Christopher Hitchens: Mladic the Monster

Christopher Hitchens' Kindle Single, The Enemy, on the demise of Osama Bin Laden, has just been published.

I suppose it is possible that the arrest of Gen.Ratko Mladic is as undramatic and uncomplicated as it seems and that in recent years he had been off the active list and gradually became a mumbling old derelict with a rather nasty line in veterans' reminiscences. His demands would probably have been modest and few: the odd glass of slivovitz in company with a sympathetic priest (it's usually the Serbian Orthodox Church that operates the support and counseling network for burned-out or wanted war criminals) and an occasional hunting or skiing trip. Though there is something faintly satisfying about this clichéd outcome—the figure of energetic evil reduced to a husk of exhausted banality—there is also something repellent about it.

As a confused old pensioner or retiree, Mladic is in danger of arousing local sympathy in rather the same way John Demjanjuk did but of doing so within a few years of the original atrocities and not several decades. Moreover, Mladic was a director and organizer of the mass slaughters at Srebrenica and Zepa (as of the obscene bombardment of the open city of Sarajevo), and not a mere follower of orders. The new and allegedly reformist Serbian government bears some responsibility for this moment of moral nullity and confusion, since it seems to regard the arrest of Mladic and his political boss Radovan Karadzic as little more than an episode in the warming of Belgrade's relations with the European Union. You don't have to be a practicing Serbo-chauvinist to find something a bit trivial and sordid in that calculation. (And what if it doesn't prove possible to stretch the increasingly inelastic Eurozone to accommodate Serbia's pressing needs and add them to those of Greece and Ireland? A possible hostage to fortune here.)

There's another deplorable consequence to the presentation of Mladic as scruffy and pathetic. It will become almost impossible for people much younger than I am to understand what a colossal figure he used to represent. I use the last eight words very carefully, because at the time I considered him a vastly overrated individual, credited with political and military abilities that he did not, in fact, possess. But if you tried, in Washington in the early Clinton years, to suggest that Mladic's blitzing of Sarajevo ought to be met with a military response, this is what you would get. It was a sort of large-print version of the "Arab street," rewritten so as to replace Arab or Muslim with Orthodox or Russian...

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