Monday, July 18, 2005

Book Review "A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide" by Samantha Power

Published in 2003 this book has long been on my reading list. Unfortunately my extensive "to read" list currently has a waiting period of 3-5 years before I get around to even priority books. However, I finally got around to reading this book and it is truly a powerful book.

The most disturbing parts of the book, for me, was the inordinate amount of time it took for the US to even ratify the Genocide Convention. I checked Australia's own record on this as I was concerned that our deference to follow US lead may have made us equally shocking but thanks to Dr. Evatt Australia was among the very first, if not The first nation to ratify. Although what that has meant to Australia since ratification, I don't know.

The other most disturbing part, for me, was US reaction to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the Cold War. Although, I guess that my shock lies not in how US handled it, but in my own ignorance of the facts. Indeed for the Iraq, Rwanda and Bosnia, Sbrencia and Kosovo stories I was less shocked because I already knew the story. However, my shock over Cambodia quickly condensed into dissatisfaction, bordering on anger, as to my high school history education which blatantly has failed to educate me.

Ms. Powers, whose bias is obvious in the book, outlines a clear argument against US apathy in its approach to genocide. She favours a more activist involvement in the future. Indeed, her name was listed at the Holocaust Museum in DC, which I visited on Saturday as having been recently to interview refugees in Darfur, Sudan to ascertain whether or not genocide was occurring. If there was any weakness in her argument it came during the Bosnia argument. In some cases she argued that a mere credible word from US would deter genocide but in Kosovo it was noted that even bombing was not credible enough in the first few days to be credible enough to deter. Although, it can be argued that the erosion of credibility through previous lack of action made even the bombing initially seem hollow.

The complexity of the issue, in my mind, lies in the almost paradoxical idea that to prevent/stop genocide countries must use military force; ie: killing can only be stopped by killing - the crux of the matter lies in the "intent" of the killing.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui