Bosnia’s wartime legacy still haunts us

Choosing not to intervene in Bosnia had grave repercussions that continue to affect lives today.

Jasper Johnson

This past week, a United Nations court found Radovan Karadzic, a man who served as a politician during the Bosnian War, guilty of committing war crimes in Srebrenica.
In a similar story, a federal judge sentenced the Minnesota man Zdenko Jakisa to deportation last month after Jakisa misrepresented information on his immigration application when he fled from Bosnia in 1998. Before he fled Bosnia, Jakisa shot his elderly neighbor with an AK-47. 
In short, the Bosnian War took place between Bosnians, Croatians and Serbians from 1992 to 1995. Military forces committed war crimes — notably ethnic cleansing — against Bosnian Muslims. 
Growing up, my school’s history courses never taught us about the war. That was a serious oversight. The conflict reminds us of the necessity of humanitarian invention and of how recently genocides have taken place on European soil. 
Looking back, many argue that the United States should have intervened in Bosnia much sooner than it did. I wholeheartedly agree. The lack of intervention represents a notable failure of the international community to intervene in a humanitarian crisis — a failure which ranks alongside that of the Rwandan genocide. 
The implications of the Bosnian genocide on religion should interest us, too. The horrendous persecution of Bosnian Muslims and the seeming indifference of the global community led to resentments which hold fast to this very day. 
Notably, these resentments have played a substantial role in the disenfranchisement and terrorist recruitment of young Bosnians. Many people point to U.S. interventions in the Middle East as a source of terrorist grievances. However, only a few decades ago, it was a lack of intervention which contributed to the grievances we see today. 
We in the U.S. tend to associate hawkishness with anti-Muslim sentiment. To be fair, several of our country’s recent interventions have targeted the Middle East. However, we should view these interventions as humanitarian endeavors. 
It’s become relatively uncontroversial to say that the U.S. could have saved many lives if it had intervened in Bosnia earlier than it did. Fortunately, since 2005, many states worldwide have spoken about the “responsibility to protect” (R2P). The conversation centers on our common moral obligation to stop genocides, ethnic cleansings, war crimes and the like. R2P is now relevant in light of cases like Syria or Darfur.
We as human beings have an obligation to stop atrocities, and Bosnia was an example of our deep failure to do so. People my age grew up watching coverage of the Iraq War. 
What we saw could harmfully skew our political attitudes away from intervention and nudge us toward dovishness. Yet we need to realize the importance of timely intervention. 
Bosnia provides an example of the horrors that arise when we fail to stop an atrocity. In many cases, pacifism, non-interventionism and dovishness quite literally kill.
Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].