Sunday, November 2, 2014

A BOOK WITH A VIEW: A REVIEW OF ROSE OF SARAJEVO, By Ayse Kulin


 

Kindle edition, published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle
Originally published by Remzi Kitabevi, Istanbul, 1999
Reviewed for Peacehawks by Jamie Arbuckle

Introduction

The author describes  her book succinctly and accurately in her introduction:

This book tells the story of the heroic and honorable people who survived the horrendous war in Bosnia that took place from April 5, 1992 to February 26, 1996, during which Sarajevo was held under siege for 1,395 days, without regular electricity, communications or water.  Ten thousand six hundred  Bosniaks – of whom 1,600 were children – lost their lives.  Those who survived were pressured to accept the Dayton Agreement.   With this treaty, 51 per cent of Bosnia was left to Bosnia and Herzegovina, while the Serbs, who comprised only 34 percent of the population before the war, gained 49 per cent of the land. (location 31).

She has thus told us both what this book is: a vivid portrayal of the events in Yugoslavia (as it still was) in 1991 and 92, seen through the eyes of the Bosniak community; and what it is not, which is history.

This book may  be read and enjoyed for what it is: an entertaining and well-written novel.  It is best in depicting the slow motion horror of the unveiling  of the malevolence and cruelty of a very few men, who were determined  to wreck a country with no idea of what was  to replace it.  The effects of this nihilism on the lives of common people, and the difficulty of replacing a society which has been so thoughtlessly and deliberately wrecked, is something we need to  hear and not forget.

On the other hand, novels are fiction, and will vary in their usefulness as history. One who is genuinely interested in the history of these events will need to look elsewhere, because there are some gaps here. First, the importance of the relations between the Bosniaks and the Turks is in my view exaggerated, and my suspicions are fueled when I notice how this exaggeration seems to reflect a Turkish government policy about which I am also skeptical. Second, an entirely scurrilous attack on the UN and on one UN officer repeats the scapegoating of 20 years ago.  Neither of these apparent plot devices are essential to the story, and together they seriously undermine the credibility of this book.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

INTO AFRICA – REALLY!



A review for Peacehawks of Sandpaper: A Story of Africa, by Angela Mackay.  2013.

- by Jamie Arbuckle


Angela Mackay has written a simply marvelous novel of Africa.  It is perhaps the best book I’ve read this  year, and it takes us truly into an Africa we think we know, or at least we think we know of: the post-colonial legacy of exploitation and neglect, and the  post-independence period of corruption and incompetence have combined to produce a dystopia characterized by poverty, ignorance and  protracted internal strife. Life is nasty, brutish and short, and we’ve heard it all before – we might even have been there.  But when you have laid this book down, you will at last know how little you knew.

Although the setting of this book may seem familiar, the cast is not, because they are all Africans – we  usually call them “local nationals”, don’t we? In fact, of 59 characters listed in the Dramatis Personae,  only four are not “locals.”

Above all, this (imaginary) African country is not a dystopia at all, and this is what may come as a surprise to many readers: here is a society as complex, as difficult to stereotype as our own – indeed, the major surprise here will be to see, to experience, how like us these people really are.

We tend, when we consider the peoples of these  “emerging nations” at all, to think of them as unfortunates,  somehow diminished by their misfortunes.  Our incredible great fortune in not having been born into a life of poverty, famine, neglect,  violence, has made us somehow superior to those less fortunate – a sort of geographic and historic inheritance. After reading this book, it will be difficult if not impossible for us ever to think that way again.  The Africans we meet on Angela’s pages will probably astonish us for their self-awareness, their sense of their own responsibilities for their society, their culture, their affairs.  Read especially carefully the chapter “Meeting of the House of Chiefs” (pp 129-139): an orderly and sensible debate,  highly effective negotiating techniques, a leader who is an effective mediator, a wise and mutually beneficial outcome to a complex, multi-issue process. They do not need the foreign legions of aid workers, peacekeepers, NGOs – their fate is theirs, and for better or worse, it is in their hands.  We may have indeed been there, done that – how could we have known so little?

I have mentioned that the cast is large, and the unfamiliar  names make it hard for us to keep track. A tip: there are nine in “Joseph’s family”,  and that family is nearly always at the center of the book. Take the time to learn them; every thing radiates out from or impacts them; follow them and you will follow the action.

“Write what you know” is a proven method, and Angela’s deep knowledge of and her love for Africa are among the strongest points of this highly readable book. Just open to any page, as I did, and you are there in Angela’s flowing descriptions:

A file of women walked home carrying water on their heads, the evening light picking out the enameled pots that bounced above the maize stalks; young boys hurried home with bundles of firewood strapped to the seats of wobbling bicycles. Cattle plodded across the dried river bed to water holes in the sand.

The mossy smell of night fell on him as an ice-clear moon and the flurry of the Milky Way floated across the southern sky.  Sometimes, far in the distance, he saw the one-eyed blaze of the night train carving across the land.  (page 41)

Fortunately for us, Angela goes beyond writing just what she knows, and writes authentically and convincingly of things she cannot have “known”. How to inspect a shipment of used weapons? Angela tells us in detail just how it is done:  “Swinging the weapons round, with his eye to the muzzle (he) could get a reflection of light from his thumbnail in the space where the bolt would fit  (page 78)”.  Just so, Ms. Mackay.

Later, we are taken inside the battle procedures and the preparations for an ambush (“Rain Fight”, pages 195-99), and it is as if straight out of Canadian Army Manual of Training (CAMT) 7-45: Infantry Section Leading and Platoon Tactics (1954), my bible for many years:

The killing group was in position at the ambush point, augmented stealthily during the night by the tracking teams …. In an L-shaped formation along the river bed, machine guns dominated the line of the advance … while most of the force lined the long arm of the river, row upon row, ready to roll over, pop up and fire at those trapped in the valley.  It was a classic approach …
I could have sworn that rain was, despite my helmet and cape, trickling down my back, as I lay there with them in the mud, waiting …

A co-reader of Sandpaper  has noted, especially in the House of the Chiefs, the typical male dominance. This is of course true, but one of the strengths of this book is that it is authentically descriptive, and avoids tiresome prescriptions. Moreover, there are 14 female characters here and at least three play vital roles in the events of the book:  Nani (who works for a local refugee NGO), Fran (a Canadian widow and restauranteur) and Magda (who in an incredible display of courage and resourcefulness, busts Joseph out of a prison in  which he is about to die).  Women matter greatly in this society.

Whatever Africa may have been for you, it will probably never be quite the same after you’ve read this  book. And, if you care at all, read it you must.



Friday, December 13, 2013

CAN CONGO BE SAVED FROM ITSELF?




Panel 3 of a Triptych for Peacehawks, by Jamie Arbuckle

Introduction

On 6 November, the Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with support from UN, Tanzanian and South African forces, defeated the rebel group M23. On 5 December, Nelson Mandela died.  In one month, then, we have been confronted with the worst and the best of sub-Saharan Africa.  Which is the true picture? Which represents the future of Africa? Are conflicts to be peacefully resolved, which we might call the Nelson Mandela Future Model, or are conflicts to be endlessly and brutally protracted, which we might call the Central African Future Model?  Is there hope, or do we face merely a grim preparation for more of the same, in Africa south of the Sahara?  

Is the Congo still at the heart of darkness, or is it the birthplace of the first great international human rights movement of the 20th Century?[1] 

It does not simplify our understanding of the situation there that it is in fact both.

To address these questions, we need to assess several tributary influences:
1.     The colonial legacy, which was one of cruelty, disregard and dysfunction.
2.     We will review briefly the state of the game board in DRC.
3.     We will survey progress in human development in Africa as a region, with a view to gaining a better sense of what progress in DRC might mean – or might not.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

UNO: WHAT TRIBE IS THAT?



Panel 2 of a triptych: A book review for Peacehawks of Hammarskjoeld: a Life, by Roger Lipsey, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2013.  738 pp; illus, footnotes, indexed, bibliography.

by Jamie Arbuckle

Introduction

There have of course been several books about Dag Hammarskjoeld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations.  The most authoritative was Sir Brian Urquhart’s Hammarskjoeld[1] first published in 1972; Urquhart combined immediacy – he was there – with scholarship. More recently (2011), there has been the extremely useful and readable work by Manuel Froehlich. [2]

Do we need another biography of Dag Hammarskjoeld?  As we wrote in the first panel of this triptych[3], we believe that there are some stories that are so important to us that they need to be retold afresh in each generation, and there is no redundancy in the retelling.  Each generation needs to hear, in  its own voice and in its own time, the vital stories of the times.  The past is not necessarily fate, but it is often prologue. And living in history is like map reading: if you know where you were and how you have gone, you should know where you are, and you can have a good idea where you are going. Updating the map from time to time can never be of no use.

And so, just over a half-century after his untimely death, another biography of Dag Hammarskjoeld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, should be a welcome addition to our knowledge toolkits. We therefore offer this review to our followers at Peacehawks.

This review will cover four points, the literary high ground, as it were, of this book and of the story it tells:

1.     The first area we will cover is to review the book as an excursus on  Markings[4];
2.     We will review the birth of peacekeeping operations, which occurred on Hammarskjoeld’s watch and under his ultimate responsibility;
3.     Hammarskjoeld more or less invented the role and the functions of the special representative  of the secretary-general; and
4.     Finally, Hammarskjoeld gave form and enduring substance to the role of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

WHAT AND HOW WE LEARN FROM HISTORY – OR ELSE

Panel 1 of a Triptych for Peacehawks, by Jamie Arbuckle 

 The knowledge-toolkit of a historically and politically aware citizen of this century will have several essential compartments – you won’t leave home without them. These may differ widely among us, depending on many personal and collective factors of our respective cultures and origins. In my tool kit, for example, there are five essential compartments, and they are: the American Revolution; the Napoleonic Wars; the American Civil War; World War I and the Russian Revolution; and the Holocaust – how it started, and what it took to stop it. So my world, perhaps like yours, has been largely shaped by wars. That is perhaps less true of those younger than I, unless you found the Cold War a lot hotter than I – many Europeans certainly did.  But there is for me a sixth compartment which I suspect we nearly all share, and that one contains the creation and the workings of the United Nations, and the revolutionary effect the Organization has had on the conduct of international affairs.

History is a map, a map of our times and of those events which have shaped our journey. It is like navigation: know where you started and how you have gone, and you will know where you are and, most important, you will have a good idea where you are going – or else. As George Santyana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Hence my view that certain events will be so vital to our understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live, that these stories need to be retold afresh in each generation, and there is no redundancy in the retelling.

History, if rigorously studied, can be a form of indirect experience. As Sir Basil Liddell-Hart, one of the foremost military historians of the 20th Century, described it,

 … there are two forms of practical experience, direct and indirect – and, … of the two, indirect experience may be the more valuable because infinitely wider. Even in the most active career, … the scope and possibilities of direct experience are extremely limited. Direct experience is inherently too limited to form an adequate foundation either for theory or for application. … The greater value of indirect experience lies in its greater variety and extant. “History is universal experience” – the experience not of another, but of many others under manifold conditions.(1) 

So we need to study history as a form of indirect experience, in nature far broader than our own direct experience, which is so limited by our own perceptions and memory. Too often our direct experience is unduly influenced by fortuitous outcomes which may seem to favour us, but which in fact have done so almost by accident, as in a football game where the final score nowhere nearly accurately reflects the state of the play. And we need to hold what we have learned in an institutional, collective memory, otherwise it will be as Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

But we need to be careful with our history. The Duke of Wellington had little use for it: asked to assist in a history of the Battle of Waterloo, which would of course have cast him in an heroic mold, he declined contemptuously, saying. “One may as well write the history of a ball as of a battle.” (We’ve been to some balls like that.)

History is often willfully distorted, to establish and to support a position in a conflict, or to promote a cause. This is done by those wishing to initiate or to promote conflict, or to interfere in a peace process where they perceive conflict as more profitable to their side. We call this apocryphal history, and it has been the graveyard of peace in the Balkans for hundreds of years, and especially now in Kosovo, and perhaps yet again in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Legend has it that, late in the 14th Century, the Serbs fought the Ottoman soldiers on the Field of Blackbirds, which is in Kosovo. On that field the Serbs, under their prince, Lazar, were defeated,


And his army was destroyed with him, Of seven and seventy thousand soldiers. 
All was holy, all was honourable And the goodness of God was fulfilled. 

Rebecca West accepted this pretty much at face value, muddled the record still further with her own romanticism and concluded wearily that nobody, least of all herself, could “cast off this infatuation with sacrifice which had caused Kosovo,…”(2). So the die was cast, and 600 years later the Serbs could no more give up Kosovo than Texas could give up the Alamo. The big problem with this is that it didn’t quite happen that way, those six centuries ago.

The battle took place on 28 June 1389. While it is true that Lazar was killed in the battle, so was the Ottoman field commander. The Serb losses were enormous, and could not be replaced, while the equally grievous Ottoman losses probably could. However the outcome was so uncertain that the Orthodox Patriarch congratulated the Serbs on a victory. This was thought to have been because the Ottoman forces withdrew at the end of the day, even though the Serb survivors who remained on the field were no longer an effective force. “In fact”, as Misha Glenny points out, “Serbian power splintered and collapsed gradually over the next sixty years. The fortress of Belgrade did not fall under Ottoman control until the early sixteenth century",(3) over a century after the battle.

But the romanticizing of the legend was not to be stayed. The epic poem, “sung or recited by itinerant performers, … dwelt on the great themes of Serbia’s pre-Ottoman history. The stories about the Serbian defeat at the Battle of Kosovo Polje of 1389 became the cornerstone of modern Serbia’s national mythology”. The legends were resurrected to support the Serbs’ revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th Century, which were portrayed as “a revival” of an unending struggle,(4) as they were again at the end of the 20th Century. In 1989, on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of the Field of Blackbirds, Slobodan Milosevic infamously invoked the now-legendary Apocrypha deliberately to re-ignite conflict in Kosovo. Thus Susan Woodward would write (in 1995):

Kosovo, the center of medieval Serbia and Serbia’s historical identity as a nation, was a litmus test for Serbian nationalists. … domestic critics of Milosevic argued that he could not survive politically if he gave up Kosovo because the had built his career since 1987 defending Serbian rights to a Serbian state in the contest with Albanians over Kosovo.(5) 

We need to be very careful with our histories.

So this essay is intended to set the stage for our upcoming review of another life of Dag Hammarskjoeld, which we will be posting in the next few days. That will in turn be followed by a review of the situation in Congo since the apparent defeat of M 23, which is a continuum of a situation which in fact, in its modern form, arose during the Secretary-Generalship of Dag Hammarskjoeld (and which claimed his life), and which conflict has continued for over 50 years and unto this day.

Think of these three postings as our triptych, with the other two panels coming soon …

Endnotes

1. Liddell Hart, B.H., Strategy, 2nd Revised Edition, Praeger, New York, 1967, pp 23-4 
2. West, Rebecca, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Penguin, 1982, pages 911 and 917. 
3. Glenny, Misha, The Ballkans 1804-1999, Granta Books, London, 1999, page 11. 
4. Glenny, op.cit. 
5. Woodward, Susan L., Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War, The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C, 1995, p 341.

Monday, May 14, 2012

PEACEKEEPING IN OUR TIME: PAST THE AGE OF CONSENT?


PEACEKEEPING IN OUR TIME:

PAST THE AGE OF CONSENT?

By Jamie Arbuckle, for Peacehawks


Introduction

Have you heard the one about how many Peacekeepers it takes to change a light bulb?

Actually, any number will do – but the light bulb has to want to change.

To know where we are going, we need to know where we are, and to know that, we usually need to know where we have been.  To look ahead, then, we often need to look back.

One of the most critical factors in modern peace operations has, since the creation of the United Nations, been the issue of consent to and the continuing support for an operation.  The  UN is hard-wired for consensual operations; it’s in the DNA, in the Charter:

Article 2.1: “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all of its members”; and

Article 2.7:  “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state … “

The consent issue has several forms; among these: the consent of the hosts and of the parties to a conflict; of the people living in the conflict area; that of the troop contributors to a peace force; and the consent of the major powers, especially the permanent members of the Security Council of the UN (the P5). The first two are often the most critical: we might refer to them as the consent of the parties and the people. We certainly cannot ignore the importance of the consent of the troop contributors – without them we have no force, or of the Security Council – without them we have no mandate. Nevertheless, I will generally focus on the issues of local consent: in which I include the host government, the sub-state parties, and the people. These, which I by no means take to be the same thing or even in some cases very much alike, are nevertheless in my view collectively the true conditio sine qua non of a successful intervention.

There has since late in the last century been a growing tendency to contemplate and to mandate peace operations founded under Chapter VII of the Charter, which is implicitly non-consensual in its tone and presumably, in its intent.  It might seem that peace operations are indeed beyond the age of consent.  That is in principle; however in practice peace operations  have continued to be very conservatively structured and even more cautiously  executed, and missions have continued to negotiate the terms and the extent of operations specifically intended to enforce peace. This is no less true of the current vogue for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), than it was of the rash of “enforcement operations” of the 1990s.

To see why this has been, and largely remains, the case, I want to review the origins of the issue of consent in peace operations, and  see what that has subsequently come to mean. To do this, we will review the first modern peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Emergency Force, as it formed up  in the autumn of 1956, where the issue first arose and was to be of fundamental importance. We will then fast-forward to Eastern Slavonia almost 40 years later, and we will visit there the birth-place of the practice – and only later the concept – of “induced  consent.” (Alex Morrisson, the founder and President of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Nova Scotia, once said, while a student at the Canadian Army Staff College, “It certainly seems to work in practice, but how will it stand up in theory?) It is a large part of the story of peacekeeping that practice often and necessarily precedes theory.

 Finally, having  established where we really  are, we will peek briefly through that R2P looking glass to see where we might be going  with 21st Century peace operations. As written, that “policy” largely describes non-consensual military intervention to “protect”, but its authors have been back-pedalling on that almost since before their ink was dry – and no wonder. We know what they said, but it seems that may not have been what they meant, and we need to look critically at this “new norm.”  We can only hope this will allow us at least a glimpse of what John le Carre has called “the recent future”.

Sometimes, to get ahead, we need to go back.

In preparing this posting, I need to thank Russia, China and Syria, who in fanning the flames of tragedy have provided me with further  insight into the importance of consent at multiple levels. 

And that is what I want to share with you in this posting.

Monday, September 12, 2011

CHILD SOLDIERS: WEAPONS OF CHOICE, BUT WHOSE CHOICE?

  

A book review for Peacehawks:

They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children, by Senator Romeo Dallaire, Arrow Books, London, 2010 (307 pp, 12.07 LBS)

By Jamie Arbuckle

INTRODUCTION


Canadian Senator and retired General Romeo Dallaire, the author of the best-selling Shake Hands With the Devil (Random House Canada, 2003), and the original commander of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Rwanda in 1994, has written another book, just as timely, urgent and compelling as his first.  Peacehawks  thinks it important that we inform you of this book as quickly as we can – I finished reading it an hour ago.

My life and my career have been very short on living heroes: Robert Rogers died almost a century and a half, and T.E. Lawrence five years, before I was born; I was 22 years old when Dag Hammarskjold was killed, and 23 when JFK was assassinated; my father died when I was only 32.  I didn’t expect to have any more heroes in my direct experience of life.  But I have been rarely privileged to know, even briefly to work with, Romeo Dallaire, and he is every inch a hero for our so dusty, spiteful and divided time. I thought you needed to know my view of the author as you read this review.

DISCUSSION

Search as we may, there are no comprehensive or reliable figures for child soldiers around the world. The only reference to outside figures I have found on scores of websites is from Human Rights Watch, who estimate that there are  “hundreds of thousands” of child soldiers between the ages of 8 and 17 years old.[1]They are however ubiquitous in some of the most chaotic parts of the world, and they are in certain areas a major impediment to the peace process. They were perhaps at their worst in Sierra Leone in 2000, when a spate of pointless and random killings and kidnappings peaked with the taking of nearly 500 U.N. peacekeepers as hostages. I have written about that elsewhere in Peacehawks.[2]

Dallaire poses straight from the outset a quite arresting view of the child soldier: as a weapon system. The child soldier, he says, has several systemic advantages: he, or often she, is plentiful, inexpensive, easily disciplined, expendable and easily replaced. The child soldier is thus the obvious weapon of choice of those for whom violence and outrageous cruelty are their own ends.