Without Shadows

A Reflection by Randall Major
Novi Sad, Yugoslavia
April, 1999
 
   

This evening, the sounds of the blasts rattled the shutters and shook the windows. Anti-aircraft fire rippled into the night air, again jarring the window panes. I was lying on the bed with my son, reading his good-night story to him. It was "Peter Pan". He looked at me when the explosions resounded, and seeing no fear or anxiety in my face, he turned back to the book and asked me how Peter could lose his shadow so easily. "Daddy, we need our shadows, that's right? If you didn't have a shadow you wouldn't be. Peter was silly to lose his!" exclaimed my son. We finished our story and now he is sleeping peacefully.

In the insanity of what is happening here, perhaps the worst part of it for the civilian population is the psychological part. The not knowing. Sometimes the air-raid sirens warn us of danger. At times the blasts seem to come from nowhere, from shadowless airplanes. I remember the old WWII films with the sounds of the whistling bombs. Someone told me later that they were designed that way, to frighten you because you knew they were coming. In an odd way, this is even worse. You are ironing, or cooking, or reading a story, and suddenly there is a detonation. I will be honest, tonight I heard the airplanes streaking by, and instinctively positioned myself in front of Luka so that, if the windows shattered, my body would be in front of his. I could see my shadow on the wall. My reaction was an odd combination of my defiance against this idiocy, my confidence in the accuracy and professionalism of the allied airplanes, and my knowledge that we would only be cold and upset in an air-raid shelter. Above all, my little daughter Sara cannot spend fifteen hours a day in the air-raid shelter, and my wife and I have agreed that we will stick together as a family, come what may.

Tonight they blew up part of an oil refinery on the outskirts of Novi Sad. All derivatives had long since been removed. The remaining fumes created a large fireball. The speed and accuracy of the attack was devastating. Impressive. However, the question remains: to what end?

There are in fact two points to be made here. The first is the question of what the Allied Force attacks are achieving. To date, they have blown up numerous factories, heating centrals, bridges, empty government ministries and army command centers. The three goals of "Allied Force" are clear. Their targets are questionable. The collateral damage is horrifying. Dead civilians. Schools damaged or destroyed. Hospitals incapacitated. Is the purpose to destroy the will of the people to fight back? Certainly not. Each day, Jamie Shea, the NATO spokesman, repeats the phrase "We are not at war with anyone. We are not in conflict with the people of Yugoslavia".

NATO has given itself an impossible task. They ARE at war with the people of Yugoslavia. NATO has taken away their educational system (schools are out until the bombing ceases), their jobs (the aforementioned destroyed factories), their health care system (damaged hospitals, and we must not forget that the bridge blown up on Saturday evening was the main route to the well-known cardiovascular institute in Sremska Kamenica), and their means of transportation (railroads, bridges, roads, etc.). And this is all done in the name of "saving lives" and "stopping a humanitarian catastrophe".

As I tried to make plans for myself and my family tonight, I suddenly remembered Orwell. I remembered the slogans. "War is peace". "Ignorance is strength." "Freedom is slavery". I wondered if Orwell, in another place, had simply missed the date. 1984 has become 1999.

My child's logic is overwhelming. People without shadows do not exist. Simple enough. Airplanes without "shadows" (=electronic signatures) clearly do. Or do they? It turns out that their attacks are without substance. Their demoliton is without meaning. For there is no clear goal, no well-planned objective in the future. They only destroy meaningless objects, and kill innocent people. Has anyone checked the casualty rate for the Yugoslav Army after thirteen days of bombing? Is it greater or less than the rate of civilian casualties?

There is indeed little of Milosevic's "killing machine" (Tony Blair's phrase) which has been terminated. The lives of the ordinary citizens of Yugoslavia will now have to be reconstructed. The NATO mission is thus a failure by its own definition.

The final words of "Peter Pan" haunt me tonight. "When Margaret grows up, she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter's mother in turn; and so it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless."

And I ask myself: who is heartless tonight?

Randall Major
Novi Sad, Yugoslavia