As US Troops Pack, Bosnia Doubts Linger
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"I'm wondering what we're doing there," muses Jerome Burch, who works in an electronics firm. "On the other hand, it appears both sides want peace. If that's the situation, I'm for sending a peace-action group in there. But if the bullets start flying, I'm for getting out of there."Skip to next paragraph
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This is not to say that there are not strong voices backing the men and women from nearby Travis Air Force Base. Gregory Manning, an African-American social security administrator, is passionate in his endorsement.
"This is 1995 and we let a country do what Germany did to the Jews," he says, referring to the "ethnic cleansing" carried out by the Serbs in Bosnia. "The question is why did we wait so long, not why is it worth going over there."
But Mr. Manning's views stand out for their clarity of understanding of some of the history of this conflict, gleaned he says from reading "three or four newspapers a day and watching CNN."
What seems most obscure is the argument, made with some force by Clinton, that American leadership of the Bosnian mission is vital to maintaining the security of all of Europe. "It's an excuse," retorts Jim Erickson, who travels the world for an engineering company and was brought up in a military family.
Whose policing job?
MSgt. Ron Tetreault also questions why the Europeans don't take on more of the responsibility for leadership. "Right now the other powers, since the end of the cold war, seem to be sidestepping and waiting for the Americans to take the major role," he says, talking outside an off-base sandwich shop.
"People in this country are very naive when it comes to world politics, and especially Europe," says Brig. Gen. George Williams, the commander of the 60th Air Mobility Wing based at Travis, the Air Force's largest unit for airlifting American troops all over the globe.
General Williams puts part of the blame for that on the American news media. "You'll hear Europeans say when they pick up an American newspaper - 'Gosh, there's no world news here. You Americans act like nothing else is going on in this world except what is going on in your own country.' "
The Air Force general also points to the failure to date of the American political leadership to shape a clear, post-cold war vision.
"It's a different set of values and circumstances now than has been the status quo for 40 years," he says. "We're still trying to come to grips with that."
New world order
In practical terms, the units under Williams's command are already in that new world. Because of their role in moving men and materiel, they have been deployed to every hot spot on the globe from Haiti and Somalia to the Kurdish zones in Iraq. Rather than the traditional 'war-fighting' mission, the men of Travis Air Force Base now find themselves doing far more diverse tasks.
MSgt. Samuel Bernal, on tap to head to Bosnia, proudly recalls his role in loading aircraft with ballots for Haiti's recent presidential elections. "I hope they're working toward having a society like ours," the teenage Air Force veteran says.
Meanwhile, he adds, "I'll go anywhere, anytime, so that what I've seen - the poverty, the fear - never comes within these borders."