Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War (ISBN: 978-0-679-76389-5) by Peter Maass is a collection of notes from the author’s time in Bosnia & Herzegovina as a journalist during the Bosnian War, but since the stories are all told from his point of view, it reads like a memoir. There isn’t a lot of continuity, and it just jumps from one story to another, but roughly follows the timeline of the war. The bit of continuity that is there is Maass wondering how people can forget so easily the need to respect those around them. The stories are very real and personal, as Maass interacts with fellow jouranlists, soldiers on both sides, government officials, and what would normally be called everyday people, but can’t be in this situation because there was no such thing as normalcy in the Bosnian War. Maass interviewed a Serb sniper, Bosnian soldiers, dealt with a Serb checkpoint — ultimately unsuccessfully, had Christmas dinner with a Croat family in Sarajevo, experienced what it was like to be under attack while in a gas station, and was, like most who dealt with the Bosnian War, flabbergasted by the impotence of the so-called world superpowers to get anything accomplished in Bosnia. His account holds nothing back and it presents the war in all of grizzly horror that is war.
The book was a fascinating overview of the war that could realistically be categorized as an overview of the atrocities of the war. It presented both the best and worst of people, and it’s the good that ultimately captured my attention. No matter how low things go, there’s someone out there trying to do good. The story of the Catholic man and his wife who had Maass over for Christmas dinner was one of those. It was, ultimately, a small gesture, but one that showed the goodness of the man and his family. At times, the accounts of the violence seemed rather too much, even considering other books on the Bosnian War I’ve read. On the other hand, it is reality and it is a reality with which our virtual-reality society really should be better acquainted because the idea that actions have consequences is one from which people seem far removed. I am not sure if Maass, a Jew who was not overly religious, meant to lead his readers to any certain conclusions, but I think so, and the conclusion I drew from the book was that were we to love our neighbors, the ridiculous idea of ethnic conflict, and all kinds of other conflict, too, would not be something we would have to deal with.
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