The Naked Country

Coverdanner Spencer Ackerman reviews Mark Danner's Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War, in bookforum:

The book's reportage is divided into three sections: post-Duvalier Haiti, the atrocities of the Balkan wars, and the permanent emergency, in Iraq and beyond, that Danner memorably termed the “forever war” in a 2005 New York Times Magazine piece. Each period shows Danner's maturation: In Haiti, he gave a reporter's tour, but by the time he reached Baghdad, he was primarily a polemicist and a social critic. What has captivated him, and what he has used as a lens to view an ever-bleaker world, is justice, and the all too permeable divide that separates it from vengeance.

Haiti in the late 1980s set the template. The departure of a strongman acted like a pin pulled from a grenade, as official corruption merged with demagoguery and shattered a veneer of social unity; the nearby Americans did little and understood less. Caught between a weak civilian government and a fractured army, Haitians looked to “agriculture, working the earth,” for salvation, a priest told Danner. But the Americans, who offered meager aid, “saw it as inevitable that impoverished, peasant Haiti would become an 'urban country.'” The result was protracted dysfunction and exploitation, leading to the crisis that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and prompted US military intervention.

Bosnia forged Danner's perspective. He expressed outrage in his dispatches over the unwillingness of the world to stop the Serb elimination of Bosnian Muslims. Most writers who documented the Balkan wars romanticized a lost cosmopolitan Bosnia. To Danner, Bosnia was concentration camps, forest death marches, alleged safe areas, Christmas reprisal raids, and racial epithets. He provided lengthy descriptions of Omarska, the camp where grinning Serbs butchered men's genitals as a cautionary display. Glory-hound French generals were outwitted by Bosnian Serb commanders. All this occurred because no one had the courage to recognize evil, least of all the Clinton administration. There was no lost cosmopolitanism in Danner's Bosnia, only predators and prey.