Magazine article The Spectator

Was It Really Worth It?

Magazine article The Spectator

Was It Really Worth It?

Article excerpt

LIKE many people of my generation who knew Yugoslavia, the past two months have made me utterly miserable. As a military historian having written about many wars, and served in one, I cannot recall any campaign which I have disliked so much.

It is, admittedly, in part personal. As a 20-year-old, I was deeply influenced by both Rebecca West and Fitzroy Maclean as well as by the heroic accounts of Yugoslav partisans like Djilas and Dedijer. I often wished, had I been older, that I could have shared the Great Adventure with Fitz and Tito - those were heady days.

When I first met Fitz, in Croatia in the late Forties, it was after Tito had broken with Stalin and Yugoslavia seemed like the one bright hope in the Cold War. Over the past weeks, I have frequently recalled his description of the Serbs to me: `incredibly brave, obstinate - and treacherous; just like the Highlanders'.

For Fitz, as a card-carrying Highlander, there could be no higher tribute. Tito's army was largely commanded by Serbs and Montenegrins, and we felt - and prayed - that they would not let themselves be ploughed under by their former Soviet allies. They were not.

Seduced by the allure of these hardy people, in 1952 I managed to persuade an impresario to bring over the Serbian National Dancers. It was the first time since the war that an East European ensemble appeared on the stage here. London adored them and their proud, wild and wistful music, so evocative of the now devastated uplands of Serbia.

How could such a people be turned into savages by the will, apparently, of one evil man? It is a historic problem that recurs to haunt historians. And was bombing the Serbs back into the Stone Age, or at least back to 1945, the right way to halt Milosevic? The spin-doctored information coming out of Brussels has been so incomplete, indeed often so unreliable, that it may be still too early to tell, but this week's stalling of the peace process gives some indications.

Until the air war began, I never thought to find myself in the same camp as the Benns and Pinters. One was plagued by the terrible thought that, maybe, ethnic cleansing of the Kosovars in its total brutality could have been avoided but for the bombing. Yet, once that started it had to go on; as the politicians put it, `victory was the only exit strategy for Nato' - unless we were prepared to see our shield over the past 50 years destroyed by one mini-dictator. …

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