DAVID BRIGGS Associated Press
Section: MAIN, Page: A1
Date: Saturday, May 15, 1993.
A growing sense of moral outrage over reports of atrocities in Bosnia is leading major U.S. religious groups to appeal for action their religious traditions tell them must only be a last resort — the use of force.
Evoking images of a passive response during the Holocaust, leaders from groups as diverse as Reform Judaism and the Southern Baptist Convention are demanding military action to protect Muslims in the Balkans.
“Clearly what is going on in Bosnia is genocide by any other name,” said Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission.
“The ghosts of Auschwitz and Dachau have come back to haunt us. If we do nothing we are morally culpable.”
With the Clinton administration seeking support for military action, the heads of 15 Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations and the top officials of the National Council of Churches on Friday released a statement backing the use of American peacekeeping troops in Bosnia under U.N. command.
U.S. Roman Catholic leaders earlier this week wrote Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, saying that there is just cause to use force to stop the “slaughter of innocents.”
The issues aren’t as clear-cut as in Somalia, when a broad range of religious groups supported using military personnel to make sure relief supplies reached starving populations.
Atrocities have been committed by all sides in the war among Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. In his letter to Christopher, Catholic Archbishop John R. Roach admitted that there is no real military solution in the former Yugoslavia.
But indifference to reports of systematic rape, murder and the use of concentration camps to force people from their land is also unacceptable, religious leaders said.
“We are convinced that there is just cause to use force to defend largely helpless people in Bosnia against aggression and barbarism that are destroying the very foundations of society and threaten large numbers of people,” Roach said.
The bishops said they recognize that U.S. troops would probably be needed to enforce a political settlement in Bosnia and a cease-fire in Croatia. Other actions, such as airstrikes or arming the Bosniak-dominated Bosnian government, must be weighed against the need to protect civilians and to end rather than prolong or widen the war, the bishops said.
In April, 13 Jewish organizations began a campaign urging the U.S. government to stop the bloodshed.
“If Serbian attacks on Bosnians continue, our government should immediately lift the arms embargo, send weapons to the Bosniaks, order air attacks on Serbian military and inflict punishment on Serbia itself by bombing power stations and transportation links,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffe, head of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning, one of the signers of the statement Friday by Protestant leaders indicating that armed intervention can be a morally legitimate option, said there was a major difference between the Balkans and the Persian Gulf war.
“In the gulf war, which I opposed, the United States-United Nations started a war in response to the invasion of Kuwait. In the Balkans, the U.N.-U.S. seeks to end a war,” he said.
The statement from Protestant leaders opposes the use of airstrikes and lifting the arms embargo in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
However, the statement adds, “The world community cannot in good conscience deny a besieged population’s access to the means of self-defense if their needs for safety and survival are not otherwise assured.”
To many religious leaders, including some who survived the Holocaust, the greater sin is not to act while the atrocities continue.
At the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington last month, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel told President Clinton that he couldn’t sleep because of what he had seen during a trip to the former Yugoslavia.
“We must stop the bloodshed in that country. People fight each other and children die. Why? Something, anything, must be done,” he said.
In remarks prepared for an interfaith vigil on Monday, Henry Siegman, another Holocaust survivor and executive director of the American Jewish Congress, criticized the rally sponsors for bowing to pressures not to call for limited military intervention or lifting the arms embargo.
“I must ask you, my good friends, if not offending the sensibilities of some potential interfaith sponsors is more important than speaking the truth, is more important than taking effective action to stop the killings, is it any surprise that we have been so ineffective? Is it any surprise that our leaders in Washington are unsteady and uncertain, lacking moral courage and political resolve?”