Don Feder's article was first published in the Boston Herald - Copyright, 1999 Boston Herald.
BELGRADE - On a van from Sofia, a little girl cringed when her mother told her I was an American. ``Is he going to put a bomb in our car?'' she asked. In light of what my country did to her country, the question was not unreasonable.
When Jamie Shea, NATO's minister of disinformation, said the alliance bombed with precision, I can believe it. In tens of thousands of sorties, U.S. planes managed to hit civilian targets with reckless abandon.
We were, President Clinton insisted, degrading Slobodan Milosevic's military capacity by bombing a defenseless people from an altitude of 15,000 feet. In Belgrade and Novi Sad, I began to understand the enormity of the lie.
Strolling the streets of this lovely capital at the confluence of the Danube and Sava, the evidence isn't glaring. True, there are buildings with large chunks missing. My interpreter, Ivana Vulic, and I had coffee on a terrace across from the Belgrade TV station NATO ``degraded'' on April 26.
The entire facade was ripped away; the interior is a mass of rubble. In this particular ``strategic strike,'' 17 died. The justification was that Serbian television was spreading Milosevic's ``propaganda'' - i.e., it had the chutzpah to object to the unilateral war on its country. (On that basis, NATO presumably could have justified bombing the newspapers that carry this column too.)
But elsewhere, the rubble has been cleared away. The bodies were buried; the psychological scars remain. For three months, residents hunkered down like soldiers in the trenches.
We drove to Novi Sad, the nation's second largest city. This cosmopolitan provincial capital, with an ethnically diverse population, took the brunt of NATO's wrath.
The allies bombed the 2 million-acre Fruska Gora national park, possibly to keep the animals and birds from joining the Yugoslav army.
Novi Sad's refinery was hit 13 times. The resulting fires burned 50,000 tons of crude oil, sending billowing clouds of toxins and carcinogens into the air, contaminating groundwater.
Environmental scientists say it could take decades to assess the impact of this deliberate poisoning of water, soil and air. Perhaps Al Gore will include a chapter on the bombing of Novi Sad, ordered up by the man he hailed as ``one of our greatest presidents,'' in a revised edition of ``Earth in the Balance.''
Once there were three bridges in Novi Sad spanning the Danube and linking two sides of the city - bringing patients to the hospital on one, carrying food to the other and transporting workers and school children. Now there are none.
Each day, 30,000 cross by barge. What happens when the Danube freezes over in the winter? It takes two to three years to build a bridge and seconds to sever these vital arteries.
The principal of the Svetozar Markovic Elementary School points out cracks in the school's foundation, collapsed ceilings and ruined equipment. Without water or electricity, the school will somehow try to hold classes for its 1,400 students in the fall.
A bomb made a crater 10 meters deep in the schoolyard. There is nothing that could conceivably be considered a strategic asset in this residential neighborhood - unless NATO was trying to get the animals fleeing the national park.
Someone had scrawled on an outer wall of the school, ``Do you think of your children while you bomb ours?''
``It is the decline of Western civilization,'' says Aleksandar Mosic (whose name means ``little Moses'' in Serb), a leader of Belgrade's Jewish community. ``What the Western governments did and what Western opinion conceded - it is barbaric.''
Now 80 and a retired chemical engineer, at the outset of World War II Mosic left Belgrade for the Dalmatian coast. His parents told him not to come back. They died. He spent the war fighting alongside Tito's partisans.
``To speak of ethnic cleansing of the Albanians is such stupidity,'' Mosic maintains. ``Why weren't the 100,000 Albanians in Belgrade ethnically cleansed?'' Mosic asked if I knew that the Serbs saved Jews during what he calls the ``War of Annihilation,'' and the Yugoslav army evacuated Sarajevo's Jews during the Bosnia war.
Today, Serbs are being cleansed from Kosovo under the eyes of NATO peacekeepers. Yesterday, NATO tried to rinse them from the rest of Serbia.
Even if the allegations against Milosevic were true, did that justify the terror bombing of civilians - many of whom opposed to his policies?
And what if they weren't true, or if Kosovar Albanians and Serbs were both at fault? Then the International War Crimes Tribunal should begin making arrests in Washington and London.