The Banality of “Ethnic War”- John Mueller Notes
- Ethnic war does not exist
o Substantially a condition in which a mass of essentially mild, ordinary
people can unwillingly and in considerable bewilderment come under
the vicious and arbitrary control of small groups of armed thugs
- Violence in Croatia and Bosnia, not spawned by convulsive surging of ancient
hatred or frenzies whipped up by demagogic politicians and the media as by
the ministration of small- sometimes very small- bands of opportunistic
marauders recruited by political leaders and operating under their general
o Many participants drawn from street gangs or from bands of soccer
o Others criminals specifically released from prisons for the purpose
- This was due to the Yugoslav army, despite years of supposedly influential
nationalists propaganda and centuries of supposedly pent- up ethnic hatred,
substantially disintegrated early in the war and refused to fight.
- In Rwanda 1994, ethnic Hutus engaged in genocidal massacres of ethnic
o Acted from orders from above, under a criminal leader
o By contrast majority of Hutus seem to have stood by in considerable
confusion and often indifference.
- Mechanism of violence in these places ^ remarkably banal.
- Instead of deep historic passions and hatred, the violence seems to have been
the result of a situation in which common, opportunistic, sadistic and often
distinctly non- ideological marauders were recruited and permitted free rein
by political authorities.
- Due to the fact that the violence stemmed from small groups of thugs etc. any
capable army with the functioning to policy would have been able to
organize, and discipline the situation.
- An extreme aversion to casualties and a misguided assumption that the
conflicts stemmed from immutable ethnic hatred however made
international military intervention essentially impossible until the violence
appeared to have run its course
Ethnic Warfare in Croatia and Bosnia
- Two explanations commonly given for wars in former Yugoslavia,
o Elemental and ancient ethnic hatred had only temporarily and
superficially been kept in check by communism but with its demise,
murderous nationalism erupted.
Most famously developed by Robert Kaplan
- Violence was a reaction to continuous nationalist propaganda spewed out by
politicians and the media, particularly on Serbian television, that played on
old fears and hatreds.
1 The Shallowness of Militant Nationalism in Yugoslavia
- A poll conducted in Yugoslavia autumn 1990 indicated the state of opinion
after centuries f supposed ethnic hatreds and after year of nationalist
o The question “Do you agree that every (Yugoslav) nation should a
national state of its own?”
16% completely agree
7% agree to some extent
6% do not agree in part
61% do not agree at all
- Argument that deepest divide within Yugoslav society was increasingly
between rural and urban communities not between peoples.
Armed Thugs and the Banality of “Ethnic Warfare” in Yugoslavia
- Draft dodging, mutinies, anti conscription happened en masse in Serbia.
o One case only 2 of 2000-3000 expected volunteers showed up to a call
- The appearance of paramilitaries was caused in part by collapse of army
morale but their presence may have also helped to aggravate that collapse:
o An internal Yugoslav army memo from early in the conflict found
them to be dangerous to “military morale” because their “primary
motive was not fighting against the enemy but robber of private
property and inhuman treatment of Croatian civilians”.
- Most dynamic and murderous Serbian unites were composed of common
criminals recruited for the task.
o Privatization of the war
- “The dregs of society— embezzlers, thugs, even professional killers —rose
from the slime to become freedom fighters and national heroes”
- War crimes were their primary military mission
The Stages of War and Ethnic Cleansing
- What passed for “ethnic warfare” in Bosnia and Croatia thus seems to have
been something far more banal” the creation of communities of criminal
violence and pillage.
- There seem to have been fou