A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
a book by Samantha Power
(our site's book review)
The Amazon blurb says that From former UN Ambassador and author of the New York Times bestseller The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on America's repeated failure to stop genocides around the world.
In her prizewinning examination of the last century of American history, Samantha Power asks the haunting question: Why do American leaders who vow "never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Power, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the former US Ambassador to the United Nations, draws upon exclusive interviews with Washington's top policymakers, thousands of declassified documents, and her own reporting from modern killing fields to provide the answer.
A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide shows how decent Americans inside and outside government refused to get involved despite chilling warnings, and tells the stories of the courageous Americans who risked their careers and lives in an effort to get the United States to act.
A modern classic and "an angry, brilliant, fiercely useful, absolutely essential book" (New Republic), A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide has forever reshaped debates about American foreign policy.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
Winner of the Raphael Lemkin Award
Raphael Lemkin, great humanitarian and champion of the oppressed
"'The days of political intervention dressed up as humanitarianism were past,' said General Assembly president Herbert V. Evatt of Australia at the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 'We are proclaiming today the supremacy of international law once and forever.' It was the first time the United Nations had adopted a human rights treaty.
"Unfortunately, though Lemkin could not know it, the most difficult struggles lay ahead. Nearly four decades would pass before the United States would ratify the treaty, and fifty years would elapse before the international community would convict anyone for genocide. On October 16, 1950, the ratification of the treaty was completed and the treaty became international law.
"Years later, when the Khmer Rouge, the Iraqi government, and the Bosnian Serbs began eradicating minority groups, those who opposed a U.S. response often ignored the genocide convention's terms and denied genocide was under way, claiming the number of dead or the percentage of the group eliminated was too small." (Besides, since the U.S. had just done a 4-year carpet-bombing of Cambodia that slaughtered 500,000 soldiers and innocent civilians, they were not too keen on the idea of charging Khmer Rouge with kiling Cambodians.) But the UN was less timid than the USA: In 2014, two Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, were jailed for life by a United Nations-backed court which found them guilty of crimes against humanity for their roles in the Khmer Rouge's genocidal campaign.
Khmer Rouge Victims
"As Samantha Power recounts in A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, it was [Raphael] Lemkin who devised and lobbied tirelessly for the Genocide Convention, which the United Nations adopted in 1948. Defining genocide as the commission of certain crimes with the 'intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such,' the convention called for perpetrators to be punished and for contracting parties 'to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.' Nervous about its own record on race, however, the United States did not become a party to the Genocide Convention until 1986.
" . . . [genocide] is a word loaded with demagogic potential. Paranoid tyrants, including perpetrators of genocide, are fond of manipulating public emotions by claiming that their own people are threatened with impending genocide. American political leaders go to great lengths to avoid uttering the word in cases where they hope to remain disengaged; they do not hesitate to use it, however, when they wish to stir up public outrage in support of military action. . . . Power recounts, although the United States had the knowledge and the means to stop genocide abroad, it has not acted. Worse, it has made a resolute commitment to not acting. Washington's record, Power ruefully observes, is not one of failure, but of success. Self-interest trumps humanitarian concern in United States foreign policy with striking consistency, Power demonstrates. . . . Washington is a place of defeatism, inertia, selfishness and cowardice." (Source: Turning a Blind Eye, Laura Secor, NY Times)
Bush and Cheney believed it was in their self-interest to invade Iraq, so they conjured up the WMD lie and sent out propagandists to the talk shows; at no time did either guy give a rat's ass about the 50,000 Kurds Saddam butchered in a merciless genocide
Power cites genocides which the U.S. had no reasonable excuse to ignore—but ignore they did. Power believes the U.S. should intervene militarily, as opposed to what the U.S. actually did—sit around muttering to itself that it has no dog in that fight. It turned a blind eye. Power wants us to act like something we are not: compassionate humanists. What we actually are is amoral, self-interested pragmatists willing to commit atrocities to get what we want. To the presidents who have looked the other way about genocides, Power wrings her compassionate, idealistic hands in utopian dismay. We need to do what is right, not what is convenient, she thinks. And Santa Claus needs to be real, so we're not constantly lying to our kids about him just because the rest of society is doing the same thing. But the U.S. only notices genocides when intervening will give us a juicy exploitation opportunity to enrich the corporatocracy. It may not be right or moral, but it is how things work.
Most Americans initially believed our government's cover stories about democratization in Iraq—but most have by now seen through the lies
Power seemingly turns a blind eye to the long U.S. record of imperialism, torture, atrocities, and other nefarious actions, which our government obscures under the cover stories of empire building and democratization. The world would be happy to inform her that in their opinion our country has already militarily intervened in way too many countries, driven by greed, revenge, or stupidity. The corporatocracy will do virtually anything to increase or protect its wealth, no matter how many corpses it leaves in its wake. Central America, Vietnam, the Middle East, Africa—our "intervening" was ugly, greedy, murderous, and immoral. There is even a name for the overall policy: neoliberalism.
The idea that neoliberalism's benefits will eventually trickle down to the have-nots was a covertly mean-spirited scam from day one. The have-nots did not get trickled TO—they got trickled ON
Our nation has ordered and carried out a genocide, and not on a country like Japan which had attacked us. At one point Nixon informed Kissinger that he wanted to launch a major assault on Cambodia under the pretense of airlifting supplies. He said, "I want them to hit everything." And Kissinger transmitted the order to the Pentagon to carry out a "massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves." (From 1969 to 1972, the United States began a four year long carpet-bombing campaign over Cambodia, devastating the countryside and causing socio-political upheaval that eventually led to the installation of the Pol Pot regime. About a half a million people were slaughtered. And the new Khmer Rouge regime slaughtered millions more from execution, hunger and forced labor. [Source: U.S. Secret Bombing of Cambodia])
By about 1969, around 70 percent of the population in the United States described the war as 'fundamentally wrong and immoral'—The U.S. hadn't a snowball's chance in hell of 'winning' anything in Vietnam—Robert McNamara had already confirmed this even before Nixon took office, but Nixon didn't want to be a war-losing president, so: let the slaughter begin!
To Noam Chomsky, the planners in Washington are the real war criminals, not the soldiers in the field. The chain of command starts with the civilians sitting on their butts in air-conditioned offices in Washington. Those were the people who were charged at Nuremberg and at Tokyo. But American leaders seem to all be immune
Chomsky talks about the Vietnam War, during which he was an anti-war activist. By about 1969, around 70 percent of the population in the United States described the war as "fundamentally wrong and immoral . . . " To Chomsky the planners in Washington are the real war criminals, not the soldiers in the field. The chain of command starts with the civilians sitting on their butts in air-conditioned offices in Washington. Those were the people who were charged at Nuremberg and at Tokyo. But American leaders seem to all be immune. What kind of morality is demonstrated when we threaten to jail or shoot people if they don't do atrocious things against an innocent population and then when the press gets word of the matter the shadow-government-controlled mainstream media focuses the blame on the poor grunt they coerced to murder innocents?
As mentioned, from 1969 to 1972, the United States began a four year long carpet-bombing campaign over Cambodia, devastating the countryside and causing socio-political upheaval that eventually led to the installation of the Pol Pot regime. About a half a million people were slaughtered. And the new Khmer Rouge regime slaughtered millions more from execution, hunger and forced labor. Exactly why is this wanton, senseless, bloody slaughter of 500,000 human beings done by he U.S. not genocide?
Robert McNamara, the architect of the war who figured out it was unwinnable, but Johnson and Nixon wouldn't listen
It was done because of the frustration of an immature U.S. president who was emotionaly unable to face the fact that the U.S. hadn't a snowball's chance in hell of "winning" anything in Vietnam—even though Robert McNamara had already confirmed this even before Nixon took office. Nixon's poor little delicate feelings were hurt that he'd be a U.S. president who lost a war, making him a loser, and shaming him to our country. So he decided that it would strategically cut off Viet Cong supply routes if he turned Cambodia into a pile of smoking ashes. It did nothing of a kind, of course.
From 1969 to 1972 the U.S. generals could already see that the war was hopeless because Vietnam's allies were willing to continue sending men and equipment forever for free because they rightfully knew the U.S. had no right to be illegally interfering in Vietnam politics, so these "commies" were planning to aid their North Vietnam commie buddies until we left the area—at whatever cost. Our generals could see this, but simply couldn't face up to it, and 58,000 U.S. soldiers paid with their lives and hundreds of thousands were wounded and traumatized because of the weakness of character of these military leaders and, especially, Robert McNamara, who knew better.
McNamara had tried to fight a war with statistical theories and anti-communist, Domino-theory fantasies; and the project failed—terribly
McNamara initiated a top-secret full-scale investigation of the American commitment to the Vietnam War (later published as The Pentagon Papers), which came out in opposition to continued bombing of North Vietnam. President Johnson had ordered the bombing of North Vietnam in 1965 despite the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that it would not cause the North Vietnamese to cease their support of the Viet Cong insurgency in South Vietnam. McNamara said, looking back, "We were wrong, terribly wrong." Especially about his delay in acting on growing doubts that the war could be won. This Secretary of Defense had tried to fight a war with statistical theories and anti-communist, Domino-theory fantasies. And the project failed.
Millions of American soldiers were used as cannon fodder in Vietnam and 58,000 died—their deaths are on McNamara's, LBJ's, and Nixon's heads
“Surely he [McNamara] must in every quiet and prosperous moment hear the ceaseless whispers of those poor boys in the infantry, dying in the tall grass, platoon by platoon, for no purpose,” editor of the NY Times Howell Raines wrote. “What he took from them cannot be repaid by prime-time apology and stale tears, three decades late.” (Source: How Robert McNamara Came to Regret the War He Escalated, Kat Eschner, Smithsonian)
Neoliberalism prevailed because of the massive quantities of coins it put into the money bins of the oligarchs of the corporatocracy, in spite of all the deaths, suffering, and income inequality it caused; the key to the whole thing turned out to be, in a word, GREED
McNamara: “We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our image or as we choose.” He later applied this thinking to the Bush-Cheney-Obama administrations' mad misadventure in Iraq, urging against it. We had no right. But the arrogant theories and practices of neoliberalism prevailed. Not because Reagan was right about it—he wasn't. He was just reading his lines, like a good little actor. Nope, neoliberalism prevailed because of the massive quantities of coins it put into the money bins of the oligarchs of the corporatocracy, in spite of all the deaths, suffering, and income inequality it caused. The key to the whole thing turned out to be, in a word, GREED.
The propaganda-supported theories of neoliberalism emerged as the guiding light, shining for elites but creating darkness for us non-elites. Every time the deregulators raised their ugly heads, the public was told deregulation—and tax cuts for the rich—would help "the economy" and it would be a boon to the little guy, knowing full well that it was a rotten lie.
Neoliberalism refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of our social life in order to maximize their personal profit. Propagandists pretend the benefits of neoliberalism have been proven, but the opposite has happened!
Neoliberalism refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of our social life in order to maximize their personal profit
Power needs to read these books—or at least our reviews—before she advocates U.S. military action, because she'll learn that the U.S. is in the atrocity creation business more than it is in the atrocity prevention business:
- Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World
- Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire
- The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic">
- The Neoconserative Threat to World Order: America's Perilous War for Hegemony
- Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance
- On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare
- America's Deadliest Export: Democracy - The Truth about US Foreign Policy and Everything Else
- The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption
- Who Rules the World?
- Optimism over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change
- The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War
- Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
- The Concise Untold History of the United States
- Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project)
- The Shadows of Power: The Council on Foreign Relations and the American Decline
- The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
- A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet
- Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky
- Morality Wars: How Empires, the Born Again, and the Politically Correct Do Evil in the Name of Good
- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
- Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power
- Democracy—an American Delusion
Income gaps kept increasing as development progressed, and, interestingly, the development created the same canyon between rich and poor as we now have in the United States of America
Noam Chomsky systematically documents the many ways the system is rigged from top to bottom in Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power
"The reality is that the US has been sliding into authoritarianism, plutocracy and oligarchy, or dare we say fascism, for decades. The political figure of Trump – obnoxious as he is – is merely the culmination of this degenerative process in American politics. The obscenity of American capitalism and its grotesque exploitation of millions of American citizens – creating islands of super wealth among a sea of poverty – is a repudiation of any notion of a functioning democracy." (Source: American ‘Liberal’ Delusions on Trump, Finian Cunningham, Strategic Culture)
The greedy corporatocracy oligarchs are expanding their profits without regard to the social and environmental consequences borne by the larger society. Continuing with business as usual will almost certainly lead to economic, social, and environmental collapse. They don't care.
The greedy corporatocracy oligarchs are expanding their profits without regard to the social and environmental consequences borne by the larger society; so continuing with business as usual will almost certainly lead to economic, social, and environmental collapse, but they just don't care
The greedy oligarch pigs are trying to gorge themselves at the trough so thoroughly that the rest of us get only tiny scraps to fight over, while the pigs laugh
The current attitude of the religion of the corporatocracy is that those who would survive and prosper must learn to win in the global economy’s relentless and unforgiving competition. But, following through, when the last group to survive in a polluted world ravaged by war and devastating climate change are drawing their last breath and the strongest among them buries them and chisels out a headstone just before climbing into the grave himself, is it going to say: "WE WON!"?
If everyone just keeps up business as usual and nobody uses their heads and learns cooperation and respect of the environment, the end result will be like blind rats fighting in a toilet
War is the religion of the corporatocracy—it's how the USA competes, acquires resources and power, it's the 'eat' aspect of the saying dog eat dog
U.S. is a police state and a predatory power abroad, imposing thousands of deaths on our troops and hundreds of thousands of deaths on others, and wasting trillions of dollars of American taxpayers' money
There are transitions from social-welfare states to social-control states around the world, and the USA is heading toward a social-control-oriented police state based on the premise that if you rob citizens by transferring their wealth to the corporatocracy oligarchs and shadow government neocons, you're soon going to be needing to control their unhappiness, protests, and rebellions, so you use a combination of surveillance, propaganda from the mainstream media, rights/freedoms reductions, and brute force. See How America Was Lost: From 9/11 to the Police/Welfare State, National Security and Double Government, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, and The Rise of the American Corporate Security State.
By 2008, the idea of communications privacy in the United States had literally become a joke—our government watches your every move
Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!
If you rob citizens by transferring their wealth to the corporatocracy oligarchs and shadow government neocons, you're soon going to be needing to control their unhappiness, protests, and rebellions
The U.S. is run by neocons who utilize militarized accumulation and empire building. This involves making wars and undertaking interventions that unleash cycles of destruction and reconstruction, and generate enormous profits for an ever-expanding "military-prison-industrial-security-energy-financial complex." We are now living in a global war economy, but its most important feature is the robbing of wealth from the 99.9% (us) to fill the coffers of the 0.1% (them)—the oligarchs. (You see why Trump gave a huge tax cut to the rich—like Trump—and lied about its meaning?) See Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, The Neoconserative Threat to World Order: America's Perilous War for Hegemony, and Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance.
In the Nuremberg trial after WWII, it turned out that the operational definition of a war crime often got down to whether the Allies (including the USA) did it or the Germans or Japanese did it. Actions the Allies did were immune but if the Germans and/or Japanese did the same thing, they were often called war crimes. So it turns out that might makes right after all (although the ONLY country that agrees with this de facto international rule is the U.S.). In the world today, the U.S. gets away with war crimes because it is bigger and tougher than other countries. And the U.S. refuses to cooperate with war crimes investigations as well as forcing countries' leaders to sign agreements that the USA will be immune from prosecution when its military and its CIA operates in their country.
Hitler's WWII actions were war crimes, but only because they lost the war
"The United States is invading Iraq. It's as open an act of aggression as there has been in modern history, a major war crime. This is the crime for which the Nazis were hanged at Nuremberg, the act of aggression. Everything eise was secondary. And here's a clear and open example. The pretenses for the invasion are no more convincing than Hitler's," says Noam Chomsky, world renowned intellecual.
Might Makes Right or Might Makes Stupid?
Noam Chomsky looks at Bush's, Cheney's and Obama's war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere and shows that if the U.S. does it, it's okay, but when others do the same thing, it's a war crime.
In the U.S., due to the CIA innundating the mainstream media with lies and propaganda, the majority of citizens drank the Kool-Aid about democratizing Iraq at first
The U.S. State Department admitted that the claim they'd made in their report, Patterns in Global Terrorism, that terror had been reduced thanks to Bush was a lie (more CIA propaganda). As everyone knows, terrorism has increased markedly because of Bush/Obama's "War on Terror," which includes the U.S.'s criminal act of invading Iraq. See Terrorism.
Bush made us the least safe we've ever been, provoking Islamics to terrorism all over the world by terrorizing the Mideast and calling it 'spreading democracy'
We kill one terrorist and ten of his relatives swear vengeance on us and/or join ISIS. Our drone program is a terrorist factory
The U.S. is dumb, impatient, and staggering under the weight of the flaws in capitalism, neoliberalism, and neoconservativism simultaneously while we shoot ourselves in the foot
Since the end of WWII and since 9/11, quite a few elements are combining to undermine U.S. global power. Given what we know about how we got that control and how we maintain it, this is a good thing. The ugly ways we went about empire building—murder, assassination, torture, destroying democracies—highlighted the decay of our country's leadership (warmongering neocons).
U.S. neocons' imperialism and warmongering is out of control yet the Congress tasked with stopping such abuses is mute—something smells rotten in Washington! The game is rigged.
"Her [Power's] analysis of U.S. politics—what she casts as the State Department's unwritten rule that nonaction is better than action with a PR backlash; the Pentagon's unwillingness to see a moral imperative; an isolationist right; a suspicious left and a population unconcerned with distant nations—aims to show how ingrained inertia is, even as she argues that the U.S. must reevaluate the principles it applies to foreign policy choices. In the face of firsthand accounts of genocide, invocations of geopolitical considerations and studied and repeated refusals to accept the reality of genocidal campaigns simply fail to convince, she insists." (Source: "A PROBLEM FROM HELL": America and the Age of Genocide, Publishers Weekly)
The fraudulent American myth is that we're a land of brave heroes bringing peace and democracy everywhere; Power seems to buy into this lie just enough to trust that the military interventions she advises are a good idea for a deep-in-debt nation which acts selfishly only
The sad thing about our War on Terror is that in this war it is the USA that is doing most of the terrorizing. As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us"
It is obvious that our drones shooting various crowds of people or vehicles or buildings with Hellfire Missiles is seen by our Empire builders as terrorist destruction, but it is terrorist creation
"As two of the nation's longest wars finally end, most Americans have concluded that neither achieved its goals. Those grim assessments in a USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll underscore the erosion in support for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the loss of faith in the outcome of the wars, both launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The public's soured attitudes may make it harder the next time a president tries to persuade Americans of the value of military action when it involves putting thousands of U.S. troops in harm's way." (Source: Poll: Grim Views of Iraq, Afghanistan, Susan Page, USA Today)
This answers Power's unasked question about whether it is likely that Americans will be interested in playing hero when future genocides occur, as well as her asked question: Why do American leaders who vow "never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan fixed nothing and solved nothing after 18 years of "trying," the public is showing "grim assessments" of interest in foreign adventures as world policemen, which "may make it harder the next time a president tries to persuade Americans of the value of military action when it involves putting thousands of U.S. troops in harm's way." That's good from our perspective, but not so good from Power's perspective. She sees us as world policemen. We do not.
All of the above, then, sums up the U.S.'s deeply flawed position: The U.S. is dumb, impatient, and staggering under the weight of the flaws in capitalism, neoliberalism, and neoconservativism simultaneously while we shoot ourselves in the foot. Instead of empire building and imperialism, the U.S. needs to concentrate on revamping deteriorating infrastructure. Instead of political correctness nonsense, the U.S. needs to concentrate on revamping its democracy, replacing oligarchical structures with the classical democracy structures and procedures and weeding out the weaknesses of our system by removing corporations from the formula. No more corporate money, corporate influence, or buying elections. See Supercapitalism.
Elections should be about ideas, not money, fake news, social networking manipulation, and lies smothering the entire process. Only if we make these improvements will our corrupted political system once again be able to serve as an example for other countries so they can steer clear of genocide and its precursors. In the meantime we need to bring home the troops and use them for fire-fighting in our western states as we concentrate on getting our own house in order.
"Power's advocacy of humanitarian intervention has been criticized for being tendentious and militaristic, for answering a "problem from hell" with a "solution from hell." Furthermore, her advocacy of deploying the United States armed forces to combat human rights abuses has been criticized as running contrary to the idea that the main purpose of the military is for national defense." (Source: Samantha Power, Wikipedia)