This is a rebuttal of Diana Johnstone's book Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions.
Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it!
The purpose of this paper is to offer a rebuttal of Johnstone’s book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. Diana Johnstone is a writer who belongs to a group of left intellectuals commonly known as revisionists. Characteristic of this type of historical revisionism is a tendency to blame the U.S. government for the break-up of Yugoslavia. According to these revisionists, the U.S. hegemony and imperialism pose a grave threat to international peace and security. In their continual efforts to depict the U.S. as the main culprit for the breakup of Yugoslavia, revisionists like Diana Johnstone, Edward Herman and Michael Parenti are prepared to seriously downplay the Serb atrocities and what is worse even to deny that genocide of Bosnian Muslims took place. Johnstone even asserts that the U.S. and Germany bear the main responsibility for the break-up of Yugoslavia. While there is little doubt that the U.S. foreign policy is extremely flawed and discriminatory, there is no evidence to corroborate this claim. It was the actions of Milosevic and his regime that caused the collapse of the country. Admittedly, the actions of the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and his regime also played a pivotal role in the breakup of Yugoslavia. After all, there is ample evidence that the two former leaders made a tacit agreement to divide Bosnia between themselves (for corroboration, see for example Yugoslavia Death of a Nation by Laura Silber and Allan Little).
Johnstone’s Version of the War in Bosnia
Johnstone postulates that there is no evidence of genocide in Bosnia. She prefers the term “collective guilt”, arguing that all warring parties share equal responsibility for the bloodshed in Bosnia. According to Johnstone, it was the Croat nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Johnstone holds that Germany deliberately fueled Croatian nationalism. By supporting Croatian nationalism, Germany sought to induce dissolution of Yugoslavia. To reassert its military might in Europe, Germany would intervene against Serbia following the collapse of Yugoslavia, writes Johnstone. Germany has always considered Serbia an enemy; this hatred for the Serbs dates back to the World War II.
Another key international player in the breakup of Yugoslavia is the U.S. Elaborating, Johnstone argues that the U.S. wanted to destroy the last communist state in Europe. The unconditional U.S. support for Muslims before and during the war had one major purpose: to boost the Islamic fundamentalism. Also, the U.S. alliance with Turkey and other Islamic countries forced the U.S. to aid Bosnian Muslims. Consequently, the destruction of Yugoslavia was the main objective of the U.S. government. According to Johnstone, the U.S. imperialism and Germany’s quest for European domination played a crucial role in the breakup of Yugoslavia. The Serbs were the victims of this joint U.S./German conspiracy to destroy Yugoslavia.
Johnstone describes Milosevic as a “multiculturalist” who advocated unity and denounced nationalism. Johnstone even makes a comparison between Milosevic and Clinton only to subsequently refer to Clinton as a liar. The former president of Bosnia, the late Alija Izetbegovic, is labeled an Islamic fundamentalist whose primary objective had been to create an Islamic state in Bosnia. Franjo Tudjman is depicted as a Nazi. Johnstone further suggests that there is no compelling proof that Milosevic was the mastermind behind the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. None the less, at one point, she admits knowing that Milosevic and Tudjman secretly agreed to partition Bosnia into a Croatian and a Serbian part. Paradoxically, she later writes that she sees nothing wrong with this secret agreement, simply divide Bosnia between Croats and Serbs because after all, who cares about Bosnian Muslims. Despite being familiar with this agreement, Johnstone maintains that the Serbs fought to preserve Yugoslavia. How can one fight to preserve something if one wants to divide it in two?
After accounting for the causes of the Yugoslav dissolution, Johnstone goes on to examine the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo. According to Johnstone, there is no incriminating evidence that the Serbs were responsible for the abhorrent massacres that took place in Sarajevo. Speculating, she implicitly suggests that the Muslims were targeting their own people to induce NATO intervention against the Serbs. As regards the gruesome massacre in Srebrenica, Johnstone denies that there was any massacre. The notorious prison camps in Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje never actually existed. All the images of tortured prisoners surrounded by a wire were manipulated as a part of an anti-Serbian propaganda campaign. When it comes to the atrocities committed by the Serbs, there is simply never sufficient evidence. The same pattern can be found throughout the book. While Johnstone somehow always finds overwhelming evidence of the Muslim and Croat war crimes, the opposite is never true of the war crimes perpetrated by the Bosnian Serbs. According to Johnstone, the West deliberately fabricated the Serb atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo in order to dehumanize Serbs. This is in fact Johnstone’s central thesis, i.e. the Serbs were the victims.
What really happened?
In the following I will test Johnstone’s claims against the existing evidence. Findings by respectable fact-finding organizations such as the Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International will be analyzed.
The evidence that the war in Bosnia was genocide is abundant and incontrovertible. In perhaps one of the most authoritative and meticulously researched accounts of the breakup of Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia Death of a Nation (1997), Laura Silber and Allan Little argue that the Serbs and Croats secretly agreed to divide Bosnia between themselves. Moreover, Silber and Little provide compelling evidence that the war in Bosnia was a Serbian aggression. When the war in Bosnia began in 1992, the Serbs from Serbia proper began shelling Zvornik. In point of fact, according to José Maria Mendiluce, a senior official of the UNHCR who himself witnessed the Serbian assault on Zvornik: “there was a big artillery bombardment coming from the Serbian side of the Drina. I even saw smoke coming from the cannons on the Serbian side” (as adopted from Silber and Little p. 223). Among those who participated in the attack on Zvornik and Bijeljina was a notorious war criminal Zeljko Raznjatovic also known as Arkan and his ”Tigers”. Arkan and his paramilitary forces killed and expelled Bosnian Muslims in Zvornik and Bijeljina. This systematic annihilation of a people based on their ethnicity and religion is frequently referred to as “ethnic cleansing”. Even Vojislav Seselj, an ultra-nationalist from Belgrade, acknowledged that the attack on Zvornik had been planned in Serbia (Silber and Little: p. 223). Silber and Little further point out that the JNA, the federal Yugoslav army, fought on the Bosnian Serb side.
Cherif Bassiouni, Professor of Law at De Paul University, conducted a thorough investigation of human rights abuses in Bosnia, the results of which were later submitted to the U.N. Security Council (the title of the report: Final Report of the Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 from 1992). It is frequently asserted that this highly meticulous and exhaustive study offers the definitive account of the war crimes perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bassiouni’s commission of experts found that all parties in the war committed gross violations of human rights. None the less, the study also emphasized that the Serbs committed the overwhelming majority of the war crimes in Bosnia. Most importantly, the commission concluded that the crimes perpetrated by the Serbs were part of a greater Serbian ideology, namely the creation of a “Greater Serbia”. Here is what the report said: “with respect to the practices by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, “ethnic cleansing” is commonly used as a term to describe a policy conducted in furtherance of political doctrines relating to “Greater Serbia” (p. 33). Thus, achieving hegemony was the primary objective of the Serbs. The report further disclosed that Zeljko Raznjatovic’s and Vojislav Seselj’s paramilitary forces were found responsible for gross human rights abuses in Bosnia. The commission also implicated JNA and Bosnian Serb leaders in allowing and even encouraging the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs (p.35). Regarding the war crimes committed by the Bosnian Muslims, the report said that: “Bosnian Government forces have also committed the same type of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against Serbs and Croats, but not as part of a policy of “ethnic cleansing”. The number of these violations, as reported, is significantly less than the reported violations allegedly committed by the other warring factions” (p. 36 emphasis added). The commission also found that all warring parties had detention camps, Serbs had 237, Muslims 89 and Croats 77 (p. 51). However, the worst atrocities were committed in the detention camps held by the Bosnian Serbs. According to the report: “camps operated by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina are by far the ones where the largest numbers of detainees have been held and where the cruelest and largest number of violations occurred” (p.52). Moreover, the Serb camps were used as an instrument of ethnic cleansing where killing and odious torture of prisoners occurred daily (p.53-54). Subsequently, even though the Muslims committed sporadic atrocities, the Serbs committed systematic and extremely well organized war crimes in order to exterminate the non-Serb population. Proponents of “collective guilt” theory correctly contend that all sides in the Bosnian war committed atrocities. None the less, as this authoritative report makes perfectly clear, only the Serbs were guilty of systematic war crimes. Johnstone and other revisionists fail to take into account this crucial aspect. The reader will recall that Johnstone’s central thesis was that all warring parties in the Bosnian “civil war” were equally guilty. In light of the results of Bassiouni’s extremely well documented report, how can anyone even begin to talk about “collective guilt”?
However, Johnstone does not stop here, she also implies that the Muslims and Croats committed more war crimes than the Serbs. While there is always insufficient evidence of the Serb atrocities, there is always unequivocal proof of the Muslim and Croat atrocities. All fact-finding organizations that identified Serbs as the main culprits were either anti-Serbian or pro-Muslim, asserts Johnstone. It is never explained to the reader what these organizations could possibly gain from being biased towards the Bosnian Muslims. Contrary to what Johnstone wants us to believe, had the Western powers truly sided with the Muslims then they would have intervened immediately and not waited for three years. Even if it was true that the U.S. was secretly providing Bosnian Muslims with arms, the Serbs would still have been militarily superior. Bosnian Muslims lacked sophisticated weaponry such as tanks and heavy artillery. That Russia and Greece not only provided the Serbs with arms but also with their full diplomatic support does not seem to bother Johnstone at all. The U.S. transgressions, irrespective of the context in which they occur, are always considered much more morally reprehensible than the identical violations of international law perpetrated by Russia, Greece or any other country for that matter. Noteworthy is the fact that Russia and Greece were aiding the already heavily armed aggressor. Supposedly, the U.S. sided with the Muslims in order to further the Islamic fundamentalism in Bosnia. This particular point is so absurd given the long history of secularism in Bosnia. For Bosnian Muslims, religion has always played a rather insignificant role in social life. In one of the most authoritative accounts of Bosnian history in the English language, Bosnia a Short History, Noel Malcolm writes: “talk of a fundamentalist threat in Bosnia was in any case particularly inappropriate, because the Bosnian Muslims were by now among the most secularized Muslim populations in the world” (p. 221). Elaborating, Malcolm points out that there were many mixed marriages (approximately 30%) in Bosnia, adding further support to the fact that religion was only of minor importance to Bosnian Muslims (p. 222). According to Malcolm: “for many rural Muslims and the vast majority of urban ones, being a Muslim was reduced to a set of cultural traditions: Muslim names, circumcision, baklava, and the celebration of Ramazan Bajram…”(p. 222). Second, perhaps even more important, Johnstone fails to explain what motive the U.S. could possibly have had to boost the Islamic fundamentalism in Bosnia. Preposterous and completely unfounded, Johnstone’s principal thesis is readily disproved.
In stark contrast to Johnstone’s assertions, Thomas Cushman and Stjepan Mestrovic offer in This Time We Knew: Western Responses to Genocide in Bosnia (1996) a completely different picture of the war in Bosnia. Analyzing the findings by the CIA, the UN, the U.S. State Department, Helsinki Watch and the Red Cross, Mestrovic and Cushman demonstrate without a doubt that genocide took place in Bosnia. Elaborating, Cushman and Mestrovic write: “genocide has occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina and it has been perpetuated by the Belgrade regime and its proxies” (p.16). They then add that all sides in the conflict committed atrocities but only the Serb side committed systematic war crimes the goal of which was to cleanse Bosnia of non-Serbs. In Bosnia a Short History (1996), referring to the war in Bosnia, Noel Malcolm writes that “this was predominantly an invasion of Bosnia planned and directed from Serbian soil” (p. 238). According to some estimates, there were approximately 94,000 Serbian soldiers in Bosnia fighting for the Bosnian Serbs. Furthermore, in addition to having received manpower from Serbia, the Bosnian Serbs also received sophisticated weaponry (Malcolm: p.239).
Michael Sells, Professor of Religion at Haverford College, maintains that even though no warring side in the Bosnian war was completely innocent, the Bosnian Muslims irrefutably suffered the most (p. 13-14). According to Sells: “the organized persecution in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 was an effort to destroy both Bosnian Muslim culture and Bosnian multireligious culture and to destroy the Bosnian Muslims as a people” (p. 24-25). A mere fact that every single mosque (approximately 600) in the Serb controlled territory was destroyed divulges an attempt to systematically eradicate every trace of the Islamic heritage in Bosnia (Sells: p.3). Similarly, the destruction of the National Library (Vijecnica) in Sarajevo which contained a great amount of ancient Islamic and Jewish literature speaks of the immense Serb hatred for Islam (p. 1-2). Analyzing the root causes of the Serb hatred for Islam, Sells concludes that it was the Serb mythology and propaganda that facilitated the genocide of Bosnian Muslims. An event that played an important role in the rise of the Serbian nationalism was the infamous battle between the Serbs and the Ottomans in Kosovo in 1389. Prince Lazar was killed in this battle and the Muslims have since been considered Christ killers (p.31). Sells further scrutinizes Serb literature demonstrating its enormous hatred of Islam. Containing numerous elements of vicious anti-Islamic propaganda, the Serb literature has had a tremendous importance in fostering the Serb nationalism and islamophobia. Vuk Draskovic's Knife and Njegos’s The Mountain Wrath are the books that perhaps best exemplify this islamophobia.
One important aspect of the Bosnian war was that the Serbs were militarily superior to the Muslims. Malcolm points out that “although the UN itself recognized Bosnia and admitted it as a member-state distinct and separate from Yugoslavia on 22 May 1992, it continued to apply the embargo as if nothing had changed. Of course it continued to apply it to Serbia too; but Serbia held most of the stockpiles of the former federal army, and had a large armaments industry of its own” (p.243). With no heavy weaponry, the Bosnian Muslims remained virtually defenseless throughout the war. Commenting on the arms embargo, Sells claims that its imposition infringed the right of Bosnian Muslims to self-defence because it was in violation of Article 51 of the UN Charter (p.25). Elaborating, Sells writes: “the advantage of the Serb army in heavy weapons over the Bosnians was estimated in anywhere from 20-1 to 100-1” (p.116-117). Thus, the arms embargo severely impaired the ability of the Bosnian Muslims to offer solid resistance. If what Johnstone claims is true, i.e. that the U.S. was supporting the Muslims in the war, why did not the U.S. unilaterally rescind the arms embargo? Johnstone is well aware of the fact that the U.S. had intervened unilaterally on numerous previous occasions, what stopped them this time?
Serb atrocities in Bosnia
The reader will recall that Johnstone claims that there is no evidence that the Serbs committed atrocities in Bosnia. According to Johnstone, there were no detention camps in Omarska and Trnopolje, the Serbs were not responsible for the market square massacre in Sarajevo, there was no massacre in Srebrenica and the Serbs did not conduct ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Devoting many pages to the massacre in Srebrenica, Johnstone denies that there is compelling proof that it occurred. As regards the notorious detention camps in Omarska and Trnopolje, the images of malnourished men inside a barbed wire were manipulated and fabricated. Johnstone asserts that this “dehumanization” of Serbs was a deliberate Western strategy, the goal of which was to put pressure on NATO to intervene in Bosnia on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims. Let us now analyze whether or not Johnstone’s thesis will be able to withstand close scrutiny. Needless to say, all sides in the Bosnian war committed war crimes. However, did all sides commit systematic atrocities with an explicit aim to annihilate the members of the other ethnic group? No. On this point, evidence is abundant and extremely well documented.
Ed Vulliamy and Penny Marshall were among the first journalists to document the abhorrent atrocities at Omarska and Trnopolje, two of the most notorious detention camps in Bosnia. In addition to collecting countless witness testimonies, Vulliamy managed to obtain visual evidence from Omarska, showing extremely malnourished men. According to BBC news, there were approximately 6000 Croat and Muslim detainees in Omarska. Describing the conditions of the prisoners, BBC news reported: “at Omarska- and smaller camps at Keraterm and Trnopolje, also in northern Bosnia- new arrivals were reportedly beaten with batons and rifle butts, and crammed into stiflingly hot rooms with no beds and meagre sanitary facilities. They were fed a starvation diet”. According to Peter Maass, the conditions in Omarska were appalling; the prisoners were frequently tortured, maltreated and underfed. When Maass and his crew visited Omarska they saw terrified prisoners who when asked how they had been treated refused to respond. With guards overseeing all interviews, the prisoners knew that they could not tell the journalists what was really happening in the detention camp. Telling the truth would have them killed. Maass writes that mass killings occurred every day in Omarska with the guards using every instrument available to torture the prisoners. Comparing Omarska to Nazi camps, Maass asserts that “the Serbs, however, wanted to interrogate their Bosnian prisoners, have sadistic fun by torturing them in the cruelest of ways and then kill them with whatever implement was most convenient, perhaps a gun, perhaps a knife or scissors, perhaps a pair of strong hands wrapped around an emaciated neck. If the Germans had used the same approach, they would have needed decades to kill 6 million Jews” (p. 45). Maass interviewed many survivors from Omarska and Trnopolje who had fled to Croatia. The survivors spoke of unspeakable cruelty and unfathomable suffering. Not only were the prisoners severely beaten, they were also sexually abused. In one horrific case, a prisoner was forced to bite off other prisoners’ testicles. In yet another case of gruesome barbarity, the guards put a wire around one prisoner’s testicles and then attached the wire to a motorcycle and the rest you can figure out I guess. The prisoners were frequently ordered to fight each other and if they refused, they would be beaten by the guards. Moreover, local Serb residents sometimes came to Omarska to torture the detainees (Maass: p. 50-53).
According to Silber and Little (1997): “in a systematic campaign, Serb paramilitary hit-squads swept through northern and eastern Bosnia in the spring and summer months and, municipality by municipality, seized control of the region without, in most places, encountering real military opposition” (p. 244). Not only was this campaign systematic, it also targeted the Muslim elite. Silber and Little further point out that: “a common characteristic of the cleansing operation was this systematic elimination of community leaders- prominent people, intellectuals, members of the SDA, the wealthy” (p. 244-245). That the Serbs conducted ethnic cleansing in Bosnia is evident from the fact that approximately 95% of the Muslims were expelled from Zvornik, Visegrad and Foca (Malcolm p. 237). Noel Malcolm further writes that the primary objective of the Serbs was to annihilate the Muslim intellectuals and those within the Muslim community who held prominent and respectable jobs (p. 245).
In its report on Bosnia-Herzegovina, Gross Abuses of Basic Human Rights, Amnesty International notes the complicity of Serbia in the Bosnian war. According to this report: “the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Government of Croatia have a heavy responsibility for abuses to the extent that they have supported politically and materially the various forces within Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Reporting on the war crimes in Bosnia, Human Rights Watch (henceforth HRW) reached the following conclusion: “the overwhelming majority continued to be perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs”. One of the most appalling attacks on civilians took place in Sarajevo on February 5, 1994. HRW writes that 63 people were killed in this attack by Bosnian Serbs. In another gruesome mortar attack, Bosnian Serbs killed 71 civilians in Tuzla, writes HRW. Ethnic cleansing of Muslims from Banja Luka by the notorious war criminal Zeljko Raznjatovic, also known as Arkan, constituted a gross human rights violation. After arriving in the town, Arkan and his forces began expelling non-Serbs. According to estimates by HRW, about 5000 non-Serbs were ethnically cleansed from the area. Other areas from which many Muslims had been expelled were Krajina and Bijeljina. Approximately 10,600 Muslims and Croats were forced to leave their homes.
A 1994 human rights report on Bosnia by the U.S. Department of State gives an exhaustive account of the human rights violations perpetrated in Bosnia. While acknowledging that all sides committed war crimes in Bosnia, the report makes clear that only Bosnian Serbs engaged in the process of ethnic cleansing. The document further reveals that Serbia provided the Bosnian Serbs with extensive military aid. According to the document: “supported by the Serbian authorities in Belgrade, the BSA (Bosnian Serb armed militia) began a brutal campaign of terror- in which acts of genocide took place- to establish an ethnically pure state linking Serb-occupied territory in Croatia with Serbia/Montenegro to form “greater Serbia". Here is what the same report said of Bosnian Muslims: “the Bosnian Government is Muslim-dominated but continues to support a multiethnic society, and elected officials are drawn proportionally from all national groups”. The report further corroborates findings by the HRW that a significant number of Muslims were expelled from Banja Luka and Bijeljina. Several thousand Muslim civilians were killed in the Serb attacks on Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa. According to this report, in order for the Serbs to inflict as much damage as possible, they targeted heavily crowded places such as hospitals etc. Another important strategy of the Bosnian Serbs was to deny the U.N. food convoys entry to Srebrenica, Gorazde, Zepa and Sarajevo. Bosnian Serbs knew that shortage of food, water and medical supplies would inevitably result in malnourishment, starvation, diseases and despair.
After three years of the Serb occupation and intensive bombardment, Srebrenica fell on 11 July, 1995. What followed constituted the most serious human rights violation in Europe since World War II. Ratko Mladic who is now being sought for war crimes and his forces entered Srebrenica and immediately began separating men from women. While women and children were taken to Tuzla, men were taken to various locations to be executed. Approximately 7,000 Muslim men were killed in this gruesome massacre. Here is what one report by the U.S. Department of State said:” the Bosnian Serb occupation of the U.N. “safe area” of Srebrenica in July resulted in one of the worst single reported incidents of genocidal mass killing of members of an ethnic or religious group in Europe since World War II”. Elaborating, the report further pointed out that:” the systematic way in which prisoners were moved to execution sites and the presence of trailers and bulldozers (to transport corpses and to dig mass graves) indicate that the mass killings were planned well in advance. More than 7,000 remain unaccounted for and presumed dead”. According to the same document, there are countless reliable eyewitness accounts of random killings of civilians in Srebrenica. Dutch soldiers themselves witnessed the atrocities; they saw dead bodies by the road, says the report.
HRW writes in its 1996 report: “following the fall of Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb forces summarily executed hundreds, possibly thousands of men and boys at various mass execution sites near the Srebrenica area and during their flight from Bosnian-Serb-held territory to Bosnian-government-controlled areas. Women, children and elderly persons deported from the area were also terrorized, and thousands of persons remained disappeared”. There is evidence that the massacre in Srebrenica was a direct order of Karadzic and Mladic. According to testimonies by two Bosnian Serbs at the War Tribunal in The Hague (Miroslav Deronjic and a Lieutenant Colonel Dragan Obrenovic), Karadzic and Mladic ordered the Srebrenica massacre. The most compelling proof, however, comes from an official Bosnian Serb investigation into the Srebrenica massacre. The results of the investigations are staggering to say the least. Bosnian Serbs admitted for the very first time that they were responsible for the Srebrenica massacre. This admission shocked the world. Furthermore, the commission also found that 6,447 people remain unaccounted for, only 1,332 have been identified. The commission also incriminated senior Bosnian Serb officials in the Srebrenica massacre.
Dutch Institute for War Reporting conducted by far the most meticulous investigation into the Srebrenica massacre. The results of this comprehensive study demonstrate without a doubt that the Bosnian Serbs committed enormities in Srebrenica, killing approximately 7,500 Muslim men. According to this report:” the majority of the missing men were killed during the mass executions”. Furthermore, the report also found that:” the executions began on 13 July. In the ensuing days, prisoners were transported to the execution sites to the north, where most executions took place between 14 and 17 of July”. While Johnstone claims that there is no compelling proof that Bosnian Serbs perpetrated egregious atrocities in Srebrenica, this authoritative report concludes that: “there is absolutely no doubt that the mass murder was committed by Bosnian Serb military units”. It should be added that this study is considered the definitive account of the massacre in Srebrenica. Thus, Johnstone is deliberately ignoring the results of this exhaustive report since they easily refute her assertion, i.e. that there was no massacre in Srebrenica. This refusal to include the results of this study in her book reveals that Johnstone is highly selective with her sources. Johnstone further ignores the fact that many Dutch U.N. soldiers who were stationed in Srebrenica themselves witnessed heinous war crimes. Many of them later developed severe psychological problems as a result of these traumatic events. This does not constitute sufficient proof for Johnstone nor does the fact that the Bosnian Serbs dressed in the U.N. uniforms in order to trick the Muslims hiding in the forest to surrender. Under the impression that they were turning themselves over to the U.N. soldiers these men were easily captured by the Bosnian Serb army. There is even visual evidence of the Bosnian Serb soldiers wearing blue U.N. helmets when urging the Muslims to come out of their hideouts. To Johnstone, this is not incriminating evidence; it is probably the West manipulating the evidence in order to dehumanize the Serbs. In addition, Johnstone displays a flagrant disregard and sheer indifference for thousands of corroborated witness testimonies by the survivors of the Srebrenica massacre. Why does Johnstone ignore these witness accounts? This is an interesting question. You cannot simply ignore so many verified testimonies. Could it be that Johnstone dismisses them because she perceives Bosnian Muslims as unreliable witnesses? Given Johnstone’s completely unfounded and preposterous view of Bosnian Muslims as fundamentalists, it seems logical to assume that this highly prejudiced opinion of Bosnian Muslims grossly biased her thesis. Bosnian Muslims have always been tolerant and secular. This is evident from the fact that almost every single church remained intact in the area controlled by the Bosnian Muslims. Furthermore, there are many Serbs who hold key positions in the territory mainly populated by the Bosnian Muslims. Conversely, the fact that almost every single mosque was destroyed in Republika Srpska speaks for itself. If Muslims are fundamentalists, as Johnstone so strongly suggests, should not the situation described above be reversed? Why is not her assertion supported by the facts on the ground? Why does not Johnstone consult the most authoritative work on the history of Bosnia, Bosnia a Short History, by Noel Malcolm when describing Bosnian Muslims? In this book, the Bosnian Muslims are described as the most secularized Muslims in the world. Malcolm strongly rejects the idea that the Bosnian Muslims are fundamentalists. Johnstone is either completely oblivious to the long history of secularism among the Muslims in Bosnia or she knowingly refuses to include this fact in her book.
British journalist David Rohde, the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the author of The Endgame, visited the region of Srebrenica and was able to obtain significant proof of mass graves. According to David Rohde: “large empty ammunition boxes littered the fields where the ground had been dug recently. Diplomas and other personal effects of Srebrenica Muslims were scattered near the areas of disturbed earth. When I reached the site this week, three areas of fresh digging were clearly visible. On the edge of the smallest of the three alleged mass graves, what appeared to be a human femur and tibia jutted from the earth”.
Despite this irrefutable evidence and the Bosnian Serb admission, Johnstone claims that Srebrenica massacre never occurred. Not even the fact that the Bosnian Serbs officially apologized for the Srebrenica massacre constitutes compelling proof for Johnstone. Numerous corroborated testimonies do not suffice either. One would hope that a testimony by Colonel Obrenovic would prove sufficient given that he himself participated in the attack on Srebrenica. That the Srebrenica massacre was considered an act of genocide by the War Tribunal in The Hague makes no difference either. What does it take for some people to admit the truth?
The present author hopes that he has been able to demonstrate that genocide occurred in Bosnia. As shown here, there is overwhelming evidence that Serbia was actively aiding Bosnian Serbs during the war in Bosnia. Bosnian Serbs received enormous military and financial aid from Serbia. The involvement of the JNA in Bosnia strongly indicates that the war in Bosnia had been planned in Serbia. In light of the facts presented in this paper, there is no evidence to substantiate Johnstone’s “collective guilt” theory. In addition, contrary to what Johnstone claims, there is indisputable proof that the Bosnian Serbs committed the majority of atrocities in Bosnia. Srebrenica, Gorazde, Zepa, Maglaj, Sarajevo, Doboj, Banja Luka, Bijeljina and Visegrad all represent places where Bosnian Serbs conducted ethnic cleansing and seriously violated human rights by killing and expelling the non-Serb population. Only in Srebrenica 7,000 Muslims were killed in an abhorrent massacre.
Johnstone’s failure to even take into account these facts seriously undermines her work. By ignoring the sources that do not support her thesis, Johnstone remains highly selective throughout the entire book. Furthermore, Johnstone frequently downplays findings by the Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Department of State because these organizations supposedly were biased towards the Bosnian Muslims. Instead, Johnstone uses dubious and uncorroborated sources to support her thesis. Another technique frequently employed by Johnstone is speculation. This highly efficient strategy enables Johnstone to confuse the reader. Here is how it works: for example, when describing the mortar attack on Sarajevo, Johnstone writes that there is no proof that the Bosnian Serbs fired the shell that killed many civilians. Then she asserts that the shell might actually have been fired by the Muslims. To prompt the NATO intervention, the Muslims would stop at nothing. In this case and numerous others throughout her book Johnstone is deliberately speculative. Inadvertently, the reader will begin to question whether or not the Serbs actually committed these atrocities. Now, we know that Bosnian Serbs had been shelling Sarajevo and many other cities for that matter for three years killing many people. Why would there be controversy this time about who was responsible for the attack? Why, given the Serb admission, should Johnstone question whether or not the massacre in Srebrenica occurred? The most tragic part of it all is that Johnstone completely ignores countless corroborated testimonies by the survivors of the Srebrenica massacre.
Some of Johnstone’s assertions are so bizarre and unfounded that there is no point in addressing them. Consider only two examples. Johnstone’s theory that Germany wanted to destroy Serbia in order to demonstrate its military supremacy in Europe is so preposterous that it warrants no serious comment. Also, Johnstone’s claim that the U.S. sought to boost the Islamic fundamentalism in Bosnia needs no further consideration. Her description of Milosevic as a “multiculturalist” is very alarming and at best extremely naïve. Similarly, Johnstone’s view of Karadzic and Mladic is deeply disturbing given that both have been charged with genocide by the War Tribunal in The Hague.
So many factual errors and absurd postulations lead me to conclude that this book is not even about the war in Bosnia. It is about the U.S. imperialism. The left revisionists such as Diana Johnstone have always considered the U.S. hegemony the greatest threat to world peace. Johnstone cannot possibly imagine a situation warranting a military intervention especially when the U.S. is involved. Admittedly, the U.S. foreign policy is primarily driven by imperialistic motives. Nevertheless, not all U.S. actions fall under this category. It is imperative that we judge each U.S. intervention individually. While it is justifiable and warranted to condemn the U.S. transgressions, it is sad and insulting to the victims to refuse to tell the truth. The least that the people of Bosnia deserve is that we always tell the truth. For three years, Western diplomats had been trying to negotiate an end to the Bosnian carnage and to stop the Serb atrocities in Bosnia but to no avail. The Serbs had been warned many times to immediately refrain from targeting Sarajevo, Gorazde, Zepa and Srebrenica but they simply ignored the warnings. Once someone crosses the line we are obliged to intervene. It is our moral obligation to put an end to someone’s suffering or at least to allow the victim to defend himself. What many left intellectuals fail to understand is that diplomacy does not always work. Sometimes, one has to resort to violence in order to resolve a conflict; Bosnia was a case in point. Johnstone makes no mention in her book of the fact that the NATO had warned the Bosnian Serbs many times that unless they ceased their attack on Srebrenica, they would face air strikes. Bosnian Serbs continued with their advancement towards Srebrenica in a flagrant defiance of the NATO’s warnings. When they finally entered the town, they slaughtered approximately 7,000 people. If the NATO had intervened before the Serbs overrun the town these people would have been saved. One cannot but wonder would Johnstone have opposed the NATO intervention had she herself been trapped in Srebrenica for three years while under constant bombardment, with no food, clean water, electricity and medical supplies.
List of References
- Cushman Thomas & Mestrovic G. Stjepan. (1996). This Time We Knew: Western Responses to Genocide in Bosnia. New York University Press.
- Johnstone Diana. (2002). Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. Monthly Review Press.
- Little Allan & Silber Laura (1997). Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. (2nd edition).
- Maass Peter. Love thy Neighbor A Story of War. (1996). First Vintage Books Edition.
- Noel Malcolm. Bosnia a Short History. (1996). New York University Press.
- Sells Michael. The Bridge Betrayed Religion and Genocide in Bosnia. (1998). University of California Press.