Tag Archives: milosevic

Thoughts on Militarism on Italy’s Day of the Republic

Come visit Italy...

Italy rarely has national holidays that anyone cares about. Milan My building is pleasantly empty at the moment, with most denizens having gone away for a long weekend. Militarism is rarely on display for secular holidays here, although this year has seen a bit more than usual, with the 150th anniversary of unification. Jasmine Tesanovic, born in Belgrade and educated in Italy, wrote that Italy’s alpini crowding into Turin’s public squares last month reminded her of Serbia’s military and paramilitary crowding into Belgrade in the early 1990s:

These volunteer warriors, loud and bold and claiming to fight for a good cause, resembled the Serbian military and paramilitary which conquered the downtown of Belgrade at the beginning of the Balkan wars.

As she notes, the alpini are in Afghanistan along other NATO troops, and whether that war is a “good cause” is definitely worth questioning, especially in these post-bin Laden days. (It should be remembered that Serbia controversially sent troops as well.)  But as anything other than a general condemnation of militaries in general, her comparison rings hollow.  Militaries of any kind have certain things in common, namely, as the saying goes, rough men (and in the American armed forces, increasingly rough women).  And one could argue, although I wouldn’t too forcefully, that violence in Kosovo was done in the loose name of preventing terrorism, in common with the violence being done in Afghanistan today.

...before it visits you?

But there the comparisons end: the Yugoslav People’s Army amping itself up for conquest in Croatia and Bosnia in the early ’90s is extremely different from a crowd of “mostly aging, tipsy men,” as she characterizes them, out to do what Italians do best: celebrate in public.  More broadly, Milosevic’s wars, opportunistic land-grabs that played on ethnic divide, bear little resemblance to American-led efforts to bring Afghanistan into a broader orbit of nations – however misguided and bungled those efforts may be.   This kind of equivocation obscures the politics by other means that is at the root of warfare — a dangerous gambit.

On the level of the personal and the violence of war, this week the Washington Post ran a piece based on interviews with three former Navy SEALs who tried to sketch a portrait of the man who shot bin Laden.  The piece is more along the lines of patriotic entertainment than reporting – there should be no doubt that any qualified solider, much less one in the Navy’s crack troops, would be able of hitting a target at close range – but it included an interesting detail:

Smith, who served in the SEALs from 1991 to 1999, got together recently with five Navy SEALs, some of whom he’d served with and others whom he’d trained. “They were responsible for 250 dead terrorists,” Smith says. “They know their number.”

That’s 50 dead men apiece. One wonders if every special forces solider has statistics like this. Every society has had its elites who exercise state-sanctioned violence in the baldest of terms, from the Praetorian Guard and the Janissaries to today’s “operators”, recently put in the spotlight by the Osama bin Laden killing.  Ruminating on their “number” will show that those who practice it are assuredly of a very different bearing than most of us.

There’s a vivid passage in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men in which Carson Wells, himself an ex-Special Forces operator, reaches the end of his life. Curiously, among images of his mother and his First Communion that flash before his eyes, are those who died before him. Although it probably bears little resemble to reality, it’s intriguing.


Old Gold

If you can keep your head when...

Doing some research on Milosevic cheerleaders and Srebrenica deniers Living Marxism, I happened upon this debate in the 8 July 1993 issue of the London Review of Books. If you’ve been following the discussion on my post on Mladic you might’ve heard the assertion that the only way to reverse the gains made by the ethnic cleansing that Bosnian Serbs mainly accomplished in two shorts weeks in the spring of 1992 would have been a total military defeat. This is true, but the time for this was, of course, in August 1995 and not the present. But the following quote from author Mark Thompson practically could’ve have come from these pages:

Nothing but nothing will ‘reverse ethnic cleansing’ (David Owen’s initial aim) except a military defeat inflicted upon Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina (and David Owen was employed, of course, exactly to try and forestall the necessity of Western military action by persuading the Serb forces to abandon their maximal aims). Without a Serb defeat there is no chance of stability for the entire region, no hope for Bosnia Herzegovina, and only black prospects for Serbia and Croatia.

Of course not all of this is true. Serbia and Croatia’s prospects are not ‘black’ at present; Croatia’s haven’t been for quite some time.  And David Owen might’ve indeed had the lofty aim of reversing the ethnic cleansing that went on in the first draft of his plan, but he and Cyrus Vance eventually had to own up to the reality on the ground, which was sharply slanted in the Serbs’ favor.  That reality was reflected in their second plan, which was enormously unpopular in that it would’ve only solidified Serb gains.  Of course it was rejected by Bosnian Serb leadership, who at that point must’ve been feeling pretty invulnerable.

It’s hard to reverse territorial gains (and the terror campaigns that inevitably go with them) without an army.  No one learned this lesson more bitterly than the Croats and Bosnians in this conflict.  The only “plan” that would have had any success was the Carrington-Cutileiro one — because it was designed to prevent, not stop, fighting.    But it was too little, too late.

NB: Those who read this letters column to the end will find a young Marko Hoare going the distance over wartime nationalism in the Nazi-occupied territory of Serbia and Croatia.