I highly recommend anyone reading this blog to look up the work of Selco Begovic. He's extremely popular within prepper/survivalist circles, as he was a young man during the Bosnian War of 1992 - 1995. He runs a website called “SHTF School” ("SHTF," for those who don't know, stands for "S**t Hits the Fan"). On his website, he spends hours telling stories of his experiences in during the war and the lessons for survival he learned. It's not for the faint of heart - upon hearing his stories, I actually became less confident in my ability to survive an SHTF scenario and became more determined than ever to fight to prevent it from ever happening (what little I could do, of course).
Three things stand out to me so far from Selco's story. First is how quickly it all unraveled. Yugoslavia was a multi-ethnic communist society and spent decades with people of different races living amongst each other. Selco describes inter-ethnic strife as rare, if not non-existent, before the Bosnian War. Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital, even hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984. In ten years, however, the different races had self-segregated and were committing unspeakable atrocities against each other. Sarajevo had then become subjected to siege and to daily bombardment, a condition that wouldn't break until the U.S. led an international air war campaign in 1995 to force the Bosnian Serbs to negotiate an end to the war.
Second, the media played such a big role in stoking passions that drove inter-ethnic conflict (Selco talks about this at length on his website). They would bring up decades or even centuries-old beefs between the ethnic groups that hadn't been talked about forever, planting the seeds of hatred which drove people to commit horrendous acts of violence against their former neighbors. At the same time, the media tried to play the other side of the game, downplaying the violence and risk of war, often to the point most people didn't realize a war was going on until the bullets started flying in their own neighborhood. What the media did was, to put it mildly, duplicitous - stoke white-hot passionate hatred on one hand, but sell the lie of "normalcy" on the other.
To some, it sounds vaguely familiar to some of what’s taking place in the U.S. today, it's just that a war hasn't broken out yet.
Earlier this year, Selco also had this to say about what's happening in America:
From my experience whenever great promises are in the air together with strong polarization among people that usually means common folks (like you and me) will lose a lot and will be left to ask themselves later, “What was all this about?” Because there is history and there is what actually happened.
He goes onto say that cancel culture is merely blacklisting and, therefore, not without precedent. He talks about the loss of freedom of speech and the recent instance of federal law enforcement getting involved in policing school board meetings is clearly an attempt to scare parents into not speaking out. Whether anyone actually gets sent to jail isn't the point. The point is to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation to keep mouths shut and people at home.
The last thing that stands out to me is that it wasn't necessarily the government that oppressed and committed atrocities in Bosnia. Yes, many of the belligerents represented some fashion of formal authority, but many terrible things were committed by those who weren't "official" in any sense of the word. Furthermore, many of the authorities weren't recognized as legitimate to begin with. In other words, they had to fear those who wore the uniform and had the rule of law in their corner, but they also had to fear normal people and these were the folks who posed a threat on a daily basis. The enemy was truly everywhere. The only hope for survival came often in the form of forming robust communities and groups of people whom you trusted to watch your back, as atomization proved deadly. But, even then, that wasn't enough, because people often had to face other communities and groups that were often willing to go even further to survive.
Contemplating the prospect of something like the Yugoslav Wars taking place in the U.S. seems ridiculous. On some level, it is - the U.S. doesn’t have the same history of ethnic groups being split into distinct nations. The U.S., even during its darkest days, managed to stay together instead of separating into ethnically-defined geographical territories. Our history has been, simply put, more about making this union work than finding reasons to split up.
That, of course, has started to change. Significant percentages of Americans now see secession as a viable option and many otherwise thoughtful voices seem to consider the inevitable pain induced via national divorce to be worthwhile. This isn’t the post to analyze the details of a how a split would occur, but it is to say Americans, whether they’re serious about it or not, are willing say to their countrymen, “I don’t want to live with you anymore.
Words matter. The saying “Don’t say anything you’ll regret” comes to mind. We may not be close to Balkanizing, but what people are willing to say out loud doesn’t bode well for where this country is headed. For example, take a look at this tweet:
It’s not clear what this is in response to, but heated, racialized rhetoric and a clear statement of division among racial lines is concerning no matter its source. It’s not new, as we’ve heard this kind of talk repeatedly over the years. But the idea that it can go on indefinitely without having any kind of real-world repercussions becomes more difficult to accept as social conflict escalates and other crises risk destabilizing the country.
The former Yugoslavia seems far away in both time and space. It is. Still, societies are held together by threads which are difficult combine, but easy to unravel. The initial ingredients necessary for widespread sectarian violence in the U.S. are being introduced, making Selco Begovic’s wisdom imposed on him worth considering:
To simplify the explanation why violence was common and very brutal, you need to picture a situation where you are “bombarded” with huge amount of information (propaganda) which instills in you very strong feelings of fear and hate.
Out of fear and hate, violence grows easy and fast, and over the very short period of time you see how people around you (including you) do things that you could not imagine before.
We were living a normal life, and then suddenly we were thrown in a way of living where if you could not “negotiate” something with someone, you solve the problem by launching a rocket from an RPG through the window of his living room.
Hate stripped down the layers of humanity and suddenly it was “normal” to level an apartment building with people inside with shells from a tank or form private prisons with imprisoned civilians for slave work or sex slaves.
Nothing that I saw or read before could have prepared me for the level of violence and blindness to it, for the lives of kids, elders, civilians, and the innocent.
Again, the thing that is important for readers is that we were a modern society one day, and then in few weeks it turned into carnage [emphasis original].
Edward Chang is a defense, military, and foreign policy writer. Follow him on Twitter at @Edward_Chang_8.
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