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A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide Paperback – September 18, 2007
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Power, a former journalist for U.S. News and World Report and the Economist and now the executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, offers an uncompromising and disturbing examination of 20th-century acts of genocide and U.S responses to them. In clean, unadorned prose, Power revisits the Turkish genocide directed at Armenians in 1915-1916, the Holocaust, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Iraqi attacks on Kurdish populations, Rwanda, and Bosnian "ethnic cleansing," and in doing so, argues that U.S. intervention has been shamefully inadequate. The emotional force of Power's argument is carried by moving, sometimes almost unbearable stories of the victims and survivors of such brutality. Her analysis of U.S. politics what she casts as the State Department's unwritten rule that nonaction is better than action with a PR backlash; the Pentagon's unwillingness to see a moral imperative; an isolationist right; a suspicious left and a population unconcerned with distant nations aims to show how ingrained inertia is, even as she argues that the U.S. must reevaluate the principles it applies to foreign policy choices. In the face of firsthand accounts of genocide, invocations of geopolitical considerations and studied and repeated refusals to accept the reality of genocidal campaigns simply fail to convince, she insists. But Power also sees signs that the fight against genocide has made progress. Prominent among those who made a difference are Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who invented the word genocide and who lobbied the U.N. to make genocide the subject of an international treaty, and Senator William Proxmire, who for 19 years spoke every day on the floor of the U.S. Senate to urge the U.S. to ratify the U.N. treaty inspired by Lemkin's work. This is a well-researched and powerful study that is both a history and a call to action. Photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Books such as this one are deeply important - possibly reflecting the last gasps of a dying liberal culture. Or perhaps not, if many people read this - and this book will open their eyes, how could it not? - then all hope for a change for the better might not be lost. Warmly recommended.
I felt the book suffered from a stylistic identity crisis. Her prose is well-written and not overly erudite or esoteric, but her narrative is lost in her attempt to codify her ideas into cogent blocs. For instance, the use of sub-heading and repeat sectioning didn't work for the flow and continuity of the book. It DID organize her thoughts, but it really destroyed the smoothness of the narrative. There was also entirely too much behind-the-scenes minutiae. It felt like I picked up a book about a detailed account of each occurrence of genocide, rather than an overview discussing the larger issues. The book was just too long. Much of that detail could have been removed, and the reading experience would have been much more enjoyable. The substance should have been geared toward a substantive analysis. That brings me to the larger problem with this book.
The conclusion - while very good and intuitively convincing - is the only bit of true analysis in the book. I really think Powers dropped the ball here and missed an important opportunity. During each "section" she should have evaluated the "noninterventionist" criticisms - many of them legitimate - and made an attempt to answer them. There is no real philosophy in the book. She simply assumes, by way of large swathes of facts, that we should get it together and do something. Powers does not spend nearly enough time developing arguments for criticisms, and she misses the opportunity to develop a practical layout to "stop" the genocide. She just concludes that we should do so. Practically and philosophically she could have done more with the book.
Those things being said, the book is factually remarkable and well notated. She writes well (bar the larger stylistic criticism). It is a very important book to read, and everyone should add it to their book collection.
While I'm still at only 22% of the way through this book, I am very confident in sharing that Ms. Powers has done a fabulous job of discussing this very real problem, and in a very apolitical way. At this point, she has led me through the pre-WW1 Turk/Armenian genocide, through the holocaust, and into the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia, and in a very methodical thoughtful way, and includes the efforts and difficulties in the original United Nations efforts to condemn it..
This is a somewhat ponderous read for a layperson, but anyone that is willing to invest the time and energy in doing so will come away with a much more comprehensive understanding of genocide and the difficulties with both recognizing it while it's occurring and responding to it. It also, indirectly, warns us of giving in to the hysteria of condemning any group; after all, such hysteria is one of the elements that can lead to genocide.