Reading Journal Entry: "A Problem From Hell": America in the Age of Genocide, by Samantha Power

This book now has a place on the list of 10 most important books I've ever read. Thorough, well-research, and, well, great cover art.

Power systematically examines the American response to genocide from the Armenian genocide, through the Holocaust, to Cambodia, Rwanda, and events in the former Yugoslavia. Power first describes the course of events leading to violence, then describes the American and international response to each occurrence. That response has been typified by indifference and reluctance to intervene. What shocked me wasn't the lack of US interest in intervening militarily; it was US reluctance to acknowledge that anything was happening or to use even the most basic diplomatic or economic measures to condemn atrocity. There are heros here, starting with Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word genocide and lobbied untiringly for the Genocide Convention (not ratified by the US unitl 1988). But there are more scoundrels than heros. It's wrenching to read the horrific accounts of survivors and refugees, and the stories of frustration from mid-level officials, and realize that so little was done. When the US and other Western countries issued statements condemning genocidal regimes, Power shows that this DID make a difference. Sanctions made a difference against Iraq. Thousands of lives, probably hundreds of thousands, have been saved by diplomatic means alone.

It's frightening to realize that genocidal atrocities have been occurring more and more frequently. 30 years passed between the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. Another 30 years passed between the end of WWII and Cambodia. Then Rwanda, Bosnia, Srebrenica, Kosovo, and now Darfur.

That's right, a genocide is occurring right now and as far as I can tell, the US isn't doing anything to stop it. Again. Government-funded militias are ravaging the black population of southern Sudan. The estimates for deaths are in the hundreds of thousands, with over 2 million displaced fleeing the country.

The following article from The New York Times details the events:

Power makes it clear that the only thing that has spurred US government officials to act is the pressure of public opinion. She even quotes an official as telling a human rights group 'the phones aren't ringing'. So I'm going to do something today, and I'm asking you to do the same thing. I'm going to call my representative and ask him to condemn the genocide in Darfur.

If you don't know who your representative is, you can find out at this website:

Then call 202-244-3121.

I'm also going to write letters (letters, not emails) to my representative, my senators, and President Bush.

Please make the phones ring. Individuals can make a difference. Please call and let our government know we don't want to stand by and let genocide happen. Please let them know we want 'never again' to mean something.


Richard Mason said...

So what are the other nine books?


mapletree7 said...

I'll be damned if I know. But the People's Almanac is probably in there.

mapletree7 said...


#2 is Guns, Germs and Steel.


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