Memoirs are funny old things.
Rather than looking at the author's entire life, and finding strands that keep repeating throughout, a memoir takes certain moments and highlights them above anything else that may have happened through that person's life.
Some will argue that this is a far more honest way to approach memories, as not everything is worth documenting (after all, who wants to read about someone's daily commute to work). But, at the same time, I can't help but feel like I'm being told a sanitised version of a story, careful not to upset anybody but making its point clear.
And I'm afraid to report that a bit of this creeps into Witness to War Crimes.
Throughout the memoir, Colm Doyle comes across as a stand up guy. A family man, and the person you turn to when advice is needed. Having seen action as a UNTSO member in Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon, he rather disappointingly only devotes a chapter to these adventures. Personally, I would have liked a bit more focus on this period (when Israel were implementing their 'Iron Fist' policy in the Lebanon) as it seems like there was an awful lot of situations that needed defusing, and it seems that the local Lebanese really took to the Irish peacekeeping forces.
When the story moves to Bosnia, he becomes an "ice cream man" (so called because the European Community's negotiating/peacekeeping team were required to wear all white) and realises the situation is far more dense in terms of history (he wryly remarks that, on arriving, his initial meetings with each side will descend into a history lesson as to why the other sides are bastards). The parallels with this country are painfully obvious, and give the reader pause for thought.
Anyone picking up the book hoping for tales of gun battles and tense stand offs will be disappointed, as they are very few and far between. Most of the evidence Doyle presented in the Hague was about meetings and communications. Interesting from a historical perspective but, with a title like this one, a tad misleading.
Doyle doesn't spend much time talking about how the mission left him (bearing in mind that the EC team he was attached to pretty much had the carpet pulled from under their feet, due to international recognition being presented to the Croatian and Bosnian governments without any of the conditions that the EC team was asked to negotiate) and, considering the diplomatic bureaucracy he details, it would be interesting to reflect on how he felt in the aftermath of realising he was being "used" by various sides, while still trying to bring a resolution to Bosnia.
Colm Doyle, 2018, Witness to War Crimes: The Memoirs of an Irish Peacekeeper in Bosnia, Merrion Press, ISBN-13: 978-1526736116
➽ Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
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