Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia Paperback – 4 Jul 2002
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"This is the best sort of polemical book: hard-hitting, well researched and stimulating, with a preference for analysis over sensation."
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.See all Product description
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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.
Simms' portrayal of the Major government of 1990-97 has to be read to be believed.Major,Hurd and Rifkin were simply uninterested in the fate of the Bosnians in the face of Serb aggression,if anything they grovelled before Milosevic.They consistently obstructed efforts by NATO to stop Serb attacks,and then refused to allow any Bosnians to enter Britain as refugees.The Major administration then repeatedly refused to lift an arms embargo,so the Bosnians couldn't defend themselves,and tried as hard as they could to stop anyone else from supplying weapons to the Bosnian government.
Why?Dr.Simms makes it clear that Major and co. weren't deranged racists or islamophobes,nor were they idiots.They were deeply pessimistc about the idea of humanitarian intervention(so much for the Bosnians)and they were unable to see that Yugoslavia had disintergrated and that the Serbs were intent on grabbing as much territory,and killing,raping and/or exiling as many of their enemies(real or imagined)as possible.That was simply beyond their imagination.
Margaret Thatcher,in one of the very few sensible things she ever said or did,supported the lifting of the arms embargo on Bosnia.Dr.Simms reports Douglas Hurd as once saying "There is no such thing as 'the international community'".If,as Thatcher averred,there is no such thing as society,if political leaders don't care about their own citizens,why should they care about anyone else?Is it too much to state that Major and co.simply elevated Thatcher's dog-eat-dog attitude towards her own people into the basis of foreign policy-I don't think so.
If you're British and you're ever tempted to vote Conservative,read this.If you're not,read this and wonder at how putrid the British establishment can be.Finally,be aware that ideas have consequences,and not necessarily those wished for by the originators of those ideas.When Thatcher denied society existed,I very much doubt she could have imagined that a few years later,one of her acolytes would use this idea as an intellectual justification for shrugging his shoulders at mass murder.
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. The embargo, therefore, had the effect of preventing a UN member (BiH) from defending itself against aggression from the Serbs (the Croats supported different sides at different points but on the whole were more against the Serbs than for them. The pretence was maintained that there was a mortal equivalence on both sides - but although there were inevitably atrocities by the BiH forces, these were minuscule compared with the ethnic cleansing, murder and rape committed by the Serb forces under the appalling Mladic, so there was no sense in which both sides were morally equivalent.
As well as this, (in no particular order) other devious or just plain wrong arguments were used: if the BiH forces were armed it would prolong the war indefinitely, the whole thing was a tribal working out of ancient ethnic hatreds, it was all the fault of the Germans for recognising Slovenian and Croatian - and Bosnian - independence, there was no point in trying to pit ourselves against the Serbs because they were too powerful and anyway had a long history of being on our side in the second world war, the Croats and the Bosnians had been on the other side (especially Franjo Tudjman - despite the fact that he had been with Tito's partisans), and so on ad infinitum.
Some of the statements in Parliament beggar belief: the old moral equivalence argument was regularly trotted out, and (this is one of my favourites) the argument that the Serbs had been so effective during the partisan war that they had been able to down 37 Nazi armoured divisions in the fighting! Lol, is all one can say about that, since the German army never had that number of armoured divisions in all: for example, on the Eastern front they deployed around 20 armoured divisions. Yet this stuff was said in Parliament with a straight face by people who should have known much better.
One of the more depressing parts of the book is the long series of quotes from people who should have known better. I except John Pilger, who, for all his good intentions does write some utter rubbish at timers, but to see such as Jonathan Steele bleating that the long overdue bombing of the Serbs to relieve the siege of Sarajevo was the beginning of a slippery slope, and Misha Glenny likewise. Really, the whole thing is a catalogue of shame that should never be forgotten.
The only criticism I'd make of the book is that there's sometimes a bit too much detail on who said what in Parliament especially, and that (as others have suggested) makes the book a bit heavy going in places. So for this I'd have preferred to rate the book at four and a half stars; a small point in an otherwise fine study. I only hope such as Hurd and Major read the book and hang their heads, but I doubt it. Incidentally, the one Tory politician who emerges with any credit from this affair is Margaret Thatcher - and I never thought I'd find myself praising that awful woman, but no one is wrong all the time and credit to her in this case.