From Mr. Crab: Many years and gray hairs ago, my U.S. Army reserve unit was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina for a six month NATO peacekeeping mission dubbed Operation Joint Endeavor. More than 60,000 soldiers from some 35 countries came together to form IFOR, or Implementation Force. The mission: to enforce the Dayton Peace Accord, which ended Bosnia's bloody civil war.
The deployment to Bosnia marked my first trip to Europe, and first significant time away from home. It was also the first time I experienced some of humanity's worst atrocities.
My MOS, or military occupational specialty, was "print journalist" for the 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (29th MPAD, Baltimore). In common parlance, we were war correspondents. My usual duties involved writing "good news" stories for military publications. But occasionally I was assigned to more dicey missions like photographing illegal Serbian weaponry in the Zone of Separation (ZOS), a demilitarized zone that separated the Bosnian Muslim and Serbian forces.
One day I was tasked to cover the anniversary of the Srebenica massacre. For the uninitiated, Srebenica was the site of the worst European massacre since World War II. In July 1995, the Serbian Army executed some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men. A year later, the world media descended on Srebenica. A huge mass grave war had been recently discovered but not yet excavated; human remains and bits of clothing were visibly scattered on the ground. Thousands of Bosnian women came to mourn, many holding photographs of their missing husbands, sons, brothers, fathers.
The International War Crimes Tribunal quickly indicted Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic for genocide, including the Srebenica massacre. But both men fled and disappeared, some believe, with the help of Serbian nationalists who did little to bring the men to justice.
Yesterday, after 13 years in hiding, Radovan Karadzic was arrested and arraigned in Belgrade. He will now be extradited to the Hague, where he'll stand trial for crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, the story does not end there. Ratko Mladic is still a fugitive. And don't get me started on the Dutch forces who allowed Srebenica to fall, but that's a whole other can of worms.
Worst of all, it appears the majority of Serbian people have never fully come to terms with the war or accepted their role in this dark period of their history. A few months ago I was having dinner at a local pub and got to talking with the chef, a Serbian expat. We somehow got into a heated discussion about the Bosnian War. The gist of his beliefs were: the Srebenica massacre never happened, the "liberal media" and President Clinton invented lies about genocide to make Serbs look bad, the international community exaggerated Serbian atrocities and downplayed Muslim atrocities to create a reason for bombing and invading Bosnia, etc. You get the point.
After World War II, Germany accepted responsibility for its crimes. German concentration camps became memorials and living museums. All things Nazi remain banned in Germany. Even denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany. But in Serbia, sadly, it appears the Bosnian war has been swept under the rug. I leave you with Spanish philosopher George Santayana's famous (often misquoted) adage: "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it,"