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Americans Don’t Know Kosovo Well

March 25, 1999

Even as U.S. warplanes dropped bombs on Yugoslavia, many Americans admitted Wednesday they don’t know much about the conflict in the separatist-minded province of Kosovo _ or even where it is.

``I really haven’t been following it,″ said 76-year-old Rollie Braun, a World War II veteran from Madison, Wis., who was vacationing in Atlanta and had just gone on the CNN studio tour. ``I wish I could give you a smart answer.″

Mike Rahn, a 25-year-old businessman on his lunch break at the Arizona Center shopping mall in Phoenix, said soon after the attacks began, ``What is it _ the Serbs and who?″

President Clinton, in an address to the nation from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening, explained the basic geography and history of the troubled Balkan region. He even referred to a colorful map.

Mike Prijatel, a doorman in Spokane, Wash., was the only person watching the speech at Dempsey’s Brass Rail Bar downtown. Prijatel, 23, just got out of the Army and said he didn’t believe Clinton.

``It’s going to be a lot longer than he is saying now,″ said Prijatel, accusing Clinton of making a series of ``hollow promises″ to keep U.S. ground troops out of the conflict.

Jennifer Hassenplug, 19, a DePaul University student from Arlington Heights, Ill., wasn’t sure either after listening to Clinton’s speech.

``If the case is we’re saving lives, then it’s a good idea. But if we’re going over there to take lives, then two wrongs don’t make a right,″ Hassenplug said. ``God forbid this becomes another World War III.″

Across the country, many people admitted they needed a refresher course on the conflict in Kosovo that has killed more than 2,000 people and left over 400,000 homeless.

``I’m definitely not as aware of political events as I’d like to be, but I usually know what’s going on,″ Kate Randolph, a 20-year-old student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., said earlier in the day. ``With this, I’m totally clueless.″

Matt Propeck, 17, a Portland, Ore., high school student who was shopping during his spring break, didn’t know where Kosovo is.

``Is it ... in Europe someplace?″ he said. ``It’s a civil war? Are we trying to prevent it, is that what we’re trying to do?″

Alex Sanchez, a 27-year-old salesman in Miami, had only a sketchy knowledge of the issues. ``It has to do with the whole Yugoslavia thing, right?″ he said.

That didn’t stop him, however, from having an opinion on the bombing. ``If this is against bad things going on, then I agree with it.″

Some Americans have been following the bitter struggle between Serb-led Yugoslavia and the ethnic Albanian separatists. They had mixed feelings about whether the United States and NATO should get involved.

Two polls released Tuesday suggested Americans were split almost down the middle on whether they favored the United States being part of a military action against Serb targets.

``They’ve been fighting the same war for hundreds of years,″ said Judy Cook, 52, who owns a coffee shop in Phoenix. ``I don’t know if (U.S. intervention) will do any good. The war will go on and on. ... It’s a religious war just like the Irish and in the Middle East.″

Larry Voyer, a 71-year-old security officer in Phoenix, strongly supported the action. ``I’m surprised we didn’t act sooner. Maybe we would’ve saved a lot of little children,″ he said.

``I was in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In Korea and Vietnam we lost a lot of boys and didn’t accomplish a lot. But because women and children are suffering, we need to do something. If they’d take me, I’d go back. I gave them all I had then and I’d give them all I have left.″

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