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This book was first published in 1995, a few months before the war ended; a second edition followed in 1996. This 2012 edition is a revised and updated version. Martin Bell states 'I wrote this book of instant history because I felt it would not wait and would better be written by someone who was there. Historians are seldom eyewitnesses. I know two things now that I did not know then. One is the body count... we now know that some 98,000 people were killed in the course of that war...'

He writes about UN soldiers being horrified by both what they saw and by being unable to do anything about it - for example, standing by as Sarajevo was destroyed by Serb artillery.

This was the first satellite TV war - pictures beamed straight from the war zone critically without censorship. As a result it put tremendous pressure on the British government to intervene. Initially it resisted - Douglas Hurd is quoted as saying 'There is nothing new in such misery. There is nothing new in mass rape, in the shooting of civilians, in war crimes, in ethnic cleansing, in the burning of town and villages. What is new is that a selection of these tragedies is now visible within hours to people around the world'. The author quotes G K Chesterton, who was obviously not talking about satellite TV at the time but might as well have been: 'It's not the world that has got so much worse but the news coverage that has got so much better'.

Mr Bell reports on the horrors of the war - the atrocities by both sides; the targeting of civilians by snipers; the relentless artillery bombardments; and the relief brought by fog because snipers could not operate. There are memorable quotes such as 'the Serbs seemed to model themselves on the old Western gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok: he was said never to have killed a man except in self-defence, but to have spent a great deal of his time defending himself. And the Serbs weren't waiting to be attacked, they got their retaliation in first... Hardly a mosque was left standing. This was planned and deliberate.'

This links to something I was unaware of - 'two of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, in their martyrdom videos, gave the war in Bosnia as one of their reasons for signing on. So there was actually a linkage between the siege of Sarajevo and the destruction of the Twin Towers'.

This is a fascinating book on the Bosnian war and its significance, told by Mr Bell in a self-deprecating manner. He is not only an Honourable man but an honourable man and it is a shame that he is no longer an MP.
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on 1 November 2012
Martin Bell was the BBC's principal television correspondence during the Bosnian war between 1991 and 1995 and he was an eye witness to the greatest period of bloodletting in Europe since the second world war and most sadly it was a war that need not have happened. His superb book not only tells the fascinating story of his own experiences on the front line but reveals the causes of the war and describes some of the personalities involved. He became a familiar figure to TV audiences with his white suit and his calm delivery of shocking events including the massacres at Srebenica and Ahmici and the long siege of Sarajevo. One of his most famous television reports from Bosnia included him being wounded by a sniper.

His book shows his admiration for the soldiers posted there who had an impossible job in the conflict who because of their rules of engagement were prevented from intervening in the fighting to help people and who had no choice but to be passive bystanders to many horrendous events including ethnic cleansing and massacres. It was a war of incredible intensity and cruelty especially for civilians where hatred between Serbs, Croats and Muslims, many of whom had previously lived beside each other in peace and harmony lead to events that shocked Europe whose inhabitants had come to believe that the kind of things that took place between 1939 and 1945 could not possibly happen again in their continent.

Bell produces many valuable insights about the war and how it was covered by correspondents and he does so with self effacing humour and great humanity. It is a great read and anyone interested in the war in the former Yugoslavia and how the story was told to the world must read it to get a balanced view of the conflict whose consequences are still very much apparent in this unhappy and unsettled area of Europe.
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on 9 June 2012
This is not actually a new book but a revised and updated edition of the same which was originally released in 1995 (and revised in 1996). It has been released to mark the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities.

The original book was written during the period covered by the book during the Bosnian conflict of 92-95 and covers Martin's experiences there with a far amount of divergence along the way.

Martin Bell was a BBC TV war reporter for many years and covered wars all across the world, famously wearing a white suit whilst doing so and collecting a fragment of mortar shell in the process of filming in Bosnia. He did his National Service in the late 50's in the Suffolk Regiment and is still proud of his affiliation to them. His affection feelings towards British soldiers comes through consistently in the book.

In Harm's Way is not a history book of the conflict, in fact there is little background given to the start of the war, and within each chapter there can be a bit of jumping back and forth chronologically. This is probably explained that when written the events would have been very fresh in the minds of readers. Now however, trying to recall the sequences of the various Balkan conflicts around that time is not so clear (even to a Cold War Warrior who was on 48 hours notice to deploy there at one point).

I think one aspect of the book that immediately hits you is the number of the media who were wounded and killed during this conflict. This is explained as a relatively new thing as the past they were mainly protected from harm. However the indiscriminatory nature of this war did away with that coupled with the desire for more and more reports direct from the front line.

Martin holds back no punches when he describes how he feels about the UN involvement particularly how ineffective it was as a peacekeeper force, failing to maintain safe zones and concentrating almost on just ensuring aid conveys got through so that the civilians could be fed when they were killed! He quite succinctly describes the failings around multiple nationalities working together as a joint force when they are responding to both local commands and to their own governments back home..

Colonel Bob Stewart obviously made a huge impression on the author during his time in Bosnia together with the Cheshires. He devotes a chapter to him and defends him against the criticism he received at the time. He again spends time describing some of the elements around various commanders such as Generals Rose and Smith which led to their various trials and tribulations whilst trying to maintain peace, or a least confine the fighting.

I enjoyed the book, it makes you think about what the actual role of the UN is and what part nations should play in protecting the civilians of others. Are the lives of a few of our soldiers worth many civilians from somewhere else? It is a constant question that arises even now. (and I suspect may be an ulterior motive behind the re-release of the book) One gets the impression that Martin Bell definitely believes that the sacrifices of the armed services are made for good causes and that it should continue as such.

This message is especially true given the current circumstances in places such as Afghanistan and Syria.
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on 4 September 2015
As a war correspondent Mr Bell saw the tragic events of the Bosnian war unfold, and reported them to millions of viewers back in the UK. His professional reports did not show his anger and frustration at the lost opportunities to bring peace. Neither did they show the people in his team who made the reports possible. ‘In Harm’s Way’ addresses these omissions.

Mr Bell explains the causes of the war, the frustrations of the UN forces on the ground, the hatred which led to ethnic cleansing on both sides. This book is not an easy read, but it was never meant to be. It is a report on the horrors of modern warfare, the tragedy of civilian casualties, the depravation of besieged cities. Through it all Mr Bell is non-partisan, chronicling atrocities committed by all sides as he seeks to answer key questions. Why was this war allowed to happen? Why was nothing done to stop it sooner? What is the role of the UN?

‘In Harm’s Way’ also gives us an insight into the life of a war reporter. It is not just about standing in front of a camera for a couple of minutes twice a day; it involves real hardship, and real danger. Mr Bell himself was wounded, as were a number of his colleagues. Others lost their lives.

If you are interested in history, journalism or politics; if you enjoy a good biography, then ‘In Harm’s Way’ is a must read.
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on 16 August 2012
What an amazing book. Martin gives so much of the background of the Bosnian War at first hand experience. It shows how difficult it is, even for an experienced reporter, to try to give an even handed account of what happened. He puts himself in danger's path by getting first hand information from both sides and through his writing gives a real feeling of being amongst all the mayhem, confusion, and horror of the war. The world is a better, and more informed, place because people like him put themselves in danger in search of the Truth for us. He never loses sight of his concern for those caught up in the war - he is there to report and inform. A humble knight in a white suit.
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on 23 December 2014
I read this to find out more about the war in Bosnia but the book is actually a very long description of modern war reporting. As such it talks at length about the limits of technology, different networks approaches to reporting, the practicalities of reporting from war zones (road blocks, accommodation, transport, multi-skilled news teams) and the limits of what can be shown and said; either due to what might be described as "good taste" or because most of the time the journalist on the ground simply isn't, or can't be, in the right place at the right time.

As such I found it oddly repetitive and unsatisfactory. Once you've read that atrocities were committed by all combatants in Bosnia and that journalists get shot at too there didn't seem a lot more to it than to reiterate that Bosnia was a hugely confusing conflict from which practically no one emerged with much credit.

I think a little more straight history of the war, its context, course and outcomes, would have helped along with more analysis on the motivations and objectives of the key players.
Instead, Martin Bell seems so determined to demonstrate the limitations of "war reporting from the man on science's perspective" that you're left feeling almost as frustrated at not seeing the bigger picture as he must have been at the time.

To borrow a much over used sentiment from the book: someone's shooting but we don't know why, who or where from so for all the good we're doing we may as well get the he'll out of here!
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on 9 June 2012
I wanted to read this book as I have a sister living in Sarajevo who experienced this war first hand. I thought Martin Bell did a brilliant job in writing this book, unbiased and very accurate of his time spent there and frustration at the UN and the rest of the worlds inertia to intervene properly. A very good read.
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on 3 July 2014
A fine piece of reporting that illuminates and educates. It somehow passed me by at the time. I watched the news but didn't grasp the causes and the aims and grievances of the various ethnic groups. I bought this together with 'Safe Area Gorazde'. The latter is a comic style treatment that looks at the war through the microcosm of one town. Both are works of great merit in their own right and also complement each other well. Also bell refers directly to the so called safe haven of Goradze.
Martin Bell manages to gradually build up the overall picture and looks at many aspects of the war through his experiences with leaders of all sides as well as moving stories of local journalists as well as BBC crews he worked with. His friend and local journalist in one instance gives his life trying to bring images of the conflict to the screens of the news watchers. Bell is in Berlin on a royal assignment of little worth when he hears the news and like the man he is flies out to Bosnia the following morning and goes to see the ruined parents of his friend. He helps organise and speaks at the funeral where 2,000 people come to pay tribute to the young journalist. One of many moving personal experiences.
He also digs deep questioning the UN and its aims and says that they basically let down the Bosnians in their weak and vague mandate. He writes with a subtle style all of his own and with conviction and insight. By the end of it you have a very sound understanding of the conflict from many perspectives. A book that will become a classic of the period, if it hasn't already.
I would be interested to hear Martin Bell's take on the UN's inability to take a stance over Syria. History repeating itself?
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on 1 April 2016
I read this book in two days flat and would thoroughly recommend it. It is so well written; informative, human and even funny in places, (which given the subject matter is a feat in itself).
As a thirty-something I grew up watching this war unfold on the 6 O Clock News, old enough to understand these were people on my own continent going through an horrific tradgedy but too young to fully grasp the politics, the reality of 'ethnic cleansing' or the limits of UN Peacekeeping mission.
I am so glad I read this book, it charismatically filled in the blanks and I can't really believe how little I understood of this story before reading, particularly given how close to home this all happened.
Mr Bell is particularly good at getting across just how unremitting this war was and what a dreadful toll it took on the civilian population. It is especially pertinent now, given what is happening in Syria, another country not too far away.
As a follow up recommendation, I went on to read Girl at War, (Sara Novic) an account of a little girl who grew up in Zagreb during the early 90s. It makes excellent further reading for anyone else who finishing this book finds themselves similarly determined to get a really thorough understanding of the reality of the war that preceeded what happened in Sarajevo.
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on 7 May 2013
I had gone looking for a tourist guide to Sarajevo when I found this book. I read an Accidental MP many years ago and was captivated by that so thought this was almost certainly worth a punt.

What a remarkable read. For folk of my age (mid 30s), the Balkans conflict is the first war I really experienced - albeit from the safe and peaceful perspective of my sofa at home. So I think I would find a book on this war interesting in any event. But this was un-put-down-able. Written in Martin's typically British straight-talking style - it tells the war that he didn't report, couldn't report in his day job. And it's in turn evocative, emotional and devastatingly factual. Devastating, because it's so obvious in reading it what should have been obvious then and what should have been done then, and wasn't. Most of all it highlights what a loss it is that we no longer have journalists like this in the business. Or indeed MPs.
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