As I write this on Monday evening, Rita and I are midway through our cruise of the Danube River from the Black Sea to Vienna. On Saturday we had a home visit at a village in Croatia. Our host family’s home was largely destroyed during the Serbo-Croatian war of the early 1990s, but they rebuilt it with help from the government. During that conflict they had to evacuate to another country. I remember those years well and can’t imagine what our life would have been like if it had included such fear, dislocation and destruction.
We already feel blessed to live in the Denver area, spared from the tornados, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, earthquakes (and more) afflicting fellow Americans, but being bombed and having to rebuild entire cities — that’s another matter entirely. Our guide told us that 91% of the buildings in the city where our ship docked were destroyed during World War II. Many buildings still show damage from that war.
And we can’t forget that a few hundred miles to the east of where we are, whole cities, including homes, hospitals and schools continue to be destroyed by Russian artillery.
Yes, we lucked out being born in America and choosing to relocate to Colorado. But we can’t forget the suffering of those — in America and elsewhere — who have suffered and continue to suffer.
As baby boomers, Rita and I are only a few years shy of being old enough to have lived through World War II. We didn’t witness it in real time, and we were raised to believe that such killing and devastation was only something that occurred before our time. But we have seen too much conventional warfare elsewhere and should realize that America is indeed exceptional for having been spared the experience of warfare at home since our Civil War.
Last week we spent a day in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and the former capital of Yugoslavia. Located strategically at the confluence of two rivers, it has been fought over through the centuries so often that it has been destroyed and rebuilt 40 times, according to guide books. Al-though it holds the prize in that regard, other European cities were destroyed by war multiple times. Can you imagine your city and your life including such a history?
If you, like me, had thought that the cycle of wartime destruction and rebuilding had been broken, you and I need only look at what Vladimir Putin is doing right now in Ukraine, leveling multiple cities and towns, committing verifiable war crimes by targeting apartment buildings, hospitals, churches and schools.
But shouldn’t war itself be considered a war crime? We’d like to believe that Putin is the last world leader to justify in his own mind the bombing and destruction of another nation’s cities.
The creation of the European Union and the expansion of NATO gives us hope that European countries, at least, will not go to war with each other ever again.
Meanwhile, with the increased political division in our own country and the use of “civil war” language on the far right, should we worry that those millions of assault weapons in Americans’ personal arsenals might someday be used against fellow citizens perceived as enemies? Even posing that question would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but now it’s a valid and recurring topic of serious discussion.
I wish more Americans would come to Eastern Europe, or at least Western Europe, to meet people who have in their lifetime experienced warfare at home. We have seen similar devastation from tornados in America, but imagine if those same scenes of devastation had been created by us Americans in a prolonged war against each other?
Please, let that not be our future!