All Around the World


To End A War

By: Richard Holbrooke

Author Bio: Richard C. Holbrooke, an American diplomat and a Peace Corps official, was a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2009. He also served as ambassador to Germany in 1993 and oversaw negotiations that ended the war in Bosnia.

Behind Uttered Absurdities and Untruths

By: Kelly Tsai

International responses toward the Balkan Wars were at worst appalling. These were fourteen weeks filled with conflict, tragedy, and death. In Richard Holbrooke’s To End a War, he sums up war actions as “simultaneously cerebral and physical, abstract and personal, something like a combination of chess and mountain climbing.”1 Within the precautions taken among the nation-states, this step to war has become an unpredictable and dangerous process. While the European Union viewed the wars as their problem, they did not choose to take any acts of intervention until the United States helped to bring the war in Bosnia to an end.

War had always been an inevitable factor in the nation. In the first quarter of Holbrooke’s journey, he was sent to Bosnia as a negotiator. He believed the only way to bring peace was to through American intervention and partnership. However, there was opposition where foreign minister Jacques Poo’s secretary, Baker, tried to keep the United States uninvolved, fearing that a minor accident would cause Americans to take action. Holbrooke stated “Europe and the United States proved to be equally misguided.”2 From beginning to end, he makes a clear point that Europeans and the United States could have worked together to create peaceful agreements. Holbrooke later reflects back on how his trip shaped his understanding of the situation. Every single day spent came with a scary incident where he finally concluded “not since Vietnam had I seen a problem so difficult or compelling.”3 It was very clear that resistance was fierce within the United States. Because minor accidents slowly turned into uprisings between the two nations, Holbrooke decided to mark his first effort to propose a course of action in Bosnia. He then began diving into campaigns and into more of the historical aspects of Serbia, later finding that he easily connected with people around him.

In the second quarter of Holbrooke’s journey, he continues to discuss how a “scrambling decade ends, where strangers, enemies, and friends stand more puzzled… endeavoring to decipher.”4 Convinced that he was able to handle any problems that might arise, Holbrooke recalls he was committed to repair the “strains that Bosnia caused.”5 What counted was whether the United States was able to convince NATO and its allies to join the fight. With the administrations facing difficulties in office, coming to a decision would shape America’s future foreign policy. Just after two weeks of debating and protesting, it resulted in a partnership with the alliance. The action became unavoidable after many years of taking minimal steps. From Europeans’ point of view, they had previously “opposed massive bombing in the past because they feared their soldiers would be taken.”6 Because Bosnia began to affect all the plans he had in mind, Holbrooke addressed a note bluntly saying “we will need them all if there is a settlement.”7 As negotiations eventually settled, civilians took this step of Americans intervening as a master plan. Having to make this deal with Europeans almost did not work out as it “put an unprecedented strain on NATO and the Atlantic alliance.”8 Tensions between the two nations began to unravel as the closeness that held between them became a loss. Immediately, he shows his audience that cooperating would help ensure positivity between the European Union and United States. Having to put all their effort into the Bosnians’ survival, the U.S was ready to take approach and divide Bosnia into two different parts, forcing all Serbians, Croatians, and Muslims to live together. Yet, even after much ambivalence and confusion, Bosnia decided to remain a single country. Fortunately, another decision was made and air strikes were in the hands of NATO. In turn, it was able to help relieve the tensions between the two nations. While fighting still continued, Bosnians were not as happy because United States intervention ruined their long time goals of fighting territories around their own country. On the other hand, however, the United States was pleased to step into war without any regrets. This was also during President Clinton’s term where he finally made the correct decision to involve the United States in international conflicts. It consisted of constantly deploying military troops in time to save civilians.

The idea of America stepping in eventually resulted in high public and press reaction. As many more journeys were made around Europe, however, Holbrooke and his team discovered that they “halted their [Bosnians] victorious sweep through western and central Bosnia.”9 As much as what was happening, the idea of revenge became a central part of the Balkans but Americans would not agree to their policy. Initially, having the United States come to intervene with European affairs upset the Bosnians, their dreams were shattered because it was impossible to acquire all extraneous territories in that the UN tried to end war. The Bosnians; dreamed of having their own territory without any limits, therefore no fighting was permitted. Since this war continued, it led to more issues which after endless weeks of decisions, led the United States to make a significant decision. After endless weeks of negotiating, things started to settle down and fighting in Bosnia intensified as NATO helped alongside, eventually making communications and agreements more swift among the European nation and United States. Over a million Bosnians and Croats were removed from their houses for ethnic cleansing. Making this decision ultimately become one of the most historical ones because even before World War Two, the United States refused to intervene with any European nation. This did not mean that they would disintegrate themselves from war but instead have a longstanding withdrawal from European affairs. However, to foster better relations, President Roosevelt during his presidency, decided to declare the good neighbor policy which sought to improve relations between the US and Europe.

Upon returning from war, the public recognized the deployment of American forces to Bosnia. Sending troops and helping to fight in Europe made them grateful to the United States for “leading the effort that finally ended the war in Bosnia.”10 From the beginning of Yugoslavia’s collapse, an awareness for ethnic cleansing spread. Nonetheless, the United States was capable of putting forth effort that helped settle an important dispute. Through many conferences, America helped to put forth a series of high-risk actions. Sending American troops to Bosnia was the “most unpopular action of President Clinton’s term.”11 Had they not interfered with European affairs, the war would have been catastrophic. Europe would face more refugees and take the lives of innocent civilians. The public was well beyond happy for American leadership in ending the war. Within the last remaining weeks before signing agreements between the two nations, NATO was recognized for “sending sixty thousand troops and deploying thousands off in the Adriatic coast.”12 By the late 1990s, America’s foreign policy became more assertive where most aspects reinforced each other. After appealing to the European Union, however, the United States was low on money and sources. This was a slow start for civilians but was later resolved by Congress and the President after signing agreements with the European nation. From the start of the collapse to bringing the United States into war, it left many concerns and undecided factors. It was only until the first eighteen weeks that the U.S “put its prestige on the line with a series of high-risk actions.”13

Through Holbrooke’s work, his message was to pass to his readers that America worked better when it cooperated with other countries. This was to provide as much background of the historical aspect about the Serbian War and how America made a lasting decision that helped both their nations. His thesis is that even though the United States took a while to respond to the war, they still ended up taking the risk while they knew what they are doing. While discussing about the possible failures lead to, Holbrooke speaks of “if we fail, the war would continue.”14 By taking account into Holbrooke’s personal life with his team, each individual was able to seek their goals by making the United States reaching their goal of intervening with the European Union.

Richard Holbrooke was an American diplomat who tried to the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He served as an ambassador and was the special representative to Afghanistan in administration of Barack Obama. His experience there and in Washington DC led to him being an additional member of the U.S delegation to the Paris Peace Talks. After serving as Peace Corps director in Morocco, he returned to the government and was appointed as secretary by President Jimmy Carter. Since he took note of his fourteen week trip, he decided to take account and publish his notes into a book with memorable images he had seen in those times of European conflicts. In addition, Holbrooke returned to the Balkans “to attempt to negotiate a cease-fire between Serbs and the ethnic majority in the ongoing Kosovo conflict.”15 Holbrooke’s efforts were shaped by “enormous tragedy”16 with the attempt to reach Sarajevo. In the different countries listed which included Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Athens, Holbrooke tried to stop the war and innocent deaths by heating up a peace agreements between the United States and European Union. Promoting this idea was not easy because initially the Europeans were afraid that Americans would take stricter actions that would harm their countries. Because the United States had not been involved since World War Two, having to interfere with other Unions goes in history textbooks. During this time period, the cold war and many foreign policies were debatable and adjusted. The United States confidently did not wish to join the League of Nations in that they decided to remain isolated. This meant that America would not cooperate with other world affairs where the neutral policy is the most significant term. Holbrooke has received the inspiration to write this book because he was also on the run to stop the conflict between the Serbs and Americans.

To End a War is an important book containing many lessons about the possibilities and limitations of diplomacy and the productive use of force where the United States had to play in a practical role in international affairs and politics. It is always difficult to write a book about an event and perspective of someone who was actually involved with the real scene. All actions that were taken by the state or endless deaths all created unforgettable memories. Holbrooke does not have a voice of modesty when writing his work; from writer Richard Bernstein’s perspective, he quotes “he admits mistakes. He has written a straightforward account of historic achievement that was largely his own.”17 Bernstein finds Holbrooke’s work suitable, where he did an amazing job following through the historical aspect and being able to incorporate this many information into a well written book. Throughout Holbrooke’s missions with the team, he offers a fast paced account of an American led diplomatic initiative that ended the bloodshed to ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in 1995. These opinions about Holbrooke helped him shape who he is today and made him into a unique write in that he was able to make an impression to his readers about appealing to Congress that this event was crucial to decipher on one idea and forced the United States to work alongside with the Europeans to settle the dispute. The detailed way of Holbrooke’s formula for success in getting different parties to negotiate helped link diplomacy with the use of military force. All in all, the review helps emphasize the point portrayed in the book that Holbrooke addresses to his readers.

Overall, this book was a good read in terms of its organization and how the author was able to put his perspective into his story, putting a strong emphasis on the aspect of the Serbian War. This book results in a “brilliant portrayal of diplomacy”18 in one of the toughest negotiations that made the United States come to making its decision to help the European Union. Its lessons goes beyond the boundaries of a simplistic story, providing a powerful argument for waging modern war. Holbrooke’s point of view states an important point as he actually experienced what happened because he does his discussion of the near disaster in the early period of the implementation of the Dayton agreement. This was important because it eventually put a final decision on the new United States foreign policy-what it consisted was the coordination among the two nations, fair negotiating with leaders, and putting forth this peace plan to Congress and the public. All these elements played a vital role which led to peaceful agreements among the United States and Europe. Throughout this book, Holbrooke vividly describes the various steps in leading towards the United States breaking from isolationist policy. All in all, his account was very detailed in terms of its process and how Holbrooke wrote it an accessible and chronological way in order for readers to have a full understanding during these times of disaster and progress.

This book comes to America as a result of the end of the Cold War because during the late 1980s, the Berlin Wall came down in Europe which played an important factor in history. “Even with the war at its tail end, Europe still matters in America.”19 Even before the Cold war, the United States has not involved itself in World War One and World War Two. It was after the World War Two when American leaders realized that the country needed to be involved, especially with Europe and Asia. However, this failed because the U.S needed participation from the Soviet Union. Because of later misjudgment from the Truman administration, America quickly involved itself with European affairs. This eventually led to the decline of the Soviet Union in 1992. On the other hand, ending the Cold war also has one of its many downsides: the rise of terrorism. Many people from Europe started disliking Americans; they started to form new ethnicities in which they decided to take over and bomb cities in the United States.

Not only is it a result of the United States during the post-Cold war, To End a War also focuses on digital technology on America since the 1990s because while the Americans were trying to communicate with the Europeans, they were also able to keep in touch with sources of media. This eventually led to the “discovery of more technology” in the later years of history.20 Before the twenty-first century, there was the development of simple technology that became an important aspect of an individual. The amount of written accounts and trips made by Holbrooke showed how communication was hard because it was difficult to make a call across the world. Recent decades have shown an influx in production processes and consumer involvement. Since then, the wide availability of digital technologies does not make one restricted to certain ideas, spreading this phenomenon to the rest of the economy.

All in all, To End a War portrayed a well-rounded perspective of what happened between the United States and Europe. This nonfiction book should be read in history classes in order to “grasp a feel of why the United States made a mighty decision in intervening with European Affairs.”21

[1] Holbrooke, Richard. To End a War. United States. Random House, Inc. 1998. xv.
[2] Holbrooke, Richard. 29.
[3] Holbrooke, Richard. 16.
[4] Holbrooke, Richard. 49.
[5] Holbrooke, Richard. 37.
[6] Holbrooke, Richard. 103.
[7] Holbrooke, Richard. 68.
[8] Holbrooke, Richard. 53.
[9] Holbrooke, Richard. 54.
[10] Holbrooke, Richard. 28.
[11] Holbrooke, Richard. 317.
[12] Holbrooke, Richard. 319.
[13] Holbrooke, Richard. 358.
[14] Holbrooke, Richard. 77.
[15] Holbrooke, Richard. 89.
[16] Holbrooke, Richard. 146.
[17] Bernstein, Richard. Personal interview. 18 September 2001.
[18] Holbrooke, Richard. 325.
[19] Holbrooke, Richard. 225.
[20] Holbrooke, Richard. 279.
[21] Holbrooke, Richard. 341.