Highwaygirl banner

April 21, 2004

Again and Again

As I said a few days ago, I've been watching Band of Brothers on the History Channel, and it's been terrific. I'm down to the final episode (thank you, TiVo!), and the penultimate episode, "Why We Fight," depicted Easy Company's entrance into Germany and the company's discovery of one of the Jewish prison camps.

Not an easy thing to depict, of course, but it was done beautifully. It made me feel so many different things - revulsion balanced with empathy, anger offset by despair. The acting in these scenes was incredible - you could see all these different feelings flashing across the soldiers' faces as they began to understand what had happened in this camp. I think the prevalent feeling was shock - shock at what people can do to each other. Shock at how inhuman it is possible for humans to become, under certain circumstances.

There was a scene, after the discovery of the camp (and the ensuing realization of what had happened to these Polish Jews), where soldiers go back into the nearby town to get any food and water they can get their hands on. They go into a bakery and start taking all the bread, to which the baker protests vociferously.

One soldier, Webster, speaks German and translates what the baker is yelling to his fellow paratroopers. "He says he didn't know about the camp," Webster tells them. Then Webster grabs the baker and angrily asks how it was possible that the baker couldn't smell the burning and rotting flesh permeating the town. "You KNEW!" Webster shouts. The baker continues protesting, and another soldier says, "C'mon, Web. He says he didn't know."

"He didn't know?" Webster replies, looking at the baker with contempt. "BULLSHIT."

At the end of the episode, statistics were quoted - during what would become known as the Holocaust, Hitler's Germany oversaw the slaughter of six million Jews, and two million other ethnic minorities. Which is genocide, a term created in 1944 specifically to define what happened during the Holocaust. Ordinary citizens had knowledge of what was happening and did nothing.

I'm not sure it's fair to blame them for that, though. Perhaps they feared for their own lives, if they spoke out? Perhaps they just didn't think that their voice would make any difference?

But it got me thinking about genocide, and what our moral imperative is when we know that genocide is happening. Both myself as an individual, and the United States as a country. I don't think that, as individual citizens, we can do very much to prevent or stop the government-sanctioned slaughter of an entire race, religion or ethnic class of people. But I do think that the United States government does have a moral imperative to do whatever is necessary to stop genocide from occuring, even if we have nothing specifically to gain from it ourselves. We should do it because it's the right thing to do.

We're willing to fight over oil rights and our way of life. We're willing to fight to maintain or national safety and integrity. None of which I seriously disagree with. Why aren't we willing to fight simply because fighting is the right thing to do?

Because genocides are still occuring (if you click on only one link in this piece, please make it this one), even after we've documented the horrors of the Holocaust. Do you think that the United States would stand around, willfully ignorant, if millions of Jews were still being executed in Europe? Absolutely not. So why did we stand around while almost one million people were slaughtered during ethnic cleansing in Rwanda in 1994?

I guess we were too busy with Vietnam to really care about how Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were in the process of killing 2 million Cambodians (30% of the country's population).

One of the things that infuriates me is the fact that national governments won't call the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands - based on ethnicity, religion or race - exactly what it is: genocide. Because if they do, according to United Nations resolutions, they are required to act. If the term is used, the U.N. is legally obliged to act to "prevent and punish" the perpetrators.

But we don't want to get involved, so we run around saying that we "condemn these actions and ... call on all parties to cease any such actions immediately." Thanks, President Clinton! I'm sure the Hutus and Tutsis cared a whole hell of a lot that you asked them nicely to stop hacking each other to bits with machetes. Jesus.

And it's still happening. The Arab Janjaweed militia, armed by Sudan's government, are systematically killing and displacing black Sudanese citizens. According to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, 1,000 black Sudanese are killed every week.

Last week, Kristof used his column to talk about what is being done - or not done - to prevent the situation in the Sudan from reaching Rwanda-like proportions. There is a tentative cease-fire in place, but this statement couldn't be more true – "It's a fallacy to think that just because we can't do everything to stop genocide, we shouldn't do anything."

Posted by Highwaygirl on April 21, 2004 09:17 AM to the category Current Affairs | Entertainment

Saddam Hussein was systematically oppresing and killing Kurds in his own country and Bush is crucified for ousting him from power.

What would the reaction be if he came to the aid of another country?

Posted by: Mandy at April 22, 2004 02:01 PM

Bush is crucified for misrepresenting that Hussein had any connection to Bin Laden, for lying about us having any evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, for heaping scorn on our allies when they didn't support his war efforts, for rushing in to combat when the rest of the world wanted to try a more diplomatic solution, and for starting a war with absolutely no fucking clue what he would do once he won it. Now he's left us with the options of 1. a long, prolonged occupation of a country whose citizens are increasingly pissed off that we'e there, or 2. pulling out and leaving a vacuum of power that will be filled by real terrorists.

If Bush actually wanted to help a foreign country, and honestly stated his goals, put forth a plan for helping, listened to the opinions of other world powers, and helped prevent a massacre rather than replacing one massacre with another, I'd give him full credit.

Posted by: overg at April 22, 2004 09:23 PM

Yeah, I have to agree with Overg on this one. If Hussein had been (at present) commiting genocide against the Kurds, and Bush declared that the U.S. was going to go in and remove him from power because we could not, as a country, allow genocide to happen, I would be completely behind that decision. As would the majority of Americans, I believe.

But that's not what happened. And you really can't even use the fact that, years ago, he used WMD against the Kurds as a reasoning for the war ... unless you want another country to use our treatment of Native Americans as an excuse to invade the U.S.

Countries need to act when things are happening, not a decade down the line.

Incidentally, I've been reading Samantha Power's article in The Atlantic (click on "we don't want to get involved" to access it) and it is fascinating, and deeply, deeply troubling.

Posted by: Highwaygirl at April 23, 2004 06:09 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

click to make your selection bold click to make your selection italic click to add a link
Highlight the text you wish to modify, then click on the bold, italics, or link button.

The bold, italics, and link buttons only work in IE 5+ on the PC.