Diana Johnstone on the breakup of Yugoslavia

FOOL’S CRUSADE: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions by Diana Johnstone (2002)

Diana Johnstone is an American journalist, slightly older than me, who has spent most of her adult life in Europe.

Fool’s Crusade is about the lies that justified NATO intervention in Yugoslavia in the late 1990s.  I mostly accepted these lies at the time.

If I had read Johnstone’s book when it was published, I would have understood then a lot of things I have slowly came to understand over a period of years. 

I did realize that Germany precipitated the crisis by prematurely recognizing Croatia and Slovenia as independent countries, and that Croatia’s Franjo Tudgman was as much of an authoritarian nationalist strongman as Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic was accused of being.

But I still accepted the propaganda line that Milosevic was engaging in ethnic cleansing in order to create a Greater Serbia.  What he was actually trying to do was to hold together what was left of Yugoslavia and to protect Serbs stranded in other parts of the former Yugoslavoa.

Johnstone wrote that Milosovec could be criticized for his failures as a statesman, and that the Serbs were not guiltless.  But neither he nor they were not carrying out a systematic program of “ethnic cleansing.”  It was the Serbs, more than others, who were driven out of their ancestral homes.

She foresaw how U.S. intervention in Yugoslavia was to set a pattern for future interventions.

  • NATO was formed as a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union.  But this set the precedent for NATO interventions against nations that were outside the NATO region and did not threaten NATO members.
  • The United States led the intervention without any strong commitment of “boots on the ground.”  Instead the intervention consisted of indiscriminate bombings, use of proxy warriors and crippling economic sanctions.
  • The intervention was conducted without authorization of the United Nations.  The bombings of civilian neighborhoods and infrastructure were in violation of international law.
  • The justification for the intervention was to defend human rights against an imagined Hitler-like foe, who was supposedly so evil that anything was justified to bring him down.
  • The intervention was led by self-identified liberals and supported nearly unanimously by the liberal press.  The propaganda included false accusations of rape.  Critics were accused of sympathizing with the supposedly fascist enemy.
  • No good came of it.

Johnstone’s book is a model of what journalism should be.  She based her reporting on what she saw and on on-the-record interviews with named sources, plus her extensive background knowledge of the history and politics of the region.  None of it was due to inside information that the reader has to take on trust. 


She carefully gave the background and motives of each of the major players. 

The German motivation was complex.  They had a philosophy of nationalism based on common lineage, heritage and language, and felt a mission to defend minority nationalities.

They had ties with the Croats and Kosovar Albanians, going back to World War Two.  And after the war, they themselves had been subjected to ethnic cleansing throughout central and eastern Europe.

The Croats and Slovenes exited Yugoslavia partly because they thought this would enable them to more easily join the European Common Market. 

The Vatican wanted these Catholic realms to be independent of Yugoslavia, where Eastern Orthodox Christians were in the majority.  Interestingly enough, members of the Habsburg family, rulers of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, played a role.

Bosnia-Herzegovina was indeed a multi-cultural community where people of different religions and nationalities lived together in peace.

But Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim Bosniak member of the community’s rotating presidency, represented a faction that wanted a Muslim religious state, which brought back memories of rule by  the Ottoman Empire.

Of course, once the breakup of Yugoslavia had begun, the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Muslim Bosniaks, Kosovar Albanians and all the other groups wanted to live in realms in which they were the majority.

To me, the mystery is the motivation of the U.S. authorities.  The former Yugoslavia harbored no terrorists and possessed no oil.

The Serbs couldn’t understand it, Johnstone wrote.  They had thought of themselves as being on the same side as France, the USA and other modern democracies.

Johnstone suggested the U.S. intervened on behalf of Muslim heirs of the Ottoman Empire in order to solidify its relationship with Turkey.  Maybe.

Maybe it was the “responsibility to protect” doctrine; President Clinton had apologized for not intervening in the Hutsi-Tutu conflict in Africa.  Maybe it was the successful public relations and lobbying efforts on behalf of the Bosniak Muslims and Kosovar Albanians. 

Maybe it was simply that the USA had a huge, expensive military that needed a justification for its existence.  There was nothing to stop U.S. forces from violating international law by massive bombing of a defenseless country, so why not do it?


I thank my friend Steve Badrich for recommending this book.  I also liked Johnstone’s Queen of Chaos, her report on the foreign policy record of Hillary Clinton.


Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions by Kristian Kars for Sorry Serbia.  A detailed summary of the book.

Diana Johnstone on the Balkans War: a Review of Fools Crusade by Edward S. Herman.

[Note: I added the paragraph about the Serbs not understanding a short time after receiving the first two comments.]

Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “Diana Johnstone on the breakup of Yugoslavia”

  1. wtfbuddy1 Says:

    Sounds like a fiction book – the UN was there since 1992, the Dayton Peace Accord signed in late 1995 and NATO was in there 1996 onward. Unless you had your boots on the ground ( I did as part of IFOR, and later with KFOR ) seen the destruction and hatred between different ethic groups, the depiction of American bombing Yugoslavia is wrong. I agree it did bomb the FRY/KLA in 1999 which resulted in another peace making/keeping mission. Thanks for the heads up on the book which I won’t read since I know it was UN then NATO, then EU peacekeepers in play. Cheers


  2. Steve in Texas Says:

    I think it’s plausible to suppose that the dreadful NATO intervention in Serbia, sold to the US public by a mendacious PR campaign, was intended as a prototype for later US-directed interventions. I think that the wheels are already beginning to come of the Western PR “narrative” about Ukraine. I hope someday to read a Diana-Johnstone-style reconstruction of the REAL origins of the Ukraine conflict. (If human civilization still exists, I mean).


  3. Walter Uhrman Says:

    In my estimation, any attempt, to explain the horror in Yugoslavia, as does Johnstone in Fool’s Crusade, completely misses the point not factoring in such histories as The Ottoman Empire, The Congress of Berlin, the First and Second Balkan Wars. Definitely, there is need to respect history and its claim on the present.

    To focus, as Johnstone’s book does, on the United States and NATO during the 1990’s, an arbitrary moment so to speak in a vast conflict stretching from the Middle Ages, is, for myself, a failed endeavor in trying to present new or fresh insight to this intractable problem.

    The contribution of 19th and 20th century thinking tells us that history — individual or group — is with us now, in the present, impacting one’s outlook and behavior.
    Walter Uhrman


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: