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Worlds Apart

Former US Ambassador to Austria Swanee Hunt writes hauntingly of the "grand intentions and missed opportunities" that prevented us from protecting Bosnians.

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Hunt draws multiple lessons throughout the book, but the overall lesson is that solutions must include both inside and outside actors. Central to the inside group are women who often are willing to set aside the most wrenching experiences in order to restore life for their families and communities. Yet few women are invited to the peace tables, and few are consulted in the processes of peace.

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In April 1996, Hunt offered President Bill Clinton two pieces of advice: “We must come up with a more solid approach to the war criminals living within a few miles of the troops.... We need a strongly targeted effort now to strengthen the role of women in Bosnia.”

Among the compelling stories in the book is the author’s harrowing journey from Sarajevo to Lyons, France, where she briefed President Clinton before he addressed the international press at the G-7 meeting. In that rushed encounter, she focused on the Bosnian Women’s Initiative. “These women are working together – across political fault lines,” she told him. “They’re the best story you’ve got.”

“Worlds Apart” is a moving political and personal story, unique in its telling and in its voice. It is rich with narrative details and also with analysis that makes it a valuable text in the literature of the Balkan War. There are many perspectives on that war, and there are those who may take issue with some of Hunt’s criticisms, but she also criticizes herself.

At one point, she visits with theorist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a mentor and a Nazi Holocaust survivor. She asks if she should resign in protest over the inaction. He answers, “Madame Ambassador, sometimes the right thing to do is only 55 percent right and is 45 percent wrong. It’s hard enough for an individual to act in those situations. For a giant like the US government, it’s paralyzing.”

“Worlds Apart” reminds the reader how difficult and yet imperative is individual and collective action in the face of moral collapse. The most effective action links head and heart – “policies determined in logic-driven consultations and the pathos bred in brutalizing situations.... Only then will we have the intellectual and emotional wherewithal to bring together the two worlds apart, making them one, more just and secure.”

It took over a decade for Swanee Hunt to distill and to write the experiences from Bosnia. That history and its lessons remain eerily relevant today.
 

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman is a novelist and former reporter for The Christian Science Monitor.

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