In This Review
Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West

Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West

By David Rieff

Simon & Schuster, 1995, 240 pp.

Rieff is twice different from other commentators on the Balkans. First, for him, the issue is settled; the disaster is complete; Bosnia is destroyed, with nothing to be saved. The ongoing struggle to control the carnage and find some basis for ending the war -- at a minimum to prevent its escalation or spread -- has no meaning for him when set alongside what the West has lost of its soul, the integrity of its most cherished values, and, not least, its capacity to act in still more fateful circumstances. Second, where other writers start from an analysis of the Bosnian tragedy, its causes, and the reasons for its course and only from the side smuggle in sentiment and indictment, Rieff's aim is different, and on that he is up front. He intends his book to be a skewering of Western governments and the U.N. agencies whose skirts they hid behind for letting the tragedy happen. Analysis and the recounting of what he saw serve simply as skewers.

So this is an angry, indignant writer, a journalist who frankly admits to the bias many have accused the Western press of having on the Bosnian war, freely lambasting U.S. administrations, European politicians, and even the U.N. Protection Force. Why then read the book? First, because his is one of the first serious attempts to deal systematically with the responsibility of those on the outside, including the United Nations, for what has happened, as opposed to the many other books assigning responsibility among those on the inside. Second because, with the potency of a very talented writer, he carries the reader beyond the wrenching facts of the war to the deep, twisted meaning they have come to have for the people there and, no less, for those of us far away. This last he does by asking as insistently as anyone could what it signifies to have permitted genocide to destroy a country. The great powers could have prevented it, he believes, though only at very great cost to themselves. What, is his ultimate question, are the implications for their future of refusing to pay great costs for great principles?