In one day in September 1993, in the process of aggressively shoring up the crumbling UN peacekeeping mission in Croatia, Canadian soldiers killed as many as 27 Croat soldiers in a series of firefights. Letting Canadians know of this little-known battle is nominally at the heart of journalist Carol Off’s The Ghosts of Medak Pocket, and is the source of the book’s subtitle. The revelations don’t stop there, though. The wide-ranging exposés pile up, one after another.
The problems of multiculturalism are discussed in the context of the Croatian diaspora in Canada. Readers discover not only that much of the Croatian nationalist movement is fascist in origin, but that its political organization was kept alive in Ontario by Croatian émigrés nurturing old animosities. Off also shows how the Canadian government, with breathtaking ignorance and naiveté, indirectly financed that nationalism.
The embattled UN mission in Croatia provides Off with an opportunity to discuss the failures of post-Cold War peacekeeping. She questions the motives of many UN missions, and shows how the Canadian myth of peacekeeping has obscured reality. There follows a discussion of the under-funded Canadian Forces (CF) and the politicization of the Department of National Defence.
From there readers learn of the impact of the Somalia affair, in which a number of Somalian prisoners were tortured by Canadian soldiers, on the CF as a whole, and on the veterans of Medak in particular. For reasons ranging from incompetence to a perceived need to cover up the killings after the fallout from Somalia, the achievements of Canadian soldiers were ignored at home, despite receiving a rare unit citation from the UN. This policy of silence continued even when it became obvious that the veterans were suffering both mental and physical health problems.
Off’s book deserves to be read. Because each of these stories, and there are even more discussed, is important. Therein lies the problem: there is simply too much reportage for a single book. The connections between the myriad of issues become tenuous, and no particular issue is given the due it deserves
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