Hitchens: Mladic the Monster
Mladic the Monster
Our failure to respond to the Serbian atrocities prolonged the slaughter.
By Christopher HitchensPosted Monday, May 30, 2011, at 12:48 PM ET
Mass graves at Srebrenica.Srebrenica is one of the best-documented atrocities in modern history. We have everything, from real-time satellite surveillance (shamefully available to the United States even as the butchery was going on) to film and video taken by the perpetrators, including Mladic himself. The production of this material in court will, one hopes, wipe any potential grin from his face and destroy the propaganda image of the simple patriotic man at arms. Whatever our policy on monsters abroad may turn out to be, at least we should be able to recognize one when we see one.
I suppose it is possible that the arrest of Gen. Ratko Mladic is as undramatic and uncomplicated as it seems and that in recent years he had been off the active list and gradually became a mumbling old derelict with a rather nasty line in veterans’ reminiscences. His demands would probably have been modest and few: the odd glass of slivovitz in company with a sympathetic priest (it’s usually the Serbian Orthodox Church that operates the support and counseling network for burned-out or wanted war criminals) and an occasional hunting or skiing trip. Though there is something faintly satisfying about this clichéd outcome—the figure of energetic evil reduced to a husk of exhausted banality—there is also something repellent about it.
As a confused old pensioner or retiree, Mladic is in danger of arousing local sympathy in rather the same way John Demjanjuk did but of doing so within a few years of the original atrocities and not several decades. Moreover, Mladic was a director and organizer of the mass slaughters at Srebrenica and Zepa (as of the obscene bombardment of the open city of Sarajevo), and not a mere follower of orders. The new and allegedly reformist Serbian government bears some responsibility for this moment of moral nullity and confusion, since it seems to regard the arrest of Mladic and his political boss Radovan Karadzic as little more than an episode in the warming of Belgrade’s relations with the European Union. You don’t have to be a practicing Serbo-chauvinist to find something a bit trivial and sordid in that calculation. (And what if it doesn’t prove possible to stretch the increasingly inelastic Eurozone to accommodate Serbia’s pressing needs and add them to those of Greece and Ireland? A possible hostage to fortune here.)