FRESNO, CALIFORNIA — Hey, you want to hear the New World whining at Old Europe? Here it is, from a press conference Condi Rice gave about Kosovo: "I mean after all, we're talking about something from 1389. 1389! It's time to move forward. And Serbia needs to move forward. Kosovo needs to move forward."
Well, I think we can all agree that 1389 was a while back, and that all things considered, "forward" is generally a good way to go. And not just for Serbia. No, Ma’am. It applies just as much to Kosovo.
"But hold on, Gary," you may be yelling at your computer, "what’s all this about 1389 anyway?" Well, as historical expert types like me and Condi know, that happens to be the date of one of the coolest battles in history. And since it happened in Kosovo, they decided to call it the Battle of Kosovo.
I’ll get to the battle in a minute--it’s a glorious battle and deserves retelling--but first I want to talk about Condi’s tantrum over people caring about stuff that happened long ago. I’ve heard this a lot: "Can’t they just get over it?" There’s some rule in California, it’s like a misdemeanor to care about anything that happened more than a week ago. And Condi, the all-American spinster, picked up that notion and ran with it, because as we all know Condi had to be twice as dull as her rivals. So here’s Condi solving the problems of Balkan history in a mall-girl whine: "I mean come ON! 1389? I wasn’t even BORN then!"
Serbs just can't "get over it."
Well, Condi, have a seat on that mall ottoman, the one between the American Eagle store and the foodcourt, and let Uncle Gary tell you something very important: You see, L’il Condi, some people actually care about stuff that happened a long time ago. Yeah, seriously. Like, for example, me. I care more about one particular day in 1779 than I do about my whole sophomore year in high school. Because on September 23, 1779 a Scottish-American rebel privateer named John Paul Jones maneuvered his soggy old raider, the Bon Homme Richard, next to a much bigger British warship, the Serapis, and lashed the ships together to make sure no quarter could be asked or given. And even though the Brits blew his little ship apart right under him, Jones refused to surrender and scared his Brit counterparts into surrendering themselves.
That day gave me a reason to live. All my sophomore year gave me was the strong impression that people were stupid and nasty. So excuse me, Condi, I’ll take 1779. A lot of people will take any year in the past over a lot of years in the present.
And the year 1389, the one you want the Serbs to get over? Well, 1389 means even more to the Serbs than Jones’ victory means to me. The battle they fought against the Turks that year is the main plotline in every song and story the Serbs tell to this day. It taught generations of Serb boys what was expected of them, how honorable warriors are supposed to act.
I suspect Condi’s other, deeper problem with the Serbs’ 1389-ophilia is that the Serbs didn’t even win that day. Talk about un-American! They hang around dreaming of this old battle, and it was a defeat? Gawd, get a life!
Well, not everybody wants a life, Condi. There’s a lot to be said for glorious death instead. Ever read the Bible, for example? Not that you have to. A lot of the great old European warrior stories are about defeats. The Anglo-Saxons sang about getting stomped by the Vikings at Maldon, and the Franks just couldn’t get enough of the Song of Roland, which is a whole epic poem about how Roland, Charlemagne’s Custer, lost his whole command. They should do a poster of that battle, with Roland as this Conan-the-Barbarian hero battling to the end, surrounded by hacked Saracens, wearing a t-shirt that says, "It’s a Euro thing, you wouldn’t understand."