Last month I quoted approvingly a letter to The Guardian by the Labour MP Siôn Simon, who shared my views of General Sir Michael Rose. In response I received a message from a reader, Branka Josilo-Perry, who had written fruitlessly to The Guardian protesting at Simon's letter. I said that as the newspaper hadn't printed Josilo-Perry's letter, then I would publish it on this site along with her criticism of me. So here it is:
Please forward my comment to Sion Simon.
Sir, It is a sign of our times when you take the word of a journalist over the word of the UN commander on the ground in Bosnia. It is very worrying that you feel comfortable with repeating what the journalists, who were by and large within the vicinity of the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo, during the duration of the civil war in Bosnia and Hercegovina, have presented as the truth. There is more than enough evidence to show that Michael Rose was and is right in both instances. It would be helpful if you researched before presenting unvalidated opinions. If the press and media were even-handed the truth would have come out long ago. I would be happy to discuss the evidence with you. Sincerely, Branka Josilo-Perry
Josilo-Perry prefaced this letter with explanatory comments addressed to me:
This was my letter to the Guardian and Sion Simon. Needless you say, unsurprisingly, neither was my letter printed in the Guardian nor was there any response from Mr. Simon. If you make these claims you must have evidence to support it. You find it very easy to call people dictators, accuse them of crimes without anything more than journalistic evidence, at best hearsay, which would not stand up anywhere else except the Kangaroo Court, in the Hague. If you have any concrete evidence please come out with it. It is a fact that Martin Bell was wounded on the balcony of the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo. Read Peter Brock it will be enlightening, if you let it.
In answer to the question that will be forming in the minds of many readers, I've published this letter because I receive a bafflingly large volume of similar stuff, and I consider this example illuminates the whole. I've assured Josilo-Perry that there is no need for us to "discuss the evidence", as the conviction that Milosevic's indictment is based on mere journalistic hearsay is self-explanatory. I also have read Peter Brock, a name that will be unfamiliar to almost everyone and deserves to remain that way. I wrote about Brock last month, as his new book had been reviewed by Ed Herman, Chomsky's sometime co-author. I noted that Brock's earlier contributions to the analysis of Balkan war reporting had been a professional and intellectual disgrace. As it happens, Brock wrote to me about my post, copying the letter to Herman; he said darkly that he "knew my type". The rest of Brock's comments, rather oddly, comprised imprecations against his nemesis, New Republic writer Charles Lane (whom I had cited in my post).
I'm delighted to recommend to Josilo-Perry and to others of more sanitary opinions Charles Lane's demolition of Brock from a dozen years ago. For me, the whole issue of journalism in war is summed up in one brief paragraph:
This concept of even-handedness is of questionable value in dealing with the starkest moral drama in Europe since 1945. On June 8 Foreign Policy sponsored a debate between [NYT journalist David] Binder and Brock on one side and Edward Vulliamy of London's Observer and me on the other. The most chilling moment came when Binder praised The New York Times's use fifty years ago of a Nazi news dispatch about D-Day. This, he contended, was a model of balanced reporting. Where is the Serbian agency Tanjug quoted today? he demanded.
Where indeed? Binder is in fact a master of unintentionally revealing comments, as he demonstrated in a letter to the New York Review of Books a year later in an exchange with the writer Robert Block:
Allow me to say also that, having spent much more time around Mladic and his colleagues than Mr. Block, I strongly wish to disassociate myself from his assessment of the general as a crazed killer. Until compelling evidence to the contrary surfaces, I will continue to view Mladic as a superb professional, an opinion voiced by senior American, British, French and Canadian military officers who have met him or followed his career and who are better qualified to judge him than either Block or I.
This was six months after the massacre at Srebrenica, for which General Ratko Mladic is under indictment for genocide.
Against this background, the least tawdry of Josilo-Perry's assertions is the "fact" - culled from who knows what piece of pro-Milosevic propaganda - that BBC reporter Martin Bell was wounded while on the balcony of the Holiday Inn at Sarajevo. This all happened a long time ago, but a few readers may recall the television footage of this incident, which clearly took place on open ground. My suspicion that Josilo-Perry is as much a native of Serbia as I am an international pole-vaulter is aroused by the information that the Holiday Inn at Sarajevo has no balconies.
Enough of this. Whenever I receive this type of correspondence, I feel like taking a cold shower.
UPDATE: I had an idea this would happen. My correspondent's indefatigible pro-Milosevic support group has within just a few hours sleuthed out the fact that the sinister Martin Bell dictates what I write on this subject, and has spammed me and its supporters with an article (which I won't link to, but you can find it) entitled 'The Racak “massacre” hoax'.
I would advise them not to make it worse for themselves, but I fear the advice would be wasted.
(My apologies to Josilo-Perry for the inexcusable discourtesy of having twice indvertently transposed her sex in the original version of this post.)