Monday, July 11, 2005

A Different Kind of Memorial Day

"Memory is the mother of all wisdom." ~Aeschylus~

On July 11, 1995, in a tiny little geographical area known as Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then under UN protection, Serbs overran the Dutch UN troops and began a mass slaughter of Muslim men and boys that continued for several days. When it was over, 8,000 Muslims were dead, buried in mass graves throughout the Bosnian countryside. Ten years and over 5,000 exhumations later, about 2,000 of them have been identified by an international team of DNA experts who have donated their time and efforts to this cause. Today, in Srebrenica, 50,000 people, mostly Muslims, gathered to mourn the victims, including the 610 newly identified dead. They prayed, they passed the coffins from one hand to the next, they wept, before they finally laid them to rest.

What with a whole new war in Iraq, it's sometimes hard to remember that other war -- the one that really wasn't ours, between three different cultural and religious factions in Eastern Europe that we couldn't pronounce and didn't care about. It's important to remember, though, and that is why, in the words of Dr. Seuss, "I'm bothering telling you so."

The "ethnic cleansing" (God, how I hate that phrase) that took place was the worst single example of genocide since World War II. The Serbians under Slobodan Milosevic set about not to control or intimidate the Bosnian Muslims, but to eradicate them. One of the worst things about the entire incident is that it happened while Srebrenica was under UN protection. Dutch soldiers described in detail their helplessness as they watched a well-armed Serbian army which outnumbered them almost three to one march Srebrenica's men and boys to open fields and kill them with little fanfare.

It was the deaths at Srebrenica that prompted the U.S. bombing of Serbia. They never thought we'd do it. We'd backed down in virtually every military confrontation since Clinton had taken office. But this time, even Clinton was not prepared to take the pacifist role. It was only a matter of time before Milosevic's regime fell, and he was displaced. Still, it was too late for 8,000 people.

Today, we remember those people, and the thousands of other like them, who died because they had the wrong heritage, or the wrong philosophy, or worshipped the wrong God. As this country moves closer and closer to being a place where there is only one God, and only one way to worship Him, remembering what happened ten years ago in a place most of us can't pronounce is good for us. We can learn from their experience, heal from their pain, find peace out of their conflict.

Whether we are willing is another question entirely.


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