A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

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9780465061501: A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
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About this book:In 1993, as a 23-year-old correspondent covering the wars in the Balkans, I was initially comforted by the roar of NATO planes flying overhead. President Clinton and other western leaders had sent the planes to monitor the Bosnian war, which had killed almost 200,000 civilians. But it soon became clear that NATO was unwilling to target those engaged in brutal "ethnic cleansing." American statesmen described Bosnia as "a problem from hell," and for three and a half years refused to invest the diplomatic and military capital needed to stop the murder of innocents. In Rwanda, around the same time, some 800,000 Tutsi and opposition Hutu were exterminated in the swiftest killing spree of the twentieth century. Again, the United States failed to intervene. This time U.S. policy-makers avoided labeling events "genocide" and spearheaded the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers stationed in Rwanda who might have stopped the massacres underway. Whatever America's commitment to Holocaust remembrance (embodied in the presence of the Holocaust Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C.), the United States has never intervened to stop genocide. This book is an effort to understand why. While the history of America's response to genocide is not an uplifting one, "A Problem from Hell" tells the stories of countless Americans who took seriously the slogan of "never again" and tried to secure American intervention. Only by understanding the reasons for their small successes and colossal failures can we understand what we as a country, and we as citizens, could have done to stop the most savage crimes of the last century.-Samantha Power

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During the three years (1993-1996) Samantha Power spent covering the grisly events in Bosnia and Srebrenica, she became increasingly frustrated with how little the United States was willing to do to counteract the genocide occurring there. After much research, she discovered a pattern: "The United States had never in its history intervened to stop genocide and had in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred," she writes in this impressive book. Debunking the notion that U.S. leaders were unaware of the horrors as they were occurring against Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Iraqi Kurds, Rwandan Tutsis, and Bosnians during the past century, Power discusses how much was known and when, and argues that much human suffering could have been alleviated through a greater effort by the U.S. She does not claim that the U.S. alone could have prevented such horrors, but does make a convincing case that even a modest effort would have had significant impact. Based on declassified information, private papers, and interviews with more than 300 American policymakers, Power makes it clear that a lack of political will was the most significant factor for this failure to intervene. Some courageous U.S. leaders did work to combat and call attention to ethnic cleansing as it occurred, but the vast majority of politicians and diplomats ignored the issue, as did the American public, leading Power to note that "no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on." This powerful book is a call to make such indifference a thing of the past. --Shawn Carkonen

About the Author:

Samantha Power is the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. From 1993 to 1996 she covered the wars in the former Yugoslavia as a reporter for U.S. News and World Report and The Economist. In 1996 she worked for the International Crisis Group (ICG) as a political analyst, helping launch the organization in Bosnia. She is a frequent contributor to The New Republic and is the editor, with Graham Allison, of Realizing Human Rights: Moving from Inspiration to Impact. A native of Ireland, she moved to the United States in 1979 at the age of nine, and graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School. She lives in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

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