Vietnam: the sequel 

"What kind of odds could I have gotten?" he wondered mournfully, frayed pockets turned inside out in the cold rain. What if I had offered to bet someone in February we would be at war with Yugoslavia before April?

Now, of course, it is clear this is what the people really wanted.

Think way, way, back to two months ago, when we the media, the guardians of your right-to-know, were still serving you up a steady daily diet of semen stains and cigars.

Occasionally, some great chieftain of the Sam Donaldson class would note that the public seemed sick of all this and had long since stopped caring or paying attention, that they wanted to hear about something, anything else.

Then he would pause, like a toad who swallowed a particularly juicy fly, look blank, and the cameras would turn back to a right-wing Republican House "manager" demanding to know more details about where Monica was touched.

Eventually, the Senate failed to convict B.J. Bill, as we always knew they would. Naturally, another woman came forth with a new charge, namely, that Clinton actually raped her long ago. Invited to deny this during his first press conference since, oh, about 1975, he prudently declined to say anything.

But no one, not even the most spiritually tortured right-winger, was able to get it up for another dance around the cesspool. Then I took a half-hour nap, and when I woke up we were at war. Immediately I began canvassing the city.

"We are so overjoyed," one man from Hazel Park said. "We have all been writing our leaders for months, hoping for a ferocious bombing attack that would do little or nothing to stop the genocide being committed against the Kosovars, but would inspire hatred for the United States. from both Serb and Albanian civilians."

The thought that we had a new chance to become a patriotically united nation of self-destructive idiots swept me with a wave of nostalgia I haven’t felt since Vietnam.

Let’s get deadly serious now, and review the situation.

Nobody tends to like the unvarnished truth. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is, indeed, an evil, pig-faced murderer who is energetically committing genocide against the Albanian population of Kosovo, a region not much bigger than Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties together. One month ago, Kosovo had 2 million people. Today hundreds, probably thousands, have been butchered, and as of last Sunday night, something like 400,000 of the rest had been driven across the borders, into Macedonia, Turkey, Albania itself, and other countries struggling to feed and shelter them. These are all poor places with few resources, and more arrive every day.

To stop this, we – the military alliance known as NATO – have been bombing every night, destroying Yugoslav government and military facilities.

And guess what! The Serbs are still murdering and expelling Albanians! Their minds don’t work the way Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton wanted them to ... which anyone with any understanding of this region might have known.

Once again, thanks to a combination of ignorance and arrogance, we seem to have failed to understand our adversary. We did exactly the same thing in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson was frustrated and puzzled he couldn’t deal with Ho Chi Minh the way he did a congressman from Oklahoma. Why, we’d build them a dam or two and give ’em all sorts of credits if they stop trying to conquer the South, LBJ would grouse.

The North Vietnamese didn’t think like that. Neither do the Serbs. (Yugoslavia today is basically Serbia.) They think in terms of centuries-long ethnic wars.

Consider this: Early on during their war with Croatia, a reporter was with a Serbian armored column. One tank driver suddenly veered off the road till he came to a cemetery. Then his men dug up a grave of a Croat leader who died in 1944.

Each man urinated on the rotten casket and then machine-gunned the long-decomposed corpse, because of whatever happened half a century before. These are not people who revere the politics of consensus. Which is not to say we should let them get away with a new holocaust, much as we allowed them to do so in Bosnia in the early ’90s.

But our government owes it to us to be honest about what it thinks we must do. Bombing is never going to restore refugees to their homes or stop the murderous "ethnic cleansing," a euphemism for genocide. We, or a multinational force of some kind, will have to invade and occupy the place for that.

That may be terrifically hard. The Nazis technically occupied Yugoslavia, but the mountains were full of partisans who harassed and sabotaged their occupiers with great efficiency and skill. Are we ready to face that? Or are we ready to allow hundreds of thousands to die at the hands of Milosevic and his murderers? That’s the real choice, and let’s make it openly, honestly and not by accident.

Which reminds me – why the hell were our three captured soldiers driving up and down the border of a nation we were bombing? Might our military have wanted them captured? Did someone reason it might be easier to get Americans softened up for a necessary ground war if we had to rescue our brave hostages? You may call me a cynic, but I fear we may yet end up nostalgic for the days of news from bimboland.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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