When the man has an AK-47, you do as he says.

I was in Osijek, Croatia as part of a Quaker peace mission when I had the chance to snag some InterNet time at the local phone exchange. Croatia was at war with Serbia at the time, so security in this frontier city was tight.

I had my camera — the Nikon N8008 that I still use — with me.

After I had finished, I was leaving the building with a student when we were stopped by a soldier of the Croatian army. He spied my camera and interrogated me. “What have you been taking pictures of,” he demanded. “Did you take any photos of important people?”

I dreaded where this was going, so I opened my camera, pulled out the film cannister, stretched out the film, and gave it to him. Now this guy wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed it turned out. He held the film up to the light and tried to make out what I had been photographing.

A few weeks later I was in Zagreb, showing my wife and some French volunteers the Old City. The best viewpoint turned out to be next to a place where they were holding some kind of event. Several soldiers carrying AK-47s wandered outside. As we approached the overlook, one of them challenged us. What were we doing here?

One of the French volunteers started to argue with him. How dare he stop us? We had rights!

The one thing you learn about a country at war is that your rights go on the back burner. Arguing with a soldier who was just doing his job in a war zone wasn’t very smart, either.

“Shut up,” I said to the volunteer firmly. I then explained to the soldier that we were just here to enjoy the view. I pointed to the overlook. “We’ll be there for three minutes and then we’ll go down those stairs and be out of your way.” He nodded with a half smile and an eye on the French volunteer. We did exactly as we promised and had no further problems.

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