Brigadier Ben Barry's account of commanding the Second Battalion Light Infantry, describes life as part of an international peace keeping force in Bosnia in the mid 1990s. Accounts of mine clearing, driving on narrow, icy, precipitous and fog-bound roads, creating HQ's in makeshift buildings, all make for fascinating reading for both the modern historian and a more general readership.
Ben Barry's role was to maintain the morale and efficiency of a large number of British soldiers while they policed hostile factions who harboured deep hatred for each other. What was of riveting interest in this book was the analysis of how to be an effective and impartial authority rather than an intimidatory occupying force. Often, the quiet, yet firm professionalism of the British soldier in full battle dress commanded the necessary respect. At other times faction soldiers could only be persuaded to comply with the conditions of the Dayton Peace Agreement when a British gun turret was pointed at them.
The author is self critical in describing decisions that had to be made, often generous in praising others and candid about such frustrations as allied military jets flying far too high to provided the much wanted impression of strength.
'A Cold War' helps to add far more meaning to places and terms often reported in the news during the Balkans crisis. Brigadier Ben Barry examines human beings living in extreme conditions - the commander with low times on long night road trips, soldiers missing home, the British soldier accidentally killed by his own weapon and desperately sad vctims of ethnic cleansing.
The reader is left with some optimism and the feeling that Ben Barry and his colleagues took justifiable pride in steering Bosnia towards calmer times.
I strongly recommend anyone interested in modern history or decision making in very difficult circumstances to read what I think is a very important book.
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