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An angry man's compelling history lesson
on October 23, 2000
Peter Maass was a Washington Post correspondent in Bosnia 1992-93 and this is his riveting, emotive account of the war. Maass echoes many of us when he unashamedly asks the most difficult questions: Why did 250,000 Bosians lose their lives, why can't Muslims and Christians work their differences out after so long, why did genocide occur in Europe when at the end of WW II the world declared it would never happen again, why was the UN impotent once it got into Bosnia, why is the thin skin of civility easily torn and the brutality that lies beneath so easily provoked? Maass was not a cynical, hotel room hero that gives journalism a bad name, those hacks more interested in boasting in the bar and filing stories from second-hand accounts provided by local help-meets. He did his job well and came away shell-shocked, angry and fundamentally changed by what he saw: UN troops standing by while atrocities took place, how residents of Sarajevo nightly ran the gauntlet of the airport, surgeons operating without drugs, children dying on the daily water run, snipers on opposing sides chatting to one another on a two-way radio, the flourishing drug trade, people cheating, lying, killing and stealing to keep their loved ones alive. Maass speculates a little too much - some judicious editing wouldn't have gone astray - and he cannot adequately analyse the causes of the war and the outcomes for the victims involved but this was not his job anyway. He was there as a recorder of events that became a black mark in history and that he did, admirably. Maass, like veteran journalist Simon Winchester who succinctly wrote of the later crisis in Kosovo and asked similar questions, gave ordinary victims of this war a voice. While such journalistic accounts lack historical perspective because their focus is on the immediacy, their evidence is invaluable. We need such accounts, so when the spectre of genocide is raised again we can hold up books like these and say: "Haven't we learned anything yet?"