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The Plight of Families During the Bosnian War

The New York Times' Roger Cohen reported from Bosnia during the war there. His new book "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo" (Random House) is about covering the war, and the families divided by the conflict.


Other segments from the episode on September 16, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 16, 1998: Interview with Roger Cohen; Obituary for Johnny Adams.


Date: SEPTEMBER 16, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 091601np.217
Head: Journalist Roger Cohen
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Roger Cohen is one of the journalists who risked his life to report on the war in Bosnia, a war which left 200,000 dead and 2.7 million refugees. He spent a month in Bosnia in '92, a month in '93, and lived there from '94 to '95, covering the war for "The New York Times."

During that period, he spoke to us by phone on FRESH AIR several times. When the war ended, Cohen took a leave of absence from his position as the "Times" Paris bureau chief to write a book reflecting on the war. That book has just been published; it's called "Hearts Grown Brutal."

Cohen writes: "I had watched as the Yugoslav state that was a bridge between East and West, Christianity and Islam, the Western world and the Byzantine, was bludgeoned to death beneath the nationalist banners that unfurled old as communism died."

His new book tells the story of the war by focusing on the stories of several families. I asked him why he chose that focus.

ROGER COHEN, JOURNALIST DURING BOSNIAN WAR; FORMER PARIS BUREAU CHIEF, "THE NEW YORK TIMES"; AUTHOR, "HEARTS GROWN BRUTAL: SAGA IS OF SARAJEVO": Well, Terry, I felt very strongly in Bosnia that this was of war of intimate betrayals. That's to say that the nationalist poison that was released first by Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade and then by Franjo Tudjman (ph), the Croatian leader in Zagreb, this made the way -- its way into the heart of families throughout Bosnia.

In Bosnia, over 30 percent of marriages were mixed. There were Moslems married to Serbs, Serbs married to Croats, Croats married to Serbs. And many of these families were simply broken asunder, people were killed, people dispersed, the Serbs went back to Belgrade, the Croats to Zagreb. And I wanted to illustrate how that happened and show how the international failure over so many years to do anything about Bosnia meant that these breakdowns became permanent.

When those fissures first occurred, they might perhaps have been repairable. But I think by allowing the genocide of 1992 against the Moslems to go unencountered and allowing the war to fester for so long, these wounds within the families became permanent.

GROSS: I'd like you to choose one of the families that you write about and tell us why you singled them out for your book.

COHEN: Well, one of the families is the Zetrovic Karashik (ph) family of Sarajevo. I chose them in the first instance, Terry, because I ran into them. You know, we reporters, we're out there and we just stumble on situations often; it's not that we necessarily particularly choose them. But as I heard more about the story of this family, I became obsessed by it as a tale that was really emblematic of all of Bosnia.

In the Zetrovic family there was not only a tragedy in the form of a young man of 21, Moris Zetrovic (ph) being killed by the Serbs in August of 1992; and then his mother, also a Moslem, killed as she tried to escape from Sarajevo in 1993 across the airport; and killed, moreover, in terrible circumstances; that is to say that the UN that was at the airport -- and because it was at the airport with Serb acquiescence, felt it had to match its policies, in some respects to those of the Serbs -- beamed a spotlight on these people trying to run across the airport. In the glare of that spotlight she, too, was shot down by the Serbs.

So there was tragedy in that form, and then there was also the tragedy of division in that Moris Zetrovic's aunt lived in a mixed marriage, she being a Moslem and her husband a Serb, and they had two mixed children. The husband fled to Belgrade, the children then followed to be safe. The idea initially was that they would be reunited. In the end, they were not; the two girls are still in Belgrade and this marriage seems to have permanently broken down.

Moreover, Harris Zetrovic (ph), the brother of the boy who was killed in August '92, he ultimately fled as a refugee to Detroit, Michigan, where he now lives, and has a little boy, and he's called Moris after his dead brother. And he talks about returning to Bosnia. He said to me that in many ways he liked to be back there. His daddy is back there, of course.

But war was a totally unexpected thing to these people. Harris was just a young man in Sarajevo, he liked to ski, he like to go out on picnics, and then this war came and shattered his life. And I think so many of these people fear that the Balkan giant could take another unsuspecting generation, and so they fear to go back because they think that Moris, now age 1, might one day fall victim to the same kinds of forces that shattered this family's lives.

GROSS: The title of your book about Sarajevo is called "Hearts Grown Brutal." I'm wondering if you feel that you have a better understanding of how people become brutal, so brutal that they become capable of killing their own neighbors.

COHEN: Well, I think I do, Terry. I chose this title from a line of Yeats, the Irish poet, which goes: "We had set the heart on fantasies, the heart's grown brutal from the fair." I thought that was very apt for Bosnia. In effect, nationalist myth, i.e., fantasies, drove these people to violence they never imagined. It introduced a virus that they never suspected. And having lived together, having inter-married, they succumbed to it.

I think hatred can emerge when -- very often when bad history has been suppressed. There was terrible killing among Yugoslavs during 1941-45, during the Second World War. Tito then came to power, communism, as you know, had its gods. Those gods needed a certain history to serve them. Tito had his own history invented to serve the end of keeping Yugoslavia together, which he did. But I don't think the scores of 1992 -- sorry, of the Second World War were really resolved. And nationalist leaders were able to bring that out again.

And violence does lurk in the human heart, and people can be weak and especially when they're disoriented by history and by these movements of great violence -- it can, I think, spring up more easily than we might imagine.

GROSS: You know, there was history, bad history, kitsch history that was used to justify the violent nationalism, you know. And you say that the history was perverted into kitsch. In what way did you see the history expressed itself as kitsch?

COHEN: Well, Terry, I was, you know, riding a bus to Bosnia with Serbian "warriors" -- in quotes -- "the warriors" in 1992 -- was pretty extraordinary. I'm mean, they'd taken out all the kit of their Serbian national, it's known as Chetnik, forebears. Some of them had grown these long beards again. They were sporting the emblems of the Chetniks. There were also, you know, the five-pointed star of the partisans, that's to say, the Communists. Now Tito's Communists had fought the Chetniks during World War II -- the Communists opposed the nationalists -- part of the killing that stemmed from that.

It just seemed to me that these people had all come together in these strange uniforms that they'd got out of the attics maybe of their homes or bought on the street. And I don't think they fully understood what they were part of. They told me, for example, that they were going to fight Turks in Bosnia. There were, of course, no Turks. But the Serbs have long fall at the Ottoman Turks, and they inevitably, I suppose, in this moment of nationalist madness saw in the Moslems of Bosnia who converted to Islam under the long Ottoman domination -- they saw in them their old Turkish enemy.

GROSS: Why do you think nationalism is such a strong force now, not just in the Balkans, but in so many parts of the world?

COHEN: Well, I think in moments when systems, societies, fall apart, nationalism offers a facile emblem, Terry, under which to march. All it offers is some kind of future glory based on some kind of glory in the past and based on the notion that past injustices have stopped the Serbs or the Croats or whoever from getting what was rightfully theirs.

I think we haven't, or hadn't, for a long time fully understood how far the Cold War had conditioned our mentalities; we were really used to a bi-polar world; we were used to this eternal, it seemed, confrontation between communism and the West. I think it's been deeply disorienting to many societies in Africa and in Europe and elsewhere, in Latin America, to have that bi-polar world disappear.

GROSS: My guest is "New York Times" reporter Roger Cohen. His new book "Hearts Grown Brutal" is about the war in Bosnia, which he covered for "The New York Times." Will talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Roger Cohen. And he covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times" and now has written a book about it called "Hearts Grown Brutal."

How much time did you spend traveling with this Serbs trying to see the war from their point of view and see specifically what they were up to?

COHEN: Well, Terry, I started out on the Serb side in 1992. I went to Belgrade and that I went to their gun positions overlooking Sarajevo. And, you know, they were really in a frenzy at that point; they were absolutely convinced, you know, that the Turks, the Ottoman Turks, had returned in the form of the administration of Jasna Isabegovic.

And they felt that they were the victims. It was very striking to me that the Serbs, even as they, in their evidently dominant position -- because they had inherited all of the arms virtually of the Yugoslav army -- in their evidently dominant position in the mountains ringing Sarajevo, as they shelled the city beneath them, they still regarded themselves as the eternal Serb victim; that's to say, the victim of the battle of Kosovo in 1389 when they lost to the Turks, the victims of 1941 to '45 when they were attacked genocidally by the Croats.

They could not see that this time around, in my view, at least, they had become the executioner. And talking to this Serbs who were selling Sarajevo when many of them still had members of their own family in the city -- but I don't think they could perceive of what they were doing in aggressive terms.

And one of the tragedies of the all-out Serb onslaught that began as soon as Bosnia became independent was that the those Serbs who had moderate views -- and there were hundreds of thousands of them who were living in cities like Tuzla and Sarajevo and elsewhere -- they were aggressively placed in an impossible position.

That is what the virus of nationalism does. They may have wanted to stay in Sarajevo, but they were being shelled by their fellow Serbs. And increasingly as the Moslems suffered, so their own national sense and even nationalism, became stronger. And they progressively found it more and more difficult to trust Serb neighbors. And so this very delicately-woven thread of Bosnian society, which he saw chiefly in cities like Mostar, Sarajevo, Tuzla, where really many religions and ethnic groups live together. Look, this wasn't paradise on Earth, let's not romanticized it, but these people were living together, they were intermarrying, and it was a functioning society. And that fell apart.

GROSS: Did you ever look through the Serb gunsites at the city of Sarajevo?

COHEN: I did, yeah.

GROSS: What did it look like from their -- from that point of view?

COHEN: Well, it -- the extraordinary thing is that Sarajevo lies in this kind of amphitheater surrounded by mountains. And, you know, it really was a question of taking off a target. It looks like just having -- I used once this line -- like a patient etherized on the table. Sarajevo was just laid out beneath the use -- beneath the gunners. It was -- it is extraordinary, the geographic position of Sarajevo, and that is what was evident in looking down from above, was the vulnerability. And Sarajevans felt stripped naked. The mountains which had been so attractive to Sarajevans -- that's where they went to ski, that's where they went on picnics on weekends -- they became a source of death. And this was clearly perceptible from above and from below.

GROSS: You know, you write about how it's easier to understand victims than to work out who's responsible for creating down. And your suspicious of either governments or reporters who just try to pull on heart strings with stories of victims. So I'm wondering how you handled that as a reporter, because on the one hand, I'm sure you -- I know that you told the stories of individuals in trying to kind of personalize the war and give its sense of specificity; on the other hand, you are very suspicious of just using victims to pull on people's heart strings.

COHEN: Well, I am. I didn't want to do that, and I really try to, I hoped, to understand the Serbs. Look, the Serbs had suffered greatly in their history; they'd been through five wars in this century; there were Serb "victims" of the war; there were hundreds of thousands of refugees. And I didn't want to use images that were too easy.

I tried in my reporting to certainly presents both sides. But I -- the war was defined in its initial six months, in which the Serbs had virtually all the weapons, went through Bosnia and cleared more than 70 percent of the territory, of all the Moslems living there; and these Moslems were processed through concentration camps.

I refused objectivity in Bosnia. I don't think that one could simply remain neutral. I think, as I have written, that the head in Bosnia meant little without the heart. I mean, you had to, I think, report with passion, not report in a wild or irresponsible way, obviously. But I did feel strongly that there were victims in Bosnia. The overwhelming number of victims were on the Muslim side. And it just served the purposes of Western governments in seeking to do nothing to say that there were bad people on all sides, that there were victims on all sides, that this tragedy had been going on for a thousand years, as Bill Clinton once said; and that you had a kind of undifferentiated Balkan mass of humanity who happened to live in this terrible part of the world where violence just sprung up from time to time and all you could really reasonably do was sit it out.

I did feel it was important to identify who the victims were, identify who the aggressors were, in general, and try to write that way.

One of the things that bothers me about humanitarianism, which, of course, is often the agreed response of governments these days, is that humanitarianism doesn't like to distinguish between butchers and victims. It likes inevitably to be able to work with all sides and so be able to deliver food and whatever to everyone now. Nobody, and I certainly wouldn't argue, that these people are not trying to do good, but I think that sometimes when you try to palliate a situation like the war in Bosnia, you end up prolonging it. And that in the end to have results that are very negative.

Today you see 32,000 NATO troops in Bosnia, including 8,000 American troops. And I think -- I suggest in "Hearts Grown Brutal" that they may have a hopeless mission, because this society is really been very much broken down.

GROSS: My guest is Roger Cohen. He reported for "The New York Times" on the war in Bosnia and has now written a book called "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo."

Which stories that you reported for the "Times" do you think had the biggest impact? Do you think you were able to tell that from where you were in Bosnia?

COHEN: Well, Terry, I think in the summer of 1995, when Sarajevo had already been under siege for three years and things were really kind of -- there was improvement in 1994 for a bit when the shuttling stopped and NATO did manage to stop the shelling for more than a year -- but then the situation just degenerated again. And I think I spoke to you at that time, Terry, and I'd kind of been bottled up in the city for quite a while, and I think I was certainly feeling emotional, and I was -- I think I was writing some stories that conveyed my own sort of deep sense of despair and anger about what was happening. The situation had just been allowed to go on for too long.

I wrote one story about a 20-year-old Sarajevan called Faruq -- Faruq Shabanovic (ph). He had been strolling down the street right outside the Holiday Inn where I would stay, along with most of the press, and a shell had fallen and he'd become a paraplegic. The strange thing was that when I met Faruq in the hospital two days after this, he was watching a video of the moment in which this happened. The war had become almost ritualized and TV crews would stand in particularly bad parts of the city and film what was depressingly known as "bang-bang footage" of what was going on.

As the result, this moment in which Faruq fell -- and there was a UN guy in the blue helmet there just paralyzed by his fear -- and he didn't go out and try and carry him off the streets. And then a Sarajevan passes by and gets the UN soldiers to move his armored vehicle a bit to cover him as he rushes out and retrieves Faruq. And Faruq, sitting there in this hospital bed, and I'm sitting there with him, and he was watching this moment in which his life and his body was kind of severed.

And I told the story of Faruq, who even then had an incredible, I thought, mental power; he was rising above his physical injury through his spiritual strength. And I remember him saying to me that whatever happens I know I'll be stronger, and I'm stronger in my mind than the Serb who shot me, and I'm stronger than this dirty world. And I finished the story with that quote, and I think that story got a huge number of letters about that.

And Faruq subsequently, true to his spirit that he'd shown right at the outset, well, he got out to America partly through the story to see if they could do anything about it here. A doctor examined him in New York, he couldn't do anything, in fact, for Faruq; he's still a paraplegic.

But he, I think, reinforced this -- this Faruq's readiness, preparedness to try to lead a normal life. And he now,-- he took part in the handicapped Olympics here in the United States recently. He's been at the forefront of leading the movement of cripples in Bosnia, and God knows there are many of them.

For example, I met him in '96 when the first ramp in the city for people in wheelchairs had just been put in outside the post office. He's become a very important figure in Bosnia, representing those who were crippled by the war. That was one story certainly that stuck in my mind and I think hit home.

GROSS: Would that be in the back of your mind when writing a story, like when you are writing about Faruq did you think: maybe this story will help him? -- or is that a kind of secondary impact that you don't even allow yourself to think about?

COHEN: I did think about it at some level, Terry, I did think about it. I wrote the story because I thought it was an important story. But at some level in Sarajevo, you know, there are people, I guess, who would argue that to help anyone would be to betray your reporters objectivity. I mean, I had an armored Land Rover, and when I could help somebody get out of the city I would do that. I stand by that decision. I mean, I think that in a situation like that, under siege, I mean, there were people who were just had had it basically, and I had certain privileges that enabled me to help them.

I was since -- I was there to be a journalist and report on the war for "The New York Times," but I was glad when, for example, I wrote a piece about the music school in Sarajevo, and that, too, had an enormous response. The music school had been shattered and many of its teachers and students killed. And then somebody called up from Chicago who proceeded to help them enormously by providing funds and musical instruments. I was pleased when that kind of thing happened.

GROSS: Roger Cohen. He covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times." His new book about the war is called "Hearts Grown Brutal." We'll talk more in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Roger Cohen.

He covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times." He says he found it soul-destroying to witness the private suffering of victims and the public hypocrisy of governments. The only way he could deal with that when the war was over was to set down what he had witnessed in a book. That book, "Hearts Grown Brutal," has just been published.

You talk about your way of emotionally getting through the experience. How did you deal with the emotional aspects of it while you were living through the war? Did you try to keep that pretty bottled up and under control?

COHEN: Well, I did, Terry, I think you have to. And shelling is an extraordinary random thing. At least if it's sniping, you feel if you're behind a wall, you're safe. But death in Sarajevo tended to come out of the clear blue sky with no warning. So I think at any level when you were out around that city you always had in the back of your mind that your life could be ended in a moment; and that is what happened to more than 10,000 Sarajevans. You'd send your child maybe out for a moment because things were quiets to, I don't know, by some milk or something, and the next thing that -- your child was dead.

My fears would come to me sometimes in the form of nightmares that were very, very vivid. And I would realize then the amount of fear that I was trying to keep down. I think I concluded during the war that I was neither brave or nor more of a coward than the majority of the people around me. I saw fear very clearly written in the eyes of many young soldiers; I saw it all around me.

And I think most of us operate on a fairly common level, in that respect. I think there are some real coward's; I mean, people who really cannot take danger, and kind of behave in a very craven way. And then there are a few heroes. And those heroes that there were in Bosnia -- and God knows there were many of them, I think, there, including members of the international community, of the UN, serving a very flawed mission, but individually behaving with great honor. I think those people contrasted very vividly with the model, the hypocritical approach that we often saw from, first to Bush, then the Clinton Administration and other Western governments.

But in answer to your question, yes, I did, I did feel fear, and I tried to deal with it as best I could. I felt it very important that I cover the war. And I think as a journalist, if you're not prepared to go around the next quarter, albeit using prudence, then maybe you should try something else. We have to go out and see and take the time to see and report what you see; that is the essence of what we do.

GROSS: Some of the stories are stories that you went in search of, some were ones that which were happening around you, others were stories you stumbled into. Tell us the story behind one of the stories that you stumbled into.

COHEN: Well, I had a friend there who would sometimes interpret for me and she told me about an actor that I might like to meet, a guy who'd been a well-known actor in Sarajevo before the war. And I didn't quite know what to expect, and I went to meet this man, his name was Namen Tulic (ph). And he had stepped out one day and a shell had come down and he'd lost both his legs. And when I met him he was sitting in a wheelchair, obviously without his legs. And he was a heavy drinker and he got very kind of drunk and angry during this conversation; he told me that he used to be carried out of bars, now he had to be carried in and out.


GROSS: Oh, gee.

COHEN: And, you know, it was a very dark and painful kind of interview. But he said something that made a big impression on me, which was that when it happens he wanted to die, he didn't want to go on living without his legs.

And as it happened when, he was in the hospital his wife -- who as it happened, Namen is Moslim, his wife is Serb -- and he said when it happened he also thought that he'd never be able to take his wife in his arms again. But, anyway, as it happened at the hospital his -- where he was, his wife was giving birth on the floor below, and did give birth at that time, more or less coincidental to Namen losing his legs, to a daughter.

But Namen, I think, for many days just did want to die. And then he told me that his father had come to see him and had said to him: Namen, you know, a child needs his father, even if he's just sitting in the corner. And this line, you know -- he was somewhat drunk -- but in that moment he just became very lucid and his eyes lit up, and I understood very much, you know, what he was talking about.

And then it turned out that he came back to the stage soon afterwards in a production of "Ubu the Tyrant King" (ph), Ionesco's character. And there were some lines in that play that were pretty extraordinary for Namen, you know. "We won't have destroyed anything -- everything into we've even destroyed the ruins" -- and this kind of grotesque scene. I just found Namen's -- this was one of so -- it was impossible when you're in a war, covering a war, I think people's emotions are just exposed in such a way, people's defenses are stripped away, everything is in the open.

As a reporter, I mean, any reporter worth his or her salt, you have to, you can't miss it, it just comes that you all the time. And that's -- I found that in Beirut when I was there in the '80s, and I found that in, certainly in Sarajevo in Bosnia and also in Croatia and Serbia. I mean, things are just stripped away. You go to see somebody and suddenly you're thrust into a whole world, as I was with Namen, and the story almost writes itself before your eyes.

GROSS: Unlike the people of Sarajevo, you as a reporter were able to do in and out of the city, and you would occasionally come out. And you write in your book what it was like, you know, when you were out of the war, you say you were in the airport, and you wrote how everything seemed to have the same weight in the information world -- a REM video clip, a pile of Tutsi bodies in Rwanda, a Coke ad, a woman gazing at her severed arm in Sarajevo -- all were part of an undifferentiated stream.

Would you talk about that a little bit, and also knowing that your writing was also probably going to be perceived in a way as part of that undifferentiated stream?

COHEN: I hope not. I -- well, I would come out -- one thing about Bosnia is it was very close to cities in Europe like Frankfurt or Paris where people were, you know, worrying about what cheese to buy and not that -- I think there's just such a flood of information today, Terry, that...

GROSS: So true.

COHEN: Zapping is -- zapping is, you know, as I think I, you know, awareness and awakening seems to be disconnected -- just sit there and flick and then one image comes and then another. And I think it's -- I think it's dangerous; I think we have to try and not succumb to -- I think it's been called "compassion fatigue," not succumb totally.

You have to realize that those images are, indeed, real people, and sometimes real people that one can do something to help or that governments can do something to help. It seems to me today that there is a flood and there is increasing conformity in what people cover. It tends to be kind of one-story at a time, you know, one enemy at a time. One minute it's Saddam then it's bin Laden. Now it's the Starr Report here. There seems to be an inability to weigh different issues at the same time. It's as if the sheer proliferation of different forms of media, by some strange process, leads to greater uniformity than existed before. Everyone's instantly aware of what the other is doing, and there's a tendency, perhaps, to copy that.

I'm a great admirer of reporting that involves, you know, going out on your own, that often involves spending time on something and finding stories that cut through that flood, hopefully, of undifferentiated images, and bring home some reality that is outside that and can touch people in some way. But I am very concerned about journalism today.

GROSS: My guest is "New York Times" reporter Roger Cohen. His new book about the war in Bosnia is called "Hearts Grown Brutal." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is "New York Times" reporter Roger Cohen. He covered the war in Bosnia for the "Times." His new book about the war is called "Hearts Grown Brutal."

Have you been back to Sarajevo since the war was over?

COHEN: Well, in the research of the book, Terry, I did go back. I went back in' 96 a few times, and it was a strange experience really, because, you know, inevitably I saw -- I saw the city at war. I saw the people I'd known, some of them were dead. I -- and you know, to me it was a city full of ghosts.

And I would walk, for example, outside the Holiday Inn, 150 yards away toward these red buildings where the Serbs was, where Sarajevo itself was divided; some districts were held by Karadzic's (ph) forces -- Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs.

And I would always drive at great -- there was one small section of road which involved riding straight towards these buildings and being exposed to fire. And I would hurdle down that and then out into what was called "snipers alley." And it was very hard from me just to walk down that street and actually walk over -- the Serbs had all left at this point; Karadzic, after Dayton, had forced them just to abandon Sarajevo. And I knew there were no gunners in that building anymore. I mean, it wasn't my rational mind at work. It was something from the past. And it was very hard for me just to walk slowly towards that building. I felt I was walking into the sights of the gun.

And to see then the soldiers -- by then NATO had arrived. The strange thing about the war in Bosnia was that you had people in white, the UN in their blue helmets and white-painted vehicles -- there while the war was going on. It was only when the war ended that the boys in green arrived. So then, you know, there were American troops and other troops, namely French in Sarajevo, actually. But some of these troops were going around taking souvenir photos of the destroyed buildings.

It's hard to remember, you know, it's -- things, again, we get back to the zapping, you know things, memories, it's hard to hang on to these days, things move very fast. And it was an eerie experience for me in some ways. And sort of a sad one. Although I saw that the city was coming back to life, cafes reopening. It was hard.

GROSS: So you were in the position now of reading about what's happening in Bosnia in the newspaper. How carefully do you follow it?

COHEN: I follow it reasonably carefully. I reached -- I felt a kind of exhaustion after the Balkan -- in exhaustion in -- I felt like I done what I wanted to do. The writing of the book was more painful and took longer than I'd expected. I did reach a kind of exhaustion with the subject, and I found that I wasn't following it as closely as I might have imagined, even with Kosovo, which is directly linked to Bosnia and directly linked to our rehabilitation of Milosevic, who's still there in Belgrade. And now you have 300,000 Albanian refugees out in the woods and so on with winter coming along.

I follow -- I follow these stories, I'd say I know reasonably well what's going on, but I feel no desire whatsoever to go back there at the moment. I would like to go back, perhaps in a couple of years time. But I need to let this just kind of sink down in me for the time being.

GROSS: You've been in Paris. Now you're on a trip to the United States for the publication of your new book "Hearts Grown Brutal." I'm wondering how the Starr Report -- how has the French press been treating this story?

COHEN: Well, you know, Terry, Mitterrand, the former president, not only did he have a mistress, he had a child by her, and this was not something that bothered the French.

I think -- it reminds me sometimes of actually trying to explain Bosnia to the world. You know, you go through it sort of five, six, eight times and still somebody would come back and say: but who were the Croat's and who were the Serbs? Can you just explain that once more? I think the French with Starr, with the investigation, the president, Monica, the explicit detail in which all this has been poured over, I've tried several times to, you know, explain the mechanics of how Starr went from Whitewater real estate to sex in the Oval Office, or just outside the Oval Office.

But you know, they don't get it. I mean, the French view is very strongly that a person's sex life, even a politician's sex life, is basically his or her own business. And unless there's evidence that Monica was working for a foreign government or that Clinton was talking to her about things he shouldn't have been talking about or -- in other words, that affairs of state really came into this, the French view that a person's sex life is private business is very -- it's fraying a bit, but it's still basically, I think, very strongly heard. It's not felt, it's not a -- so it's a mystery, I would say, not only to the French, but also to several European governments.

There's titillation over it, there are jokes over it, there are many headlines about it. But I think people see America kind of tying itself in knots over what to them is a somewhat bizarre national obsession.

GROSS: Roger Cohen, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

COHEN: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Roger Cohen covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times." His new book about the war is called "Hearts Grown Brutal." This week he begins a new position as the "Times" Berlin bureau chief.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Roger Cohen
High: "The New York Times'" Roger Cohen reported from Bosnia during the war there. His new book "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo" is about covering the war, and the families divided by the conflict.
Spec: Violence; Bosnia; Roger Cohen; War; Serbia; "Hearts Grown Brutal"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Journalist Roger Cohen

Date: SEPTEMBER 16, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 091602NP.217
Head: In Remembrance of Johnny Adams
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: We lost a wonderful center on Monday, Johnny Adams. He died of cancer at the age of 67. In an obituary in today's "New York Times," Peter Wattrus (ph) described him as the last of the great blues and ballad singers.

Early in his career, Adams sang gospel music and recorded several regional R&B hits. He was best known in the '50s for his hit "I Won't Cry." An important part of his legacy is a series of recordings he may in the '80s and '90s for the Rounder label. They were theme records dedicated to songwriters Percy Mayfield and Doc Pomus, and more eclectic recordings that showed off his gift for singing jazz ballads, as well as rhythm and blues.

Just before Adams died, Rounder released a new album called "Man of My Word." Let's hear a song from it.


You never knew how it would feel
To be left alone

Now you know
Now you know
Now you know
Now that you're on your own

You broke my heart
Now someone else
Has thrown your love in the sea

Now you know
Now you know
Now you know

What you did to me
While you're drying those tear drops
Praying your heart will heal

The other way it used to be with me
When your love was real

GROWS: Johnny Adams was from New Orleans. I spoke with him in 1992 and asked him first about his early days singing in gospel quartets. I wanted to know what part he sang.


ADAMS: I was singing every part but bass. (unintelligible) to baritones and leads, you know.

GROSS: As someone who wasn't a church-going person yourself, how did you feel about singing gospel music?

ADAMS: Well, during that time I did join a church. It wasn't a thing that I thought I was going to sang gospel songs that I needed to belong to church; it was that I felt these things in my hearts, you know, what any good Christian would feel. You've got to have this in your heart, have this in your soul, it's got to be in your heart. You have to believe, I guess.

And so I eventually joined church, baptized and joined church, and it wasn't, it wasn't a play thing, but like I said, when I started singing in the church I could feel the Holy Spirit before I start singing, as soon as I get into church, you know.

GROSS: When you stop singing gospel music, did you stay with the church?

ADAMS: A little while. Then I thought to myself: if I'm going to do rhythm and blues or whatever that I'd only be fooling myself about doing rhythm and blues Friday or Saturday and go to church on Sundays and do gospel because that's a no-no to me. I don't and still don't believe in that. You have to do one or the other because you can't serve two. You can go to church naturally and be the thankful for your blessings and give thanks for your blessings or whatever, but to -- even if I was musician, you know, to play in the church today and have to go out that same night and play in some club.

And I'd always think I was doing something wrong, feel like I was doing something wrong. So I tried to do it right and stick to what I was doing and still be grateful, you know, still ask for my blessings.

GROSS: Why did you leave gospel and turn to rhythm and blues? How did that happen?

ADAMS: Well, I guess at the time you become curious, you know, about certain things, and you want to find out what's on the other side. But in, you know, with the first long I recorded, I was more curious than anything else. And when I recorded "I Won't Cry" it became, you know, an instant hit, not because I was a gospel singer, because of the song itself, I guess. And, I don't know, I've been going ever since.

GROSS: Where you offered that song or did you asked for that song?

ADAMS: Yes. I used to lives in an apartment house along with Doris Labostry (ph). She used to write songs for Little Richard awhile back, you know, like "Tutti Frutti" and a couple of other songs. And she would ask me all the time about doing a song for her, you know, and I would tell her: no, I'm not interested, because I'm singing quartet and stuff like this.

So I guess out of, I don't know, college frustration or whatever, during the time, you know, the gospel era with me, to say: well, nothing's happening anyway, so just as well -- I just as well try this and see what happens. So I thought to myself: why not, you know?

So finally I did it. She asked me about a year to do that, but I made up my mind with this on Rampart Street, and this is where Joe Rapino (ph) had his little studio at the time. And we got together with Dr. John and Edgar Blanchard and his gondoliers during that time and recorded "I Won't Cry, I Won't Shed a Tear."

GROSS: It's funny that you and Dr. John go back that far.

ADAMS: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: For listeners who don't remember the song, could I ask you to sing a couple of lines of it?


Darling I found out a long time ago
You found someone else
You don't need me anymore

But I'll keep on loving you
Just the same
I won't cry and I won't shed a tear
I'll keep on loving you year after year

Even though you left me
Oh, I, oh, I won't cry

GROSS: That sounds wonderful.

ADAMS: Oh, yeah.


GROSS: Johnny Adams, you have a favorite from your new Doc Pomus album?

ADAMS: Yes. I like "One More Time," it's a beautiful song. Very pretty song. I like the meaning of the song, in other words. It's a very beautiful story. You know, it talks about whatever you plan to do on Monday, doesn't work out, don't give it up, give it till Tuesday, it's always better. There's one more time, give yourself another chance to think it over. That's the part I like, you know, the meeting I like in the song, it's a beautiful song. One more time.


Is your whole life somehow wasn't much till now
And you almost lost your will to live
No matter what you've been through
Long as there is breath in you
There is always one more time

And if your dreams go bad
Everyone that you've had
That don't mean some dreams
Can't come true

GROSS: Johnny Adams. He died Monday of cancer at the age of 67. Our interview was recorded in 1992.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Johnny Adams
High: Legendary rhythm and blues singer Johnny Adams. Adams died Monday at the age of 67. We present a rebroadcast of an interview with Adams that took place in December of 1992.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Johnny Adams

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: In Remembrance of Johnny Adams
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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