Horror beyond Bosnia


THE TWO children are the last survivors of their family, but not, it appears, for long.

In news footage they sit naked on the ground, their spindly arms wrapped around one another, the inevitability of their imminent deaths in their sunken eyes.

In their homeland, rent by internal power struggles, there is no food, and so they starve while worlds away the politicians puzzle over what to do.

But these children are not in Bosnia, now the center of world attention.

They are in Somalia, an African country living through -- and dying of -- a lethal combination of clan warfare, drought and famine thathas wrought what one U.S. official called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world right now. Millions of people in Somalia are in danger of starving to death in the months to come.

Perhaps 200 will die today.

Although the International Red Cross has mounted the largest relief effort in its history, it is too dangerous to take food to some areas, and supplies are often stolen by gunmen and sold by profiteers.

Relief kitchens have graveyards flanking them, so that those who die on food lines may be buried while the line moves on.

Eurocentrism was a kind of catchword not long ago amid the scornful discussion of multicultural curriculums in the public schools.

Were we going to throw out Shakespeare, cease to teach Magna Carta, minimize the role of Napoleon in world affairs?

But the truth is that we are a deeply Eurocentric nation, and for obvious reasons.

Many of us have Euroroots, and from the beginning we have sought Euroalliances.

When we hear of Serbian-run concentration camps we relate them, with renewed outrage, to the atrocities of Nazi Germany. When Americans see Bosnian orphans crying in the windows of buses, offers pour in to adopt them.

Bosnia, with all its horrors, is at the center of public and political dialogue and Somalia, with all its horrors, is a peripheral discussion.

"It's racism," says Jack Healey, executive director of Amnesty International.

And a peculiar sort of myopic ignorance. Civil war and unconscionable internment in Bosnia seem man-made evils, subject to man-made solutions.

But Africa is a mystery to our Eurocentric nation, even to many African Americans. Its troubles seem like Old Testament plagues, irresolvable and inevitable.

There is nothing inevitable about the corpses littering the landscape of Somalia. There are no easy solutions for a nation of nomads who have been prevented from planting crops by the ravages of civil war, a country that has almost no government aside from village elders in dying towns.

There are no easy solutions in the former Yugoslavia, either, where factional hatreds are a tangled web stretching back centuries.

But there is now sharply focused attention by the international community on what should be done and who should do it.

Somalia deserves that same intense attention, from George Bush, Bill Clinton, the American people and our allies abroad.

The United Nations has agreed to airlift food into the interior, but that is neither an adequate nor a long-term solution.

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., who sits on the Senate subcommittee on African affairs, supports the use of an international force of soldiers to make sure food shipments get to the people.

But she also says the United States must have a continuing commitment to development in African nations instead of a crisis management approach.

Just a year ago some of us, unpersuaded by the high moral principles involved in giving our all for cheap oil, were saying that America could no longer afford to police the world.

With the president's gulf war bluster about liberation, we lost sight of the best reason to involve ourselves in foreign affairs -- because it is sometimes obviously the moral thing to do.

The new secretary general of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian who is the first leader of the U.N. from the continent of Africa, has referred to the Bosnian conflict as the "rich man's war."

He means it is a white man's war, a Eurowar, in its combatants, its victims and its international interest.

That makes aid no less necessary.

Just as the color of its children must make no difference in our help for Somalia.

Surely our attention span can encompass two mortal crises at once.

Surely our empathy can transcend race.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad