On this day, Croatia marks a sad day in its modern history – a day the siege of Vukovar ended. Vukovar, a small, quiet border-town became a target of the opposing army occupation in the early September 1991. The battle lasted for 87 days and ended on November 18th, when largely outnumbered Croatian troops surrendered to the Yugoslav and Serb military forces. The city was almost completely run to the ground, with not a single build left undamaged. Thousands were killed and tens of thousands fled.
I was five on this day in 1991. The only memory I have is watching the exodus of the refugees on TV, the cold and sadness visible on their faces. My parents did everything in their power to protect me from the horrors I was witnessing; I didn’t understand exactly what I was watching, but I understood something terrible was happening.
As I grew older I learned more and more about what happened in Vukovar on that day and the days following. Whatever happened, however bad it was, one thought in particular stuck with me. That thought was – the world was watching. This was the first war fought on European soil since World War II, and the technology was much more advanced than it had been 50 years ago. We couldn’t hide behind the “we didn’t know” excuse anymore. Everyone had TVs and everyone was watching them.
The world knew and it stood by watching as thousands were slaughtered.
That thought bothered me so deeply that it became ingrained in the essence of who I am. Or at least, that’s what I thought.
Now, 32 years later, the technology is infinitely more advanced than it was back on that sad, cold November day. We have hand-held devices that can stream live events from almost anywhere in the world to – where exactly? To whomever is willing to watch?
We watch. We witness terrors in color and high resolution. We acknowledge the pain and suffering as we move on to the next task in our chores list. After all, wars have been going on since the dawn of humanity and will be going on until the last man standing.
Today, the world is even more cruel of a place than it was 32 years ago. This time, I am a part of it. Fully aware of what I’m watching, I watch, I cry, I silently acknowledging the suffering. Then I turn the channel to some less-painful news.
I have become that irredeemable stand-byer I resented all of these years.