Monday, October 02, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Two [3]

1. MANICHEAN MEDIA (continued)

Johnstone revisits the three infamous market massacres, juxtaposing the timing of each incident against supposedly crucial moments in the war. These incidents--May 27, 1992, February 5, 1994, and August 28, 1995, have been widely discussed and investigated. It is not worth the effort of engaging Johnstone's "argument" on this issue; she doesn't really have one. Any student of the Bosnian war knows that Karadzic always had an ever-changing explanation for how and why "the Muslims" had bombed their own people, and of course UN General Lewis MacKenzie was always eager to make such accusations himself. (By the way--does anyone know if General MacKenzie's pro-Serb loyalties predated his time in Bosnia? I'd be interested to know).

At any rate, this is Johnstone, and if you've been following my critique at all you can pretty much guess at the 'depth' and intellectual honesty of her analysis. Revisiting my point from yesterday's post, there are NO footnotes, no naming of names, no chronology, and most tellingly, no follow-up. I can't make this point often enough--this book was written in 2002. There is no excuse for regurgitating some of the uncertainties of wartime reporting that were inevitable at the time. Johnstone relies on then-contemporary doubts which have since been largely clarified.

The salient point here, then, is not the validity of the ridiculous claim that all three of these highly publicized bombings were orchestrated by the Bosnian Army--other observers have examined these incidents with far more balance and integrity than Johnstone is capable of. Her critique of what she considers lazy and biased media predisposition to blame everything on "the Serbs" contains no real insight per se, but her clumsy attempt at a sophisticated and nuanced analysis exposes her dishonesty, biases, and moral myopia quite succinctly.

First, she scolds the media for a failure to think critically about these massacres:

"While serious independent investigation of such incidents was beyond the capacity of journalists in war conditions, critical analysis is always possible. An unbiased analysis should take into account these considerations:"

It's always grimly amusing to read Johnstone patting herself on the back for being "unbiased." At any rate, what are these considerations? She lists five:

"1. Each of these atrocities was committed at a crucial moment for the future of the conflict: on the eve of an international decision to take punitive measures against the Bosnian Serbs. In each case the atrocity became a clinching argument for such measures. The timing could not have been worse for the Serb side, or better for the Muslim side."

Was there ever a time during the entire war when the international community wasn't contemplating taking punitive measures against the Bosnian Serbs?

"2. One element in deciding who may have committed an anonymous crime is motive. The Muslim motive would have been to trigger international action of their side. The Bosnian Serbs had nothing to gain and much to lose from those particular attacks at those particular times."

It is worth noting that the Bosnian Serb soldiers who manned the artillery pieces around Sarajevo were known for drinking continuously throughout the day.

"3. Staging attacks on one's own side for propaganda purposes is an aspect of psychological war familiar to specialists. It is called "black propaganda."

4. It may be hard to imagine that the Muslims would kill "their own people." However, in Bosnia there were several thousand mujahidin from Muslim countries, including veterans of the war in Afghanistan and Algerian islamic terrorists, for whom Sarajevo's fun-loving, often hard-drinking inhabitants were not exactly "their own people." For the sake of the cause, such foreign fighters might have few qualms about killing a number of Sarajevo civilians, few of whom were likely to be devout Muslims."

The mujahideen fighters were not known to be in Sarajevo. There were often tensions between Bosnian Muslim soldiers and the mujahideen; it is stretching your imagination to the limit to suggest that Bosnian Army soldiers--led by General Jovan Divjak, a Serb--would sit idly by while foreign fundamentalists deliberately slaughtered their fellow citizens.

Assuming, that is, that such precision was possible. Mortars are not smart bombs. The conspiracy Johnstone is alleging requires an element of precision and sophisticated ordinance that wasn't there. Finally:

"5. The Izetbegovic government, throughout the war, refused proposals to make Sarajevo a genuinely open, that is a demilitarized, city. "Beseiged Sarajevo" was a key asset in the Muslim strategy of winning foreign sympathy and support. It diverted attention from other fronts where Muslims were fighting more aggressively and with success."

Time and time again--just when I think I'm used to Johnstone's remarkable capacity to put the wagon in front of the mule, she manages to surprise me anew. Of course the Bosnian Serbs wanted to demilitarize Sarajevo--that was the first step towards partitioning the symbol of multicultural Bosnia and the capital of the republic; not to mention freeing up troops and weapons for other fronts. Why a UN member state should be expected to demilitarize its own capital--under assault from an enemy army--during a war is frankly inconceivable.

Johnstone has elsewhere quoted approvingly (and, needless to say, very selectively) from Silber and Little's Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation; it seems fitting to me to let them have the last word on this subject:

[from page 310]

"The common sense observation that if you fire around 500,000 mortar, artillery and tank rounds into a small city over twnety-two months (as the Bosnian Serbs did)--many of these randomly lobbed into civilian areas--sooner or later one will land somewhere where crowds are gathered, was swept away in the ensuing row. A walk down any side street in Sarajevo provides visible evidence that nowhere was safe from the random mortar: the city's streets are pockmarked everywhere with the distinctive splatter of the mortar impact point. The local people called these imprints "Sarajevo rose"--the color of blood. By February 1994, you could barely walk more than a few meters without passing one."

Conspiracy theorists hate to hear this, but it's true--usually, the simplist and most obvious answer is the correct one.


Owen said...

Kirk, however drunk the artillerymen may have been there's plenty of evidence that the shelling of civilian areas of Sarajevo was deliberate - no need to allow room for any form of denial of responsibility.

Does Ms Johnstone ever mention Galic? In convicting Galic the majority of the ICTY judges (one dissenting on the issue of reasonable doubt) found beyond a reasonable doubt that the Markale Marketplace shell of 5 February 1994 was deliberately fired from VRS-controlled territory, after extensively reviewing expert opinions and eye witness evidence.

In fact does she ever look at ICTY judgments in detail? She could argue her case by challenging the evidence and the findings, she's entitled to if she questions the Tribunal's impartiality, but it seems she simply repeats defence arguments and avoids dealing with contradictory evidence.

Owen said...

Sorry, the Galic verdict was too late for her. I wonder whether she was available for comment when it was announced.

Kirk Johnson said...

Actually, by pointing out that the artillerymen were, I wasn't trying to excuse them. I've been plenty drunk in my time, and yet I've never felt the urge to casually rain death on unarmed civilians.

I was pointing out that discipline wasn't always all it could be. Johnstone implies that, since the RS government was at a key point in negotiations, their armed forces would not have deliberately set out to shell a large gathering of civilians.

By mentioning that they were drunk, I wasn't excusing their actions (I find the idea of partying and having a day-long cocktail hour while slaughtering unarmed civilians pretty inexcusable); I was pointing out the lack of discipline in the front lines. That one out of dozens of widely dispersed artillery crews might have failed to grasp the delicate political nature of the situation seems pretty believable.

Add to that the lack of pinpoint accuracy of mortar shells, and her claim seems even more ridiculous.

Sorry that my meaning wasn't clear; I appreciate you pointing that out. When I get time, I will go back and edit that section.

Owen said...

No, don't worry Kirk, I knew that you weren't excusing them, just making it plain that there wasn't any get-out for there for the decision-makers.

In fact I've read accounts in the past of unwilling soldiers on the BS side being made drunk and then forced to participate in atrocities as a way of compromising their resistance. Drunkenness then became an escape from the intolerable reality of what they'd done.

Owen said...

Re MacKenzie, reading between the lines of the Somalia inquiry, even though he gets a pat on the head for being the only senior officer who seems to have been polite to the Commission of Inquiry, he comes across as having had a pretty hands-off style of command.

Anonymous said...

I do not know if MacKenzie was pro-Serb before his time in BiH, but I can tell you pro-Serb attitudes were and are fairly common among Scots, because of several cultural and historical factors. 1. Many Scots are of a church that until fairly recent times had little use for either Catholics, thereby making them biased against the Croats,who are mostly Catholic, and the Muslims who are not Christitan at all.
2. In the era of the Balkans Wars of the turn of the 20th century and WWI, Scots distinguished themselves in rendering aid to Serbian people.
The Scots who rendered this aid set up field hospitals, served as nurses, evacuated children out of the war-zones, and otherwise rendered aid. To help a people generally increases one's sympathy, and the Serbs fought very bravely, a thing people in general tend to respect even if they might not sympathise with one's cause. How much more so if one starts off being in sympathy!
Therefore there was a strong tie right there.

3.Then WWII came along and the public perception of the Croats all being fascist and the Muslims all being fascist did not help, even though in fact fascists and anti-fascists were of all three ethnicities, the popular sentiment, and war time propaganda favored the Serbs.

So while I do not have any idea of MacKenzie's sentiments before his involvement, I think there's a strong possibility he was biased.