The Wrong Story on Karadzic

August 10, 2009

By James S. Gordon MD

On Sunday July 26, 2009, The New York Times Magazine ran a piece on Radovan Karadzic, the now-imprisoned psychiatrist and war criminal who orchestrated the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Bosnian Muslims during the recent war in that country. The piece was called “Radovan Karadzic’s New Age Adventure.” I found it very disturbing—not because it addressed Karadzic’s crimes, but because it chose to focus on an identity he assumed while he was living underground in Belgrade. I sent the following letter to the Times Magazine; it was the Wednesday after the article appeared. The editor explained that they only print letters that arrive within two days of publication, so I’m posting it here for you to read.

To the Editor:

“Radovan Karadzic’s New Age Adventure” is wittily conceived, skillfully reported and cleverly photographed–and a shameful waste of journalistic talent and enormously valuable and influential print space. How Karadzic conned self-styled and ridiculously self-important Serbian “alternative healers” into believing in his therapeutic powers is at best a minor footnote. The Times could and should have devoted its considerable resources, and persuasive powers, to the full text itself: to an examination of how and why Karadzic, a psychiatrist ostensibly committed to healing, became the architect of ethnic cleansing; to how he used his charisma and his understanding of psychological and social vulnerability to cajole, propagandize and coerce thousands of Bosnian Serbs into committing mass murder.

A ravaged building in Bosnia, after Karadzic's reign
A ravaged building in Bosnia, after Karadzic’s reign

The story of Karadzic’s calamitous rule has not yet been fully told. It is a genuine and terrifying mystery. Its clarification might help all of us to recognize more readily the seeds of mass manipulation and destructive collective action in our own and other societies, and in ourselves. Sadly, opportunistically you eschewed challenging analysis, and offered only snide and trivial, if literate, tabloid reporting.

I ask you to please consider the editorial choices you make; how they may serve and enlighten your readers’ better angels or pander to their less elevated instincts and how they reflect on a great journalistic institution.

James S. Gordon, MD

James S Gordon, is a psychiatrist and a professor at Georgetown Medical School. He and his colleagues at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine have worked extensively, during and after wars, with psychologically traumatized populations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Israel, and Gaza.