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A fascinating book
on 3 April 2012
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.