Sunday, October 15, 2006

Review: My War Gone By, I Miss It So

My War Gone By, I Miss It So
Anthony Loyd

Reading this book, I've learned the importance of not judging books by their titles. The title "My War Gone By, I Miss It So" struck me as interesting, but also a tad dramatic and pretentious.

Yet, Anthony Loyd's book is perhaps one of the most honest, unpretentious personal memoir I have read.
Loyd is blessed with the gift of being deeply introspective without coming across as conceited at all.

At the most base level, the book is the story of war correspondent Anthony Loyd's twin addictions, to war and drugs. Loyd weaves two seemingly different stories together in one memoir. In one, is the story of his time in Bosnia, and later Chechnya. The other is the story of his drug addiction and troubled relationship with his father. With both, Loyd is introspective and brutally honest. He does not seem to be writing for a specific audience, just telling his story.
Both the war and the drugs offer him a high. He jeers at the other Western journalists, who go around wearing bullet proof vests and driving in armoured cars. Loyd on the otherhand, gets as close to the war as possible. Talking to soldiers and war criminals, victims and survivors; Loyd gets into the "thick" of the action as much as possible.

This book is not the 'macho adventure' story it may appear to be. If anything, it is a poignant story of the destruction war causes.
Loyd describes the brutal imprints that the war: of atrocities, of burned out villages and gun battles, leaves.
Beyond just telling about his own personal story during the war; Loyd also gives first hand accounts of the impact of the international community's role in Bosnia.
On the whole, it is not a role to be proud of.
In one of the most memorable stories, Loyd talks about Dina, a three year old girl who is shot during the battle between the ABiH's 5th Corps and Fikret Abdic's Bihac rebels. Badly wounded, she is about to be airlifted to a hospital, but her mother cannot go with her, because she is an adult, and therefore might be a combatant. This story is quite represenative of what I feel is the larger problem of the international community's role in Bosnia. The maddening bureaucracy and rigid "neutrality" created a situaton where a horribly wounded girl was seperated from her mother the moment she needed her the most. The international community went into the Bosnian conflict as being "neutral"; but by being so "neutral" it was inevitably taking sides in the conflict; and siding with the aggressors.
Despite the dark subject matter and cyncism, he book is not without small miracles as well. Dina, the little girl who is wounded, survives against the odds.

One aspect of the book I most appreciated was that he focused on the aspect of the war that has sometimes been pushed aside at best, and completely ignored at worst. That of the HVO's ethnic cleansing campaign against the Bosniaks in Central Bosnia. This "secondary war" made things a bit complicated for the journalists and public, who were having a hard enough time understanding the conflict to begin with. Yet that conflict brought up issues of multiculturalism and indentity that are still having strong repercussions all over the Bosnian-Croat sector of Bosnia to this day.
The deal Trudjman made with Milosevic to cut Bosnia in half, and the atrocties committed by the HVO have at times been ignored and played down; and no doubt had Trudjman lived he would have joined Milosevic at the Hague.
Besides just looking at the Bosniak-Croat war; Loyd also spends a great deal of time describing the "war" between Abdic and the Bosnian army. Loyd is quite clear where his sympathies lie, he is absolutely against Abdic and in the camp of the Bosnian Army, he views Abdic as a traitor and a man running his own personal fiefdom in Bihac. As he did for his description of the Muslim-Croat war he offers another revealing look at an another aspect of the war which has for long been ignored.
By writing at legnth about the Muslim-Croat war and about Abdic and his rebels; Loyd offers something new to the already large collection of books on the Bosnian war.


Bg anon said...

Yes! This is the book that made the biggest impression on me concerning the Bosnian war.

The fact that he looks at it from a human point of view, that he has no preconcieved opinions about what Bosnia should be. That he came to the region without bias and that he is very intelligent.
That the Bosnian story is told in the context of his own life....

Its all there. Even contempt for the 'heroic' journalists who can hardly wait to photo the next bloodbath.

My war gone by is a must read. I dont think it is available in Serbian/ Croatian / Bosnian but it bloody well should be.

Shaina said...

That is too bad that the book is not available in B/H/S.
Just based on your personal experience, do you think there would be a desire or an interest in the book?

As I said in my post one aspect of the book that I most appreciated was that if focused primarily on the HVO war of agression and on the Muslim-Croat conflcit; most of the literature on the Bosnian war does not deal extensively with that aspect of the conflict (with the exception of the blowing up of the bridge at Mostar).
When I have the time, I'm hoping to follow more about the Herceg-Bosna trials at the Hague.
And like I said before, had Trudjman lived he too would have surely been indicted for war crimes. (Or at least, he *should* have been). I'm not sure about the actual legal evidence they have against Trudjman.

Bg anon said...

Well Shaina you wont get any statement from me saying that the Hague is non political. Everything is political.

I think that initially there wasnt such a great desire to go after Tudjman at the tribunal. I dont think its wrong to look at this also in the context of the military support provided to Croatia to cleanse its territory of Croatian Serbs. I also think that they were more eager to go after Milosevic.

Having said that the tribunal would have indicted Tudjman - there is no question about it and (to its credit) the prosecution has used almost every opportunity to refer to the responsibility and involvement of Franjo Tudjman - above all in the Bosnian conflict but also elsewhere.

I think that actually the evidence against Tudjman would have been quite compelling, not quite a smoking gun but unlike Sloba Tudjman was sloppy with his (dangerous and intolerant) public statements. The prosecution wouldnt have that much difficulty in making him looking like a narrow minded Croatian nationalist.

Owen's famous partition napkin would be produced (or at any rate he would testify), you would have Croatian Serbs, independent Croatian journalists, independent Serbian journalists and perhaps the odd militaryman who was willing to rat on his old boss for a better sentance. The Yugoslav state intelligence service would also have recorded phone conversations that would suddenly become available too. Be assured of that - remember how the Croatians did it to Sloba with his tapes speaking to his son Marko. They were all spying and recording.

Of course this would be looked upon in horror by most Croatians who would view this as a move to equalise the blame between him and Sloba. Its always been my contention that this does not have to be the case. There is always somebody who bears more responsibility and clearly Milosevic had the more numerous and more powerful armed forces / factions. By that alone one must see Milosevic as more responsible.

And of course if such a thing happened (Tudjman in the Hague) we would see a much stronger right wing in Croatia similar to what we have with the Radical party in Serbia. So the Croatians are fortunate in a way and unfortunate in another way - that the truth is still hidden below the surface - covered by the need to maintain the establishment of the first real independent Croatian state.

The Bosnian Croat/ Croatian vs Bosnian government forces conflict was covered in some depth in the European media - in the United Kingdom and France at least. I know the US audience (networks believe) doesnt like to be confused by too many actors so they might not have covered that conflict in such detail. I've said before how disapointed I am for the citizens of Mostar, who in my opinion, are overlooked whilst the attention and funds mainly go to Sarajevo.

Interest in the book? Perhaps, with the right kind of promotion but I'm afraid it wouldnt be promoted properly. If I was Lloyd I'd turn up to promote the book personally, perhaps on an anniversary or at regional book fairs. If that happened the book would be bought in quantities - above all if it wasnt necessarily looked at as a typical war book - which it isnt.

People are of course fatigued of hearing / reading the terrible details of war but a personal story would hit home much better than the usual condemnation by (sometimes pompous) 'experts' IMO.

Bg anon said...

Apologies the key word I missed out above was 'US' military support provided to Croatia..

Kirk Johnson said...

It is a great book. It's been several years since I read it, but the impression I got from it is still vivid. You do it justice in your fine review.

I agree with bg anon--the failure to hold Tudjman accountable for his actions leading up to and during the war was a bad decision, but also a mixed-bag for Croats.

Owen said...

Bg Anon, I presume you're not referring to me but to my notorious former near-neighbour, but in fact it was Paddy Ashdown Tudjman drew the map on the napkin for, not Dr Death.

Bg anon said...

No Owen actually I thought of the potential for confusion later...

Unless there is something you are not telling us... :)

Do you prefer Pantsdown to Lord this and Lord that?

Bg anon said...

...Of course I mean not that David Steel, David Owen and Paddy Ashdown are in any way interchangable...