Genocide: “Never Again” Too Often Is Ever Again

While the practice of genocide is centuries old, the term genocide is fairly new to the English language. Derived from the Latin cide, which means killing and the Greek work for people (genos) it was described brought to the world’s attention during the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials by French Prosecutor Champetier de Ribes.

“This [was] a crime so monstrous, so undreamt of in history throughout the Christian era up to the birth of Hitlerism, that the term ‘genocide’ has had to be coined to define it.” Genocide differed from ordinary conflict because, while surrender in war normally stopped the killing, surrender in the face of genocide only expedited it. It was — and remains — agreed that the systematic, large-scale massacre of innocents, stands atop any “hierarchy of horribles,” he said.

The world responded to the horrors of the Nazi regime by pledging, “Never Again.” But that pledge has, too often, been left unfulfilled.

“There are far too many places in the world where people are still being singled out for death on a grand scale simply because they belong to the wrong group,” writes Foreign Policy’s Christian Caryl in an article seeking to answer the question of why the cycle of mass killing continues.

He cites Ugur Ungor, a scholar at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who says, “We have a pretty good understanding of how it starts and how it ends. But this increasingly sophisticated understanding hasn’t led to a safer world, one where we can prevent the escalation of violence.”

It is hard to maintain the full force of the international community is marshaled against perpetrators of genocide when world leaders accept the fact Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is reelected with more than 90 percent of the vote despite the fact a warrant exists for his role in the massacre of his own people.

Or when the world’s leader provides ineffective leadership in heading off potential genocidal regimes.

Early warning systems are one potential solution. Two years ago the Obama Administration set up something called “the Atrocities Prevention Board,” which is designed to coordinate U.S. policies when mass slaughter appears to be in the offing. Yet so far the body doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference – certainly not as far as the continuing scandal of Syria is concerned,” Caryl notes.

Even the Obama administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, recognizes how little the United States has done since the Holocaust to defend the basic human rights of those facing death.

“Since the Holocaust, the United States has intervened militarily for a panoply of purposes — securing foreign ports, removing unpalatable dictators, combating evil ideology, protecting American oil interests, etc. — all of which provoke extreme moral and legal controversy,” she writes.

“Yet, despite an impressive postwar surge in moral resolve, the United States has never intervened to stop the one overseas occurrence that all agree is wrong, and that most agree demands forceful measures. Irrespective of the political affiliation of the President at the time, the major genocides of the post-war era — Cambodia (Carter), northern Iraq (Reagan, Bush), Bosnia (Bush, Clinton) and Rwanda (Clinton) — have yielded virtually no American action and few stern words,” Power adds in a piece for PBS’ Frontline.

Genocide also remains a potently political issue, as was demonstrated by President Barack Obama’s refusal to call the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians that began in 1915 as a “genocide,” opting for the term “atrocity.” The decision stemmed from a desire not to anger Turkey, which objects to the term and has longstanding differences with the Armenians.

Marshaling support among the American people to intervene militarily when the threat is not as direct as an invading army is a huge obstacle and without U.S. leadership, sadly, never again may never be realized.

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