Does anyone remember the Field of the Blackbirds? It was in the news quite frequently about a year ago, back when people were still paying attention to the mess in Kosovo. The Field of the Blackbirds is the battlefield where a Serbian army was defeated by the Ottoman Turks in the year 1389.

Ancient history? Not to the Serbs. For them, the Field of the Blackbirds represents their tribe’s history of suffering and oppression. And they use the battlefield, which is located in Kosovo, to justify their rule over that province and their own acts of oppression against the Kosovars.

Just a year later, most people don’t remember the Field of the Blackbirds — but they should. It is an eloquent symbol of a certain kind of mentality, a way of thinking that is taking hold in America and threatens to plunge us into the same kind of ethnic warfare that has laid waste to Yugoslavia.

America has its own Field of the Blackbirds, an episode in our own history that stands as a symbol of one racial group’s historical oppression. And it is now being used, in that group’s name, to justify looting and oppression against others.

America’s Field of the Blackbirds is slavery — and the oppression it is being used to justify is the current push for “reparations” for slavery.

A group of liability lawyers and “civil rights activists” — if that term can be stretched to include infamous O.J. attorney Johnnie Cochran — have formed something called the Reparations Assessments Group. This cabal of lawyers is preparing to file an enormous lawsuit against the U.S. government and just about any corporation that was in existence prior to 1865. They are demanding that today’s blacks be compensated for the wrongs allegedly committed by the government and private corporations under slavery.

Liability law is meant to compensate specific individuals for specific wrongs. The Reparations Assessment Group wants to stretch that idea beyond the limits of absurdity. None of the villains or victims of slavery are still alive, and after 135 years — about five generations — of changing individual and corporate fortunes, it is impossible to trace any particular loss suffered by one individual to any gain enjoyed by another. So the demand for reparations takes the form of a blanket payment to all of today’s blacks — at the expense of all of today’s taxpayers and stockholders.

The people who are filing this lawsuit clearly are not concerned with punishing or compensating individuals. Instead, their focus is on the racial group. They rely on the view that all whites today are responsible for what other whites did 135 years ago — and that all blacks today are owed compensation for whatever happened to other blacks before 1865. These racial collectives, not any individual persons, are the real parties in this lawsuit.

And this is exactly the same mentality that makes the Serbs rally around the Field of the Blackbirds. To the Serbs, it does not matter that everyone who fought in the battle is long dead or that the political entities they fought for dissolved centuries ago. The Serbs cling to the memory of this battle because it is part of the history of their ethnic group. It does not matter which individuals were involved or whether they are still alive — because the collective, in this view, lives on. And in the name of this ethnic collective, the Serbs are still fighting the same battle against the same rival tribes.

This is the essence of the ethnicity-worshipping mentality. Or let us call it by an appropriately primitive name: this is the outlook of tribalism. The consequences of tribalism are there, in the former Yugoslavia, for all the world to see: a constant series of bloody battles, with each ethnic group exacting endless revenge for ancient wrongs. And that is the direction in which the slavery-reparations crowd is leading us. They use slavery as an all-purpose excuse to extract wealth and special preferences from members of one race on behalf of members of another. In each case, the merit or responsibility of any particular individual is regarded as irrelevant.

Of course, they want all of this to be done through the courts, under the legitimizing cover of abstruse legal arguments. But it is still the same mentality that sent the Serbs into the streets with guns.

And it is every bit as dangerous to Americans — both black and white — as it was to the people, of every ethnic background, who used to coexist in Yugoslavia.