"Give War a Chance" is the story of two American leaders whose lives and
experiences reflect the Vietnam generation's conflicting views about the use of
America's military might. It is the story of Richard Holbrooke, U.N.
Ambassador-nominee, architect of the 1995 Bosnian peace accords, and ret.
Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith, a Vietnam war hero who became NATO's
commander in Bosnia and whose mission was to enforce the Bosnia peace. Each
man spent his formative years in Vietnam, but--some thirty years later--the
Balkans crisis brought them into direct conflict over the role and
responsibilities of today's military in securing and maintaining global
"Dick Holbrooke represents the new idea of America's place in the world, a kind
of moral imperialism, a forceful projection of American ideals in places where
U.S. strategic interests are not necessarily apparent," says FRONTLINE
correspondent Peter J. Boyer. "Snuffy Smith is a battle-tested warrior, loyal
to his life-experiences and ever-mindful of the limits and risks of military
Through incisive interviews with Holbrooke and National Security Council
staffer Ivo Daalder, FRONTLINE examines how the Clinton
Administration, composed largely of Vietnam-era doves, came to embrace the
concept of muscular diplomacy in the Balkans--bombs for peace --overcoming a
cautious military leadership rooted in the experience of American military
interventions over the past thirty years.
Along with military decision makers such as General Colin Powell, Admiral
Smith joined in developing a new military doctrine on the use of force that was designed to acknowledge U.S. preeminence in the world but would
avoid Vietnam-like entanglements and draw on the hard lessons of Beirut,
Kuwait and Somalia.
However, as "Give War a Chance" chronicles, the careers and world views of
Admiral Smith and diplomat Holbrooke collided in the Balkans where Holbrooke
came to believe that only NATO/U.S. military intervention could stop the
slaughter, force Serbian leader Milosevic to negotiate, and help rebuild the
country into a multi-ethnic society.
In developing and delineating the military's responsibilities in Bosnia,
Holbrooke explains, "I was a maximalist. I wanted the NATO force to do as much
But Admiral Smith was reluctant to undertake certain military tasks without
adequate force and a clear definition of the military's mission. Holbrooke has
charged that Admiral Smith resisted demands that NATO forces arrest Serbian war
criminals. The dispute ended in 1996 when Smith was relieved of his Bosnian
Since then, the military has assumed a broader mission in the Balkans, taking
on more tasks in Bosnia and bombing for peace in Kosovo, again hoping to bring
Milosevic to the negotiating table. Richard Holbrooke's maximalism, for the
time being, has won the day.
smith & holbrooke +
uses of military force +
nation building +
lessons of vietnam
tapes & transcripts
pbs online +
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation