“Love Thy Neighbor” (Pages 149-150)

Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War
By Peter Maass
Knopf 1996

(Pages 149-150)

This was an intimate war. It was not a war in which fighter pilots took off from one country, flew a thousand miles to another country, dropped their payloads and then returned to the country they took off from, never seeing the people they killed, never hearing a word of their language, never seeing a drop of blood. It was hardly a war of missiles, in which a soldier pushes a button and sends five hundred pounds of explosives on a rocket-propelled trajectory toward a city he has never seen, which is only a spot on his military map, too far away for him to hear the explosion, or feel its impact or listen to the screams. These are scenarios of high technology wars, wars of remote-control murder, in which not only the weapons are different, but the language, too. In Bosnia, you never heard the phrases “collateral damage” or “saturation bombing” or “heat-seeking missiles.” Sniping and raping and pillaging — yes, you heard those words every day.

We have a tendency to equate high technology with progress, but I prefer the low-tech style of Bosnia’s warfare, which had the cruel virtue of limiting the carnage each soldier could accomplish. Is a soldier who slits another person’s throat more barbaric than a soldier who pushes a button that launches a missile that kills one thousand people? I suspect not. In the pecking order of barbarism, Bosnia’s war could be topped. The war had its own perversity, of course, a perversity of boozy radio chats between grammar school friends who talked nostalgically in the evening and then tried to kill each other during the day. It was, at times, a miniature war in which you could leave the Holiday Inn at ten o’clock in the morning, nearly be killed by a sniper’s bullet, and then, at eleven o’clock, be on the other side of the front line, talking to the sniper who tried to murder you just an hour before, and watch as he took aim at your friends as they left the Holiday Inn.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.