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Tough to watch soldiers captured

Analysts have been predicting how Americans would react when they saw the first casualty or the first capture resulting from the U.

Friday, April 2, 1999

Analysts have been predicting how Americans would react when they saw the first casualty or the first capture resulting from the U.S. participation in the battle in Yugoslavia.

Many said as long as Americans did not see the crisis affect U.S. soldiers, they would support continued airstrikes and other action to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Thursday, Americans woke up to just such an image and, for the most part, the analysts were right. It was not easy to watch the Yugoslav protests against the bombings or to see the bruised faces of three Americans on television. That just brings back too many memories for those who lived through the Vietnam War.

But the Baby Boomer generation is not the only one with vivid memories.

World War II era Americans have their own images – these of innocent men, women and children slaughtered during the Holocaust.

This conflict in perspective mimics the generation gap itself – two different views of the U.S. role in the world’s peacekeeping process, and part of the reason why the decision to stay or ignore Kosovo is so difficult here.

There never will be an easy answer to the rules of engagement for war. Patriotic images of American soldiers ridding the world of immoral dictators are too easy. War is brutal and it steals young lives. A decision to drop bombs or to send in ground troops isn’t like a sequel to "Die Hard." You aren’t positive that everyone who will be left at the end will be the good guys.

The U.S. has been too long without this sort of decision, but the limits are still the same as they were almost 30 years ago and 20 years before that – the price we pay for our freedom is to be a protector of human rights whenever we can, while weighing our participation with the sacrifice in mind.

So, we should fight oppression in Kosovo as dilligently as we can, while never letting self-righteousness keep us from knowing when it is time to get out.