From the beginning, it is clear that Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War is more of an inquiry into why the Bosnian civil war occurred, and deep frustration over the failure of the great powers to intervene to halt it, than a history of the conflict. Yet his many stories of suffering in the most destructive European conflict since World War II make it valuable as an account of the human cost and meaning of the war, which are often superficially examined in other works. Maass, a correspondent for The Washington Post in Bosnia during the height of the siege of Sarajevo, felt that cost and was moved to share his deepest thoughts on the senseless carnage that surrounded him and his growing disillusionment with all wars.
Maass opens his account with a gripping description of weary, unwashed Croat and Muslim refugees from Bosnia, herded into a cramped sports hall in Split, Croatia, after weeks of flight across the war-torn countryside, among them a woman with two frightened children who told him she had been walking by night from Foča to Split for some forty- five days. Stunned by the odor of human beings deprived of baths for more than seven weeks, Maass wondered how this could happen in the late twentieth century. “I wrote it down in my notebook,” the author reported, “but I didn’t believe it.” Nor could he understand the Western nations’ laissez-faire approach, as if the conflict were distant and unimportant.
In a broad array of stories about human atrocities, Maass exposes the brutalities of the Bosnian War, especially the unbridled violence of the Serbs as they expanded their hold on Bosnia-Herzegovina. He begins and ends with what he calls the wild beast, a poignant metaphor for the “spirit of evil that exists in all animals, all peoples, all societies.” Throughout Love Thy Neighbor, Maass crafts a treatise that warns of the terrible possibilities when hatred and prejudice dominate as they did in the disintegrating Yugoslav federation held together rather artificially by Tito.
Another distinguishing feature is the author’s approach to the causes of the war. More was involved, Maass argues, than Greater Serbian nationalism carried to fanatical extremes by Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. Milošević and his supporters were only the “manipulators” who created “opportunities for the wild beast.” Not only they but also Croats, Muslims, and others showed little restraint in their nationalistic rhetoric as Yugoslavia disintegrated in the...
(The entire section is 1031 words.)