Daily Archives: 11 July 2005

Some Fire and Brimstone on Srebrenica

The Wall Street Journal has a harsh editorial today.

Ten years ago today, Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic entered the Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica, then being defended by Dutch peacekeepers. General Mladic made three demands: that the townsmen surrender their weapons; that all males between the ages of 12 and 77 be separated out for “questioning”; and that the rest of the population be expelled to Muslim areas. Within two days, 23,000 women and children had been deported. Another 5,000 Muslim men and boys who had taken refuge on a nearby Dutch base were also delivered to the Mladic forces.

As we now know, most of the people surrendered by the Dutch to the Serbs were slaughtered, as were more than 2,000 others, bringing the estimated tally of the Srebrenica massacre to 7,200. Yet the scale of the atrocity alone is not why we remember it. We remember because the men of Srebrenica were betrayed by their ostensible protectors, and that carries some lessons for today.

But Christopher Hitchens is far more brutal.

We still have to endure the disgrace (and the victims and survivors have to endure the humiliation) of knowing that Mladic and his psychopathic political boss Radovan Karadzic are still cheerfully at large. They are not hiding in some dingy cave in the unmapped hinterlands of Waziristan. They are in mainland Europe. Last Friday, when the New York Times covered both the London atrocities and the coming anniversary of Srebrenica, it ran an editorial that smugly inquired “why the wealthy nations have not done enough about the root causes of terrorism and why Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden continue to function after almost four years of the so-called war on terrorism. Many will wonder why the United States is mired in Iraq while Al Qaeda’s leader still roams free.”

Prettily phrased, you have to admit. Others might wonder why the wealthy nations took so long to address the “root cause” of Serbian terrorism-­-the root cause being Serbian fascism and irredentism­–and why it is that Mladic and Karadzic are still gloatingly free after 10 years, not four. The “hunt” for the latter two gentlemen began during the Clinton administration, and on the turf of the sophisticated and multilateral Europeans, as the writer of the above words might have had the grace to admit.

Aljazeera.com also weighs in–and attracts a lot of reader comments.

People in the West who lazily look back on the 1990s as the good old days fail to realize just how much diplomatic, economic, military, and moral credibility the West–the UN, EU, US, NATO–squandered during that halcyon decade before the end of history reversed itself so abruptly at the end of the millennium.

In the summer of 1984, I remember the great relief of returning to normalcy, to the tolerably functional societies of the West after spending a year in Ceausescu’s Romania, the bleakest and most dysfunctional society I have yet encountered. (I know there are, have been, and will be worse.) We could easily endure Romania because we knew that we would eventually escape to a better place. The Romanians, however, remained trapped in their hell, whose brimstone has taken a long time to lose its potency even after the fall of Ceausescu.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, one safe area after another has been attacked from either the inside or the outside, until normalcy has come to include the possibility of yet another outbreak of savage barbarism any place, any time. As last week’s attacks in London reminded us yet again, there is nowhere left to hide. We can only meet those threats head on, anywhere and everywhere, with violent warnings where necessary, as we should have done in Bosnia and Rwanda, while steadily destroying the attraction of the noxious ideologies that feed the barbarism.

Here’s more from David Aaronovitch in The Times Online: ‘If we don’t provoke them, maybe they will leave us alone.’ You reckon so?

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PTSD in UN Peacekeepers

Among the many retrospectives published today, on the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, is an article in the Washington Post focusing on the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders suffered by the Dutch troops under UN command who were charged with preventing such atrocities.

For days, the [Dutch] battalion had waited for reinforcements and air support. None came. One soldier already had been killed by Muslim forces. By the time the Serb attack started on July 11, the soldiers’ nerves were shot.

“All those people … screaming and crying. A truck, normally fit for 18 people, was packed with 200 refugees. We helped them from the truck and gave them a place in the factory hall,” Poortinga recalled in the book.

“It was hell. I did my best, but after a while I collapsed. The shouting became louder and louder. The shooting came close, grenades fell, dust came from the ceiling. I found myself crying like a baby. I am not a baby at all, but then I was like a child.”

Co-author Hendrina Praamsma said 40 percent of those interviewed had needed psychological treatment at some point. Some had attempted suicide. “Most of them feel abandoned, rejected, falsely accused,” she said.

A 1999 report by the United Nations said Yugoslavia’s then president, Slobodan Milosevic, bore primary responsibility. Milosevic is now on trial in The Hague.

Nonetheless, Holland remained traumatized.

In 2002, an exhaustive study by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation concluded the government of Prime Minister Wim Kok had sent ill-prepared troops on an impossible mission because it wanted to boost its international prestige. The report prompted the government, still headed by Kok, to resign.

A subsequent parliamentary inquiry also cleared the troops of blame. But Srebrenica isn’t over for Holland.

A district court in The Hague is hearing a civil suit by Bosnian Srebrenica survivors seeking $2.6 billion in compensation from the state for its troops’ failure to protect them.

One of them is Hassan Nuhanovic, a U.N. translator whose brother and father were forced off the U.N. base by Dutch troops and haven’t been seen since.

Their accusations reawakened the shame among some veterans, said Jan Burger, head of the Veterans Institute’s social services. In the past two months, with the approach of the 10th anniversary, another half dozen Srebrenica veterans have sought help.

Back in April, the Canada-resident Dutch blogger Peaktalk compared Karremans, the Dutch commander at Srebrenica, with Dallaire, the Canadian commander at Kigali.

If you google Karremans you will find lots more, but I think you get it: the Dutch commander not only failed to do anything to sa[v]e Bosnian Muslim lives, he couldn’t even bring himself to make a moral distinction between the warring parties. Of all people, Robert Fisk has a good summary with this sobering observation:

The Dutch published their own miserable, chilling account of Srebrenica. But Karremans was packed off to become Dutch military attaché in Washington, under orders not to talk. And silent he was, to the great relief of the Dutch.

We can’t accuse Dallaire of failing to see the difference between right and wrong, or, for remaining quiet. His book and the documentary of his return to Rwanda are getting ample attention and rightly so. Cynics may argue that Dallaire learned from the Karremans experience and went on a media blitz to defend his record, but having studied the man and the mandate he had, the Canadian commander comes out far cleaner than some of his critics now argue. Sure, he made mistakes and there may be braver people who would have been willing to die to take a stand against the terror in front of them. We can even entertain the notion that the post-war military of left-liberal nations like Canada and Holland has failed to produce the battle-hardened moral men that we like to see when we think of war, or when we watch an epic Hollywood rendition of some historic struggle. Heroes like that are in short supply, reality is different.

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