Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"They Would Never Hurt A Fly" by Slavenka Drakulic

Croatian-born (I would guess that Drakulic would say "Yugoslav," but I'm not sure)writer Slavenka Drakulic's book is the result of several months spent observing prisoners being tried by the ICTY at The Hague. The book is economical and minimalist in technique--there is no introductory section detailing how she came to The Hague, or a Preface summarizing her investigatory techniques. Instead, the book consists almost entirely of quietly, wisely observed portraits of various war criminals from a variety of backgrounds, of varying degrees of guilt.

Drakulic does not explain how she discovered the information and details she uses to flesh out her portraits of this diverse group of mass killers, rapists, war crime planners, and leaders. She turns her attention equally to a sadistic prison guard who once loved fishing, to Milosevic himself. She also portrays one indicted criminal who is notably absent--Ratko Mladic--in a piece that manages to find the flawed human being beneath the monstrous exterior that is all too familiar from Srebrenica footage.

And that, really, is the point--Drakulic freely admits that she is not breaking new ground here; once again, we are faced with the "banality of evil." In the last of the thirteen chapters, entitled "Why We Need Monsters," she revisitst a lesson of Nuremburg--how can the monsters who committed such acts look and act just like you and me? Does that mean they ARE like you and me? And, if so, what does that say about all of us?

These questions haunted many of the participants and observers at the first war crimes tribunals in the 1940s. Drakulic shows that we still do not have answers.

The Epilogue of this book, on the other hand, is as particular to the Yugoslav wars as the final chapter is (tragically) universal. Entitled "Brotherhood and Unity," it is a painfully ironic look at the inter-ethnic cooperation and peaceful coexistance that has developed between the indicted war criminals from different ethnic groups at The Hague. These ostensible blood enemies have developed a community that overcomes or simply ignores differences. They are defined not by their different national backgrounds or by which side they took during the war, but rather by their common situation as fellow prisoners.

So, many of the architects and actors of the bloody wars that destroyed their native land blithely put aside all the supposedly intractable hatreds and divisions that claimed thousands of lives and shattered a society. In the end, Drakulic notes with just a hint of anger beneath her cooly ironic posture, the war was "for nothing."

1 comment:

Owen said...

Thanks for that, Kirk. It's good to get your comments on something intelligent after the awe-inspiring other-planetliness of Johnstone and Parenti.