WE AMERICANS ARE rarely noted for patient familiarity with the little anomalies of history and geography--not even our own. But these anomalies always matter to someone, somewhere. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the Baltic republics reasserted the national independence they had lost in 1939. George McGhee, the former undersecretary of state and ambassador to Germany, told me that when Lithuania began agitating for restored independence he looked up "Lithuania" in the Encyclopedia Britannica and found that in the past the Lithuanians had pushed the Russians around for longer than the Russians had returned the favor.
When, for related reasons, secessionist fever swept over the principalities of Yugoslavia in 1991, the Bush administration was much berated for ignoring American political ideals. How? By officially supporting, with reservations, the "territorial integrity" of the Yugoslav federal state as it had existed since World War I. The critical comments of Jeane J. Kirkpatrick were typical--and, in hindsight,