The Breakfast Table

No Blood? No Sweat!


You’re undoubtedly right that strong nations are typically forged in shared struggle and symbolic moments of unified exertion against a common enemy. And I agree with you that a collective effort to stop ethnic and religious murder in Kosovo could in theory do far more to unify Europe than working out monetary policy or coal and steel agreements. But it’s far from clear that Kosovo can give a spiritual launch to a new Europe in fact.

It’s not for lack of a motivating idea. Successful struggles toward strong nationhood surely depend not only on force but also on ideas: No taxation without representation. A nation cannot continue half slave and half free. And surely, there’s a clear and unifying idea here, too: Genocide of a people based on racial, ethnic, or religious identity is beyond the pale of civilized society. So is the mass eviction, rape, or torture of a people based on same.

The problem is rather the unwillingness to lay life on the line for it, as you suggested in our exchange earlier in the week. NATO is willing to conduct a clean, unbloody air war from safe distances. And it’s eager to conduct a clean, unbloody series of trials in an eventual war-crimes tribunal. But in between the two lies the one prospect neither NATO nor the Clinton administration is ready for: the messy, bloody war on the ground in which American and European lives would inevitably be lost. The idea cannot work in the ether; NATO cannot go directly to Nuremberg without passing go.

The news this morning is unremittingly grim. The military brass knew all along the bombing would trigger escalated Serbian persecution of Kosovars. The Clinton administration is undisciplined enough to let its funk about Milosevic’s resilience and the gruesome refugee crisis leak onto the front page of the New York Times. Milosevic is reportedly inspired by Saddam Hussein’s cat-with-nine-lives example. The president is playing golf to make the war look as normal as, say, impeachment trials and other no-sweat stuff. The impeachment year reportedly gave Milosevic lots of time to purge his military and move ahead on Kosovo without the United States’ paying much attention. And the bombing may move to Belgrade without a clear endgame in sight. Against all this backdrop, let’s hope for something to galvanize your appealing “fantasy.”