Charles Shrader’s book on the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina focuses primarily on the Muslim-Croat civil war within a larger war waged by Serbia in the 1990s. It brings to mind the kind of detailed, expert analyses one sees on C-Span by authors who are military experts on various historic battles such as the Battle of Plattsburgh. Shrader, a retired army lieutenant colonel, brings a similar military expertise, an eye for detail, and an objectivity that only an American officer with no ax to grind could bring. I can also envision Shrader’s book being important for the international community as it continues to struggle with the issue of post-Nazi war crimes. This is because, in addition to or perhaps because of the detailed military analysis that he offers, he also sheds light on the origins, nature, and eventual resolution of ethnic conflict in a limited geographic area. In this regard, he also offers a sociological analysis. Students of ethnic conflict in diverse academic disciplines will also benefit from this analysis.
The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was widely covered but is still poorly understood, especially from the military point of view. Most of the other books on the conflict were written by journalists and constitute little more than testimonies of people’s suffering. That is what journalists do: they cover events. But they are seldom equipped, conceptually or by training, to delve into the military, sociological, or legal aspects of them. Shrader uses the military history perspective as a vehicle for offering a much more comprehensive understanding of what really happened in Bosnia. In particular, he focuses on the military strategies of the Bosnian Muslim armed forces, which were not unequivocally defensive. I do no believe that Shrader’s approach should be dismissed as an example of “blaming the victim.” Bosnian Muslims were undoubtedly and primarily victims in the various wars in BosniaHerzegovina. Yet it is important to keep in mind that several civil wars raged simultaneously: Serbs against Croats, Serbs against Muslims, Croats against Muslims, and also Muslims against Muslims (Fikret Abdic led a failed secessionist movement against the government of Alija Izetbegovic). The macabre drama of the dissolution of Yugoslavia began with the Serbs as the clear and primary victimizers of other ethnic groups, and then became grotesquely twisted into tales of the primary victims (Croats and Muslims) victimizing each other. The unfolding of the process by which some victims become victimizers is horrifying from psychological, sociological, and legal perspectives. This ambivalent emotion is captured by the epigram that