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Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia [Paperback]

Brendan Simms
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 July 2002
For most of 1992-1995, Britain stood aside while an internationally recognised state was attacked by externally-sponsored rebels bent on a campaign of territorial aggression and ethnic cleansing. It was her unfinest hour since 1938. Based on interviews with many of the chief participants, parliamentary debates, and a wide range of sources, Brendan Simm's brilliant study traces the roots of British policy and the highly sophisticated way in which the government sought to minimise the crisis and defuse popular and American pressure for action. We all continue to live with the results of these shameful actions to this day.

Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (4 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140289836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140289831
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 670,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Unfinest Hour is a remarkable indictment of British policy in the former Yugoslavia when it was Bosnia that dominated the headlines. What happened in Bosnia towards the close of a world-war-splattered century seems small beer this side of the millennium divide and immediate risk of another global confrontation, but it wasn't and still isn't. The Serbian perpetrators of ethnic cleansing are still largely on the loose, and the lessons learned needed to be understood.

Brendon Simms, author of this revealing study, is Director of Studies in History at Peterhouse and lecturer in International Relations at the Centre for International Studies, Cambridge University. What he has to say is that, essentially, Britain's role in the Bosnian tragedy, was nothing short of being disastrous.

He has carried out dozens of interviews, trawled through the documents and come to the conclusion that Britain's political leaders were afflicted by a disabling form of conservative pessimism which not only rejected military intervention by Britain but prevented any other country intervening. Attitudes changed with the change of government by the time of Kosovo for, as the current, much wider crisis only too telling reminds us: isolationism is no longer an option. --Michael Hatfield. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"This is the best sort of polemical book: hard-hitting, well researched and stimulating, with a preference for analysis over sensation."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In November 1999, four years after the end of the Bosnian conflict, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, released a 155-page report on the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995 and its background. Read the first page
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavy reading, but well worth it 2 May 2006
By M. Marikar VINE VOICE
This book is full of important information for anyone interested in what happened in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The style is very academic (unsurprising considering that Brendan Simms is a lecturer at Cambridge), comprehensively dissecting events, and so can be heavy reading at times - quite different from the easy readability of Mark Curtis and Robert Fisk.

Unfinest Hour, however, still deserves its 5 stars because of its comprehensive coverage of the topic - there's no other book that deals with the topic so well. Despite it being heavy reading, it can still be a page-turner due to the disturbing revelations within it.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Appeasement Exposed 23 July 2004
I had no idea at the time of just how sinister a role was played by the UK establishment in condemning Bosnia to it's fate. I always believed that more should have been done to intervene but now I know why it was not and, most interestingly, how assistance to Bosnia was prevented. Unsurprisingly, cabinet members at the time, notably Hogg, Hurd and Rifkind, all receive much criticism as does "the perfect popinjay" David Owen, but I didn't realise Thatcher and David Trimball had taken such admirable positions on the issue, not to mention our lovable cousins across the Atlantic.

The book is well written, occasionally humorous, and the overwhelming majority (but not all) of the arguments it presents are coherent and well referenced. It certainly does have an agenda but this is in no way disguised. My only main complaint is the length of the chapters. At approximately fifty pages each, it is hard going to find a suitable place for a break, especially as some of the material is relatively mentally taxing. That said, the author presents what is a demanding subject in a style that maintains interest.

The material covered in this book is highly relevant to current events in Iraq, on which we all have an opinion. I found it very interesting to see that many of the voices who are today complaining about western imperialism, the immorality of military intervention etc were the same as those who lent their support to British foreign policy in the early 1990s, with appalling consequences.

Note: this is not a history of the break-up of Yugoslavia, which is covered with great skill in the excellent "Death of Yugoslavia" by Silber and Little.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shame on all of us 13 Mar 2002
Professor Simms has produced a compelling dissection of one of the most shameful episodes in European history, when the Western powers stood aside and knowingly allowed a multi-cultural, democratic, independent European state to be dismembered, during a prolonged period of ethnic cleansing and genocide. In doing so, he ruthlessly pins a great deal of the blame upon those British politicians who not only allowed this to happen but who by their actions, inactions and mis-placed words actually encouraged Serb aggression and racial hatred.

Hurd, Hogg, Rifkind, Major and Owen all find themselves targets in Professor Simms' justifiably angry polemic. Well written and clearly setting out the issues even for those readers who are not familiar with the disgraceful recent history in the Balkans, he reveals the shocking incompetence and serial misjudgements of those who were supposed to steer our foreign policy.

Despite incomprehension our leaders can hardly claim to have been ignorant of Serb intentions. Radovan Keradzic told Alija Izetbegovic, in public and in front of the TV cameras, that in the forthcoming conflict "You Muslims will be exterminated." For once in his life he wasn't lying.

As Professor Simms explains, we then invested millions of dollars in the provision of food and medicine but would do nothing to silence the guns that caused the need for such aid in the first place. As the book makes clear, the stark reality of the West's decision to confine itself to the provision of humanitarian aid is that we were prepared to feed people but stood aside and allowed them to be raped, shot and shelled. It was political cynicism at its worst.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a detailed (as others have suggested, in some places, perhaps a bit too detailed - of which more later) account of the British political and diplomatic machinations over the particular part of the disintegration of Jugoslavija that involved the dismemberment of Bosnia-Hercegovina (BiH). Even though I lived through and was especially interested in the events referred to, I learnt a huge amount. The appalling way in which the British government (John Major's, with Douglas Hurd as Foreign Secretary) and the Labour "opposition" contrived to miss the point utterly. The policy that was maintained until almost the end, when it was blown apart by General Rupert Smith (one of the few heroes to emerge on the British side), was to maintain (in Hurd's idiotic phrase) a "level killing field", by supporting the UN arms embargo. Professor Sims likens the enforcement of the arms embargo to appeasement before the second world war, and this is one of the few places where he misses a point: the real comparison should have been between the treatment of Bosnia with that of the Republic in the Spanish Civil War: in both cases the one side (the legitimate government of the Spanish Republic and that of BiH) were denied arms and although the other side (the Fascists under Franco and the Serbs under Milosevic) had plenty.

The problem with this policy was that both sides were not equal: the Serbs had almost all of the Jugoslav National Army, with more tanks, aircraft, heavy artillery pieces and ammunition than they could possibly use, whilst the Bosnians had very little.
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