Banal and Dubious

Pedestrian books can sometimes serve salutary purposes.

Issue: Fall 2000

Ivo H. Daalder and Michael E. O'Hanlon, Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2000) 246 pp., $23.

Michael Ignatieff, Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000), 246 pp., $23.

Even bad books can serve salutary purposes. Unpacking the conventional wisdom of the day and expounding on it respectfully and at length, they unwittingly expose its defects. (Think of Frances FitzGerald on Vietnam, Jonathan Schell on nuclear war, or Paul Kennedy on American decline.) For such efforts, the conscientious student of world affairs, bending under a continuous assault of finely spun "news", may be grateful. The two books reviewed here offer a case in point. They are deeply flawed, but their defects imbue them with a certain estimable, if inadvertent, value. Offering two very different perspectives on Kosovo, they show the extent to which the prevailing understanding of this war that was not a war, fought for human rights and won by air power, is fraudulent.

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