fell over when he tweeted:

@jterzieff I think “international community” just means France & wonder why he didn’t have a stronger reaction when Iran crushed its revolt.

So I guess the question is what is our standard for intervention? Because we need one folks, we really do. Do we need to intervene militarily every time a government calls out its troops to crush the people? Does the international community have the chutzpah to stand behind that every.single.time?

Is Libya our new standard? If yes, and it’s applied equitably around the globe, then – and only then – Mr. President, you have my support.

It scares me to say that. Violence almost always results in more violence. The deaths of so many innocents. Blood on all of our hands. But what’s the alternative?

If anyone has any ideas, I’ll gladly listen ….

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6 Comments to “War cry.”

  1. I agree. A lot of people don’t. They say no, others will get hurt, they want us to give billions and trillions in aid that sometimes end up in the corrupt government’s officials instead of the people it’s intendend for, then they say we have no right to interfere.

    I see that as a contradictory attitude. Either we have a right/obligation to help in whatever way is necessary or we don’t. Do you know one of my favorite all time movies? Air Force One. His speech in the beginning is what does it for me. Why do we wait until our own nation interests are in jeopardy? We should be willing to help people whenever possible.

    I don’t know if the global world has what it takes to back such a stand, and there are factors at work that laymen don’t understand, but I do believe we should be doing everything we can to make things better. Whatever anyone wants to think, we don’t live in a vacuum. Everything has a ripple effect.

    And as to your comment about losing followers on twitter, I say this:

    Anyone who things your a mindless role player doesn’t know you very well. You have heart. You have belief in helping people. So whether someone agrees or disagrees with this particular opinion, it should come as no surprise to anyone that you do have an opnion and that it involves standing up for the oppressed.

    How to go about helping them is a political issue that most of us can’t hope to fully understand, but that’s really not the point. The point is something needs to be done and a consistency maintained on how we deal with the international community–and I don’t just mean France LOL *waves at techsurgeons*

    so you keep writing your opinions and damn anyone who can’t see where your heart lies.

    PS I don’t think that’s quite what you meant by putting it in comments… 😀

  2. juliette says:

    Right on Leona!
    That’s exactly what I meant about putting it in the comments … and then some!
    That is a very well-stated opinion.
    Much appreciated!

  3. Grae says:

    OK, I first must say I missed the President’s speech last night – hard to believe since I still work at at television station, but it hit at just the right moment I couldn’t see it.

    But I’ve heard it all before in various forms and styles, either from live press conference coverage, or historical documentaries. You can trace the rhetoric back well beyond the Gettysburg Address if you want to, but in the end we are living this modern history, and the more accurate stumping along these lines happened with WWII and through the Cold War.

    I grew up just a little ahead of you, and remember a letter to the editor I wrote around my 18th birthday, roughly a decade before your missive to Clinton. My topic was slightly different, but still along the same lines of stopping the violence. After all, we were raised to believe violence doesn’t solve anything right?

    But even now nearly 30 years after my own letter, it still happens, and the atrocities are better documented and made public that much faster thanks to the Internet. It is harder for dictatorial regimes to hide what are pretty much classified as war crimes now.. And when enough people are made aware, the protests against these issues start.

    I do agree, there needs to be some kind of standardization to our involvement. I believe we have been various with Iran and North Korea because of their nuclear potential. Not an excuse, just an observation. I do find it interesting that we are involved in Libya now, since rumors abound about their strategic necessity as part of the oil-producing region. But how much of the world’s oil comes from Libya, and where does it go? I’ve heard numbers as high as 2% and none of it comes to The US.

    Last time we did anything to Libya we didn’t have the blessings of the French, so what does it matter now? 😉

    Seriously though, with unrest in northern Africa the European Union is on edge, wondering what will come there way from it all. So that is how it affects the US; we are trying to remain buddy-buddy with all of western Europe.

    Back to your point though.. Violence is out there.. And it is here to stay. Right or wrong, it is there, and unfortunately the recent actions by various government heads like Gadhafi only prove to me that all some peo
    Le will ever understand IS violence. They are the bullies, and until someone bigger comes along, they will think they can get away with whatever they wish. Whether our actions are right or wrong, they are carried out because we feel they are right and good. Only history books decades from now will hold the opinions about this.

    I am reminded of a joke from the mid-80’s about Gadhafi when he was last making major waves in the world, trying to “draw a line in the sand” – well, extend his claim further into the Mediterranean Sea. The US under Ronald Reagan didn’t have the grand coalition of European nations (read: France) backing our activities, but in the end a squadron of USAF F-111 fighter/bombers flew from England to attack tactical targets along the Libyan coast. Such actions seemed to shut him up for a while after that. The joke that a comedian came up with around that time (can’t remember who) was talking about the ever change line in the sea, starting 20mi out then going to 15.. And finally back to the accepted 10 or 12mi limit internationally accepted.. Each time the line was changed, Gadhafi would say “if you cross this line, I kill you!” … If you cross *this* linei kill you!” …until finally after the bombs dropped his line was “if you come knocking at the door, I won’t answer.”

    I spent a decade serving in the US Navy.. as a submarine communications technician on the Trident nuclear missile boats. We never wanted to actually have to do our job, because that meant everything else failed. I still shudder to think just what one of our missiles could have done during the first Iraq war, let alone an entire salvo of all 24 missiles and their numerous warheads. But we don’t have to cause that death and destruction as long as Gadhafi and others like him are out there doing what they feel they can get away with.

    Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and countless other near-holocaust actions by despots and dictators are doing that work for us.

    How do we take a stand against it.. Who do we support against this horrific action? There is no obvious dividing line, no black-and-white answer. Other than the true litmus test of average, honest people who are tired of the bullies having their way just because they can.

    With Libya as our deciding factor, the rest of the world must decide to take a stand. As Leona said, we should stand up and help NOW, and not wait until it directly affects us as another Pearl Harbor or World Trade Center attack. We all have to stop passing the buck and stand up to be counted..

    ..or we just need to shut up and continue to not take any responsibility for ourselves.

    (ok, yeah, I rambled a lot and probably didn’t make a lot of sense, but there you have it 😉

  4. Piper Bayard says:

    I absolutely agree with your desire to help innocents. I know I can speak for Holmes, too, when I say that this desire has been the driving force of his life since the time he was a boy, which is why he chose the path he did.

    The hard fact is that we are already fighting a war in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and we are assisting the Japanese with their apocalypse. We have limited resources and a society that is substantially unsupportive of our military under any circumstances. Also, there is a misconception on the part of many that all of these places are only one despotic dictator away from a Western-style democracy. It’s not that simple.

    I remember hearing an interview with a Shiite cleric just after Saddam was deposed. “We are free now. We are free to make the women cover up. We are free to ban television. We are free to ban music. . . . ” People have different concepts of the word “freedom,” and it means something different in every culture.

    If the people, themselves, want that way of life in which 50% of the population is oppressed and brutalized, do we attack them again? Or do we wait twenty years to do it, when the new despot du jour inspires an uprising? And at that point, as we attack them, half the nation will be condemning the action because, after all, we fought to put the new despot in power. How do we change an entire culture, and that’s what we’re talking about here, without installing our own occupying government body and instituting a “Marshall Plan”? I can hear the “imperialism” cries already. Oh, yes, and we just want the oil, right?

    In Libya, the rebels are not a well-organized resistance with one mind. They are more like a reincarnation of the French mobs of the 1700s running up the road. The only thing they agree on is “not Gadhafi.” America gets very little oil from Libya so our concerns, beyond stopping the carnage, are 1) prevent and Al Qaeda-friendly government from forming, and 2) prevent an Iranian satellite government from taking charge. Simply getting rid of Gadhafi will not ensure that either of these concerns are assuaged.

    As I mentioned, we are already spread thin with our military resources. The European community has much higher concern with the outcome of Libya. Also, nothing is happening in Libya that couldn’t be handled by the Egyptians. Even considering that the Egyptians are a little busy with their own reformations at the moment, there’s plenty of military assets in the rest of the Middle East that would allow Arabs to come to the rescue of their Libyan brothers with measures that far exceed a few mere waffling statements from the Arab League. Where are they? Why is America the only country expected to carry this policing burden?

    I’m all for protecting innocents anywhere under any circumstances. However, I do recognize the practical concerns and complex pressures at work in this situation. I think Obama should have become involved earlier if for no other reason than to prevent Gadhafi from calling in all of those paid mercenaries from Chad and other reinforcements. Now, the fight will be harder. However, at least we won’t be stuck with the whole ticket for this enterprise when there are sooooo many countries with so much at stake in this.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful post. I appreciate your compassion. All the best.

  5. Juliette says:

    Wow Grae, Piper,
    I think your comments are amazing, well thought out responses to a very serious series of questions. In fact, I’d argue each of your comments deserve several blog posts worth of response.
    Thank you for such thoughtful answers.
    Amazing ……

  6. TechGuy Jay says:

    Hi Juliette,

    Wonderful post, glad I could help you assemble your thoughts together on the violence.

    I have 5 things rolling about my head on this. This is probably going to be a stream of conscience rant. 🙂

    *donning my asbestos suit*

    1) We must be supportive to help people overcome brutal dictatorships
    2) We have limits as to what we can do
    3) Economics is a valid consideration for a country to go to war over
    4) A nation’s foreign policy must primarily reflect it’s self-interest
    5) A nation needs to have a fairly consistent foreign policy

    #1 seems easy. The US prides itself on supporting people achieve freedom from tyranny. Though we haven’t really come to a consensus on when those rebelling have a much different view of freedom than we do. Sharia law for instance. I’m not a fan of that one. I’d love to arm all Islamic women, let’s see who’s in a burka then. 🙂

    #2 is obvious.

    #3 is a truth but an unpopular one. A “war for oil” -is- legitimate. Nations have gone to war since the beginning of time for economic reasons. In fact, Japan’s attack on the US in WW2 was based on our economic embargo of them – especially starving their economy of oil.

    We can not currently maintain our current standard of living without oil. Not just for our cars but for all the wonderful things that are made using oil based products. No other fuel packs the energy density and relative safety as oil. (Car explosions are a TV/movie myth – trust me, I have a car crash/fire story of my own.)

    One quick tangent on our cars – they provide us an amazing amount of freedom. We can go wherever we want, whenever we want. We should really encourage diesel hybrids which would give us 80+MPG for human sized cars. I am not prepared to give up my or my family’s freedom of movement any time soon. (I’ll save the rest of this one for a different rant!)

    #4 This one relates closely to #3. Let’s be more honest about our foreign policy without trying to couch it through humanitarian-speak BS. The mid-east is more important to our nation than certain parts of Africa. Not just because we want/need oil but also because our $ going to oil/mineral sales funds activities that are counter to our interests.

    We shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit it and we definitely should admit it as we seem schizophrenic by not doing so. China and Russia have no qualms about using their economic and military might to further their national goals.

    We do and it isn’t a bad thing. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. However, we are too sensitive to criticism. We need a thicker skin and not worry so much about the world’s opinion – which is generally the opinion of other nation’s governments. I don’t much care what the governments in the non-free world think of us. I’d love to disband the UN & replace it by a league of democracies.

    #5 We need to have a consistent foreign policy so that other countries and organizations know how we’re going to react.

    If we clearly state our national interests and world view, we can better explain why we ignore certain world events and not others. If we consistently take out dictators that bomb their people, odds are that future dictators will be a bit wary of that particular tactic.

    To sum up, I’d love it if we could provide differing levels of support to various rebel groups in a consistent way based upon how our needs and goals align with theirs.

    *rant off* 🙂

    -TG