Today, thousands gathered in Bosnia-Herzegovina to mark the sixteenth anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. As time passes, it is all too easy to forget the horrors of this atrocity. Ratko Mladic, the general who oversaw the crime, is on trial for genocide, yet refuses to admit that he committed a crime. In fact, he showed contempt for the International Criminal Court proceedings and worse, for his victims, tipping his hat and giving the thumbs up to the gallery and even laughing as the judge spoke.
Beyond the heartless antics of a troubled man, Srebrenica holds many lessons for the rest of us. We too often reduce the crimes of the 20th century to the acts of barbarism committed by Stalin and Hitler, glazing over the slaughter of innocents in other circumstances. Yes, these dictators were evil, but malevolence is not bound by time or place - it can haunt any person, any household, any nation, if we do nothing to stop it.
For me, one of the most disturbing facets of Srebrenica is that the killings took place on the doorstep on an enclave supposedly protected by United Nations "peacekeepers." At Fulton in 1946 in what became known as the "Iron Curtain speech," but was actually entitled "The Sinews of Peace" Winston Churchill warned that the then-fledgling UN could become either a force for peace, or a Tower of Babel. He warned against "a mere frothing of words" and yet, too often, we are all to quick to verbally denounce the crimes in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and elsewhere, yet reluctant to do anything before it is too late. No, freedom-loving nations cannot 'police' every inch of the globe alone or under the UN banner, but we must act together to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
We owe it to the memories of those lost at Srebrenica. We owe it to ourselves.