Paul Greenberg

Someday the Ossetians could enjoy a kind of independence akin to that eventually won by Kosovo. But that is way down the theoretical road at this point. Let's hope it's not also a bloody road.

Lest we forget, the First World War, that calamitous folly, would prove only Act I of a century of world war, revolutions and bloody upheaval of all kinds. It began in a month-long combination of farce and tragedy: The Austrians demanded satisfaction of the Serbs for the assassination of their royal scion at Sarajevo. The Serbians turned to their Slavic big brother, Russia, for protection. The Austrians in turn appealed to their German ally, which gave them a blank check to do as they wished. The French, honoring their alliance with the Russians, not to mention their long-standing animus toward all things Teutonic, lined up against Germany. While the German general staff, acting on a long prepared plan for war against France (the Schlieffen Plan) struck through undefended Belgium, which meant the British, committed to Belgian neutrality, felt obliged to enter the war on the French side.

The golden summer of 1914 ended early, and with it, a golden era. And the lights went out all over Europe.

Mainly because nobody in power was able to say, STOP! - and make it stick. The world has been paying for it ever since.

This time, could we please skip the war and go directly to the peace? Little wars have a way of spreading into great ones. Especially if, like a wildfire, they're ignored.

Remember how long it took to get serious about stopping the carnage in Bosnia back in the always temporizing Age of Clinton? Now another war has begun. Should we ignore it at length, too? After all, who in this country ever heard of South Ossetia? About as many people who could have told you where Bosnia was in 1914.

If only there were a real United Nations, but of course there isn't. Which leaves it to this era's great powers, including the greatest one, to rush in the diplomats - instead of having to rush in troops. Let us take thought. And action. Time is lives. And safety. Don't squander it.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.