The Breakfast Table

We Are All Generals Now

Dear Anne:

I don’t think that your reactions to the news this morning were “bizarre.” Far from it. I think anyone with a child (myself included) ought to feel sickened and depressed. What’s especially disturbing to me is the thought that, given the way impressionable young minds work, this incident will not be the last or the most gruesome. After all, members of the Trenchcoat Mafia were likely inspired rather than deterred by the example of earlier attacks.

Which brings me to one quibble with your train of thought. Yes, equating violence in Serbia with violence in the United States is the worst sort of moral equivalence. Still, I don’t think it’s wrong to question the values of a society that can incubate these kinds of killers. I’m all for spreading democracy, American-style, but incidents like this one are a tragic reminder that we need to do so with an appropriate degree of humility.

Come to think of it, humility also comes in handy when discussing bombing campaigns. (How’s that for a desperate transition?) You ask me whom I believe: the NATO briefers on the success of the bombings or the independent analysts who say the Yugoslav army can keep fighting for months. Now that Andy Rooney’s strategizing on 60 Minutes has sufficiently lowered the bar for military analysis, I guess I can also chime in. My answer is, “both.” If you define successful bombing as finding targets and hitting them, NATO is succeeding–even if, as the Washington Post reports, it’s already re-bombing things that have been rebuilt. But not only is the bombing not stopping the ethnic cleansing, it also seems unlikely to break Milosevic’s will. Certainly the historical track record of such campaigns isn’t good, right down to the present day.

After skimming the transcript of Madeleine Albright’s testimony to Congress today (the things we do around here for fun), I’m beginning to come around to your point of view on the growing frustration of the public (or at least their elected representatives). She was peppered by skeptical questions. What’s your view, anyway, on the performance of our first female secretary of state?