Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Four [12]



My entire review of "Fools' Crusade" has been premised on the notion that Johnstone's ideas need to be dragged out into the light of day and exposed. It hasn't always been fun, and I do sometimes wonder if this entire project hasn't been an exercise in overkill, but for the most part I think it's been worthwhile. Her ideas have found enough currency in certain fringe circles that the risk of further contamination is at least worthy of concern. I have well-meaning friends who have internalized at least some of the revisionist history of the Bosnian war; I once had to play the part of scold at a party when an acquaintance quoted "some Canadian military guy from NATO" on the subject of intractable ethnic hatreds in Bosnia, and the impossibility of applying guilt to any one party. This person was willing to listen when I explained who General MacKenzie was and why one shouldn't take his commentary at face value.

The left-revisionist view of the Bosnian war (brilliantly summarized and rebuked in this article by Marko Attila Hoare, taken from the website Balkan Witness), while marginalized, poses a real danger to developing a clearer understanding of the past and building a better future. The left-revisionist distortions play on left/liberal/progressive sympathies and biases, framing their distorted version of events in terms of anti-imperialism, anti-war, and (and Johnstone explicitly does from page one of this book), anti-globalism. Johnstone and her like-minded peddlers of this debased and withered pseudo-radicalism know which buttons to push and which keywords to drop into the text. Throw in some references to past US actions in Central America, access to oil, and subtle hints of a fascist conspiracy against Serbia and you will surely find some willing, if not necessarily well-read or particularly reflective, young progressives willing to believe the worst. If you can drop sinister hints about support for an "Islamist government" even as the powers that be can't seem to pin bin Laden down, and you've got yourself the makings of an imperialist war project that simply must be resisted.

Perhaps I'm being too cynical and glib. Or perhaps I'm just angry because I am a (no longer so young) left-liberal progressive, and it disgusts and outrages me to see the language of liberation and human rights defiled in the service of two-bit fascism and drearily tribal collectivism. And it is this very outrage which has fueled me as I have patiently and systematically reviewed, to this point, 192 pages of Diana Johnstone's vile book. I make no claims to the quality of my writing or my analysis, but I do hope that by having taken her to task and left the record of one non-specialist's experience with the book, I have done some small part to undermine the edifice of disingenuous analysis and deliberate misinformation she has constructed.

That said, with the last seven pages of Chapter Four I appear to have reached a point of diminished returns; her analysis has wandered so far off the track that it simply isn't worth the time and effort required to rebut them. Suffice it to say--in part two of Chapter Four, she argues that the surviving members of the Hapsburg aristocracy are partially responsible for the Yugoslav wars. And yes, she seems to be serious. Otto von Hapsburg, she contends, had enough sway over German public opinion that he was able to push the German government into "war" against Serbia. And, what's more, the Hapsburgs have set themselves up in Croatia, Austria, and Hungary as potential princes if--I'm not making this up--Europe reverts to monarchical rule in the post-Communist era.

She does her best to make this sound like a reasonable argument, but what we have here is the story of Otto von Hapsburg, a very intelligent and capable aristocrat and--as if this should be any surprise at all--a political and cultural conservative (why one should be surprised to find an aristocratic heir to a deposed monarchy to be something of a reactionary is not explained), who has dedicated his life to maintaining political and cultural ties in the Catholic lands his family once ruled. We can discuss the wisdom or the usefulness of his life's work, but it's quite a leap to go from that to stating that the Hapsburgs have positioned themselves for a restoration.

That von Hapsburg seems to be something of an elitist, a Catholic partisan, and a bigot against the Orthodox East only gives Johnstone something to work with. The family's real enough ties to Croatia are entirely understandable, yet Johnstone somehow seeks to convince the reader that these powerless if still well-connected nobles somehow wield the power to crush states and unleash war. If you're interested, this section covers pages 193-197, in case you want to check to make sure I'm not exaggerating.

So, to sum up--Johnstone believes that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a newly unified Germany, carrying out the revived foreign policy of the Third Reich, under the influence of the Hapsburg monarchy. And somehow this woman was able to find a publisher for this book.


Shaina said...

I really appreciate your willingness to disect Johnstone's books, and expose her biases, half-truths, exaggerations and at times out right lies.

And as someone who would also characterize myself as being left-liberal on the political spectrum; I also understand your frusteration of having the ideas of human rights and liberalism perverted by the likes of Johnstone. Interesting, many of arguments made by the "extreme right" and the "extreme left" with regard to Bosnia utilize many of the same fear tactics, in particular Islamophobia.

And maybe this will sound a bit hypocritical given that in the last paragraph I just focused on politics; but part of the problem is that the far left and the far right have politicized Bosnia and the Bosnian war to such a degree, that the true horror of the war has been lost on them.

BTW: maybe I just didn't notice it until now, but I saw your blog description on the top of your page- it is a really well written description of why it is still so important to keep Bosnia in the headlines.

Kirk Johnson said...

Thank you so much Shaina. I hope you realize that I am a very regular reader of your blog even though I don't always leave comments.

I agree with you absolutely on your comments here.

And the reason you just noticed the blog description is because I just wrote and posted it a few days ago--something I'd meaning to do for a long time. I guess I had to let the blog take on a life of its own before I knew what it was "about."

I've started moderating comments for one simple reason--spam. I will continue to publish all non-spam comments both positive and negative.

Owen said...

Kirk, I share your position and I'm very grateful to you for having shouldered the burden on my behalf.