Book Review: Diana Johnstone’s “Fool’s Crusade”

“Diana Johnstone has written a revisionist and highly contentious account of western policy and the dissolution of Yugoslavia” (Caplan, 2003). In 2002, the far-left-wing American author that is known for her engagement in the anti-Vietnam movement, published a book titled “Fool’s Crusade – Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions”. In the book she presents the following seven strongly dissenting representations of the massacre in Srebrenica:


The ‘safe areas’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina were not demilitarized and thus serves as Muslim military bases under UN protection” (Johnstone, 2002: 110).


The very first discussion Johnstone opens is not as one might expect the attack on the town or the deportation and execution of men, but the demilitarization of the safe area Srebrenica. Johnstone claims that ‘common sense’ demands, that a safe area must be demilitarized and that the Muslims counteracted this obligation (ibid). She states that in April 1993, the Muslims extradited only 300 mostly not working weapons (ibid). To back up her claim, she refers to the Srebrenica Report: Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35 (1998), III. D. The first noticeable point, looking at this document, is that the demilitarization agreements between Serbs and Muslims define the conditions for demilitarization of the town Srebrenica and not the entire surrounding area (Srebrenica Report, 1998: 19). This contradicts Johnstone’s assertion that the safe area including its surroundings had to be demilitarized. That she hasn’t mentioned this agreement at all, though referring to the document herself, shows her deceptive selection of information. Also Johnstone doesn’t mention UN Resolution 834 of 4 June 1993 which authorized Bosnian troops to remain in the safe area. Instead she claims that the Muslims illegally ‘sneaked in’ weapons with food shipments from charitable organizations and used these weapons to attack Serbs in the surrounding villages (Johnstone, 2002: 110). Surprisingly, the only proof she offers, is a statement by the German Foreign Minister in 1994, that weapons had been smuggled into the town Bihac, not Srebrenica (ibid). Besides, Johnstone doesn’t bother to provide a reference for the alleged attacks from Srebrenica on Serb villages. Directly after claiming the unprovoked attacks on Serb villages, she refers to the account of Honig and Both (1996) to suggest that Muslims started firing on Serbs to “[…] provoke a fight between Serbs and UNPROFOR, which had neither the mandate nor the forces to stop them” (Johnstone, 2002: 110). But as I have shown above, this description by Honig and Both is biased, as it is systematically victimizing the Dutch soldiers to avoid moral responsibility. In reality, the Dutch commander had the mandate to “to take all reasonable measures to protect refugees and civilians in [his] care and to defend [his] forces” (Honig/ Both, 1996: 32). Nevertheless, Johnstone disregards and moreover consciously distorts these facts to create a picture of the Muslim people in Srebrenica as calculating offenders – both against the Serbs and the Dutch. But interestingly, her depiction of the Muslims as active and cunning perpetrators clashes obviously with the presentation of Honig and Both (1996) of them as mindless herds, playing into the hands of the Serbs.


The Muslim military force stationed in Srebrenica – some 5,000 men under the command of Naser Oric, had carried out murderous raids against nearby Serb villages”(Johnstone, 2002: 110).


In this section Johnstone asserts that Naser Oric, the leader of the Bosnian Muslim Army in Srebrenica, committed a raid against forty-six Serbs in the village of Kravcia on the orthodox Christmas day (Johnstone, 2002: 111). She refers to a Daily Telegraph article and a CNN report as proof that cannot to be found anywhere online and to a NY Times article that does not fully support her claim. The NY Times article doesn’t refer to any specific perpetrator or number of dead, as Johnstone claimed (Darton, 1993). Moreover the 2008 Judgement of the Prosecutor vs. Oric states under a) Factual Findings, section 662-664 that Kravica was a military base of the Bosnian Serb Army, from where several attacks on the Bosnian Muslims was launched. In a military operation the Bosnian Muslims attacked the village to open a gate to Bosnian-Government held territory on 7th January 1993 and met heavy resistance by the Bosnian Serb Army, which fired with Artillery, also from Bratunac (Prosecutor vs. Oric, 665). Also the alleged perpetrator Naser Oric has been tried by the ICTY and after an appeal he has been acquitted of all crimes in 2008 ( This does not mean that Oric and his men are completely innocent, but Johnstone’s allegation that the incident in Kravica was a Muslim raid on defenseless villagers instead of a military operation, attacking the base of the Bosnian Serb Army (which posed heavy resistance) is simply indefensible. Johnstone further claims that in two years 192 Serb villages were raided and 1300 villagers killed. She doesn’t mark the sentence with a reference for evidence, thus the reader can only speculate from where she got the information and if it refers to the area of Srebrenica or whole Bosnia and whether the term ‘villagers’ includes all ethnicities.

Izetbegovic pulled Naser Oric out of Srebrenica prior to the anticipated Serb offensive, deliberately leaving the enclave undefended” (Johnstone, 2002: 111)


In this section it is argued that the Muslim Forces abandoned the civilians in Srebrenica and thus literally invited the Serbs to run over the whole enclave (ibid). Johnstone refers to a study by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (2002), which concluded that Mladic’s attack on the enclave “was primarily motivated by the lack of any significant resistance by both Muslim forces and the UN” (Johnstone, 2002: 283). Again, it is very interesting how Johnstone abuses Dutch representations of the events. Whereas the Dutch generally, as well as in this case, frame the Muslims as uncoordinated and helpless and the UN as disinterested, Johnstone distorts this interpretation and tries to draw a picture of cunning Bosnian Muslims that deliberately abandoned the civilians to provoke a Serb attack. Johnstone mentions some conspiracy theories that the enclave was deliberately sacrificed, so that the demands of the US diplomats would be sacrificed (Johnstone, 2002: 112). As proof, she refers to an interview with Mihail Markovic, vice president of Milosevic’s political party and chief ideologue (ibid). Clearly, this piece of ‘evidence’ is not convincing as Markovic has an interest in pushing the responsibility for the massacre to another party. Another piece of ‘evidence’ is the November 1999 UN Report on Srebrenica, which states that some survivors of Srebrenica reported, that President Izetbegovic sacrificed the town in order to legitimize NATO intervention (ibid). However, what Johnstone conceals is that the report acknowledges, that President Izetbegovic disclaimed ever having said that (UN November Report on Srebrenica, 1999: 31). Moreover Johnstone asserts that “[…] the Serbs were enraged by Oric’s attack on villagers […]” and that “[o]ffering the Bosnian Serbs an opportunity (likely to be seized) to carry out revenge killings could be more valuable to the cause than holding to an impoverished enclave” (ibid). There is no proof, only these allegations. Although revenge for military losses might have played a small role in the Serbian attack on Srebrenica, it was not the crucial factor. As described in the more reliable account of Honig/ Both (1996: 29-30), the Serbs carried out a carefully planned military operation, that was highly complex and required logistical skill. It couldn’t have been organized as a ‘spontaneous’ reaction in the heat of the moment. Also there is an official statement of a Dutch soldier, that he acquired information from a Serb soldier, that the military operation could have been executed a week before, if Mladic hadn’t lacked the fuel for the busses back then (Honig/ Both, 1996: 30). In summary, Johnstone callously frames the Muslims as calculating, provoking and ruthless offenders that abandoned their own civilians and ‘had it coming’ because of their alleged ‘attacks on Serb villagers’.


The United States used the inevitable failure of the ambiguous “UN safe area” concept to discredit the Unite Nations as a peacekeeping force, thus promoting NATO to that role” (Johnstone, 2002. 113).


This paragraph introduces a new interesting framework that Johnstone employs to explain the fall of Srebrenica: America as calculating neo-imperialist hegemon, trying to abolish the UN in order to establish US military domination worldwide through NATO (ibid). Johnstone believes that the US planned the failure of UNPROFOR in order to discredit and abolish norms of UN impartiality (ibid). Johnstone’s argumentation becomes very self-contradicting at this point, because in paragraph three she accused the UN, together with the Muslims, of ‘provocative’ inaction, which motivated the Serbs to conquer the town, but in this paragraph she is hailing the UN norm of impartiality, which made the inaction of the Dutch soldiers in Srebrenica possible in the first place. These allegations by Johnstone are not only the boldest, but also the least supported ones, if one can speak of ‘evidence’ at all. She merely highlights the choice of Kofi Annan as Secretary General and condemns his admittance of the guilt of the UN inaction in the face of genocide (ibid). Johnstone concludes that “[t]he United Nations thereby renounced the role of impartial diplomacy and endorsed U.S. military might as the best means to deal with civil conflicts” (ibid). Here, another frame is revealed: The labeling of the events as ‘civil conflict’ and not as ‘genocide’ is used to a) belittle the sufferings of the victims and b) cast legitimacy and probability of success of foreign intervention into doubt.


The number of Muslims killed or missing after the fall of Srebrenica is uncertain, and more effort has been made to inflate the figure than to identify and count the real victims” (Johnstone, 2002: 114).


The deportation and genocide of the Bosnian Muslims is literally denied by Johnstone, claiming that missing lists of the Red Cross are fraudulent and in 2001 ‘only’ 2361 bodies have been exhumed, of which some were Serbs, some Muslims (Johnstone, 2002:114- 115). But it is documented by US Satellites that there have been thousands of dead bodies and the initial mass graves were dug up in autumn 1995 and brought to secondary graves up to 40 km away (Wagner, 2008: 51). Honig and Both (1996) confirm that Dutch soldiers witnessed killings. Moreover Johnstone claims that from the 5000 initially missing men, 3000 – 4000 appeared again in Bosnian-Government-held territory (Johnstone, 2002: 114). But these numbers do not reflect the facts. There have been 10 000 to 15000 men fleeing to the woods from Srebrenica and 6000 of them were captured and executed by Serbs (Wagner, 2008: 51). Moreover the International Commission on Missing Persons has identified 6,481 of the Srebrenica Victims via DNA analysis:

The initial accusation against the Bosnian Serbs was politically motivated” (Johnstone, 2002: 115).


President Clinton accused the Serbs of committing a massacre first, when he wanted to divert public attention from the extradition of around 200 000 Serbs from the Croatian Krajina – according to Johnstone (ibid). The pattern to accuse the US for literally anything continues. First, Johnstone accused America to have planned and provoked the fall of Srebrenica in order to discredit the UN and empower US-dominated NATO. Then she asserts the Americans just accuse the Serbs of genocide as a cover-up for their own ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Croatia. Finally she honestly blames the US for not intervening, if they truly had spy satellite pictures of mass-graves. This is the climax of self-contradiction since Johnstone just argued that the US is criminally seeking for a way of abolishing impartiality and non-intervention principles to establish hegemonic power – and yet, she is blaming them for ‘keeping on watching’ and not intervening directly (Johnstone, 2002: 116). Johnstone’s argumentation becomes almost satirical when she writes on the next page, that David Rohde (1997) is trying to “[…] discredit neutrality in favor of aggressive military humanitarian intervention” (Johnstone, 2002: 117).


Insofar as Muslims were actually executed following the fall of Srebrenica, such crimes bear all the signs of spontaneous acts of revenge rather than a project of genocide” (Johnstone, 2002: 117).


Making herself expert for the interpretation of the genocide convention, Johnstone argues –wrongly – that for a ‘real’ genocide women and children and not only men must be executed and since this hasn’t been done, Srebrenica – she says- is not a case of genocide (ibid). More-over she argues, that the assembly of so many Muslim men was a perfect change for the Serbs to kill (or ‘eliminate’, how she likes to put it) a part of the enemy’s army (ibid). And then Johnstone cynically asks “War crimes?” and answers her own question lightheartedly that even the Serbs admitted that (ibid). She basically discloses that she thinks the male civilian population was ‘fair game’ since the men could have been recruited for the army. But ‘genocide’ as the crime of crimes has a different, unbearable meaning for Johnstone, thus she uses interpretive denial to assign a less incriminating connotation to the core facts – exactly the same facts, she literally denied just one page before. Her technique is similar to a double bottom: If some evidence will crush her literal denial of genocide, she won’t fall deep – she thinks. Thus Johnstone asks the reader coquettish “Part of a plan of genocide?” and responds with an incontestable and cynical finality “For this there is no evidence whatsoever” (ibid).


I have found that Diana Johnstone has written an extremely contentious and revisionist account with several errors of fact, representative of the nation-specific attitudes of the American far-left towards any US foreign policy. Her account can be described as being influenced by the anti-Vietnam movement, leading to an extreme skepticism and cynicism towards American engagement abroad, always suspecting neo-imperial intentions. Johnstone carries this US critizism so far, that her account becomes self-contradictory and apologist for the Serb genocide campaign.



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