My eighth-grade English teacher compared the world to a sinking ship and America to the only lifeboat in the vicinity. She claimed that America couldn't save the sinking ship because we would sink ourselves Ÿ and besides, why should we, with our priceless lifeboat, be responsible for anyone else?
Too often this argument provides a rationale for America's inaction by allowing us to accept the slaughter overseas as ordinary and inevitable, rather than as preventable atrocities. Yet at the same time, America must remember that Bosnia, Somalia and every other nation plagued by war and strife are sovereign, independent nations, not rebellious children. As painful as it is to witness suffering, we must temper our American arrogance which urges us to discipline other countries like a parent disciplines squabbling children must be tempered.
In Bosnia's case, though, America has both a political interest and a moral obligation to intervene.
To our European allies, Bosnia represents conflict and chaos and poses a threat to their national security. And while NATO has committed to advancing the peace process, a NATO mission without American support will prove ineffective and futile. America would be conspicuous in its absence Ÿ can we maintain our position as the leading world power by alienating our allies and snubbing their requests for American leadership?
We have the resources, the power, and the influence to make a substantial difference in Bosnia, more so than any other nation, yet we are the most reluctant to aid the long-awaited Bosnian peace process. Part of America's compact with NATO involves American support in all NATO ventures, and choosing to squander this opportunity for leadership will affect our credibility and ability and competence as leaders. America claims to occupy a prestigious and influential position in the world, and President Clinton's decision to deploy troops to Bosnia will finally validate this claim.
Aside from a political interest, America shares a moral obligation to prevent the senseless slaughter that has characterized Bosnia throughout the decade. Here, both Bosnian parties specifically requested our presence as mediators to aid them in maintaining the peace agreement. America cannot prevent every war or end every conflict, and we have no right to enter the fray of an independent nation's internal affairs. Yet if America, with its great force and resources, refuses to aid Bosnia when they specifically requested our presence, then we condone butchery. Inaction under these circumstances is criminal.
Are we placing a price on life by aiding Bosnians when we turned a deaf ear to Rwanda? Definitely. But Rwanda posed a serious threat to American troops, while Bosnia's mission consists of peacekeeping with minimal risks for the American military. The fact that we can't save every country from devastation doesn't mean we should refuse to aid any country. Imagine that you are a parent and that your four children are trapped in a burning building and you can only save two. Would you refuse to rescue any of them simply because you couldn't save all four? America cannot afford to aid every country Ÿ we lack the resources and the jurisdiction to fight every battle. Bosnia is a fight we can win, though, and we must fight the fights that we can win.
Many Americans believe no foreign war of any magnitude can justify risking American lives unless our vital interests or national security is threatened. They suggest that deploying American troops to Bosnia, particularly during the holiday season, would unnecessarily jeopardize American lives, and that such a mission cannot be justified.
But members of the military understand the risks when they joined the military. They know that a military career involves sacrifice Ÿ some of them will spend long periods of time away from their families. Some of them may die. These servicemen and women are not civilians or draftees; joining the military was their personal decision, and risking their lives for others is in their job description. If you doubt their commitment or their willingness to serve, ask one of them.
Vietnam has taught us a powerful lesson that we will never forget, but seeing shades of Vietnam in the Bosnia mission is only an attempt to rationalize condoning butchery.
Try seeing in shades of red. Bosnia's youngest children can't count to ten or distinguish apples from oranges, but every one of them recognizes blood.
Jessie Fillerup is a music education junior. Her column appears Mondays.
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