Sunday, August 20, 2006

The opinions I want to hear
I entered graduate school at the University of Washington in the fall of 1988. My field was history and my specialty was the modern Balkans, specifically Yugoslavia. History PhDs are one of the slowest degrees to pursue, and financial reasons slowed mine more than usual. As 1988 turned into 1989 Eastern Europe began to dissolve. By 1991 my country of specialty started its dramatic collapse. At that time I was probably one of the two or three dozen leading authorities on the causes of that collapse then living in the United States.

As the slow motion Yugoslav civil war moved into Bosnia, I went to the beat map store in Seattle and bought the largest scale map of Yugoslavia that I could find. I tacked the map up in the hallway of our apartment and covered it with a sheet of acetate. Every day I came home from school or work and looked up the latest news on the war in Bosnia. I carefully marked every change of position between the three sides. I followed every battle over a hillside, village, or roadway and marked it on my map. Consequently, none of the major changes of fortune were a surprise to me. I had followed each army as it negotiated for position around every objective and knew when they were ready to move.

I have not followed the slow motion civil war in Iraq as closely. I can't predict who will move where next. What I can tell you is that there is a very real civil war going on. As the Sunni and Shia Muslims negotiate for position, the Slovenes--I mean the Kurds are hoping to quietly slip out of the Iraqi state without anyone noticing.

No native born American has experienced civil war in his or her own country. We can only base our opinions on historical analogies or on parallel with other modern countries. The most valuable insights into the collapse of Iraq are those that come from places like Bosnia, Tajikistan, or the Transcaucasus. These are the opinions I want to hear. Can anyone point me in his or her direction?

No comments: