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Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals

Bass, Gary Jonathan

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ISBN 10: 069104922X / ISBN 13: 9780691049229
Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2000
Condition: Very good Hardcover
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ix, 402 p. Map. Notes. Index. This is one of the Princeton Studies in International History and Politics series. A professor of politics offers an unprecedented look at the politics behind international war crimes tribunals, combining analysis with investigative reporting and a broad historical perspective. This timely book uses primary documents to examine the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, the Armenian genocide, World War II, and the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia. Bookseller Inventory # 60822

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of ...

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Very good

Dust Jacket Condition: very good

Edition: First edition. First printing [stated].

About this title


International justice has become a crucial part of the ongoing political debates about the future of shattered societies like Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Chile. Why do our governments sometimes display such striking idealism in the face of war crimes and atrocities abroad, and at other times cynically abandon the pursuit of international justice altogether? Why today does justice seem so slow to come for war crimes victims in the Balkans? In this book, Gary Bass offers an unprecedented look at the politics behind international war crimes tribunals, combining analysis with investigative reporting and a broad historical perspective. The Nuremberg trials powerfully demonstrated how effective war crimes tribunals can be. But there have been many other important tribunals that have not been as successful, and which have been largely left out of today's debates about international justice. This timely book brings them in, using primary documents to examine the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, the Armenian genocide, World War II, and the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Bass explains that bringing war criminals to justice can be a military ordeal, a source of endless legal frustration, as well as a diplomatic nightmare. The book takes readers behind the scenes to see vividly how leaders like David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton have wrestled with these agonizing moral dilemmas. The book asks how law and international politics interact, and how power can be made to serve the cause of justice.

Bass brings new archival research to bear on such events as the prosecution of the Armenian genocide, presenting surprising episodes that add to the historical record. His sections on the former Yugoslavia tell--with important new discoveries--the secret story of the politicking behind the prosecution of war crimes in Bosnia, drawing on interviews with senior White House officials, key diplomats, and chief prosecutors at the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Bass concludes that despite the obstacles, legalistic justice for war criminals is nonetheless worth pursuing. His arguments will interest anyone concerned about human rights and the pursuit of idealism in international politics.


Gary Jonathan Bass, of Princeton University, offers a vigorous, liberal endorsement of war-crimes trials at a time when they're coming under close scrutiny in the aftermath of Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. This book--Bass's first--takes its title from U.S. prosecutor Robert Jackson's opening statement at the Nuremberg trials, following World War II: "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason." Nuremberg is, of course, widely regarded as a glowing success; other war-crimes tribunals fall far short of its mark. A strength of this book is Bass's willingness to deal with these realities. His defense of war-crimes trials doesn't rest on head-in-the-sky notions about international justice. He argues, simply, that they're in the interest of democratic, peace-loving nations: "It is not that these complicated and often muddled trials are too noble to question; it is that the other options could be worse."

For an advocate, Bass is refreshingly honest: "Do war crimes tribunals work? The only serious answer is: compared to what? No, war crimes trials do not work particularly well. But they have clear potential to work, and to work much better than anything else diplomats have come up with at the end of a war." Apathy and vengeance, which Bass considers the two alternatives to tribunals, are both worth avoiding, he says. The bulk of Stay the Hand of Vengeance focuses on how nations dealt with war crimes following the Napoleonic era, World War I, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the crumbling of Yugoslavia, and several other episodes. Bass, who was a journalist before becoming an academic, writes with great clarity and knows how to combine anecdote with argument to make his point. For those interested in the international prosecution of war crimes from both historical and contemporary perspectives, this is required reading. --John J. Miller

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