My unsentimental education had begun in the 1990s in Bosnia, where I often had a Matrix-like experience. In the morning, I would wake up in Sarajevo or another cursed town that was blasted by bombs, frozen by winter and deprived of food. I would then begin my effort to get the hell out of hell. I would hope for a seat on what was known as Maybe Airlines. These were the UN relief flights that brought food into besieged Sarajevo. Maybe the shelling would be light enough for flights to land and take off, maybe not. If the flights were grounded, I could try to escape by driving along Sniper Alley and through a creepy no man’s land that constituted the only border that mattered in a nation cut and quartered by war.
Distances are small in Europe. By the afternoon, I could be in Vienna or Budapest or London, enjoying the comfortable life that Europe offered many of its citizens: hot showers, good food, clean sheets, the certainty that I would not be killed by a mortar as I slept. I had a hard time believing these altered states existed in such close proximity. The contented Europeans eating apple strudel or shopping at Harrods on those 1990s afternoons—didn’t they realize a war was being fought in their backyard? The answer was that they knew and didn’t care. Proximity isn’t destiny. Bosnia, though close, wasn’t their home. Other people were killing and dying, not their people.”