Hour: How Britain Helped to Destroy Bosnia
London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press, 2001.
£18.99, 496 pages, ISBN 0713994258.
Simmss stunning book, Unfinest Hour, is an aggressive
polemic on why the British failed to save Bosnia from four nightmare
years of war. Those who agree with Dr. Simms will love his book. Theres
no reason why they shouldnt: its witty, well-argued, immaculately
researched. Dissenters, however, are likely to get very angry indeed.
One review in The Economist was particularly ad hominem,
comparing Dr. Simms to a spoiled schoolchild throwing an ink-pot against
a wall. Reactionary criticism is nothing new from The Economist,
a bastion of conservative opinion and slow-change in a conservative
slow-changing Queendom. But a vicious attack against a fellow conservative
merits close attention: for this Cambridge don is an insider, a former
Tory and member of the Conservative think tank the Bow Group. And
he understands exactly who is responsible for the Bosnian debacle.
Today, most of us are aware of the damage inflicted on the peoples
of Bosnia both by Milosevics Serbia and the International Community.
The misery can be measured in superlatives: Modern Europes longest
siege (Sarajevo), its worst war crime since Shoah (Srebrenica), Europes
largest migration of people since World War Two. It is true that spectators
are now increasingly hesitant to divvy out an equal share of guilt
to each of the Balkan participants: Serbias primary role is
being understood. But until Unfinest Hour, the British government
has largely escaped the level of criticism levied at Milosevic's regime
or the United Nations.
Simms is not afraid to name those who were at the heart of this world
of moral failure, corruption and lack of political will. Sir Michael
Rose, the British chief of UN peacekeeping in Bosnia, appears on the
books cover merrily intoxicating himself with Radko Mladic,
the war criminal responsible for the Srebrenica massacre. Roses
refusals to support military involvement are peppered with deliciously
awful racial slurs against the Bosnian Muslims who apparently (according
to Rose) are unable to appreciate the Christian sentiments
of Mozart. Likewise, critics in the press such as the pseudo-historian
Misha Glenny are demolished for their false clairvoyance and factual
Simms uses the marvellous phrase conservative pessimism
as an umbrella to describe the Tories position against intervention.
Exaggerating the military power of the Serbs and the risks of ground
war, figures like Douglas Hurd accepted ethnic cleansing as a reality
in a conflict where all sides were regarded as equally guilty. But,
as Simms shows, this pessimism was not merely a passive sentiment
that coloured British policy. It was an active and pernicious policy.
As the Polish Prime Minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, stated, Any
time there was a likelihood of effective action, [Douglas Hurd] intervened
to prevent it. Many elements explain the origins of conservative
pessimism and Dr. Simms documents their functions immaculately:
Serbophilia in the Commons, an obsession with World War Two and anti-Croatian
rabble rousing, the twisting of politically-correct language to argue
against the imperialism of military intervention, financial
intrigues with Serbian companies
Imagine what the archives will
reveal once documents are declassified!
Most critics who loathe this book fault it for not taking both sides.
That is not what Dr. Simms set out to do. His work is a polemic. And
within this aim, he provides hugely convincing evidence. Once Britain
made a moral commitment to be involved in the Balkans, it did more
than fail. It made things worse so much so that, as Simms explains,
the Bosnians frustrated
with British policy and with her
vigorous maintenance of the arms embargo against the legitimate government
threatened to charge Britain before the International
Court of Justice as an accomplice to genocide. A letter to that effect
was sent to the Security Council in 1993. An entire government
in the Netherlands recently resigned over a report on the conduct
of their soldiers in Srebrenica. Dr. Simmss book is the equivalent
indictment of the much sorrier and corrosive effects of the John Major
government. Now if he would only write a book about France!