Breaking the World to Save It

Peacekeeping and Pipelines: From Yugoslavia to Ukraine

No shit, there I was, Bosnia, 2001…

We were barely two weeks in-country and my unit was rolling out on our first mission. September 11th had just happened and tension was so thick you could taste it. One of our objectives was to seize a building in a residential area that was used as a terrorist training facility by Mujahedeen who had gone back on the warpath. It was reported to have four cadre and fifteen Terrorists in Training, or “TiTs”. (That part brought laughs.) This was to be a fight.

I drove the second Humvee in our convoy, and as we began to pass a house with flowers out front and a smiling little girl waving at us from a gate, the word came down: “THAT’S THE HOUSE! GO!!!

My buddy driving the lead Humvee made a hard turn then tore ass through the gate while a friend in their turret wheeled his SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) to cover the upper floors of the house. The face of the little girl changed from joy to horror in an instant and she turned and bolted into her home. As she did, I followed right behind the lead Humvee and drove over her family’s yard to my spot in the perimeter.

As we pulled security into the tall grass nearby, those tasked with searching the house went in. Moments taut with the expectation of a firefight breaking out in the middle of civilians dragged on into hours. The LT eventually emerged from the house and approached our Humvee, burdened with sadness, but stoic about it like officers can be. He was always kind to us Joes, and his glasses and gentle demeanor gave him a monkish air. He greeted our SAW gunner sitting in the turret, a buddy of mine who had been his RTO, and tried to make small talk.

Suddenly my squad leader, Sergeant Bronson, an ex-Jarhead from a holler in Virginia who’d made his bones as a Cherry in the first Gulf War, called over to the LT as he approached from the house, his voice loud and heavy with dark sarcasm, “Hey sir, you want us to detain that little girl and interrogate her? ‘Cause it’d be a shame if we didn’t scar all these kids for life.”

“No, I think they’re fucked-up enough,” the LT replied quietly. “I was trying to calm that one down. You know, the one near the gate? She just kept crying and pointing to the flag on my shoulder and saying, ‘USA.’ Made me feel like shit. This intel is the worst.”

Sgt. Bronson then remarked in a more melancholy tone, “In my illustrious twelve years in the military, I have never felt this bad. Not even the first time I shot a guy. If I could’ve made myself small enough to crawl in a bottle and hide, I would have.”


I recently came across a story covering declassified intelligence cables sent by Canadian peacekeepers on the ground during the war in Bosnia. Working my way through the cables, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own time there and think about what we see coming from Ukraine. Those at the helm of Leviathan may lack the subtlety and discretion of previous generations, but when it comes to stoking tensions into conflicts and conflicts into wars, they still remember all the old moves.

The “it’s so simple even a grunt can understand” story given to us, was that following the death of Tito, Yugoslavia fragmented along warring ethnic and religious lines until NATO forces stepped to impose order. As far as we were concerned, “your fault, my fault, anybody’s fault,” we were there to keep the peace. “Don’t start none, there won’t be none.” Those who did a bit of homework though found a guilty verdict threaded through the writings of journalists and US officials, most of whom agreed that the Serbs under Slobodan Milošević bore a unique culpability as the aggressors, having embarked upon a campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Bosnian Muslims.

The cables released last year offer testimony to a more complicated story. Though there had been the deep grievances and animosities you would expect between distinct peoples living in close proximity for centuries, and a very real conflict had been brewing in the scramble to seize clay, there were still actors on all sides trying to foster peace. Shortly after the initial wave of hostilities commenced, the Portuguese diplomat José Cutileiro, acting on behalf of the European Community and Britain’s Lord Carrington, had brokered a deal establishing Bosnia as an ethnic confederation. Although all parties had agreed, at the last minute Bozniak President Izetbegović backed out, and with the collapse of the Lisbon Agreement, the war began in earnest and would proceed headlong to a very dark place.

It was believed by many that behind the scenes of the failed accord were those in the US government and NATO who were all too happy to sabotage the peace process. Several sources close to the proceedings reported that the US ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman, had cut a deal with Izetbegović, offering him full support if he withdrew from the Lisbon Agreement. Though Zimmerman publicly denied having done so, the reports found in the cables suggest this was less than the truth.

The Canadians observed that Bosniak forces had been emboldened by “outside” help initially stemming from diplomatic and media cover, and later through the assistance of weapons, materiel, and Mujahedeen brought in from fronts like Afghanistan on “black flights.” (Keep that in mind the next time some high-ranking ex-Spook on the news throws words at you like “treason” and gets the vapors about threats to “our democracy” when you dare to question their leadership. Sleep well, America.) The veteran Jihadist fighters introduced new tactics to Bozniak’s efforts as the Canadian peacekeepers reported Muslim combatants “masquerading as UN forces” and “firing on their own people” in the hopes of Western reporters attributing the attacks to Serbs. The Serbs retaliated with increased zeal. Once the carnage reached a sufficient pitch, NATO launched a bombing campaign, signaling The West would now openly command the theater of battle until the region was at last reduced to ruins and made safe for “Freedom,” “Human Rights,” and “The Rules-Based Order.”™

The wars that marked the end of Yugoslavia are now ancient history, meaning little to those of the Current Year save for the souls who lived through seeing their home destroyed from the inside until outsiders set fire to what was left. However, watching the war in Ukraine play out over this past year, I find it difficult not to see it following a similar trajectory.

Once again, we see the government and prestige media supply a story for us Proles establishing the heroes and the villains, their proxies always framed as a minority victim group trying to stand against the larger aggressor, all the while hidden in the fine print is the understanding that their “liberation” will merely be a gilded servitude as the latest satrapy-franchise of GloboHomo. 

As was the case in Yugoslavia, Washington shows no interest in de-escalating the conflict. Similar to the way US and NATO sought to directly aid Serbian adversaries on the ground while applying political pressure in such a way that ”deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept,” they presented the dominant regional power with the choice of either capitulating or finding allies and cultivating a deeper level of ferocity. Events in Ukraine echo that tune, as the current Brass has willfully disregarded the counsel of wiser men who warned that NATO expansion eastward would only be interpreted by Russia as an act of aggression and put them in the untenable position of either allowing an adversary a foothold on their border or roll the dice on a contest of blood. 

Yet again our leaders have transferred vast sums of money and equipment into a black hole only for it to reappear in the hands of combatants antithetical to the “values” they so earnestly claim to espouse; many of whom will more than likely go on to constitute the core of yet another cadre of militants who will turn and attack us at the first opportunity like a dog rescued from the pound gone rabid. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The recent attack on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is certainly an ominous harbinger. For now, I will keep my powder dry as to whom I believe is responsible (though if you put a gun to my head and made me choose between a crew of ex-KGB hands with demanding mistresses and the minions of our own “Deep State,” I know who I’d pick. Looking at you, .gov.) Regardless of whodunit, the attack was a foolish gambit and I’m grateful things haven’t gone kinetic yet as a result. Mercy abounds. Fortunately, it was just a big ugly pipeline in the ocean. Things like infrastructure are boring and the suffering that will follow lacks the immediacy of a proper Human Interest/War Porn story. That’s what scares me.

There was a picture I saw on the cover of a magazine back in junior high featuring an emaciated man standing amidst a group of weary people with a barbed wire fence between them and the camera. Once the media got ahold of that and uttered the words genocide and ethnic cleansing, those calling for US involvement found the support they needed. That mass murder, rape, and destruction of all kinds were committed by all against all at that point, and camps of refugees detained or protected behind wire were sadly by no means unique, didn’t matter. That neighbor had raised hand against neighbor as the Devil ran wild was irrelevant. The spell conjured through image and word was sufficient to serve as a foundation for establishing “Serb guilt” in the minds of The West and justification for unlimited military action against them regardless of who and what was destroyed along the way.

I have heard it said, “Bullshit runs around the world before the truth is finished lacing up its boots.” I believe it. Just consider all the psyops we’ve been subjected to in recent years. Hell, I still see people wearing masks. (Yea, verily even in Oklahoma.) It is in having to endure this very season of deception and chaos though that I find hope and possibly the Hand of Providence. As painful as this freefall into madness has (and will) become, it may be that the sum of these episodes, from the elections, to the riots, to “[insert latest foreign bad guy name] is gassing his own people!”, the Covid fiasco, Trans-shit, et al have served to inoculate us against the lies of this regime to the point they no longer possess the degree of unquestioned trust they once enjoyed. There’s a silver lining for you. 

“The Boz,” as we called it, will always have a special place in my heart, and I have nothing but love and hope for the people there. As far as I’m concerned though, we were brought in to keep the peace in a conflict that didn’t need to happen. Certainly not on the scale that it did. However honorable the intentions in our hearts and committed in our actions on the ground, the fact remains we have been agents of a corrupt machine. Time and again, those among the great and mighty of this country have purposefully made bad situations worse and then counted on men in uniforms to play pawns at their behest in fights that had nothing to do with their homes. That the next generation could get dragged into another damn fool meat grinder like the one they’re building in Ukraine now fills me with a rage I cannot adequately express in this medium. 

The ugliness of our “elites” touches us and I believe we owe a penance for that. If there is a possibility of something redemptive to be found in the role we have played in service to them, I hope it may be in doing our bit, however small, to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself on our watch and that the sins committed in our name at last come to an end. 

Samuel Finlay is a writer and veteran from Oklahoma who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan. He’s the author of “Breakfast with the Dirt Cult“.

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