War for beginners

I used to rely on an RSS reader to stay on top of world events. Now I use Facebook. I know I am not getting the whole story there, but I am definitely getting a sense of how my friends think, what they’re concerned about, and what is going on in their parts of the world. So when I ran across a shared post from Bosnia with the title “Rat za početnike” [War for beginners], I took notice. Here was a series of images, fragments, memories, from someone who had lived through and fought in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia as a young man, and who has no desire to be led into such an experience again. As a sign that he is not alone in his thinking, his status post received thousands of shares and reactions on Facebook and was picked up by major news outlets in the region in less than 24 hours.

I felt like this post needed to be shared even more widely, and so I asked the author for permission to translate it and post it on my blog. I don’t know Eldin personally and we are not friends on Facebook, but he immediately responded to my request and to a few questions I asked while translating (typical translator requests for clarification). I read in one article that he was 20 when the war ended, and I can see from his FB page that he lives in Sarajevo.

Links to articles about the post and a bit of backround follow the translation.


Eldin Kurbašić
Facebook, 1 September 2016

WITH THE FLAMES OF WAR being fanned by patriots and flag-wavers of all stripes, from all latitudes and longitudes, carrying all colors of political party cards and property deeds, calling us to arms, calling us to take sides . . . It’s time to share some knowledge—knowledge of a strictly empirical nature, not to be found in any textbook.

War for beginners (from a soldier’s perspective)

(1) Your parents look out the window at a hill that has been devastated by a thousand grenades, and they know that you are on that hill somewhere, fighting. As they look they pray to God that you return alive, even at the price of your becoming an invalid for the rest of your life. Just so you’re alive.

(2) You do not have to be hit by a bullet or piece of shrapnel to be killed in action. You can also be killed by a detonation in which your organs burst from the shock wave. The first symptoms are loss of consciousness and vomiting of blood.

(3) You return from the battlefield and are assigned the duty of visiting the wife and mother of your friend, and his two-year-old daughter, to tell them that their husband, son and father was killed. You are advised to bring some sedative tablets with you to give to them right away, but they burst into tears as soon as they see you and your two comrades at the door, because for sure you do not have a smile on your face. And then you can’t help but imagine for a moment or two how your own loved ones would react in that situation.

(4) Exchange of bodies. Well, this is a special exercise for fucking up your psyche. You turn over 120 corpses because you are looking for the body of your cousin killed in action. I won’t go into further detail.

(5) You discover that when a bullet or piece of shrapnel punctures the femoral artery, the blood spurts out in a fountain about a half-meter high. You put one palm on the guy’s wound, and with the other you pull his tongue out of his throat so he doesn’t choke in his state of shock, which sets in immediately.

(6) You have about 10 seconds to stop the whistling coming from your comrade’s lung, punctured by shrapnel (i.e., pneumothorax). If you don’t have the proper dressing, the one with the rubber membrane, then the cellophane wrapper from a box of cigarettes might help.

(7) The speed of a piece of shrapnel is about a kilometer per second; it is an irregular shape, made of multilayered metal castings; it flies an irregular path, spinning on its own axis; its temperature is about 200°C; and it rips through flesh, bone, veins and arteries in a fraction of a second.

(8) “Mouse” fever: Even if while lying in your foxhole you get used to watching rats the size of cats crossing back and forth over the plastic sheeting above your head, your kidneys certainly will not get used to the disease that frequently befalls soldiers in the trenches—hemorrhagic fever, or “mouse” fever, as it is called in Bosnian.

(9) A coniferous tree will spontaneously crack and pop at temperatures of around −17°C, usually while you are on watch.

(10) The advice from the emergency medical team to dress in multiple layers takes on a whole new dimension when you are dressed in layers and have to spend a month, sometimes more, in mud up to your knees.

(11) When you have to ignore the nutritional value of the margarine you get on a slice of bread for breakfast and instead rub it into your army boots, because in the snow it is more important for you to have dry feet in your boots than buttered bread in your stomach.

(12) You don’t carry a bayonet to slit someone’s throat, but to dig yourself a hole in the hard frozen earth on some open field (in the course of an ill-advised assault ordered by a headquarters manned by status seekers and dilettantes) with a deadline of RIGHT NOW because you are under hostile enemy fire.

(13) An enemy sniper is more annoying than the most persistent mosquito.

(14) Your weapon must ALWAYS stay dry! There’s no such thing as a waterproof guarantee, as with certain mobile phones.

(15) The rush of adrenaline when you are being held in quarantine before a military action is nonstop and about 845 times stronger than the rush of your first sexual experience.

There is plenty more, but I think this is sufficient to warn all of you hotheads who are spoiling for another war: Don’t invoke war unless you are prepared to endure all this and ten times worse—you personally and your sons, too.

Translated by Paula Gordon


News coverage:



http://www.balcanicaucaso.org/aree/Bosnia-Erzegovina/Bosnia-Erzegovina-le-parole-di-Eldin-174056 [article in Italian, with Italian translation of post]

http://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Bosnia-Herzegovina/Bosnia-Herzegovina-according-to-Eldin-174056 [article in English, with some background and a different English translation of Eldin’s post]


Bosnia and Herzegovina’s major political parties are established along religious and ethnic lines, and political speech can conflate party loyalty and ethnicity. And that’s not always accidental. (Maybe I should have written “ever” in place of “always.”) See Gordana Knezevic’s commentary on RFERL, “Bosnia’s Perfect Storm” (6 Sept. 2016) for a summary of recent events and statements that have contributed to the heightening of tensions in the region.


One comment

  1. Pingback: War from a tween’s perspective | dba Plan B

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