Comedians are in trouble if they tell the same-old jokes.
Singers are in trouble if they don't sing the same-old songs.
We columnists are somewhere in the middle. We're allowed to use repeat material only if and when there's a good reason. Two new reasons to repeat two used stories are upon us. One is the angry mob in Belgrade, Serbia attacking the American embassy and the other is the apparent ascendency of Raul Castro to replace big brother Fidel as the new ruler of Cuba.
The Serbian story was told in the World War II book "From the Land of the Silent People" by highly-respected war correspondent Robert St. John. I found it a bit too hard to believe until about 2005 when I spoke before an audience of Serbs in New York and met quite a few who had actually taken part in what's known as "The Diaper Rebellion."
From the end of World War I until the 1990s breakup, Yugoslavia was a big country consisting of today's Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Slovenia. As Adolf Hitler was plotting Germany's wars of aggresson, he adroitly lined up a necklace of allies to his east and southward all the way to the Black Sea. Austria became an enthusiastic part of the Nazi program. They were joined by Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.
The astute student might ask, Why didn't Yugoslavia join its Axis neighbors? The answer is, Yugoslavia did — for almost a whole day! (OK — for almost two days!)
On March 25, 1941 the Yugoslav government joined Hitler and his allies. Then the Diaper Rebellion began. The third-graders of Belgrade (9-year old Serbs!) marched out of their classrooms into the streets and demonstrated against the pact with Germany. They were soon joined by the fifth graders, the university students, the faculty, the trade unionists, the police, the mailmen, the pensioners, the soccer players, and the Serbian population at large.
They had a rousing slogan (At least it's rousing in Serbo-Croatian) that went, "Bolye rat nego pakt. Bolya grob nego rob," which means, "Better war than the pact. Better the grave than slavery." Soon the big boys moved in.
Serbian Gen. Bora Mirkovic took over the government. Prince Paul, the regent who signed the pact with Hitler, fled to Greece. Mirkovic threw the leaders of the pact-signing government in jail and renounced the pact and Adolf Hitler along with it.
Hitler was staggered by a combination of fury and disbelief. He railed out against the Serbs and warned they'd be totally destroyed. The Serbs didn't deny that. They merely repeated that they didn't like Hitler and his ways and if Nazi Germany wanted Yugoslavia they would have to come get it, and Serbian honor was not for sale; like that of the neighboring countries who'd been bought off by Germany with territorial treasures at the expense of Hitler's victims.
Yugoslavia's feeble resistance lasted a scant two weeks, but the anti-Nazi forces within Yugoslavia never quit. No other country occupied by Germany waged as effective a guerrilla war as the Serbs under Tito. Hundreds of thousands of German troops who might have staved off defeat if they'd been free to deploy to the Russian front, were kept busy by the Serb resistance. By the time the Allies arrived for the rescue, fully two-thirds of Yugoslavia was in Yugoslav hands.
Not bad for a spontaneous uprising that began in the third grade! What's the use of history? many a student still asks. Well, for one thing, as you watch a Serbian mob attack an American embassy it's good for the heart, the blood pressure, the complexion, and the mood to know that not all Serbian mobs are against the good guys. Some are against the worst!
Onward now to Raul Castro. For at least a year before the Castro takeover of Cuba, the radio show I worked for in New York — the Tex and Jinx Show — had openly sympathized with the Castro rebels and even raised money for them; officially, I guess, making host Tex McCrary, his famous-model wife Jinx Falkenberg, and me guilty of gun-running to Latin-American rebels. When Cuban boss Fulgencio Batista fled Havana on New Year's Day entering 1959, we were jubilant.
Tex and I went to Havana to celebrate with our Castro friends.
Within 10 days it turned rotten. Instead of promising democracy and moving in that direction, Fidel and his blood-thirsty sidekick, Che Guevara, had firing squads working in shifts gunning down Cubans who really, or even maybe, held jobs such as traffic cops under Batista. Tex called me and said, "We're going back to Cuba to try to talk sense to the Castro brothers and stop the executions."
It was my luck to run into Raul Castro precisely as he walked out of the jungle into headquarters in Havana. I hailed him, introduced myself, let him know we were old proven friends of the Castro movement and tried to convince him it was a mistake to let American public opinion swing so violently against the Castro Revolution. I thought I had a good argument.
"Raul," I began. "The nation of Norway, just like Cuba, suffered under a dictatorship for about the same amount of time as Cuba did. Norway was occupied by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945. When liberation came, the Norwegians didn't go grabbing anybody who'd had any association with the hateful oppressors. They went after the real war criminals.
"After long, detailed and methodical trials they wound up executing only Vidkun Quisling, the man whose very name became synomynous with 'traitor,' and three or four of his henchmen. Then the reconciliation began. And here you have firing squads all over the island cutting people down either without trials or after trials that last 10 minutes."
Raul looked at me as though he wished he had a nice stone wall to line me up against at that very moment.
Before he spun around and turned away he said, "All you've done is prove that Cubans are bad Norwegians!"
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