Slavenka Drakulic was born in Rijeka in what was formerly known as Yugoslavia, now called Croatia. This book is comprised of her observations of the accused men and one woman, as well as an analysis of the proceedings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague. She asks the question, how do ordinary people become war criminals? It's easy to believe that war criminals are psychopaths, and some of them are. The majority of offenders, however, were ordinary people who turned into unrecognizable beings under extraordinary circumstances.
This does not happen overnight, Drakulic says, but slowly over a long period of time. The victims first have to
be turned into nonhumans as it is against most people's moral code to kill another human being. Looking back, she is appalled at the propaganda put forth in Yugoslavian media. It was unthinkable that this could have happened after World War II - Yugoslavia had no enemies. "But one day we discovered that it is not necessary to have an outside enemy to start a war. The enemy could be inside - and indeed it was."
Over 200,000 lives were lost from 1991-1995; more than 80,000 Muslim women were raped, some sold to soldiers in various armies, as were their daughters. One man admits he raped a fifteen-year-old girl and told her to feel lucky - he could have been rougher with her but showed her mercy since he had a daughter that age. It was not just the soldiers who have to take responsibility for the deaths of these people and the atrocities of war; Drakulic points out rightly that the citizens who voted for Milosevic and Tudjan also bear the blame.
It is extremely difficult to take a hard, long look at the mistakes of a beloved homeland and ask if, under the right circumstances, she could turn into one of the monsters. This is a question we should all ask ourselves and take a serious look at our own media; buzz words like "the war on terrorism" and "the axis of evil" come all to easily to mind. Drakulic admits too few people saw what was happening and even fewer acted on their beliefs.
The trials are nothing like Court TV; they are long, drawn out, often boring. Her attention is caught
by a guard on trial for shooting prisoners he says were trying to escape. How then, asked the judge, did the blood get on the walls inside the cells? Stunned, the author realized, "I see what I did not see before, not their (the defendants) dull faces but a room with walls splashed with blood."
A painful, thoughtful book on war crimes and those who were accused and, in some cases, convicted of those crimes. It would be hard to find a more pertinent book for our times.