Wherefore art thou, Yugoslavia?

Our world changes as fast as weather in the South. It's gorgeous, warm and sunny today; rain and snow are forecast for tomorrow. (By the way: in a twist on my "pre" blog post, one TV forecaster is now calling it the "futurecast." Hmmm.

Our world changes as fast as weather in the South. It’s gorgeous, warm and sunny today; rain and snow are forecast for tomorrow. (By the way: in a twist on my “pre” blog post, one TV forecaster is now calling his forecasts “futurecasts.” Hmmm.)

Miles run today: 10

Age I was when I read about Anne Frank: 8

Year the Berlin Wall came down: 1989

When I was 13 and Sting was singing about whether the Russians loved their children too, I wondered: Did they really? How could they love their children so much if they were spending all of their time standing in long lines for toilet paper? Seemed like that would be distracting from the whole parenting thing.

And I was pretty sure both sets of leaders, American and Russian, would screw the whole thing up. I’d seen the boys in my classes, and they always had a hard time keeping their fingers off of buttons; presidents were only grown-up little boys.

Ergo: We were in big trouble.

I spent a lot of time listening to the “Dream of the Blue Turtles” album that year; “Fortress Around Your Heart” remains one of those pivotal songs in my life.

The English fortress thing spoke to me: I was way deep into King Arthur and longed for the days when men killed each other more elegantly, man-to-man, instead of obliterating whole states from across an ocean.

My daughter’s class is reading a novel based on a true story called, “A Long Walk to Water,” about children in Sudan who became “lost boys” when war broke out. The horrifying but gripping story has captured her imagination. I mentioned that she might want to read about Anne Frank, a young girl whose family hid from the Nazis but eventually died in the concentration camps.

She wanted to. So we went to the library and got the book.

There was a picture book of Anne’s life, too. We got the picture book.

There were heaps of dead bodies in the picture book.


Add it to the list of subjects she will need to discuss in therapy. We talked about how a lot of people died; dead bodies were the horrific reality.

She decided not to read about Anne Frank.

Now my son is concerned about North Korea. And nuclear bombs.

Around the dinner table, my husband and I talked with the kids about the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall, and guards who shot at people who tried to escape, and nuclear arms.

And then we YouTubed video from 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down.

“Will it be scary?” my daughter asked, putting her hands halfway over her eyes. “Will there be dead bodies?”

“No. It was like a huge street party with drinking and laughing and cheering. And sledgehammers,” I said.

Which now that I think about it sounds like a pretty scary idea.

The kids watched the video. It all happened a long time ago, way back in the 1900s, a century my children did not experience. The hair was… unfortunate.

But when I saw footage this morning from the Today show, with Matt and Savannah in Boston, men dressed up in redcoats and those representing the colonists, I realized: things change so fast.

To go from hating the British to being BFFs (and me marrying one), to go from a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union to calling it Russia and a bunch of smaller states, to go from a huge cement wall to a time when tiny fragments of the wall are all that remain…

When I was young I used to wonder why adults would say that they were horrible with geography. It was so easy. You learned the names and memorized where they were. How hard could that be?

Now I know: a third of the country names have changed since I learned them all back in high school. Wherefore art thou, Yugoslavia?

So when my son asked the other night, “Do you think we’ll ever be friends with North Korea?”

I had to say: “I think anything is possible.”

Also, I hope the North Koreans love their children, too.

32 thoughts on “Wherefore art thou, Yugoslavia?

  1. robincoyle says:

    While we were in LA recently, we went to the Ronald Reagan library and saw the section of he Berlin Wall. It is just a big piece of concrete, but it gives you pause. Especially having lived through the Cold War.

    • annewoodman says:

      That’s so funny… the person talking about the Berlin Wall on our video said that was where one of the biggest pieces had ended up. It definitely is sobering… and a good reminder of why we don’t want history to repeat itself.

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    Things change quickly, that’s true, but sadly, some things never change–like war. It baffles me that in this day and age so much war remains.

    By the way, I like how you made You Tube a verb: “YouTubed.” Nice touch!

    • annewoodman says:

      Agreed, Carrie. I do want to have a Rodney King moment with all countries and say, “Can’t we all just get along?” War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

      I think we writers verb things all the time. ; )

  3. Melissa says:

    Not only do the countries change, but when I was a kid, Pluto was a planet. Let them think about that one for a bit 😉

  4. Excellent, thought provoking post, Anne. I remember the “Duck and Cover” drills of the Cold War. It was a scary time. Watching the wall come down was one of the modern miracles. We never thought it would ever happen. I hope the last two sentences of your post are heard by leaders of every nation.

    “Dream of the Blue Turtles” is also one of my favorite albums.

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I have “The Dream of the Blue Turtles,” too. Seeing the Berlin Wall come down was amazing. Watching my mother’s home country of Yugoslavia crumble just a few years later was heartbreaking. I wished we could go back to the days when no one had ever heard of it.

    I hope you’re right that anything’s possible and the world might know peace one day. We haven’t been destroyed by an asteroid yet. ; ) Of course, some Russian extreme Nationalists are saying the meteor this morning was really a new American weapon. True peace is still in the future, I think.

  6. Bernie Brown says:

    We were living in The Netherlands when the wall came down. What an exciting day that was. We have since traveled to Berlin and Berliners have created a brickwork line throughout the city to show where the wall stood. Funny, you might be crossing a street and look down and there is the line of red bricks running right down the middle of the street. We also visited Checkpoint Charlie and a museum there showing artifacts from different escape attempts, some successful, some not. These are some of the most moving things I have ever seen during our travels. It made me think and think and think some more about war and how truly terrible it is.

    • annewoodman says:

      Bernie, I had not realized that the end of The Wall was when you were overseas. How exciting! And I bet it was incredible to see Checkpoint Charlie… I’d love to visit. That chapter of our world history is so horrific to me.

  7. David Gentry says:

    My wife, Pam, and I spent six weeks in Europe in 1971. We spent one week with a German family Pam had stayed with as an exchange student. They took us on a short drive to see The Wall. A small road dead-ended and there was an observation tower made from rough wood. There was a binocular device. Even without the device, we could see a long, high fence that stretched from horizon to horizon through the countryside. There were periodic guard posts shimmering in the summer heat. We could vaguely see fields and hills through the fence. Our escort told us that people from their small town on this side of The Wall watched funeral processions of relatives living on the other side of The Wall.

    I did not know you read The Diary of Anne Frank when you were so young! Savannah is only ten. Shouldn’t she wait a couple of years anyway?

    When Ben and Savannah come of age in the sense that they are quite sure their parents don’t really know what is going on, I have a suggestion. Encourage them to watch either Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. I believe every American and British high school student should do this. Students will learn much more about American/British history and what it is to be an American or British citizen than any American history class. And that is important.

    • annewoodman says:

      There is so much collective history to teach. We all need to remember what happened… unfortunately, people continue to be horrible to each other around the world. But if my children can spread some kindness in some small way, I keep hoping it will stamp out evil on some level, somewhere.

  8. Amy Mak says:

    You’re such a great writer; that was excellent! “Tear down that wall!” Good stuff.

  9. Really great post Anne. You somehow managed to talk about some of these awful things with a gentle touch but without glossing over it, and yet still leaving us with hope (and all written much more eloquently than my sentence was here!).

    It’s great that your kids are taking an interest. These things should never be forgotten.

  10. Subtlekate says:

    Wow Anne, when I read your first paragraph I said to myself, I hope the North Koreans love their children too. Spooky. We’ve vibing.

  11. 4amWriter says:

    It is hard to imagine that ‘the other side’ loves like we do. They must wonder the same about us.

    • annewoodman says:

      It is a silly question, even Sting admits… of course they love their children. The leaders are often at fault, and unfortunately, they cultivate a culture of distrust, fear and hatred. It would be so much simpler if people chose a path of love. ; )

  12. I thought I was the only person out there who sort of missed the Yugoslavias and the Czechoslovakias. Not because they were good countries — because they certainly weren’t — but because their names were fun to say.

    On another note, the next party I throw will be BYOS (Bring your Own Sledgehammer). Sounds like a blast…especially if I host it in the house of a mortal enemy.

    • annewoodman says:

      BYOS Parties are the best! The next time your good friends buy a house that needs to be gutted, buy some beer and wine and some munchies and head over to help out! Or… if you hear of any large, country-sized walls that need to come down, please invite me along.

  13. Ravena Guron says:

    I saw something about this on a reality TV show (educational TV, I know :D) It was the British version of “the Apprentice” and one of the candidates was like “do the French love their children?” I think she was the one fired.

    I’ve never read the diary of Anne Frank, though I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t heard of it.

  14. Lovely post. I really enjoy how you portray your children’s interest – it’s intriguing what captures their imaginations and great to know that real life issues can, and not just cartoons etc. Clever line about your thoughts on the Russians – whether they really could love their children as much, standing in line for toilet paper. It’s your idiosyncratic take and way with words, but always pointing at a larger picture.

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Gabriela. We had some neighbors living on our street up until a couple of years ago… they were a few years older than we were and grew up in the former Soviet Union. It was amazing how much their experiences still caused fear and pain today, even though their lives were full and rich.

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