Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War By Peter Maass

This past month was a whirlwind of a few trips and a visit from my family, hence the lull in writing. During my downtime on trains and buses, I delved into Peter Maass’ Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. I am truly impressed with this firsthand account of the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina, seen through the eyes of an American journalist. Peter Maass reported on the war for the Washington Post from 1992-1993. He lived in the infamous Holiday Inn, the hotel situated right on Sniper’s Alley that housed many journalists during the war. The building was under constant shelling from Serb forces perched in the mountains surrounding the city, and cars drove at break-neck speed down the boulevard past civilians risking their lives running for water. This book is much more than a typical report on the war; Maass provides a passionate account of participants and bystanders from all sides and he critically interprets the events that caused the bloody destruction of a nation.

The most valuable aspect of this book is that Peter Maass did not know what he was getting into when he started his assignment covering the war in Bosnia. He fell into the position, and admittedly knew very little about the region when he first arrived. Interviewing refugees in camps in Croatia before stepping foot in Bosnia, he could hardly believe the horrific accounts of torture and death from people who lost their homes and family members. Once he finally made it to Bosnia, readers witness a naïve reporter evolve into an informed critic of people and events involved in the conflict. He interviewed everyone from those who appropriated homes in ethnically cleansed villages, constantly nervous about the real owners returning, to the drunk soldiers on the front lines. He managed tours through concentration camps, nursing homes, and churches. Maass met with snipers that were shooting at the Holiday Inn, perplexed UN Officials, and nervous politicians. He sat in front of Radovan Karadzic in Pale until late in the night as he told bold faced lies to reporters. Maass sat with Slobodan Milosevic for a private interview in his office, and the leader in Belgrade asked him why he wrote lies about Serbia. He attends family funerals of the deceased and even a wartime fashion show. Finding himself in the middle of an attack one day, he speaks about “Bosnian Mind Fuck” as he witnesses an old man on an orange bicycle casually riding through the direct fire. He is witty, sarcastic, and insightful but the reader can also sense the moments when he was afraid and sick over the tragedies taking place.

The book is much more than a collection of interviews and experiences of a war correspondent. The memoirs also provide an interesting insight into the way the journalists interacted during the war, and the personal conflicts some felt while writing about terrible events brushed aside by the outside world. Many times, Maass almost lost his ability to remain neutral during interviews. It was not easy for him to speak to war criminals justifying their actions, or to listen to ordinary people repeating political propaganda to explain why they hate their neighbors. The more Peter Maass witnessed in Bosnia, the more he became critical of the (lack of) international response. He criticizes the roles of UN officials, the US State Department, President Bill Clinton, and the world in general. Peter Maass’ Love Thy Neighbor provides a truly exceptional, passionate account of the war in Bosnia and is a must-read for anyone interested in Yugoslavia.

Here is the book on Amazon.  Here is the author’s website.

    • ida
    • November 15th, 2010

    “He lived in the infamous Holiday Inn, the hotel situated right on Sniper’s Alley that housed many journalists during the war. The building was under constant shelling from Serb forces perched in the mountains surrounding the city…”

    Actually the Holiday Inn was near the front lines where the Bosnian Muslim Army and the Serb forces opposed each other. Serbs lived in parts of Sarajevo and their forces did control some parts – they weren’t all in the mountains. Also the Muslim forces did control most Mount Igman, which overlooked Sarajevo, during the war.
    They also had their snipers operating and using buildings in Sniper’s Alley. This was testified by UN officials at the trials. But it seems to be kept from the mainstream media news.
    The Bosnian Muslims forces were known to shoot at the UN, at civilians in Sarajevo and they did often provoke attacks (start launching their mortars) in the first place.
    One New Zealand officer there spoke of how every morning for about 3 months, things would be quiet, then there would be outgoing mortars from the Bosnian Muslim held parts of Sarajevo towards the Serbs.

    The front lines stayed mostly the same throughout the war and they did run through the city.
    The Bosnian Muslim forces in Sarajevo numbered 40,000 from what I read.

  1. May 26th, 2010

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