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Face the Truth in Bosnia

IN his famous ''Four Quartets,'' T.S. Eliot argues that humans cannot ''bear very much reality.'' The poet was describing the proclivity of the human mind to avoid facing many harder truths brought by the 20th century. Today, he might have been speaking of Bosnia.

Some 1,090 days into the Serbian seige of Sarajevo, the Western powers continue to obfuscate the truth about the Bosnian war; they continue a studied neutrality about it, as if Serb forces were not the aggressors and as if all sides were equally guilty. Perhaps some Western officials ought to learn a lesson from former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and admit that the West's policy has failed.

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This week, for example, two French peacekeepers were shot and killed by snipers. One of the killings near the Sarajevo Holiday Inn was captured on film and shown in France. So captive, however, to the Serb position has the United Nations become, that UN spokesman Col. Gary Coward refuses to acknowledge that the Serbs did the killing -- even though he admits one of two bullets was fired by a Serb.

Last week, to take another example, the New York Times reported on documents given last fall by a former Belgrade secret service official to the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. The documents, which discuss the role of Serb paramilitary units in handling the Muslim death camps, seem to offer the clearest physical evidence so far that Serb President Slobodan Milosevic was directly responsible for prosecuting the Bosnian war. Yet Western officials have not chosen to focus on these documents; indeed, they were ''misdirected'' by a British functionary.

A more troubling development is new reports that Iran is arming the Bosnians.

While the Bosnians should be given arms to fight for their families and their borders, the fact that Iran is doing the job sends all the wrong signals, and may have negative long-term consequences. At the least, the Iranian shipments add to the false impression that Bosnian Muslims are somehow fundamentalist -- when they have been decidedly secular throughout the 20th century.

Iran will tell the Muslim world it is giving the weapons because the Western democracies do not care about Muslims. Sadly, it has a case to make. That Washington nods a ''yes'' to the Iran shipments will not dispel the central problem: that the West has not faced up to the Bosnian reality, and taken the side of the victim there.

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