Friday, July 14, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" by Diana Johnstone

The introduction to "Fool's Crusade" betrays the cards Johnstone is holding--unreconstructed far-Left diatribes against a perceived monolithic West; a selective reading of current history; a quest to find sinister subtexts in every Western action while simultaneously accepting statements by Milosevic and company at face value; a sinister and borderline fascist embrace of collective identity and generational guilt, and the parallel rejection of a notion of individual responsibility; the creation of grossly simplified strawman with which to do battle; a blurring (when not outright ignoring) the distinction between the admittedly oftentimes simplistic, binary rhetoric coming from the Western media and commentators, and the actions of Western governments and trans-national organizations; and, most insidiously, a disingenuous concern for abstract (to put it kindly) issues of legality and sovereignty to mask out-and-out propagandizing for Serbian ultra-nationalism.

That's a long list, and it might not be exhaustive. The reason I find the final example most troubling is that some of the issues Johnstone hides behind are, on the face of it, reasonable objections. I could say the same for some others as well--there is no doubt that Western media coverage of the Bosnian war tended to be grossly over-simplified. The logic of 'ethnic war' was accepted by many in the West; the Serbs were simply portrayed as the ethnic group at fault. While this may have comprimised efforts to craft sensible policies at the time, and muddies the waters at present while the definitive history of the war has yet to be written, most sensible people realize that news coverage is not history.

The last item in the above list is troubling because pieces of Johnstone's argument can sound reasonable and even revelatory to someone predisposed to dismiss American/Western actions and rhetoric. And I don't want to suggest that the establishment media have never supported the actions of the military/political elite by following an accepted 'script.' It happens. And, as we shall see, Johnstone does sometimes stumble across important issues and provocative questions. Unfortunately, she uses them to deflect attention and change the subject.

In this book, the specific and concrete give way to the theoretical and the vague. Real people, places, and events, become transformed into quotation-marked concepts, mere props. Or perhaps, merely pieces of evidence in a trial where flesh-and-blood victims of specific crimes must prove their innocence, while the courtroom is turned over to lawyers who argue theoretical cases based on intellectualized possibilities even as the trial at hand goes on.

Her fellow genocide denier, Edward S. Herman (the guy who thought the Khmer Rouge got a bum deal, for the record), praises the book in a blurb opposite the title page. He calls it: (I am quoting directly here) "a "must" book for progressives, and for anybody who wants to cut through the remarkable structure of disinformation regarding the Kosovo war and its background that has been institutionalized in the West." He then goes on to praise her for working "with a critical framework that does not take NATO-friendly assumptions, pre-fabricated history, and filtered and decontextualized evidence as premises and truth (or the whole truth)." (Pot, meet kettle). "The result is an excitingly original and powerful book and an essential corrective to a remarkable body of propaganda that dominates thought in the Free World."

Well, that's some heady praise indeed! What important work has Johnstone accomplished, you might ask? Is every ready to enter to the brave new world of genocide denial? Fasten your seatbelts, have a stiff drink, and be prepared to feel the urge to break things and curse loudly--here we go!


Shaina said...

I look forward to reading more of your opinion on Johnstone's book.

I changed my blog from "Hague Watch" to "Bosnia Vault" - now located at
The purpose of the blog is to provide news, opinions, book reviews, etc. relating to Bosnia and the war.
I added all of my posts from Hague Watch to Bosnia Vault.
I also added three book reviews that I had originally posted on another blog of mine.
I added "Americans for Bosnia" to my list of links.
Whenever you have the chance, please feel free to check out my new blog.


Owen said...

Kirk, as you say, some of the points Diane Johnstone and others make are not unreasonable on the face of it, but they're never made in the context of a balanced investigation, they're used selectively. And it's not astract academic comment, at the end of the day real people get short-changed.

Setting aside the major issues of justice and impunity, I've actually met and spoken with Ed Vulliamy, a man whose sincerity is patent. It is obvious that Johnstone and her friends' allegations about the reporting of Trnopolje are extremely upsetting to him, particularly as Johnstone continues to give a public airing to Deichmann's claims even after they were refuted by the evidence given in the High Court case in London.

It's Chomsky's unwillingness to apply his critical faculties to Johnstone's work that undermines his own credibility.

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