The Kosovo quagmire Featured

9:55am EDT July 22, 2002

The year was 1389. The warm summer sun was rising over the hills of Kosovo, but terror was in the hearts of Southern Europeans. The Ottoman Empire was on the move.

Armies led by Murad I had assembled to battle a confederation of Serbs, Albanians and Bulgarians led by Serbian prince Lazar Herbeljanovic. Europe was in turmoil; the once mighty Byzantium was crumbling as the Ottoman Turks were encircling Constantinople.

Terror of Turkish conquest seized those living in the Balkans. Under Murad I, the Janissary corps of the Turkish armies had been formed from child levies placed upon conquered Christian lands. Families were forced to give their young boys to the Ottoman Turks to become part of the Janissaries, an elite Muslim army of warriors trained from childhood. The Serbs of southern Europe were in terror of falling under Turkish control.

The battle, known as the “Field of Blackbirds,” went to the armies of Murad I that warm June day, and the memory of that loss has been with the Serbians for the last six centuries.

Much has changed in the world in the last 600 years, but one thing hasn’t: culture and the memories that form it. Russia has viewed herself as protector of the Slavic and orthodox peoples for the 600 years since the Ottoman expansion.

Human nature has changed little in the past 2,000 years. We just have more powerful ways of expressing ourselves, especially when it comes to aggression. Instead of the catapult, we have cruise missiles; instead of cavalry we have tank corps. Our weapons can destroy entire cities and populations.

Nations are an extension of the cultures that make up their inhabitants. This is all the more reason we need to be careful in a world filled with powerful weapons of mass destruction. We have to work at getting along, controlling the actions we take. We have to take into account the history of a people before we try to impose our moral will on them with the force of weapons.

Today we see haunting images of families and children in terror running for their lives. We hear and see stories of mass murders of Albanian men, stories of rape, and we want to do something. This is the dilemma of the 20th century. We have the power to send men to the moon, destroy entire nations with the press of a button, yet we feel helpless to shape the world the way we think it needs to be shaped.

Within the last 10 years, we have witnessed the slaughter of half a million Tutsis in Rwanda, the starvation of more than a million North Koreans and the deaths of more than a million young men in Iran and Iraq’s struggle over oil fields. Last year, more than 1 million Sudanese died by government-led starvation to weaken opposition. Today, Sudanese Christians are being sold into slavery. What is happening to the Albanian population of Kosovo is the latest in a succession of horrors.

What we are witnessing is a demonstration of man’s nature. Memories often grow faint for the victors, but vengeance builds in the hearts of the vanquished. The loss 600 years ago at the “Field of Blackbirds” has haunted the Serbian people. They have leaped at an opportunely to take back lands they feel they lost centuries ago.

Here in the United States, we might have a hard time understanding such a mindset. Most of our ancestors freely gave up their homelands, and part of their very identity, to make a new life in America. Most of us have not had grandparents telling us how their lands were taken from them.

This is the dilemma we are faced with as a nation. Should we involve ourselves in ethnic and cultural battles that go back centuries? Should an 18-year-old American kid die trying to settle a 600-year-old fight for land? Should we risk humiliating and going to war with Russia over the internal struggle of a sovereign nation?

Our involvement in Kosovo is not in our best interests. And we will never be able to change the minds of a people by bombing them. If 600 years of occupation hasn’t changed their minds, why do we think we can? The resources of the United States can be better used by setting an example for the world and mediating problems rather than bombing sovereign nations.

Our children, our brothers, our friends will die in the end. Worldwide political instability is not good for business. The quicker we end our involvement, the better off we will be as a nation.

I urge you to call your senators and congressmen and express your opinion on this matter. It is when good men say nothing that evil prospers.

Fred Koury ( is president and CEO of SBN.