Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

First Check Their Sources: On David N. Gibbs and ‘shoddy scholarship’

[This is the second part of my four-part refutation of David N. Gibbs’s book ‘First Do No Harm’. In Part 1, I expose his attempts to blame the Bosniak victims for the bloodshed in the Srebrenica region. In this second part, I refute his response to me. In Part 3, I refute his attempt to justify Serb-nationalist territorial claims in Bosnia. In Part 4, I refute his attempt to blame Germany for the break-up of Yugoslavia. My reply to Gibbs’s bogus complaint against me can be read here. See also here for my commentary on Gibbs’s praise for Donald Trump.]

David N. Gibbs has responded to my post of 6 December (‘The bizarre world of genocide denial’), in which I take him to task for his book First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009), in which he denies the Srebrenica genocide and regurgitates the old denialist narrative about the break-up of Yugoslavia, despite his own lack of any expertise in the field, inability to read Serbo-Croat and unwillingness to engage with the existing scholarly literature on the subject.

Gibbs begins his reply to me, which is published by Modernity Blog, by trying to disqualify me on the grounds that I’m a biased reviewer:

In undertaking these attacks, however, Hoare has omitted important information, which readers have a right to know: That the book presented an extended critique of Hoare’s own publications on this topic, and so he is not a disinterested party. To be specific, my book criticized Hoare’s work for shoddy scholarship, which included mischaracterizing the ethnic makeup of the Yugoslav National Army (p. 252), omitting information that the US sabotaged Bosnian peace talks (262), providing an inaccurate account of testimonies before the Hague tribunal (274), and neglecting evidence of Al Qaeda involvement in Bosnia (280). I understand Hoare’s anger that I have criticized his work, but he really should let readers know when he has a vested interest in a book that he is reviewing.’

I shall deal shortly with the specific points Gibbs raises, but let us first make this clear: it is wholly untrue that Gibbs’s book has ‘presented an extended critique’ of my own publications. Anyone reading Gibbs’s book without examining carefully the endnotes would not even notice that I had been criticised at all: my name does not appear in the text itself, nor in the index. Gibbs has four trivial quibbles with me, buried in his endnotes. Gibbs does not, as he now claims, accuse me in his book of ‘shoddy scholarship’, and has made this accusation only in his subsequent reply to me. I cannot help but suspect that he has only decided I am guilty of ‘shoddy scholarship’ after reading my critique of his book.

If my own mum, dad, best friend, girlfriend or granny had reviewed my work, and come up with nothing more substantial than Gibbs’s four quibbles, I’d feel I was getting off lightly and that they were being too soft on me. If all four of his quibbles were entirely justified, I hardly think they would mark me down as a ‘shoddy scholar’.

However, not one of them is justified. Let us look at them each in turn:

1) I wrote ‘At the start of the war, in 1991, the two most senior JNA [Yugoslav People’s Army] officers, Federal Secretary of People’s Defence Veljko Kadijevic and JNA Chief of Staff Blagoje Adzic, were a Croatian Serb and a Bosnian Serb respectively (though Kadijevic had a Croat mother). They ensured the JNA would act as Serbia’s army in the wars against Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.’ (The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Saqi, London, 2007, p. 349)

Gibbs replied ‘Marko Hoare provides the following misleading statement [above quote]. Hoare neglects to mention Kadijevic’s deputy, Admiral Brovet, who was a Slovene, nor does he mention the JNA Air Force commander, General Jurjevic, who was a Croat.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 83)

Gibbs is right that I did not mention that Kadijevic’s deputy was a Slovene or that the JNA air force commander was a Croat, but it is unclear what point he thinks he is making. My statement was entirely accurate; Gibbs is not challenging the accuracy of my statement; and the additional information he supplies does not invalidate my statement in any way. I also did not mention – and Gibbs did not mention either – that Adzic’s deputy Zivota Panic was also a Serb. And that consequently, at the start of the war in 1991, the four top posts in the JNA were held by two Serbs, one non-Serb, and one half-Serb (who had a Croat mother but who sided with Milosevic and Serbia in the war against Croatia).

Another fact that is relevant here is that in 1990 the JNA officer corps was – irrespective of the presence in it of individuals like Brovet and  Jurjevic – a Serb-dominated body. James Gow writes in his 1992 study of the JNA that ‘Sixty per cent of officers were Serb; a further 5.4 per cent were “Yugoslavs” and likely to be Serbs; and 6.2 per cent Montenegrins. These all shared a perspective of Yugoslavia that coincided in many ways with that of the neo-Communist Serbian leadership’ (James Gow, Legitimacy and the Military: The Yugoslav Crisis, Pinter Publishers, London, 1992, p. 142).

I can only assume that by mentioning that the deputy secretary of defence and the air force commander in 1991 were non-Serbs, Gibbs is trying to obscure the fact of the Serb domination of the JNA. If so, it is an extremely feeble attempt.

2) I wrote that ‘during negotiations at Lisbon on 18 March 1992… Izetbegovic was pressurised by representatives of the EU to agree to the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina into a Muslim, a Serb and a Croat national entity, though he subsequently repudiated the agreement.’ (The History of Bosnia from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, p. 376)

Gibbs replied: ‘Marko Hoare misleadingly implies that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on his own initiative; but Hoare neglects to mention the US role in encouraging Izetbegovic’s decision.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 264).

As readers can see for themselves from what I wrote, I did not imply ‘that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on his own initiative’, as Gibbs claims. I merely noted that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement, which he did. Gibbs is not disputing the accuracy of my statement. He is claiming that by stating a fact that he himself accepts as accurate, I am being ‘misleading’.

The subtext of Gibbs’s accusation that I am being ‘misleading’ is that I did not specifically endorse the thesis, which he subsequently repeats in his own book, that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on the prompting of the US, and specifically of the US ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmermann. Yet this thesis is at best – at best – unproven and controversial. To cut a long story short, the rumour that Izetbegovic repudiated the Lisbon agreement on Zimmermann’s prompting appears to have originated with an article in The New York Times written a year and a half later, in August 1993, by the journalist David Binder. Binder was highly sympathetic to the Serb-nationalist side in the war – readers are invited to read his grovelling 1994 interview with Ratko Mladic. Nevertheless, Binder does not actually say that Zimmermann told Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement, merely that he asked Izetbegovic why he had signed the agreement if he didn’t like it, and that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement after his conversation with Zimmermann. In his memoirs, Zimmermann does not deny asking Izetbegovic why he had signed an agreement he did not like, but nevertheless claims he urged Izetbegovic to abide by the agreement: ‘Drawing on my instructions to support whatever could be worked out between the European Community and the three Bosnian parties, I encouraged Izetbegovic to stick by what he’d agreed to.’ (Warren Zimmermann, Origins of a Catastrophe, Times Books, New York, p. 190).

That is, in essence, the basis for the thesis propounded by Gibbs and others – that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on American prompting. The sources Gibbs (First Do No Harm, p. 110) then cites in its support are the following:

a) Robert M. Hayden’s book, Blueprint for a House Divided: The Constitutional Logic of the Yugoslav Conflicts (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1999), p. 100. This is a reference falsely cited by Gibbs, as Hayden merely notes that the Muslims and Croats repudiated the agreement, without attributing it to US prompting.

b) The aforementioned Binder article.

c) The opinion of George Kenney, a man who in September 2004 wrote to Milosevic to tell him that ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments.’

d) The opinion of James Bissett, a defence witness for Milosevic at his trial in The Hague, who complained that ‘he felt Milosevic had been unfairly painted as an instigator of the crisis when in fact he had worked tirelessly to keep Yugoslavia united’, and accused Milosevic’s trial of being ‘a Stalinist show-trial’ (mysteriously, Bissett’s support for Milosevic is never mentioned by Gibbs, even though he is one of Gibbs’s most oft-cited sources !)

e) The Dutch government’s NIOD report on Srebrenica. Although it is true that this source claims (based on the aforementioned Binder article) that the US opposed the Lisbon agreement, it does not – contrary to what Gibbs implies – claim that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on US prompting. What it says is this: ‘According to others Izetbegovic withdrew his acceptance on the urging of the American ambassador in Belgrade, Warren Zimmermann. It is not unimaginable that the American government did indeed tell Izetbegovic that he could achieve more by sticking to the principle of an integral Bosnia-Hercegovina that was about to be recognized.’

f) The testimony of Cutileiro himself, who wrote in December 1995 that ‘Izetbegovic and his aides were encouraged to scupper that deal [from Lisbon] by well meaning outsiders.’ Gibbs notes that ‘this was probably a polite reference to US activities’. I agree with Gibbs on this point, that Cutileiro probably was referring to the Americans – still, note his use of the word ‘probably’.

g) The testimony of Britain’s Lord Carrington, who claimed later that the ‘American administration made it quite clear that the proposals of Cutileiro… were unacceptable’ and ‘The Americans actually sent them [the Bosnians] a telegram telling them not to agree’. Neither quotation actually states that the Americans prompted Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement after he had already signed it. Indeed, the wording of the second quotation rather suggests that the telegram in question was sent before Izetbegovic signed the agreement (advising him not to agree), not after he had done so (advising him to repudiate something to which he had already agreed). In any case, the claim that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement on the basis of a telegram from the US contradicts the claim that he repudiated the agreement on the basis of a face-to-face meeting with Zimmermann.

So, that is the evidence for Gibbs’s case that Izetbegovic repudiated the Lisbon agreement on US prompting – it can most charitably be described as inconclusive. Gibbs, however, simply states that Zimmermann ‘encouraged Izetbegovic to reject the peace plan’ (p. 110), as if it were a definite fact. He puts the evidence for his case in the actual text of his book (p. 110), but buries the evidence against it – Zimmermann’s denial – in his endnotes (p. 264).

(NB A skeptic might simply dismiss Zimmermann’s testimony on the grounds that he is an interested party, but this is not something that Gibbs can do, because he treats Zimmermann’s testimony as gospel truth whenever it supports his own argument, e.g. on pages 84 and 96 of his book).

I remain unconvinced by the case against Zimmermann. I am ready to accept that Cutileiro probably sincerely believes that the US prompted Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement. I am ready to accept that Carrington may have sincerely believed the same thing – if that is indeed what his quotes were claiming, which isn’t clear. I am ready to accept that these two (unlike Bissett and Kenney) are witnesses whose opinions count for something. However, I very much doubt that Zimmermann would have lied about urging Izetbegovic to abide by the agreement. Readers may disagree.

But I challenge anyone to say, hand on heart, that Gibbs is right to accuse me of being ‘misleading’ because I mentioned Izetbegovic’s repudiation of the Lisbon agreement without specifically endorsing his unproven thesis. I would rather suggest that it is Gibbs who is being misleading, for a) presenting the opinions of Bissett and Kenney as evidence, without telling his readers of their support for Milosevic; b) failing to inform his readers of Binder’s pro-Serb-nationalist bias; c) burying Zimmermann’s testimony, that contradicts his thesis, in the endnotes of his book; and d) falsely claiming that Hayden and the NIOD report support his thesis about the repudiation of the Lisbon agreement, when they don’t.

3) I wrote of the UK’s David Owen, that ‘he refused to testify against Milosevic at the latter’s trial at The Hague, though he appeared as a court witness to speak favourably of Milosevic’s contribution to the peace process’ (The History of Bosnia from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, p. 379).

Gibbs replied ‘Marko Hoare criticizes Owen because he “refused to testify against Milosevic at the latter’s trial at The Hague”. See Hoare, The History of Bosnia [above reference]. In fact, the ICTY Web site lists Owen as a prosecution witness.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 274).

Gibbs is simply wrong; the ICTY website does not list Owen as a ‘prosecution witness’, but as a ‘court witness’ as I said. Specifically, it lists him as ‘Court witness 2’.

4) I wrote ‘Insofar as it cannot be excluded that al-Qa’ida ever had a presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this is hardly exceptional by European standards; as the international community’s High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch pointed out in November 2001, “after all, the organisation had a base in Hamburg”.’ (How Bosnia Armed, London, Saqi, 2004, p. 133)

I also wrote ‘The 11 September attack inevitably provided a golden opportunity for enemies of Bosnia-Herzegovina, above all from the ranks of the Serb nationalists and right-wing and left-wing fundamentalists in the West, to equate the Izetbegovic regime and the Bosnian Army with the fanatic Islamists of al-Qa’ida. This version of events upholds the popular stereotype of bin Laden as a master villain on the model of James Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, at the head of an organisation similar to ‘SPECTRE’ with tentacles all over the world, one of which was allegedly linked to the Izetbegovic regime, a second to the Kosovo Liberation Army and a third to the ethnic-Albanian National Liberation Army in Macedonia… The “Bosnia – bin Laden” conspiracy theory belongs to this category of the farcical’ (How Bosnia Armed, pp. 134-135).

Gibbs replied: ‘Marko Hoare is dismissive about the possibility of an Al Qaeda role in Bosnia; he refers to the “Bosnia-Bin Laden” conspiracy theory” which “belongs in this category of the farcical.” Hoare, How Bosnia Armed (London: Saqi Books and Bosnia [sic] Institute, 2004), 134, 135. In fact, Holbrooke has since confirmed the Al Qaeda role in Bosnia.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 280).

As the above quotations from my book make clear, I explicitly did not deny that Al Qa’ida had a presence in Bosnia; I did, however, deny that Izetbegovic’s regime was linked to Al Qa’ida. This was the “Bosnia – bin Laden conspiracy theory” to which I was referring, as Gibbs is well aware. All three of the books he uses to ‘prove’ the uncontested fact that Al Qa’ida had a presence in Bosnia are books that I have reviewed in detail. Of the first of these, Evan Kohlmann’s Al Qaida’s Jihad in Europe (Berg, Oxford and New York, 2004), I had this to say back in 2005: ‘In fact, it is as eloquent a refutation as one could hope to read of the idea that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian Muslims were in any way ideological fellow travellers of Al-Qaida, or its partners in terrorist activity.’ The other two books are propaganda tracts of the First Do No Harm variety, that I have refuted point-by-point.


On the basis of the above, I feel justified in saying that Gibbs’s claims to have undertaken an ‘extended critique’ of my work, and to have exposed my ‘shoddy scholarship’, are mere wishful thinking. But what about the rest of his reply to me ? Let us consider his points in turn.

I) Gibbs’s whitewashing of Serb atrocities in East Bosnia

As readers may recall, in my initial critique of Gibbs, this was the specific charge that I made:

For the time being, I mention him [Gibbs] because he practices the old denialist trick in relation to the Srebrenica massacre, of describing the military actions of the Bosnian military commander in the Srebrenica region, Naser Oric – involving attacks on Serb villages around Srebrenica and atrocities against Serb civilians – while neglecting to mention the incomparably larger-scale Serbian offensives that preceded Oric’s actions, and to which the latter were a response.’

Gibbs’s response is that he wrote the following: ‘As war began [in 1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, taking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun… The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities, especially those perpetrated by Serb forces against Muslim civilians. The widespread practice of ethnic cleansing was often associated with the killing of noncombatants, and also the raping of women and girls.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 122).

Gibbs’s self-quotation is misleading, because he has actually conflated two paragraphs from two different sub-chapters, joining them with an ellipsis where they are, in his book, actually separated by a sub-chapter heading (‘The Politics of Atrocities’). His paragraph beginning ‘The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities…’ represents his general evaluation of the war as a whole, rather than anything relating specifically to the start of the war in north-east Bosnia in 1992.

Thus, the only statement in his book that he can even remotely pretend represents an acknowledgement that Serb atrocities against Muslims in East Bosnia preceded Muslim atrocities against Serbs in the same region, is the following:

‘As war began [in 1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, taking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 122).

The first problem here is that he refers only to ‘northeast Bosnia’, and Srebrenica is not really in northeast Bosnia – it would be a bit like claiming that Birmingham is in ‘northwestern England’. Even if one is charitable to Gibbs’s vagueness about Bosnian geography, and assumes his reference to the start of fighting in ‘northeast Bosnia’ encompasses territory as far south as Srebrenica, he is nevertheless referring only to the ‘expelling [of] most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force’. No reference to mass murder of civilians, rapes, torture, concentration camps or, indeed, any actual bodily harm to Muslim civilians in the course of this offensive.

Gibbs does not explicitly mention the Srebrenica region until thirty-one pages and several sub-chapters later, and when he does, this is how he presents it:

The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [Oric] reigned by terror;… he could not allow himself to take prisoners. According to my recollections he didn’t even look for an excuse. It was simply a statement: One can’t be bothered with prisoners.“‘ (First Do No Harm, pp. 153-154).

So the Srebrenica region is introduced to the reader in a manner that implies it is the Muslims, rather than the Serb forces, who initiated the violence (‘created a degree of hatred’ there). Whereas Gibbs refers to Serb forces in northeast Bosnia merely ‘expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force’ – without any reference to killing, rape or torture, and without any reference to atrocities against Muslims in the Srebrenica region – he refers to Muslim forces in the Srebrenica region in terms of ‘massacring all the [Serb] inhabitants’; ‘reigned by terror’, ‘could not allow himself to take prisoners’. And let us remember here that he is speaking this way about Srebrenica – the site of an act of genocide by Serbs against Muslims; a genocide that two different international courts have recognised but which Gibbs explicitly denies (‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime.’ First Do No Harm, p. 281)

Having blamed the Muslims for initiating the killing in the Srebrenica region in the first place, Gibbs then goes on to accuse them of precipitating the Srebrenica massacre itself in 1995: ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995.’ (Gibbs, p. 160) Thus, he not only explicitly denies the genocide, but blames the genocidal crime on the victims.

II) Gibbs’s disregard of the existing scholarly literature on the Bosnian war.

Gibbs writes: ‘Hoare also claims that Gibbs “hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis.” He then lists five specific authors that I supposedly failed to cite (Michael Libal, Richard Caplan, Daniele Corversi, Brendan Simms, and Hoare himself). Wrong again. In fact I cited four of these authors, each several times, and also included them in the bibliography. Hoare’s own writings were cited in four separate endnotes. His claim that I have ignored these authors is thus baseless.’

Since, as Gibbs pointedly mentions, he is a ‘tenured full professor’, I assumed he would understand the concept of ‘engaging with the existing literature’, but I apparently assumed too much. So let me spell this out: to ‘engage with the existing literature’ involves addressing the theses of books that make a significant contribution to our understanding of the topic. Quibbling over a couple of trivial details in a book you disagree with, while ignoring its overall theses and principal arguments, does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’. Attaching a book to one of your endnotes in order to support a factual point, while ignoring the overall theses and argument of the book that contradict your own thesis, does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’. And citing a book in support of your argument, despite the fact that the book’s overall thesis actually refutes your own thesis, certainly does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’.

For example, Gibbs argues that Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia and cites Michael Libal’s book Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis, 1991-1992 (Praeger, Westport, 1997) to show that the Germans felt ‘euphoria’ at the decision to withdraw the JNA from Slovenia (p. 94). Yet Libal’s book actually presents a documented refutation of the myth that Germany first encouraged Croatia to secede and then sought prematurely to recognise its independence – a refutation that Gibbs fails to address. Gibbs argues that Western policy was consistently anti-Serb, and cites Brendan Simms’s work Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia (Penguin, London, 2001) to show that Lord Carrington blamed the Americans for undermining the Lisbon agreement – but he ignores Simms’s extensively documented thesis demonstrating that British policy was anything but anti-Serb, and actually sought to shield Serbia and the Bosnian Serb forces from hostile intervention. As noted already, Gibbs quibbles with me over whether David Owen was a witness for the court or for the prosecution, but ignores the evidence I present of Western collusion with the Serbian destruction of Bosnia, of which my critique of Owen was just one element. And Gibbs wholly ignores the central aspect of the break-up of Yugoslavia noted by Daniele Conversi, Laura Silber and Allan Little and others – that Serbia’s leaders actively promoted Serbia’s secession from Yugoslavia. The documentary proof of this last one is wholly irrefutable – which is probably why Gibbs wholly ignores it.

III) Gibbs’s reliance on Michel Chossudovsky

Gibbs writes: ‘Hoare implies that my book relies too heavily on the writings of University of Ottawa economist Michel Chossudovsky, someone that Hoare does not like. In reality I cited Chossudovsky exactly once (out of more than a thousand separate endnotes).’

This statement is emblematic of Gibbs’s deliberate deception of his readers. It may be true that he has only cited Chossudovsky once out of more than a thousand endnotes (I’m not going to plough through his thousand plus endnotes to check, so will happily take his word for it). But my criticism was not that Gibbs relied on Chossudovsky for his thesis on the former Yugoslavia. Rather, I pointed out that he borrowed Chossudovsky’s thesis for his own thesis on Rwanda, which naturally occupied a rather smaller place in Gibbs’s book. His discussion of Rwanda occupies less than two pages of his book (pp. 219-220) and is supported by only two endnotes and two sources (excluding Samantha Power’s book, which he cites only in order to dismiss as representing the ‘conventional wisdom’). Chossudovsky is his principal source for Rwanda, though he advises his reader to ‘see also’ an article by another author (First Do No Harm, pp. 307-308). So Chossudovsky’s article is rather more important for this aspect of Gibbs’s argument than his misleading statistic of ‘more than a thousand separate endnotes’ suggests.

IV) Gibbs’s dismissal of me as an authority on the topic under discussion

Gibbs writes: ‘As is typical of his writing, Hoare grandiosely overstates his own accomplishments and presents himself as a leading authority on the topic of my book; he is not. In reality, my book was a study of the international relations of the Yugoslav wars, a topic on which Hoare has no qualifications. He also lacks access to German-language sources, which are crucial to understanding the diplomacy of this period. And given Hoare’s numerous factual errors, the scholarly content of his work is thin.’

Whether I am a ‘leading authority on the topic of Gibbs’s book’ is for others to decide, but I hope readers will not consider me unduly boastful if I say simply that I am considerably more of an authority on the topic of Gibbs’s book than Gibbs himself is. Gibbs’s bibliography contains six of his own publications, yet not one concerns the former Yugoslavia. I presume, therefore, that he has never published a single article on the former Yugoslavia in an academic journal, and that First Do No Harm is his first publication on the topic. He does not read any of the former Yugoslav languages. Wherein then does his claim to expertise in the topic lie ?

Since Gibbs is apparently a ‘ tenured full professor’, I am going to take his slur sufficiently seriously to answer it at some length. I have had articles on the history of Yugoslavia and its successor states in the 1980s and 1990s published in numerous academic journals, including East European Politics and Societies, East European Quarterly, Europe-Asia Studies, Journal of Slavic Military Studies, European History Quarterly and Journal of Genocide Research; my articles on the earlier history of the former Yugoslavia have appeared in a whole lot more. I am the author of the entry for ‘Yugoslavia and its successor states’ in the Oxford University Press volume The Oxford Handbook of Fascism (2009) edited by Richard Bosworth, which covers the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes; and of the entry for ‘The War of Yugoslav Succession’ in the Cambridge University Press volume Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989 (2010), edited by Sabrina Ramet. I am a member of the editorial boards of three different scholarly journals dealing with the former Yugoslavia, including a journal published by the Association for Political Science of Serbia. My books on the former Yugoslavia have been reviewed positively by leading scholarly journals including Slavic Review, Slavonic and East European Review, German History, European History Quarterly and Journal of Military History. To the best of my knowledge, I have never received a negative review in an academic journal – unlike Gibbs’s First Do No Harm, which was described by the Cambridge historian Dr Josip Glaurdic in a review in International Affairs (vol. 86, no. 2, March 2010, pp. 555-556) as containing ‘glaring omissions and distortions’. And I have been invited to speak about the history of (the former) Yugoslavia, including its recent history, at academic conferences and seminars across Europe and in the US.

Thus, when someone who has not published a single journal article on the former Yugoslavia claims that the scholarly content of my work is thin, and that I have no qualifications concerning the international relations of the former Yugoslavia, I’m inclined not to take him very seriously.

V) Gibbs’s description of me in terms of ‘the second coming of Joe McCarthy’

Gibbs’s paranoia and self-pity are indicated by his entitling of his response to me ‘The second coming of Joe McCarthy’ and his claim that ‘Dr. Hoare and his network of neocon friends at the Bosnian Institute and the Henry Jackson Society have designated themselves as the new Thought Police, while conducting their own little witch hunt.’ This really does take the biscuit – I exercise my democratic right to freedom of expression by criticising Gibbs and his book, and he becomes a victim of McCarthyite persecution ! Of the Thought Police, no less !! No doubt he thinks because of my blog post, he’ll be hauled up before the House Committee on Un-American Activities or be arrested by the security forces of a Central American junta, or something like that.

Gibbs may be a bit hazy about what McCarthyism actually involved; suffice it to say that if McCarthy had been a lowly academic who sat quietly at his desk writing articles exposing genocide-denial and poor scholarship on the Balkans, he would not have attained quite such notoriety. And though Gibbs appears not to have actually read George Orwell’s 1984, I can assure him that the original Thought Police would not have been considered very terrifying if they had confined their totalitarian activities to writing book reviews and blog posts. Much as I would like to gratify Gibbs’s radical-left craving to feel persecuted, I am afraid that nobody I have ever criticised has suffered anything much worse than, perhaps, being exposed as a bad scholar and/or a genocide-denier. And that, I believe, is the point of democracy: that if a poor scholar denies a genocide, one is free to criticise them for being a poor scholar and genocide-denier. If Gibbs cannot deal with that, he should go and live somewhere where he can spout his poison without anyone calling him to account. Somewhere like Cuba or North Korea.

Merry Christmas to all my readers !

See also:

The Bizarre World of Genocide Denial

First Check their Sources 2: The myth that ‘most of Bosnia was owned by the Serbs before the war’

First Check their Sources 3: The myth that ‘Germany encouraged Croatia to secede from Yugoslavia’

Update  1: Gibbs has proven completely unable to respond to my refutation of his attack on me, linked to above.

Update 2: Modernity Blog has very graciously apologised to me for publishing Gibbs’s attack on me.

Update 3: Modernity Blog has evaluated my exchange with Gibbs in his comments box. He concludes: ‘Professor Gibbs seems to have made a conscious choice not to address the criticism of his work in any significant way… So it seems to me that whilst Professor Gibbs was given a splendid opportunity to deal with the criticism of his work, he didn’t. Whilst he could have engaged with the issues in the Balkans, he found other matters more pressing. All in all, Professor Gibbs showed a failure to address the issues, not a sparkling performance as you might expect. A missed opportunity.’


Friday, 24 December 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The bizarre world of genocide denial

I get older, they stay the same age – as someone once said in another context. It’s one thing I like about Bosnia genocide-deniers. When I first started taking them on at the age of nineteen, their arguments were already easy to refute, and I was hampered only by the limits of my own knowledge. Now, nearly two decades on, I know a lot more, but I still periodically find myself repeating the same old refutations of the same old canards – canards that sound increasingly silly as time goes by. Evidence that Germany ‘encouraged’ Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia, or that the Western media was ‘biased’ against the Serb side in the war, or that Bosnian forces shelled their own civilians to provoke Western military intervention against the Serb rebels, has proven as elusive as the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The steady gathering of forensic evidence has made the Srebrenica massacre the most well-documented genocidal crime in history. Yet like lambs to the slaughter, new waves of deniers step forward to sacrifice any reputations they might have in the service of a long-discredited cause.

I say ‘like’ because it makes the job of the historian wishing to refute their propaganda very easy. But it’s also extremely boring. A couple of years ago I sacrificed a couple of days of my life to writing a review that catalogued the numerous falsehoods and distortions contained in the sensationalist anti-Muslim propaganda tracts about the Bosnian war written by Christopher Deliso and John Schindler. Since then, I have never seen either of those books cited by any reputable author. If my review contributed to this happy state of affairs, then writing it was a worthwhile use of my time. But it’s a chore rather than a pleasure; I’d rather devote this time to historical research or writing.

Consequently, it has been with a certain inner groaning that I’ve become aware of the latest regurgitations of the old denialist narrative. One such regurgitation is David N. Gibbs, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009). To give a foretaste of what you can expect of this book, Gibbs has this to say about the Srebrenica massacre: ‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime.’ (p. 281).

Needless to say, Gibbs has no academic expertise on the former Yugoslavia or the Balkans and does not read Serbo-Croat. He hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis. He has not tackled the evidence presented by Daniele Conversi, myself and others, that the Milosevic regime and the Yugoslav People’s Army deliberately engineered the break-up of Yugoslavia; or the work of Michael Libal and Richard Caplan, exploding the myth that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede from Yugoslavia; or the work of Brendan Simms, demonstrating that Britain’s intervention in Bosnia actually shielded Karadzic’s Serb forces from hostile international intervention. Instead, Gibbs has cherry-picked a few odds and ends in order to present the same old revisionist story, only with a larger number of endnotes than the previous versions written by Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti et al. Yet he must know very well that his book will not survive a critical review by a genuine specialist in the field, that it will be ignored by all serious scholars and that it will serve only to confirm the views of the small, dwindling minority already committed to the revisionist narrative.

Dear readers, I promise I will get round eventually to doing a demolition job on Gibbs’s sorry little propaganda pamphlet. For the time being, I mention him because he practices the old denialist trick in relation to the Srebrenica massacre, of describing the military actions of the Bosnian military commander in the Srebrenica region, Naser Oric – involving attacks on Serb villages around Srebrenica and atrocities against Serb civilians – while neglecting to mention the incomparably larger-scale Serbian offensives that preceded Oric’s actions, and to which the latter were a response. Gibbs writes:

The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [etc.]“‘ (pp. 153-154).

Anyone reading this who didn’t know better would be left unaware that, prior to Oric’s offensives, Serb forces had massacred and expelled Muslims across the whole of East Bosnia – at Bijeljina, Zvornik, Visegrad, Foca, Bratunac, Srebrenica itself and elsewhere; that 94.83% of the civilians from the Podrinje (East Bosnia) region killed during the war were Muslims and only 4.87% were Serbs (according to the figures of the Research and Documentation Centre); or that more Muslims from Podrinje were killed in 1992 than in the year of the Srebrenica massacre. The military actions of Oric’s forces against neighbouring Serb villages were those of defenders of a beleaguered enclave whose inhabitants were threatened with massacre, rape, torture and expulsion already inflicted on other towns all over East Bosnia. That Gibbs lays such stress on Oric’s atrocities while wholly neglecting to mention the incomparably greater-in-scale Serb atrocities in the same region that preceded them is distortion of the most blatant kind; equivalent to writing of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising without bothering to mention the Holocaust. No doubt the sort of bone-headed ultra-left activist who would turn to Gibbs’s book for information on the Bosnian war, instead of to a serious work, is easily and happily deceived.

Those wishing to read the history of the genocidal massacres of Muslims in East Bosnia in 1992 that don’t find a place in books like First do no Harm are recommended Edina Becirevic’s splendid Na Drini genocid, soon to appear in English translation, which demonstrates that the Srebrenica massacre was not an aberration but the culmination of a genocidal policy that began in East Bosnia in 1992. In addition, an excellent case study of the background to the Srebrenica genocide by Daniel Toljaga has recently been published on the website of the Bosnian Institute, entitled Prelude to the Srebrenica Genocide. Toljaga’s knowledge of the history of the Srebrenica genocide is unrivalled, and he traces the grim story: the summoning of local Serb-nationalist leaders to meet with Milosevic’s agent Mihalj Kertes in Belgrade in early May 1991; the killing of the first Muslim civilians in the Bratunac municipality on 3 September 1991; the killing of the first Muslim civilians in the Srebrenica municipality on 15 April 1992; and the deployment of the Yugoslav People’s Army around Srebrenica by April. As Toljaga recounts:

Following the takeover of Bratunac, the Serb forces began the attack on Srebrenica on 18 April 1992, firing around 5000 mortar shells on the town and the surrounding Bosniak villages. There was no resistance. The same day, Serbs entered the town, looting Bosniak property, setting houses on fire and killing Bosniak residents who were unable to flee into nearby woods. The Serb occupation of the town of Srebrenica lasted until 8 May, the day when Serbs burned to death 23 Bosniak civilians in the downtown Srebrenica. The victims died in excruciating pain. From April 17 to May 8, a total of 74 Bosniak civilians were killed in the occupied Srebrenica. The youngest victim was the 12-month-old boy Nezir Suljic whose charred body was still lying in his cradle. His father Huso, his mother Muška, and his brother Nisvet were burned to death in the same room. Nezir’s nine-year-old sister Sanela survived by jumping through a window and hiding in nearby woods.

Anyone reading Becirevic and Toljaga cannot pretend, as Gibbs does, that the ‘extraordinary hatred’ in the Srebrenica region began with Oric’s counteroffensives, which occurred subsequent to the Serbian attack on the region. Or can they ? The evidence suggests that revisionist authors of the kind under discussion here simply disregard all inconvenient evidence and go on repeating old falsehoods in their books and articles, which consequently have no scholarly credibility but which are nevertheless eagerly seized upon by their ideological fellow travellers. In his book, Gibbs touches on the question of Rwanda in 1994, which he avoids describing as a genocide. Complaining of the ‘asymmetrical focus on specific conflicts, such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, or more recently, Darfur, and the ’emotionalism’ that this involves, he advances the bizarre thesis that the massacres in Rwanda were caused by a fall in the price of coffee (pp. 219-220) ! Needless to say, this thesis is not borrowed from a genuine scholar of the Rwandan genocide; it is taken from an article by Michel Chossudovsky, a conspiracy theorist who has likewise argued that break-up of Yugoslavia was engineered by German imperialism as part of a ‘long Western efforts to undo Yugoslavia’s experiment in market socialism and workers’ self-management and to impose the dictate of the free market.’

Gerald Caplan, in tackling Edward Herman and David Peterson, two Srebrenica genocide deniers who have mutated into Rwanda genocide deniers, has written of ‘a tiny number of long-time American and Canadian genocide deniers’, who disregard the copious work of genuine scholars that undermines their denialist thesis, but ‘who gleefully drink each other’s putrid bath water. Each solemnly cites the others’ works to document his fabrications’. Indeed, as I recently wrote, the Srebrenica deniers simply will not stop digging, and are applying their same methods – already discredited over Srebrenica – to the if anything even more monumental task of trying to deny the Rwandan genocide.

In his latest response to Herman and Peterson, Adam Jones has noted:

Like Herman & Peterson, the deniers cherry-pick a few useful factoids and declamations from serious scholarship on Rwanda (or halfway serious, like Davenport & Stam), while dismissing the vast bulk of the scholarly and human-rights literature as hopelessly corrupted by nefarious (western/imperialist) interests. This has the additional advantage of cutting down on what would otherwise be an onerous reading list, since the literature on Rwanda is now so extensive, detailed, and utterly contrary to Herman & Peterson’s formulations. I confess I wondered, when preparing my first response to Herman & Peterson, whether their depiction of events in Rwanda in 1994 resulted from ignorance and incompetence, rather than actual malice. Their latest post rules this out, I’m afraid.’

Readers are strongly recommended to read Jones’s article, to confirm again – if any further confirmation is needed – what happens when genocide-deniers come up against a genuine genocide scholar.

This brings us back to the question of why genocide-deniers will devote so much time to writing texts that cannot withstand scholarly scrutiny, and that merely succeed in covering the deniers with infamy in the eyes of everyone outside their tiny denialist circle. These are the activities of a sect that needs its own myths to feed its followers so as to perpetuate itself. Bosnia and Rwanda are not treated as subjects for genuine scholarly enquiry, but merely episodes to be incorporated into the mythical narrative. So long as the sect’s followers continue to imbibe the myths, it does not matter if the rest of the world despises the sect and its myths.

In this context, the task of genuine genocide scholars is not to struggle to de-programme the sect’s followers – a generally impossible task – but merely to ensure that their poison is kept out of mainstream discourse on genocide.

Update: I have written three instalments of a demolition job of Gibbs:

First check their sources 1

First check their sources 2

First check their sources 3

Monday, 6 December 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Rwanda | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments