Ethnic Cleansing


“The only good Indian is a dead Indian!”

I cannot remember how young I was when I first heard those words. I do not remember who first spoke those words to me. The comment may have even come from a television show or a movie. I cannot remember who, when or where but the comment singed its meaning into my conscience for all time.

When I first heard those words I was too young, too diminutive, and too insecure to challenge them. I knew that I had Indian heritage but few others knew it; and I could slide on by without discovery or protest. We now know such a comment has its germination in historical ethnic cleansing.

Ethnic Cleansing is the persecution, forcible expulsion or imprisonment, rape, pillage, and mass murder of an ethnic minority by a majority to achieve ethnic homogeneity.

Before the holocaust and other modern mass killings, ethnic cleansing was the history of victimized Native Americans. There seems a commonality in all these atrocities—ignorance, hate, sin, evil and the rebuke of God.

As a young pastor and chaplain stationed in Italy, I organized a community to protest ethnic cleansing in 1993. With several large rented trucks, we personally delivered numerous tons of donated food, blankets, clothing, school supplies, toys and goods to a Bosnian refugee camp in Croatia. The idea came to me from reading disturbing reports about Vukovar, Croatia.

More than fifty-thousand Croatians, including children, were killed in Vulovar. The whole city was destroyed. Thousands of children were made orphans. I came to know two of those orphans intimately. I wrote a disturbing poem about Vulovar and ethnic cleansing. The theme and many events could have come from the pages of American frontier history. I would like to share that poem with you:




Dark red blood spurts.

Like a fountain

It pulsates down

The lacerated body of

Senada Muratovic,

Trapped in cross wires

Of war, of hate

Of God damned evil.


And the carnage continues,

Violent, unabated,

While the dance of diplomacy

Plays on, plays out,

In The New World Order.


Is there killing

More heinous,

More diabolic,

More abominable

In the eye of God

Than tribal war

Or what we,

In The New Age,

Call civil war?


A crazed war.

Neighbors, old friends,

Become suspicious, menacing.

A Balkan war.

People look alike,

Live alike,

Can speak a common tongue

But attend different

Churches, mosques,

Not a small difference

In a small mind.


Within borders

Of former Yugoslavia,

Thousands of civilians,

Not soldiers,

Are ethnically targeted,



A Yugoslavian war.

Homes are set afire,

Hospitals, schools, museums,


Churches, mosques,

To the ground are



Frantic faces,

Emaciated bodies

Cry out for food,

For deliverance.

Unretrieved corpses

Litter streets,

Mute testimony

To a political doctrine.


Carnage continues,

Violent, unabated.

Diplomacy dances,

Plays on, plays out,

In The New World.



Fathers are executed

Summarily by maniacal men

In ski masks.

Mothers witness sons

Beaten, abducted,

Daughters humiliated, raped.

A vulgar war.


Millions have been expelled

Signing documents

Agreeing not to return,

Leaving homes

To be possessed

By despicables who thirst

For an ethnically pure state.


A vile war.

Numbed humans, thousands,

Are packed into railroad cars

Deported to the unknown.

Promised safe journeys,

These refugees

Are locked into

Unventilated mobil prisons

In blistering heat,

Or sub zero cold,

No food, no water,

Not a toilet.

Many stumble off box cars

Collapsed of exhaustion and despair.


What is this political doctrine?

In Eastern Croatia,

In the region of Baranja,

Where the mouth of the Vuka river

Meet the banks of the Danube,

Lies the beautiful ancient town of Vukovar,

A once proud city of fifty-thousand.


Senada Muratovic

Lived in this city.

For eighty-six days

Serbian artillery

Relentlessly, hideously,

Shelled Vukovar

Into merciless submission.

Thousands were killed,

Some blown to bits, obliterated.

Throats were cut

By paramilitary.

Thousands fled for their lives.

Boys and girls, hundreds were orphaned.


Two hundred maimed patients

Were marched from a hospital

To an open pit,

In the head, shot,

Covered from memory.

Ethnic cleansing,

They call it.


Yet tenacity of spirit

Is borne out by orphans

In Lovran Refugee Camp,

Like Mirsad and Mirsada,

Who dance and sing:


“O’Vukovar, my heart

Vukovar, my home.

My spirit is apart.

I am left alone.

And Vukovar is in flames

While the Danube waters flow.

Vukovar, I will learn

To make me again, whole.

Home of Slovenian oak, I yearn.

O’Vukovar, my soul.

And Vukovar is in flames

While the Danube waters flow.”


So where are those

Who shout for justice?

Is the echo

Sounded down the streets

Of Srebrenica?

Where are those

Who cry out for mercy sake?

Can the waves of sound be felt

In Sarajevo?


Can we not hear a voice,

A conscience.

Can we not hear

A call from the dark,

Not too distant past,

Whispering “never again?”


Senada Muratovic

Was a young school teacher,

A wife, (whose husband Sad

Is missing in action)

And the beloved mother

Of Mirsad and Mirsada.


And the carnage continues

Violent, unabated,

While the dance of diplomacy

Plays on, plays out,

In The New World Order.



About Wesselhoft, Paul

Retired U.S. Army (Airborne Ranger) Chaplain; State Representative, Oklahoma House of Representatives; Representative, Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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