In This Review
Lebanon-Fire and Embers: A History of the Lebanese Civil War

Lebanon-Fire and Embers: A History of the Lebanese Civil War

By Dilip Hiro

St. Martin's Press, 1993, 274 pp.

Before Bosnia there was Lebanon. In case anyone has forgotten, Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s showed how a decent, pluralistic country could descend into the worst type of civil war, with former neighbors carrying out unspeakable brutalities against one another. It is easy to conclude, as Hiro does, that Lebanon, like Bosnia, is an example of history returning with a vengeance.

The problem with historical determinism is just that-it all seems so neat and inevitable after the fact. So when Hiro, a seasoned reporter of Middle Eastern affairs, concludes that the original sin in Lebanon stemmed from the decision in 1943 to give the powerful presidency to a Maronite, thus leaving the faster-growing Muslim population no alternative but to take up arms, it all sounds very cut and dried. But even by his own historical account, there were points along the way when possibilities other than full-scale civil war might have dealt with the mounting political problems of this pluralistic country.

Even after more than a decade of civil war Lebanon remains intact, unlike Bosnia, and there is even some chance of reconstruction. Hiro does not expect a resumption of fighting-the embers of hatred have mostly burned out, and there has already been so much suffering. Mostly this is a straightforward historical narrative, competently told, but without a convincing analytical framework. Read this book for what happened, but not for why.