I was born shortly after World War II. For most of my life, America has been at war. Korea, Viet Nam, Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are the wars we know about. Yet, there’s a difference between the wars of my lifetime and the war that my parents participated in and lived through. Their war involved sacrifice – human and financial sacrifices – that were experienced universally. Rationing and buying war bonds were some of the kinds of sacrifice that my parents generation experienced, even if they were not physically on the front lines. My generation’s wars only involved sacrifice for those directly participating. The financial sacrifice is being passed down to the next generation in the form of unfunded war debts. The actual battlefields are thousands of miles away from the homeland, out of sight and out of mind to all except those who have families at the front. The thirty-something generation has never seen the cost or impact of conflict.
As I write this, I’m in a country where that generation has seen the direct impact of conflict – bombs in their back yard and thousands of refugees flocking to the cities. Croatia was a socialist republic – part of Yugoslavia – and experienced the ravages of war in the early 1990s. Before that, they were invaded and occupied by just about any group that has a chapter in a world history text, from the Ottomans to the Nazis. Today, Croatia is a young democracy with the pluses and minuses that accompany the onset of free enterprise. They have a thriving tourist business, burgeoning construction, traffic jams, and corrupt politicians. Kind of like New Jersey. While I’m here on vacation, enjoying the culture of the capital Zagreb and the amazing resorts on the Dalmatian coasts, I have also talked to native Croats – both within the tourism sphere as well as ordinary citizens.
I’ve seen areas of the country where there are no inhabited buildings more than 20 years old. The older buildings were either destroyed during the war or left uninhabitable. I was told that in some areas of the country, seven percent of the land is littered with unexploded mines.
The nation is undergoing a transition – from a socialist mindset to the regulated marketplace that will be required for them to join the European Union next year. In an area that has been ravaged by wars and invaders for centuries, Croatia is at peace – for now. The people here know first-hand what war can do to a country and her people, and I hope their path to peace and prosperity is traversed easily.
It’s interesting that during the time that Croatia is rebuilding its infrastructure, it is not forgetting its people. Health care is universal and mostly paid for by the state. While I was here, I had to have a routine blood test. In the US, my insurance company is billed $136 for the test. Here, it cost the equivalent of $14. Compare this to the governor of New Jersey who is cutting off Medicaid for families earning $7,000 per year. And speaking of New Jersey, unlike in the Garden State where tax money is used to rehabilitate private beaches, here in Croatia, all beaches are open to the public.
The economic problems that we face in America are not due to Social Security or Medicare. Those programs actually help people and put dollars back into the economic stream. The problem today is the multiple trillions of dollars we spend on wars. Unlike the threat from Hitler and Tojo, our wars are wars of choice – ones that our Presidents commit to with only cursory oversight from Congress, and ones that explode the national debt. Our obsession with war and guns can only lead to the conclusion that we are a belligerent people, and if America is to survive we need a change in mindset. Croatia’s peace may be solid or it may be fragile. Only time will tell. America’s wars are invisible and endemic. If we don’t fix both of those problems, the battle over Social Security will be tragically irrelevant.