Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THEY WOULD NEVER HURT A FLY by Slavenka Drakulic

THEY WOULD NEVER HURT A FLY

War Criminals on Trial in the Hague

By Slavenka Drakulic

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2004
ISBN: 0-670-03332-4
Publisher: Viking

Croatian expatriate Drakulic (S., 2000, etc.) offers a philosophically charged indictment of onetime Yugoslavians now standing before the International War Crimes Tribunal.

Ordinary people do not commit monstrous crimes; and because we are ordinary people, we could not have committed monstrous crimes in the past. So goes the human impulse to explain away atrocities; so goes the refusal, throughout the former Yugoslavia, to admit that something horrible happened not so very long ago. “But once you get closer to the real people who committed those crimes,” writes the Croatian expatriate Drakulic, “you see that the syllogism doesn’t really work.” Ordinary people do indeed do terrible things. Sitting in a courtroom in The Hague, Drakulic searches their faces and their files for signs of madness, an explanation for their deeds as something other than a sick response to peer pressure or a cosmic dare. (Explaining why those 80 or so men—and a couple of women—shed their ordinary lives to become killers is of paramount importance, Drakulic holds, because otherwise they will be eulogized as war heroes back home.) Their trials are dull matters, she admits, a far cry from the witty back-and-forth of Hollywood film, but from them bits and pieces of truth emerge. Some of the killers are pathological, likely murderers in peacetime or war, but otherwise the proverbial guy next door; in the title essay, one defendant, in his mid-20s at the time of slaughtering more than a hundred people in a single month in 1992, remarks, “It is nice to kill people this way. I kill them nicely. I don’t feel anything.” Others, such as the former Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic, killed (or had others kill) out of ambition: in Milosevic’s case, it appears that he thought war would keep him in power. Others were bureaucrats, anxious to please the boss. Still others merely went with the flow. And thousands died.

Take it from Drakulic: Ordinary people suck.