By Joseph V. Curatolo
The horrors of war. You can never fully understand it unless you’ve lived through it. But if you talk to people who have survived war, it’s easy to see why most of the world wants to come to the United States.
Fortunately, I’ve never suffered through it, but I did learn from people who have. It seems that terror lingers even decades after it ended.
Last month, my friends and I traveled through parts of Europe: Dubrovnik, Croatia; Vienna, Austria; and Budapest, Hungary. Each area had been torn apart by war at different times in the 20th century.
Dubrovnik is in southern Croatia on the Adriatic Sea. The name may not mean much to most people, until you find out that it’s where the hit TV show “Game of Thrones” is filmed.
During the 1990s, the country then known as Yugoslavia was the site of a horrific ethnic cleansing campaign. In 1991, the Yugoslav National Army attacked Dubrovnik in a seven-month siege, killing 114 civilians and severely damaging more than half the city. The Croatian Army fought back and lifted the siege in 1992.
Twenty-five years later, a portion of the city still remains in ruins. People vividly remember surviving the attacks. Our 35-year-old guide said she and her family hid in the basement of a hotel for a year. Today she is still scared when planes fly overhead because planes shot at them during the siege.
Even with that fear, the city has become one of the top five European tourist destinations.
Vienna is a totally different situation from Dubrovnik. Known across the world as “the City of Music” because of its ties to Mozart and Beethoven, Vienna was one of Europe’s most majestic cities for centuries. However, in the late 1930s Nazi Germany took over Adolf Hitler’s native country. Terror reigned as Austrian Jews were rounded up and killed.
Shortly after the war ended in 1945, the country was divided into four parts with four different countries – United States, Great Britain, France and Soviet Union – each controlling a section. In 1955 the Austrian State Treaty united the four sections and the country was reborn under its own rule.
Today, Vienna is one of the wealthiest and most beautiful cities in Europe. Most, if not all, of the historic buildings damaged in the war have been restored. But there seemed to be a sadness among the people. They remember World War II, whether they lived through it, or from stories of their parents and grandparents who did. Most of all they wanted to know about America.
The most depressing of the cities we visited was Budapest. It was a communist country for decades until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990. Despite the majestic Danube River flowing through the center of the city, it is not very pretty. Most of the buildings were built cheaply by the communists and are called “sick” by the residents.
It was also very different from any other part of the world where we have traveled because few people made eye contact with us. The ones who would talk to us made it clear they would much rather be in the United States. They see opportunities here to make a life for themselves that they want. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Lately we hear that some Americans believe our system in the United States is extremely biased and flawed. They probably never spent time talking with people who have suffered large-scale tragedy or war. They probably have never visited or understood war memorials in our own country. Everyone here needs to know that America is still the best place to live.