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A Problem From Hell

A Problem From Hell

Indifference can be just as deadly as direct violence.” Samantha Power, A Problem From Hell

Raphael Lemkin came up with the word ‘genocide’, he needed a handle for the savagery of mass murder that was occurring in the 1940s and the years before. Unfortunately since Lemkin came up with the word, genocides have continued. In her book, “A Problem from Hell – America and the Age of Genocide”, Samantha Power addresses some of the great crimes against humanity that have occurred over the past century. It was once a crime without a name, a savage act of ‘barbarity’ that defied the nature of a civilised society, yet many civil societies made it possible. Once Lemkin invented the word to help prosecute the Nazi’s it has become synonymous with the intentional mass murder of the innocent, a crime that Power argues should be stopped and deterred. Lemkin features in Powers book and his efforts to prevent genocide from happening again. Something that Power in her book hopes of doing herself.

The Nigerian governments war against the Igbo in the brief period that saw the existence of Biafra, was a conflict of mass murder, a genocide. Three to four million it is estimated were killed. Though the US and the Western Powers supported the Nigerian government, pragmatism steered such support. The Bangladeshi genocide leading to perhaps three million dead, though anywhere from 300 to 500 thousand have been more accurately estimated, was also enabled by the US. The Nixon administrations complicity ranges from a reluctance to condemn the murderers due to Cold War politicking, while encouraging shipments of arms that were used in the mass killing in Bangladesh. Declassified documents have since revealed that the Nixon administration was well aware of the genocide taking place. Power uses such examples to shame the US government in not merely ignoring genocide but enabling it, making it sustainable for the killers to continue it. She pulls no punches in her criticisms of the US government and its relationship in past genocides.

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.” Samantha Power, A Problem From Hell

It seems that history tends to repeat or rhyme, a recently released White House cables shows an accurate assessment of how many civilians have been killed by the Israeli government in Gaza. Such awareness has not stopped the US from supporting and supplying the Israeli government. The very administration that Power serves continues to publicly downplay the extent of Israeli atrocities, while openly supporting them with arms and munitions that is crucial for such mass murder. “…thousands and thousands of innocent women and children (have been killed)”, the White House transcript regarding the Israeli onslaught on Gaza states.

You wrote a book on genocide and you’re still working for the administration: You should resign and speak out.Agnieszka Sykes, of USAID to her boss Samantha Power

Sykes criticism of Power is in the spirit of what can be found in, ‘A Problem from Hell.’ The erosion of claimed principles beneath the expedience of politics and self serving careerism, the pragmatism of a professional, has removed any dignity from Power that her earlier efforts as an authour and journalist had granted her. It is unlikely that she will resign or speak up against the Israeli government. Israel is a close friend of the USA. As Power points out in her book, allies of the US have a tendency of getting away with murder.

The conclusions one can draw from Power’s book is that government in its most perfect form can potentially be a force for good, a champion of human rights and a shield against genocide. The naive assertion is seductive which likely leads many to enter civil service and fields where the government can be, in theory, directed into such a manner. In reality, it’s complicated. Outside of the most obvious blowback and imperfect nature of using a sledgehammer in place of a scalpel is the political deviancy of many who are attracted to the perks of government. It is not just the corruption but the politicking that is crucial to ensure and instil power, the satisfaction of friends and allies while demonising the enemy. When Power wrote her book, she most likely did so with the true belief of a benevolent government that could act with virtue, instead she has gone on to become the very political animal that tolerates genocide.

It would be a cliché to say that power corrupts, perhaps it is more apt to realise that government itself infects. Even if the intentions of a policy and those therein are well meaning, the nature of the monopoly, its incompetence, its embrace of the worse type of parasite and its foundation on coercion breeds a culture that pollutes and ruins even the most angelic of hearts. Cynicism or apathy at best the outcome or those who commenced their crusade with a virtuous heart end up becoming the very evil that in their youth they despised. Power has worked alongside killers, her book and status as an anti-genocide voice has granted them credibility.

Though Power’s book has the ability to inspire a libertarian, communist, liberal or conservative should they read about the examples cited of government and tribal mass murder, it is in the ideology of the reader that steers their conclusion. It is not just that the US government can be used to intervene militarily, but economically by removing the access to finances or through embargoes. But also simply addressing the elephant in the room, genocide itself, calling the policies of ‘allies’ and ‘friends’ what it is, MURDER! Shaming them and attracting widespread condemnation is a powerful tool that a president and elites can utilise, yet as the examples cited in her book, it tends to be avoided.

Power’s expresses in her book a belief that the US should and could be used for good. This naive and purist belief has permeated many imperial foreign policies over the years, especially in conjunction with American exceptionalism. The horrors of the twentieth century combined with the might of the US government has ensured that true believers will emerge with the ideal that the most powerful force on the planet can be used to do good, despite any past or present misgivings. Power may have lost sight of such ambition, there is no shortage of those younger who have yet to delve into a similar pragmatic path of inevitable compromise or acceptance of the world and government for what it is. That is the tragic story of Samantha Power.

Inaction to respond to evil, Power reminds the reader, helps to grow evil. The genocide in Rwanda is an example of passive voyeurism that Power uses as an example, a moment in history that could have been prevented had the US been proactive. The emotional and human plea for the reader to reflect upon is in the awareness that terrible people will do horrible things, so it’s important to exercise power to protect the innocent. This notion is appealing to the heart of anyone with compassion and sympathy for the victims. It is also at risk of exploiting those feelings and human understanding that give bad actors from within the US government an excuse to exercise a cynical foreign policy under the guise of such human dignity. Every pariah leader becoming Hitler for example. The need to stop Qaddafi’s rapist militias or Hussein’s WMD plot, all ending in greater calamity and carnage. Becoming humanitarian catastrophes under the pretence of saving human beings.

The book is well researched, dense and provides the reader with many ‘further reading’ areas to be pursued. Power has a talent at mixing reader friendly language with information that can inform and shock, the subject matter and many victims in the book are not dismissed, rather they are respected to the point that it compels her conclusion. For many the presence of the US military has been a welcome one, supplying food, aid and providing protection from violent elements. The opposite is also true. Which brings into a realisation that many forces have this claim, at times acting as a force that can be seen as benevolent for some while an entity of terror for others. The mostly good versus mostly bad balance, that serves the wielder of such might and the indifferent, rather than those who directly suffer. Power errs on the mostly good, and seeks for an all good reality.

Power’s did write the book on genocide, and it is the sacred book for US government and the interventionists. Still she remains silent and one of many US government enablers of the Israeli assault on Palestine. Though she was ever present when the US itself conducted acts of mass murder. The bias of politics has muffled her ability to criticise wholeheartedly and the self interest of careerism keeps her from resigning. The mass murder of Palestinians continues while the government Power serves supplies the killers. The very anti-thesis of all argumentation in her book. That is the world we live in, the reality that government produces. Cynicism that kills thousands upon thousands.

Power in her book states that it’s important to recognise genocide, after the fact, as in the case of the Armenian Genocide and in the moments leading up to or during. Nothing will change if history is unknown and awareness never raised. She also points out that humanitarian concerns should triumph over national or political interests, the innocent should be protected regardless of their passport status. Genocide will continue if individuals and organisations are silent and if government itself is limp in its attitude to such atrocities. Unfortunately those points raised in her book seem to be lost to a woman who rubs shoulders with the upper echelons of government. To even recognise the mass murder of Palestinians has become political suicide in the realm of US party politics.

As she is today, Power proves the fallacy that government can be changed from within, steered to do good by those with good intentions. Instead it rewards the mostly bad, careerism and politics. The most noble and well meaning can’t survive and if they persist they become the very thing they once despised. The present genocide in Palestine would not be possible without the support of the US government. Logistically it would not be sustainable, politically it could not continue and morally it would be punished. While it is now understood that the French government enabled the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the complicity of the US government in the current Palestinian crisis is more obvious. The layers of culpability are stacked, the force for good, as Power argued, has become crucial factor in the current ‘problem from hell’. So long as the US government is seen as good, then all policy is legitimised. Power wrote the book, she is part of the US government. Apparently those who adopt the veneer of good, can’t do evil. Right?

March, 2024

Published inAll Articles and EssaysWar, History and Foreign Policy