A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

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Review – “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide

Deep journalism and sledgehammer history. If you want to see America's lack of response over and over and over again to genocide across the globe, read this one.

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It's not easy to read because it's not a pretty picture. This book is not for the faint-at-heart. And it's best read when one has the stomach for human tragedy. That said, this is one of the most important books I've read in a very long time.

by Samantha Power (Basic; $30)

Power painstakingly draws on primary and secondary sources to document genocide against Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Kurds, Rwandans and Bosnians over the last century, and holds to verbal account those in the White House and Pentagon who stood idly by. Her clear call to action is for the US, as the world's foremost power, to change its habits and, if necessary, to use military might to prevent future genocide.

Should we take this sincere prescription for action at face value? Certainly, it is a fierce and comprehensively-made case. Yet, Power's book was published just before the dirty, deadly debacle of Iraq, where US military intervention has triggered loss of life on a dreadful scale.

She did not, but we have that terrible hindsight indeed, quite a few of us took to the streets with that foresight , when considering the implications of such a contemporary course of armed action. For instance, Prof William Schabas, head of the Irish Centre for Human Rights and something of an expert on international justice, is one commentator who thinks that the debate on genocide prevention would benefit greatly from less sabre-rattling.

Sending the US army to prevent genocide seems like killing the patient to cure the illness. The jury is still out on Obama's thinking about such matters.

"A Problem From Hell": America and the Age of Genocide

It would be great to think that he will face no greater 'genocide test' than that presented by Armenian history books verdict: fail. Whether or not President Obama will heed the advice of Waterford-born Power remains a matter to be judged by history. And whatever one's view on the merits or otherwise of American military intervention in times of extreme international crisis, this book must now be viewed as an essential work.

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We can never forget past genocides and we must always be willing to learn the lessons they teach from the mass-grave. In short, Power's work is a master-class of history, law and politics and is a required read for anyone concerned with the prevention of grave human rights abuse. A company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales and a charity registered in England and Wales and Scotland SC Amnesty International United Kingdom Section.

A company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales Amnesty International UK.

“A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide

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