The bloody -95

.

Some reflections about the people I got to know in the war in Bosnia, via old video films shot by ARBiH 7. Corps cameramen. The first is from the village of Turbe where my wing man and I were wounded. The video shows our troops advancing to attack enemy lines. During a brief lull in the shelling some of the fighters stop to display weapons they have captured from the enemy positions: The second video is about my platoon regrouping and preparing to attack enemy trenches during the 1995 summer offensive to Sarajevo. It shows the fire support teams in our rear trying to help us out. The author also makes a brief appearance. Many of the soldiers who can be seen on this video were killed in action. As such, this video is my only visual souvenir of those men: So it’s been eighteen years since the war was over. I returned my gun and uniform in the quartermaster’s store and made it back to Finland. But in the long run, quitting a war is simply not that simple. It’s bit like in that Eagles song: you can check-out anytime you like, but… I’ve returned to Bosnia only thrice after the war and on each occasion found these trips psychologically challenging. Looking back, it is surprising to realize that while being in the trenches was often though, I’ve found the post-war excursions emotionally much harder. It is something that is not perhaps easy to explain in simple terms. The war-time strength of the Bosnian army was approximately 200 000, out of which about half were combat troops. 30 000 – 40 000 were killed – depends on who is counting – while majority of the survivors were wounded at some stage, often multiple times. Come to think of it, it is a staggering casualty figure, even surpassing the statistics of WWII, something which seems out of place during this era of high-tech conflicts but which we, at the time, perceived as a normal state of affairs. To see these ordinary guys march to near certain death and injury in that old video, joking and laughing, now has something futile and absurd to it. Yet it feels like a stoic quality in this modern world where everything is supposed to work on a click of a mouse and where small problems can sometimes seem insurmountable. But how should I write about the front lines without glorifying war? I do believe that any description about the trenches that is powerful and well written will convey the camaraderie and the heroism, but not the negative consequences, the waste and the emptyness that follows. Perhaps José Narosky’s famous comment that in war there are no unwounded soldiers encapsulates it well. And thinking about the soldiers – the enemy – who faced us in the trenches and with whom we engaged in that mutual  day-to-day killing frenzy. Were they any different? I don’t think so. Did they deserve any better? I am sure that they, too, did.