Sitting comfortably in my suburban apartment, far from the trenches and shellfire where Momcilo Selic is witnessing the desperate combat between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, I don’t know whether I can claim greater objectivity or simply greater ignorance. I am certainly grateful for Mr. Selic’s glimpse (“Letter From Bosnia,” April) into the lives of ordinary Serbs, hard hit by the blockade and fearing massacre from enemy militias. It is a talc that can doubtless be told by participants on all sides. In any ease, it reminds us that we arc ultimately dealing not just with political agendas or military objectives but human beings.

Unfortunately, Mr. Selic speaks disdainfully of “Croatland” and implies that all Croat soldiers are the descendants of the infamous Ustase. I wonder why he does not say anything like this about the Slovenes. This. I imagine, is because, as far as I know, there are no sizable Serb enclaves in Slovenia, and so the northernmost former Yugoslav republic could make a clean break. Not so in the case of Croatia. I may seem gullible for sympathizing with the Croat desire for independence. At the same time, my support for Croatia has been tempered by a realization that this conflict, like so many in European history, belies simplistic distinctions between “good” and “bad.”

Mr. Selic admits that his fellow Serbs have no scruples about committing the same sort of atrocities attributed to the enemy. Of course, we have no way of knowing who started the latest round of brutal massacres. Serbs say they are retaliating for Croat atrocities. The Croats are getting revenge for the slaughter of tens of thousands of their countrymen by the Chetniks in World War II, The latter, in turn, sought retribution for the excesses committed by the Ustase. It’s a never-ending cycle of viciousness which Mr. Selic seems to accept with a certain fatalistic resignation.

While innocent Serbs are undeniably suffering a great deal from the current NATO-imposed blockade, one recalls that just four years ago, it was the Serb fighters who had the big guns, and planes, on their side. They were busy besieging and starving out the inhabitants of Zadar and Vukovar.

Thankfully, there is one figure to look to as standing above the ancient hatreds—the famous Archbishop Stepinac. An ardent Croat patriot, Stepinac was at first a supporter of Anton Pavelic, leader of the Ustase. Yet he quickly became one of Pavelic’s greatest opponents and condemned excesses committed by both sides. He denounced the mass executions and forced “conversions” by the Croat fascists. He saw that such actions were not only immoral and inhuman, but were driving people into the arms of Tito’s communists.

Pavelic’s government tried to remove Stepinac, but the Vatican would have none of it. Stepinac likewise irked Nazi officials by resisting their attempts to round up Croatia’s Jewish community. As a result of his “meddling,” 75,000 Jews were spared the one-way trip to the camps in Poland (a fact frequently overlooked by critics of Catholic Croatia).

This venerable and aged cleric, later imprisoned by Tito, was perhaps unique among wartime Balkan leaders in that he took the tenets of his religion seriously. He was a nationalist, but he was also, first and foremost, a Christian.

I may be naive in thinking that my assessment would remain the same if I were in Mr. Selic’s shoes. Yet his article seems to offer no solution that rises above the interminable slaughter. I prefer the example of Stepinac.

        —Matthew M. AngerAlexandria, VA

Mr. Selic Replies:

Mr. Anger’s letter, well-intentioned as it might be, does offer some insights into the Yugoslav problems (and some other problems as well) that stem less from a presentation of facts than from inference. As for the facts, I might remind Mr. Anger that Croatian Cardinal Stepinac did not save 75,000 Croatian, Bosnian, Herzegovinian, and Voivodina Jews from being sent to “camps in Poland,” because most of them were sent to the Croatian death camp, Jascnovac (not far from Zagreb) instead. There, more than 30,000 of them were murdered (often by being butchered or clubbed to death). In fact, existing testimonies from Jasenovac come largely from the Jewish survivors who were spared as valuable professionals and craftsmen. Between 500,000 and 600,000 Jasenovac Serb inmates did not have such luck.

Also, Cardinal Stepinac has been recorded by Nazi newsreels as the prelate who blessed the Ustase troops (dressed in their best SS-type uniforms), and he is on record as the man of God who saw no reason to oppose the mass forced conversion of Serb Orthodox Christians to Roman Catholicism. Some 300,000 Serbs were so converted between 1941 and 1945, and many of them subsequently murdered, for all their docility and loyalty to Ante Pavelic’s National Socialist government.

But, Cardinal Stepinac’s record—controversial as it may be (many Serbs consider him a war criminal)—is not what is most disturbing in Mr. Anger’s missive. Far more disturbing to me—as a Christian (of the Serb Orthodox kind) and a conservative (of the European and Western bent)—is Mr. Anger’s belief that evil can be legislated, organized, or ignored away—by policies, techniques, or attitudes correct and well-meaning enough. Of course, this view of Creation—and human affairs in general—is a widespread one, and has even seeped into what many still consider the conservative movement—in the United States, among other places.

Unfortunately for this worldview, nothing we so far know of history supports its tenets, nor does anything contradict the fact that precisely this type of idealistic “well-wishing” has produced more actual evil than any other human attitude. After all, communists were eminently well-intentioned, their rage and homicidal frenzy whipped up time and time again by the failure of the human animal to accept solutions that would, purportedly, raise all mankind above its own, God-imposed condition. Even were Cardinal Stepinac (for instance) a veritable saint (there are persistent attempts by the Catholic Church to canonize him), he would—like all saints recorded so far—have failed to alter (much less end) “the interminable slaughter” of Mr. Anger’s perception, and anguish.

Human (and all other) life on this planet, however, has, since the Genesis, been nothing but “interminable slaughter” all along. The Iliad, among other works of human (and divine) spirit, is nothing but a paean to this “slaughter,” as are many other works of human (but divinely inspired) genius. Whether we like it or not, “interminable slaughter” is here with us to stay, at least until the Atonement. God, it seems, has some reasons of His Own to keep it up, and if we (Mr. Anger included) cannot recognize them, so much the worse for us.

What, mercifully, mitigates death in our lives is chivalry and heroism. In Serb tradition, elucidated best by the Montenegrin warrior-turned-writer of the last century Marko Milyanov Drekalovitch, there is a definite—and preeminent—place for both, and that is why murder, massacre, and torture are regarded with horror, and loathing, by most Serbs I know (including the “Old Man” I wrote about, judging by his wounded, half-insane, pale blue, subdued eyes, immersed in remorse, guilt, and suffering). For, despite Mr. Anger’s attempts to relativize everything about the “desperate combat between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims” (in the best liberal, humanist tradition), what is not relative—and can never he relative—is the God-created relationship between the cause and its effect.

It may be true that in some other universes (God’s foremost) there is no time and, therefore, no consequentiality (in Eternity, for instance, everything is—so to say—simultaneous), yet, in this vale of tears, who started what, why, and how has all the import that our Greater has assigned it. Evil causes are supposed to be punished, and good ones rewarded in kind, and there is no way anyone can equate Serb effects with Muslim or Croat causes, for all the sophistry and “moral” philosophy in the world. Whether we want to or not, we exist—it seems—above all to choose sides, as we choose our lives, mates, and friends (exactly as God has chosen us, to live and die as we see—or can—best).

The problem with the Serbs seems simple enough—they are rocking the boat of the New World Order by not letting any human agency take from them their freedom to choose, and to act on their choice. Maybe an international police (in the form of UNPROFOR, NATO, or whatever) could enforce the decisions of an international judiciary (World Court, or a new Nuremberg Tribunal, etc.), reached by adhering to the laws enacted by a World Parliament (the U.N., for instance), but, so far, the record of such institutions has been dismal and offers little hope of improving, as long as there is a Supreme Legislator, Judge, and Enforcer.

No one has recompensed the Serbs for close to (or over) one million dead in World War II (one-eighth of the population—compared to the one-tenth of, say, the German population, or less than one-twelfth of all the Croats of World War II). Moreover, these losses—caused by Croats, Muslims, and Germans (in that order)—have never even been recognized by the “International Community.” (Just as this “community” has chosen, so far, to ignore the Armenians’ three million dead—one half of all the Armenians living in 1915—or the more than two million Greeks expelled from their native Turkey by Ataturk in 1922.) Genocides, or holocausts, seem to have their own monopolists—both among the victims and the perpetrators—and the Serbs, it seems, have no reason to trust anyone but themselves and no recourse but to “take justice into their own hands” (the abomination of all abominations to a liberal, “well-meaning” mind). But, if justice cannot be dispensed by others, we—as individuals, and as people—are responsible for it on this Earth. So, when the massacres of Serbs started once again, in 1991 (in Croatia), and in 1992 (in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the first massacre of any kind in Bosnia was committed in the Serb village of Sijekovac, on March 27, 1992, when regular Croatian troops from Croatia—just over the Save River from Sijekovac—murdered and dismembered over 50 Serb villagers, obliterating whole families), Bosnian Serbs could do nothing but prepare for the war that came a week later, with the Muslim-Croat proclamation of “independence” (supported by Germany and the United States), against the Serbs’ wishes. Characteristically, the Croatian rebellion against Yugoslavia came exactly 50 years after the Ustase rebellion against the Kingdom of Yugoslavia; the Sijekovac massacre occurred on the anniversary of March 27, 1941, when Serbs demonstrated against the Nazis in Belgrade; and the outbreak of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, uncannily, coincided with April 6, the date when Nazi warplanes bombed undefended Belgrade in 1941, killing several thousand civilians. Like many Americans, therefore, in today’s New World Order, the Serbs have the choice of perennial victimization or of striking back.

As for the “Croatland” of Mr. Anger’s disapproval, I used that name to signify an ordinary Serb’s emotional relationship to his, so far, twice genocidal neighbors. We do not want a single piece of Croatia, but neither will we give a single piece of “Serbland” (i.e., the Kraina, where Serbs have lived since day one and—as a predominant majority—since the 15th century).

So, the “issues” are straightforward—on one side are the Serbs—vigilantes, outlaws, and pariahs of the ‘international Community,” with their little, inconsequential, unknown genocides (in World War I, Serbs lost one quarter of their population to the Austro-Hungarians and the Germans), and, on the other side, is everyone else: all the “opinion leaders,” pundits, newscasters, commentators, gurus, literati, experts, bureaucrats, humanists, well-wishers, etc., etc., Mr. Anger included. But, I guess, those are the breaks—at one time, the Jews were also alone, but have since done fairly well by themselves, with some of their own God’s help.

The most we as men can do, therefore, is defend ourselves, our loved ones, our kin and friends, our nation and our God, and, as Marko Milyanov said, “others from ourselves” (when asked what the Serb choystvo—chivalry—meant to him). Perhaps, one day, this will not be found criminal, even by a tribunal set up by a liberal, lethally humanist, gainfully compassionate, issue-oriented, shortsighted, historically amnesic, blundering, incompetent, criminally sentimentalized, money-money-money-motivated, nonexistent, satanic “International Community.” Maybe, Mr. Anger, saints reside among the Serbs as well, but they don’t have the global resources of a Catholic Church, Ted Turner’s media, or Elie Wiesel’s supporters; the last I know, some Serbs were allowed to fly—from Budapest—to New York to the U.N. to plead their case to the Jihad warriors, mass murderers, chauvinists, warmongers, cultural and other imperialists, schemers and plotters of that august body, as they sit preparing their Final Solution for all of us.

And, by the way, Serbs could have taken—and still can take—both Zagreb and Sarajevo, except that “their” army (the Communist Yugoslav People’s Army then, and the Belgrade-controlled Serb Army of Kraina and Republic of Srpska, as well as the communist-dominated army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia now) had—and still has—standing orders not to advance beyond Serb territory. This situation must be painfully familiar to all Vietnam veterans, who also fought a limited war against a totally committed enemy. Croats and Muslims have no compunctions against entering Serb territory. For Serbs, winning the war means staying put and surviving; for their enemies it means getting rid of the Serbs in “their” lands.