Magazine article The Christian Century

Not a Time for Heroes; Bosnia and Just War Criteria

Magazine article The Christian Century

Not a Time for Heroes; Bosnia and Just War Criteria

Article excerpt

BETTER MOVIES were made in 1942 than Casablanca, but the story and the dialogue remain with us: "Play it, Sam"; "We'll always have Paris"; "The Germans wore gray, you wore blue"; and the line that furnishes the title of Aljean Harmetz's recent book on the making of the film, "Round up the usual suspects." Harmetz contends that Casablanca is part of this nations self-understanding. "No other movie better demonstrates America's mythological vision of itself--tough on the outside and moral within, capable of sacrifice and romance without sacrificing the individualism that conquered a continent, sticking its neck out for everybody when circumstances demand heroism." Rick and Ilsa sacrificed for a greater good when they parted on that fog-shrouded sound stage on Warner Brothers' back lot. Their movie sacrifice continues to make audiences weep and feel heroic, evoking the feeling that even though doing the right thing is costly, it must be done.

The spirit of Casablanca (White House in Spanish) hovers over Bill Clintons White House as his administration ponders what action to take against the Bosnian Serbs. Influential voices in the media and in the government are demanding that Clinton take action to halt the rapes, constant shelling, and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. More cautious voices, including Clinton's secretary of state and his military advisers, urge further patience. It will be difficult for Clinton not to do something, thanks to the constant barrage of television images that remind Americans that these are circumstances that demand heroism.

Grace Halsell, who recently toured Bosnia, writes that while conquering armies have long been guilty of rape, in Bosnia Serbs have made systemic rape a policy. They have unleashed, says Halsell, "the most evil weapon against civilians since germ warfare and the atomic bomb--and they have aimed it at the most innocent victims in any war: women and children" (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April-May).

Halsell interviewed a 56-year-old Bosnian Muslim woman named Marta who had been held in a concentration camp with 150 women and children. She told Halsell that she and all of the adult women in the camp had been raped. What makes the horror of Bosnia especially sinister, notes Halsell, is that the Serbs are raping children--"girls as young as six and eight years old." Marta said that if any adult objected, "they slit your throat."

Issa, 39, told Halsell that when his village was attacked by the Serbs, 200 men were shot, and the others, including Issa, were put into a concentration camp:

"A doctor from my same town also was a prisoner here. One day the Serbian guards called for this doctor. They wanted him to sew up a ten-year-old girl they had raped. She was torn apart. Seeing the mutilated child, the doctor forgot he was a prisoner, that he was in a concentration camp. He cursed the Serbs, telling them, 'You are not human!'" According to Issa, the guards left the bleeding child on the table and attacked the doctor. The next time Issa saw the doctor, "he was barely alive."

Another woman, 60, who had been raped, told Halsell that women in the camp "who had been well off, such as owners of small shops, and women professionals, nurses, doctors, lawyers and teachers, were treated the worst." Stories of rape that investigative teams and individual reporters are hearing in Bosnia, writes Halsell, "are too numerous not to show a pattern."

Susan Woodward, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Judy Mann of the Washington Post, "Women are always raped in every war. That's not new. But here it is not only rape, but in the name of ethnic cleansing they are being raped and being forced to become pregnant with the specific goal of forcing them to bear children of another ethnic group." This is an attempt "to destroy the honor of the Bosnian Muslim population."

A European Community investigation reported: "Rape is a part of a pattern of abuse, usually perpetrated with the conscious intention of demoralizing and terrorizing communities, driving them from their homes and demonstrating the power of the invading forces. …

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