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By Craig Goodrich

The Balkans. Explained as only professional curmudgeon Craig Goodrich could do it.

Now let me make sure you understand this. It's pretty complicated. Listen closely.

We've got troops (i.e. young Americans who have volunteered to risk their lives defending American freedom and independence, in exchange for the chance to learn electronic repair and to drive tanks) in Bosnia because the Bosnian Muslims were mistakenly included in Yugoslavia by the victorious allies when they broke up Austria-Hungary in 1918. Or maybe the Austro-Hungarians made the mistake when they took Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottoman Turkish Empire in 1906 and gave it a hyphenated name because the Austrians spoke German and like to shove words together, like Austro-Hungarian. Anyway, Woodrow Wilson and the boys shoved the people together, and that was definitely a mistake.

Herzegovina was inhabited by Croats, who are basically Serbs who are Catholics instead of Orthodox and who write their dialect of Serbian using Latin letters instead of Cyrillic. This looks less funny to us, so they must be the good guys and the Serbians are bad. (Maybe it's that the Serbians write their dialect of Croatian in those weird Russian letters, which is even more perverse; they're definitely the Bad Guys.)

So we bravely side with the Bosnians and the Croats against Serbia, until the Croats cheat by massacring Bosnians. That's why we had to send in troops, right, because everybody was massacring Bosnians? And the Bosnians couldn't fight back because the UN wouldn't let anybody sell them guns, on the grounds that if nobody had guns nobody could shoot anybody there. Somehow the UN forgot that the Serbians and the Croats already had lots of guns; only the Bosnians really needed them.

OK, so now three years or so after our strictly limited one-year peacekeeping mission to save the noble Bosnians (who only go out and slaughter Serbs and Croats when they manage to get guns) from the Evil Serbs (who already have lots of guns and so slaughter Croats and Bosnians all the time) and the Semi-Evil Croats (who slaughter Serbs whenever they can but would rather slaughter Bosnians because they don't have so many guns) -- after all this time, we still have Our Brave Boys (and Girls, and, er.. don't ask, don't tell) over there Doing A Wonderful Job of Nation-Building.

(Hello, Montgomery Ward? I'd like three nice custom-built Nations, please. Yes, deluxe, peaceful with lovely mountains. You guarantee one-year delivery, right? Faaantastic. My VISA card number is .....)

We're still there after three years, of course, because as soon as we leave, some of the Bosnians might get guns and start to slaughter the Serbs, who will start to slaughter the Croats and Bosnians as soon as we leave, using the excuse that the Croats have started to slaughter the Serbians and even some Bosnians without guns because the Bosnians who have guns are slaughtering Croats and Serbians.

Fine. Just fine. I think I'm starting to understand it.

Now Albania, just southwest of Serbia, I mean Yugoslavia, I mean Serbia, has been slaughtering anybody who tried to climb their mountains for at least the last thousand years. In the off- season they practice by slaughtering each other. They still hate the Turks for invading them in 1388, so even though they're all Muslims because of half a millennium of Turkish rule, they still slaughter Turks every chance they get. They will run across the street for a chance to slaughter a Turk (and I'm told this is more dangerous in Tirana than mountain climbing).

Some Albanians, though, live in Kosovo, which is part of Yugoslavia, I mean Serbia. They want to live in Albania instead of Yugoslavia, because they're not Slavs and besides there's less sport in slaughtering Slavs when you're part of their country. So there's a Marxist guerrilla group fighting for independence for Kosovo so it can immediately join Albania, which got rid of its own Marxists in 1991.

The Serbs, meanwhile, being Bad Guys, since they can't slaughter quite as many Bosnians and Croats while the Yankees are watching, have decided to slaughter Kosovar Albanians instead, both for the Glory of Serbian History -- the Serbs heroically fought the Turks there in 1389; Kosovo is to Serbs what the Alamo is to Texans, except that the Serbs lost the war and were part of the Turkish Empire for the next 400 years -- and because several thousand Serbs moved there in 1995 when they got tired of living in Croatia and being slaughtered.

So now we've got the Bad Guys not letting some Marxist guerillas break up their country, and obviously we have to do something to make everybody sit down and talk it over in calm reasonable tones and go play golf together and do Male Bonding and live happily ever after and make the Kosovars settle for autonomy (which they don't want) instead of independence (which they do), and make the Evil Serbs grant them autonomy (which the Serbs don't want to do) instead of slaughtering them (which the Serbs do want to do). So that's why NATO ...

NATO? What the hell is NATO doing in this all of a sudden?

Well, don't you see, NATO has to maintain peace and civilization in Europe ...

What? I thought it was just to keep the Russians from coming down the Champs-Elysee in their tanks...

Please! If we accepted that, of course, NATO would have to be disbanded now that the Red Army is selling its AK47s and fur hats on streetcorners in Leningrad, I mean Saint Petersburg. And if we disbanded NATO, thousands of bureaucrats in Washington and Berlin and Paris and London and Brussels would be out of work, and they don't have any AK47s to sell on streetcorners so the human cost would be terrible. NATO's mission is now to promote love and peace throughout Europe; that's why we let in Poland and the rest. It's like a Certificate of Appreciation on the wall saying you're a Good Country now. These new little countries were so happy to get their NATO merit badges, isn't it wonderful?

But what about the promise to go to war if anybody attacks a member, isn't that a pretty serious commitment? I mean, all those border disputes between Poland and...

Please! Nobody is about to go to war with any of our members; that's the whole problem. But we've fixed that. As I was saying, that's why NATO had to bomb the Serbians. To let them know that if they don't accept accept our Peace and Love, we'll shove it right down their throats....

Hey, no more Monica references, remember, that was the deal...

Sorry. Anyway, if they don't accept our Pan-European Peace and Love, we'll keep slaughtering them until they do.

OK, so that's why we're playing God over there where ethnic massacres have been a family tradition for the last thousand years, and dropping a couple of billion dollars worth of American ordnance on them...

Don't fret about all that. Remember the surplus; if we didn't spend it blowing up Serbs, we'd just have to do something else with it. We can't just give it back to the taxpayers, after all; they might not spend it right.

Wonderful. I think I understand now. What a relief... Just one question: how come all the Serbians and Croats and Bosnians and Albanians in Chicago and Detroit and Pittsburgh can live together so peacefully?

Time's up! The conference is over for now...

(c) 1999 by Craig Goodrich

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22 April, 1999