THE war in Kosovo elicited questions and realizations that went far beyond the air campaign and the Balkan politics associated with it. What constitutes a "just" war? Assuming we had the choice, for instance, wouldn't it be more defensible morally to assassinate the evil ruler of a country than to kill civilians at a distance of 15,000 feet? The ancients would have considered it just to capture the Yugoslav leader, Slobodan Milosevic, and parade him down the streets of Rome in a cage for the gawking populace. But to kill from such a distance would have been considered cowardly, and perhaps even unjust. Look at the moral distance Germany has traveled: upon arrival its ground troops began vigorously protecting people singled out for retribution purely because of their ethnicity. The economics, too, were fascinating. Who knows what kind of subtle economic pressure was put not only on Russia but also on the poorer and more troublesome members of the NATO coalition, Greece and Italy, to keep them from deserting the war effort? The work required to keep Greece and Italy in line by their richer counterparts in the European Union showed that "Europe," whatever its pretensions, is still a Northern European affair, in which the south is bribed and bullied to shut up. And if it's true that all politics is local, think what came clear about Russian internal politics through the prism of the war: sending 200 soldiers to take a deserted airport, where they had to beg for supplies from NATO soldiers, apparently sufficed to shore up Russian pride and to get Communists and neo-fascists off Boris Yeltsin's back. Finally, consider the technological complications of a world more interconnected than it was in previous centuries: shutting off Serbia's electricity completely would have affected our ally Macedonia, which uses the same electricity grids.
Military campaigns, because they are fights for the sheer survival of nations and cultures, offer the most telling insights about the values, technologies, social relations, and intellectual life of historical periods. And because both death and defeat are undeniable, a military historian is forced to pierce the accumulated fog of philosophical abstractions and political agendas that frustrates other historical disciplines. Though rarely regarded as such, military history is as august a field as any in the liberal arts.