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What Anders Breivik has in common with war criminals

Anders Behring Breivik being transported in a police convoy from an Oslo courthouse on Monday.
REUTERS/Jon-Are Berg-Jacobsen/Aftenposten via Scanpix
Anders Behring Breivik being transported in a police convoy from an Oslo courthouse on Monday.

In addition to mass murder, the perpetrators of genocide have one thing in common. It is obvious in the press coverage of Anders Breivik, the terrorist charged with the mass murders in Norway last week, just as it had been in the coverage last May of the last days of Osama Bin Laden or the arrest of Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, the Serbians charged with war crimes. The political philosopher and author of “Eichmann on Trial: A Report on the Banality of Evil” (1963), Hannah Arendt, would recognize it instantly.

The extraordinary evil in our time has been the work of ordinary men. Covering for The New Yorker the trial of the Nazi SS commandant Adolph Eichmann, Arendt de-mystified the image of the Nazis. Eichmann in his time and his ilk in today’s generation are not larger-than-life dark knights of evil or the Darth Vaders of genocide. They are actually a rather pathetic bunch of Walter Mittys gone sour.

A 32-year-old bachelor who lived either alone on his farm or with his mother in Oslo, Anders Breivik is the flip-side of Garrison Keillor’s Norwegian bachelor farmer. Details of his life and personality, as they have appeared in The New York Times, show Breivik as the run of a very mediocre mill.

A former classmate described him as “unremarkable and easy to forget.” He made virtually no impression during his activism within Norway’s conservative Progress Party. “He’s one of the crowd, if you know what I mean,” recalled one party member, “you forget him.” Before his defense lawyer attempts to rest his case on an insanity plea he should know that psychiatric examinations of Adolph Eichmann diagnosed him as completely sane. Analysts in Norway have also underscored that Breivik is apparently “normal.”

You don’t have to read all 1,500 pages of Breivik’s manifesto “2083: A European Declaration of Independence” to understand that these are the hackneyed fantasies of a facile mind on the right. One image in particular struck me. He posted an altered photograph of himself in full combat gear and aiming an automatic weapon. The touched-up photograph reminded me of reports a generation ago that one of the culprits of the Watergate break-in, G. Gordon Liddy, had the custom of sending would-be girlfriends larger than life photographs of himself standing and armed. Breivik quotes John Stuart Mill out of context. Breivik’s cut-and-pastes plagiarize from the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto.

Breivik’s manifesto
In Breivik’s manifesto, one statement came as no surprise. He says he turned to right-wing activism in 1999 when NATO with Norwegian participation bombed “our Serbian brothers.” He saw in Serbian war criminals brothers-in-arms in his crusade against Islam. Brothers in banality, Hannah Arendt would say.

One of them, Goran Hadzic, was arrested in Serbia last week and, in an appropriate coincidence, transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia(ICTY) at The Hague on July 22, the same day as Breivik’s mass murders in Norway.

From 1991 to 1993, Hadzic was the president of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a self-proclaimed break-away enclave that Serbian nationalists had seized from the newly independent Croatia. Prior to the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Hadzic had been a warehouse worker. In speeches and television interviews, he had a gift for the humdrum. Although he spouted the platitudes of Serbian nationalism, Hadzic was in the war for the money. He concentrated on plunder, looting and black marketing, and was responsible for — in fact, boasted about — some of the most savage crimes of the Yugoslav wars.

One, in particular, stands out. In 1991, Hadzic oversaw the Serbian destruction and ethnic cleansing of the Croatian city of Vukovar. His forces attacked Vukovar Hospital, removed the patients, wounded, medical staff and others who had sought refuge there, and murdered 250 of them in a nearby field. The victims included children, the mentally retarded, and terminally ill.

This summer, Serbian authorities were able to arrest Hadzic when his aides tried to sell one of the last items from the loot he stole in the war — a Modigliani painting. It appears to be a fake. Hadzic knew how to steal, not how to judge art.

Hadzic was small change in the currency of genocide when compared to Ratko Mladic, the commanding general of the Bosnian Serb Army in the Bosnian War who was also arrested by Serbian authorities and turned over to The Hague in late May. The story of Mladic during the Yugoslav wars reads like a rap sheet of not just of the worst crimes of the Yugoslav conflict but of Europe since WWII.

He was responsible for the four-year Siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica. Lobbing artillery shells from the surrounding mountains to the defenseless city, Mladic’s bombardment of Sarajevo showed about as much courage or military heroism as Breivik showed when he gunned down the children on Utoeya Island.

Primped and posed
At the time, Mladic carefully primped and posed in military imagery for the media. Inviting reporters to his headquarters on Mount Igman just above Sarajevo, Mladic sometimes gave interviews while he lifted weights. Most of the time, dressed in crisply ironed military uniform, he postured for the reporters, frequently interrupting a conversation to check his field glasses and bark out a command.

On the scene of his most monstrous crime — Srebrenica — in the summer of 1995, Mladic anticipated the cruel arrogance of Breivik. According to the accounts of the children who survived the massacre at Utoeya Island, Breivik gloated in his power over the children, swaggering as a would-be god and stringing out a few moments of terror to the children’s ordeal before he shot them. Shortly before the start of what would be a massacre of at least 8,000 Bosnian men at Srebrenica, Mladic had rounded up and confined women and children outside the town in a warehouse complex. As they cried, pleaded for mercy and prayed, Mladic strutted about and declared, “I am your Allah now.”

The Mladic act had run out by the time of his arrest this May. Gone was the Serbian military cap. In its place, a baseball hat. The guns at his side went unfired. Impoverished, Gen. Ratko Mladic appeared to be interested only in demanding the restoration of his military pension. In the end, the iron-pumping general of Mount Igman and the Siege of Sarajevo was a frail old man who aspired to be a pensioner.

These are pathetically ordinary men. We do them a favor when we depict them as evil geniuses with “hearts of darkness” as if they had stepped out of Joseph Conrad’s novel by the same name. Think of the last days of Osama Bin Laden as an aging man with dyed hair, wrapped in a blanket and watching old videos of himself.

Osama Bin Laden, Goran Hadzic, Ratko Mladic and now Anders Breivik — they would fit as case studies in a revised and updated edition of Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Ed Felien on 07/29/2011 - 11:08 am.

    Here’s a link to an article we’re publishing this month in Southside Pride and was just published in The Rag Blog out of Austin:

  2. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 07/29/2011 - 01:21 pm.

    What an excellent piece.

  3. Submitted by vladimir gagic on 07/29/2011 - 03:08 pm.

    This is typical nonsense by Mr. Hayes: A Protestant Christian murders dozens of Protestant Christians in Norway, yet Orthodox Christians thousands of miles away in the Balkans are to blame and Balkan Muslims are the victims?

    What is next Mr. Hayes, Serbs are to blame for the debt ceiling or that Amy Winehouse is dead?

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/29/2011 - 06:41 pm.

    I once read that it took Slobodon Milosevic ten years of demonizing Serbs/Muslims until their people hated them enough to kill them indiscriminately and in large numbers. He and his friends were then able to lead the way to attempted genocide.

    It seems both sad and dangerous that so many Americans on the Right keep propagandizing our citizens by teaching them to fear Islam and all its Muslim adherents, not just the few who are fundamentalists and possibly dangerous. The loudest hate-mongers don’t seem to realize that the hate they nurture in people like Brevik can lead to murderous actions by fundamentalists of any religion.

  5. Submitted by Eric Siverson on 07/30/2011 - 04:55 pm.

    I think Nick Hayes has the official U.S. media and NATO story on the Balkans and is trying to tie that in to Breivik’s murderous rampage. The only agreement Mladic and Breivik have in common is both of them realize Islam attempts to bring Sharrri law where ever muslims go . And they both reject demutitude or muslim domination .
    Breivik claims to be athiest or agnostic but he wants to keep the Norwigen christian culture . Breivik attack his own goverenment and one political party that he thinks is most enabling the muslim Imigrants . Now Mladic is a Serb a christian people that just left the Ottoman muslim empire , after living 400 yrs under sharri law as a christians . Yugoslavia is another story a long Story to long for me to go into it now . However keep in mind Germany attacked this country three times in the last century . Almost evrey incident you have heard about has another side to it that is much more crediable , including the Sebericia masacure that Mladic is on trail for .

  6. Submitted by Eric Siverson on 07/30/2011 - 06:10 pm.

    All the disinformation in Nick Hayes artical has just got my dander up . I read the 54000 pages of Milosevic trail . The Hague court is a NATO political court . Even president Bush said no american could be tried in that court . for 54000 pages and four yrs Milosevic would have been having the best time of his life , If he was not so sick from ingesting poisin . How he got poisined I never did learn . Milosevic bested the prosecution almost evrey day . Did you know the Orthadox Serb christians were the largest ethnic groupe in Yugoslavia , and they were the only people ethnicial cleansed .Did you know that United States , Germany and Al Qaida All trained KLA forces to attack Serbian Christians . Did you know the bombing of Yugoslavia brought the Russian goverenment down . I saw no difference in the NATO attack against Yugoslavia in the 90s and Germanys attack in the 40s . Two former nazis were installed as the leaders of Croatia and Bosnia . NATO used the same ethnic groupes that Hitler used . The Roman catholics were united with the muslims to best the orthadox serbs . The United States furnished the airforce for Al Qaida in Yugoslavia like they maybe are doing right now in Libya . Aleksander Solhenitsyn a famous orthadox christian selected and backed Putin to strengthen Russia for what he thought was going to be another NAZI invasion . Putin did strengthen Russia , I believe faster than Adolph strengthend Germany in the 30s . In 2008 Medvedev flat out told NATO its none of your buisness over Russia chastisment of Georgia . The world said the bear is back . The Russian people can thank Aleksander Solhenitsyn for canning Yelsin and his new democracy . Yelsin was betrayed by NATO , Yelsin actualy ended the bombing of Serbia , by promising Milosevic Russian troops will come in with NATO and protect the Orthadox christians in Kosovo . Thats why Milosevic agreed to pull the Serbian army out of Kosovo when the United nation passed resolution 1244 . It was said that the United States spent more money on the elections in Serbia than they did on thier own elections .

  7. Submitted by Eric Siverson on 07/30/2011 - 07:17 pm.

    I fear my comments will not be aproved becuase the story I tell is kinda the opposite of what the mainstream establishment wants you to hear .
    I don’t like to see soldiers arrested after a war. Even from the loosing side . Mladic is kinda of a Serbian Hero to many people. Where Breivik from Norway will have a hard time finding anyone that even admit they know him . First of all I don’t believe much about the masacure story as the truth , Just reporting it over and over evrey chance you can does not mean its true . Although Mladic himself said his troops wanted some exucutions and there is good evidence of about 400 men shot with thier hands tied . There is also pictures of the muslim forces murdering about 2500 Serbian women and childran right around this very town . The commanders name was Oric . He was Tried in the Hague court and let go . As I previously said NAZI or NATO I consider them very much the same ,the only dfference is NATO lies more and has far better propaganda machinary . The muslim Forces claim they were promised U.S. invention ,If they could find a Christian Masacure of muslims of at least 5000 people . A lot of war stories are just not true during the war . We always heard the Serbs Killed 300,000 innocent Muslims in Bosnia. after The War we learned that the total dead might be 100,000 may about 55% muslim , 15% Roman Catholic and 30 % orthadox christian

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