Bosnia: Breaking the Machine

Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime

by Jan Willem Honig, by Norbert Both
Penguin, 204 pp., $11.95 (paper)

The Serbs: History, Myth & the Resurrection of Yugoslavia

by Tim Judah
Yale University Press, 350 pp., $30.00

Blood and Vengeance: One Family’s Story of the War in Bosnia

by Chuck Sudetic
Norton

On May 22, 1995, fifteen months after Bosnian Serbs—bowing to an ultimatum from Western leaders infuriated by the televised carnage of sixty-eight dismembered bodies at Sarajevo’s Markela marketplace—had withdrawn their tanks and cannons and mortars from the mountains and ridges above the city, heavily armed Serb soldiers in camouflage uniforms forced their way into a United Nations “weapons collection point” and, strolling like leisurely weekend shoppers among artillery pieces and armored vehicles, picked out from the tempting array two cannons. Laughing off the protests of humiliated French UN “blue helmets” charged with “monitoring” Serb weapons, they hitched them up to their trucks and drove out the gate.

The following day Serb troops visited other “collection points” and made off with more weapons. On the day after that, General Ratko Mladic, the swaggering, bull-necked commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, ordered his rearmed and repositioned artillerymen to unleash on Sarajevo a merciless barrage, and they complied by battering the city with nearly three thousand shells. Some were fired from cannons and mortars they hadn’t even bothered to remove from the charge of the United Nations “blue helmets”; the Serb troops took pleasure in destroying the city shell by shell from under the noses of those who were meant to protect it.

On May 24, Lieutenant General Rupert Smith, an unusually imaginative and strong-willed British officer who had succeeded General Sir Michael Rose as commander of United Nations ground troops in Bosnia, announced another, more pointed ultimatum. If the Serbs did not cease firing on Sarajevo, NATO fighter planes would attack them the following day. And when the Serbs, as was their custom, contemptuously ignored the United Nations order, General Smith startled General Mladic and much of the rest of the world by doing what everyone least expected: he sent NATO planes to attack.

Nor did he send them to drop a bomb or two on some isolated mortar or tank—the kind of timid and vaguely risible “pinprick” response that the hapless General Rose, on the few occasions he found himself unable to avoid ordering air attacks, had favored. To the intense annoyance and embarrassment of General Mladic, General Smith had the temerity to send his fighter planes swooping down at four twenty in the afternoon to bomb two ammunition bunkers near the Serbs’ so-called “capital” of Pale, right in self-declared Serb President Radovan Karadzic’s backyard.

The furious General Mladic immediately got on the radio and ordered his soldiers, perched as they were on the hills and ridges surrounding all six of the United Nations-designated “safe areas”—Bihac, Gorazde, Tuzla, Zepa, Srebrenica, and Sarajevo itself—to unleash their guns on the towns, and this (with the exception of Zepa) they promptly did. They pounded the Srebrenica city center with half a dozen well-placed rounds and lofted into Tuzla a mortar shell that exploded among a crowd of young people who were hanging out on a cobblestone street before a popular pizza joint, killing seventy-five teenagers …

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