Make My Day
I'M 266 IN DOG YEARS
by Erik Deckers
American Reporter Humor Writer
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- It's a little more than 10 years now since that day of death in Tuzla.
I've been thinking about Tuzla for weeks. A May 24 headline about Baghdad's "insurgents" exploding a bomb next to Dijlah Junior High School for Girls shocked me into it again. Tuzla is the word I can't forget.
Although six Iraqi bystanders were killed as bomb disposal experts approached the suspicious car near the school, miraculously, no children were killed or injured.
The AP quoted one woman:
"May God seek revenge for those who were killed or injured!" an elderly woman screamed outside a hospital where casualties were brought. "We hope that such killers be killed or perished as they kill our youth. Those killers are against homeland, against Islam."
When I checked the Internet to refresh my memory about the massacre of 72 children, leaving 133 others wounded and maimed in Kapija Square, Bosnia, the date hit me: May 25th, 1995.
May 25th was the 10th anniversary of an attack so heinous that it was a catalyst for United Nations and NATO action in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
But before it was the anniversary of a massacre, May 25th was a national youth holiday in the former Yugoslavia. Students from all of Bosnia's many ethnic groups were gathering in and around the city square to celebrate the end of the school year, take time with friends, and discuss summer plans. It was 8:52p.m. when a Serbian bombshell lobbed into the central square of the ancient city of Tuzla found happy teenagers and young students in their 20's amid their bright celebration of youth.
Two years later, I visited the shrine established in their memory. A still-grieving grandfather took my arm and led me to the city cemetery a few blocks away. There, he tends the flowers on his grandson's grave twice each day.
In a speech to the United Nations Security Council, Tuzla Mayor Selim Beslagic urged international intervention in Bosnia, basically saying that if some nations would not rally against people who kill a nation's children "... (T)hen without any doubt you were, and you stay, on the side of the evil, darkness and fascism."
As dawn broke in Tuzla on May 26, 1995, a student named Mirza wrote, "Students - pupils, are the only ones who can really understand what it means to be killed during a summer night walk. They are the only ones that do not calculate 'strategic consequences.'"
Cross-cultural comparisons are sometimes simplistic. Yet it seems to students of politics and history that there are plenty of examples where the murder of our children serves at the "last straw" for fence-sitters.
The problem is that the death toll keeps climbing while the world waits to see if Iraq's "Tuzla" will be an ice cream shop, a school outing in a park, a pilgrimage to a mosque, a folk concert, a soccer match, or some gathering of youngsters of Kurd, Shiite, and Sunni parentage that like the celebration is totally apolitical.
Some say that when Fulgencio Batista turned his goons on the college students, activitists, leftists, hangers-on, and punks who also happened to be the sons and the daughters of the middle class, he ognoted the final catalyst for Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba. The nationalist and populist rise of Gamel Abdul Nasser in Egypt was fed by applying velvet-glove pressure, including some aimed at children of the privileged.
The thing about Tuzla is that the dead were the college students, engineering students, high school kids, and grade schoolers of Moslem shopkeepers, Serb and Croatian professionals, secular and more orthodox families. Many tried to stay below the radar of war, but the death of their children formed a blood bond of outrage, far stronger than cement.
Sure, Tuzla's lesson for Iraq is allegorical. One hopes that neighbors sick of seeing the policeman down the street or the teacher next door killed will rat out the domestic and foreign troublemakers in their neighborhood.
Unfortunately, nothing mobilizes public opinion like the death of children. The "insurgents," accidentally or on purpose, will eventually make the fatal error of Tuzla. If it must come, may it be the tear-laden fuel that finally galvanizes the Iraqi people. As a parent, though, I pray that other parents of good will can find a better way.
Mark Scheinbaum taught political science at the University of Florida and University of South Florida, and is chief investment strategist for the investment firm of Kaplan & Co.