A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

A blind eye to genocide

That said, there are many other more in-depth books about him out there that could tell an even fuller story. The majority of this book, however, was a hollow argument for the superiority of liberal interventionism. The structure of each case study goes like this: The historical background for all the genocides is superficial at best.

For example, Power never even addresses the issue of how the Hutu and Tutsi identities came into being in Rwanda. She mentions that there was some animosity based on the structure of the colonial administration and not much else. I understand that the majority of this book was dedicated to the American response to genocides throughout history, but not properly contextualizing the situation is at best a mistake and at worst a deliberate attempt to strengthen an argument.

I was amazed that this book was so long, given how little detail she put into the case studies. Most importantly, though, I think this book operates from an inherently false and dangerous premise. The basic assumption from which the whole book flows is that the US is a world superpower true and has the means to stop violence around the world also true.

Few people can dispute those two facts. And yes, the US should make as many efforts as possible to stop violence, especially genocide, around the world. But the US is also one of the leading causes of violence around the world. From Chile in the s to Iraq in the s, the US has been responsible for high levels of violence and human rights abuse.

Power doesn't even mention these points, instead focusing on how the US could have stopped other states who were killing people. Presenting only this half of the coin is to portray the US as a state that just hasn't done enough a couple of times to stop these huge acts of violence committed by other states. That is the danger of this book's premise: The cases Power points to are correctly labeled as examples of American failure and shame.

The US could and should have done more to stop the Rwandan genocide and many others like it. But the US also should not have led the overthrow of many democratically elected governments and inserted strongmen who oppressed and murdered their own citizens Pinochet and Mobutu, to name two. Not pointing out both of these faults in American foreign policy is, again, either intellectually lazy or worse. May 11, Ana rated it it was amazing Shelves: Given her high status and delicate position, you wouldn't be blamed if you thought that she, like many others who held public office, would NOT write a book about how absolutely disgusting the US behaviour has been with regards to genocide.

And yet she did. And this book is it. The size and scope of this work is huge - Armenia, Holocaust, Cambodia, Iraq, Rwanda and Bosnia are all covered - and meaningful details are cleverly pushed forward so the reader can understand situations, people and policies. The author's tone is clear, stern, demanding on the mind but totally appropriate for the topic she is discussing. More importantly, although the book is highly biased - it blames the US for an immense amount of mistakes - it is not pedantic or excessively angry. It is, instead, sharp in its indictment. For those interested in the subject, this is a necessary read, and one which will open your eyes to the inability of the "greatest power in the world" to live up to its name.

Aug 01, Lightreads rated it really liked it Shelves: Grinding, grueling, exhausting account of a series of genocides and the United States's response — or generally lack thereof.

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Other people have criticized this book at length for failing to address the ways the United States was actively complicit in genocidal violence through support of its perpetrators. The criticism is accurate, though I think it's a product of the focus of this book very specifically on passive complicity. I had read excerpts of this over the years, and I'm glad I finally sat Grinding, grueling, exhausting account of a series of genocides and the United States's response — or generally lack thereof.

I had read excerpts of this over the years, and I'm glad I finally sat down and went through all of it, cover-to-cover. But this is a first generation book, and now I want the fifth generation, or the seventh generation, if you know what I mean. Because Power spends a lot of time documenting American disinterest in mass death, and some time talking about the reasons, but the reasons are very. This economic interest, that political exigency, a few general comments about racism. This book made me think a lot about pain, and being the observer of it.

I mean, most of us catch glimpses of indescribable anguish out of the corners of our eyes all the time, but we've developed defensive emotional blinders. But once in a while, someone looks at the newspaper headline that ten thousand other people read and forgot, and that one person is seared. Irrevocably changed just by knowing that five thousand people halfway around the world were "disappeared. One of them was the first person to make me read excerpts of this book.

I want the book about those people. And the contextual, psychological, physiological, etc. And the book that takes a deeper, more honest look at the psychology of passive complicity, not just its economic logic. Because Power wrote mostly about when and where and who, and left me pretty messed up over why. Mar 31, Brian rated it it was amazing Shelves: The excruciating detail with which Power researched an assembled this book is evident from page one.

It is an impressive work, worthy of the prizes it has received. Power's intense analytical scrutiny lays bare many of the decisions and motivations behind America's troubling ability to turn a blind eye to important humanitarian situations where we deem there is no "national interest.

My only problem with this book, if it can be called t The excruciating detail with which Power researched an assembled this book is evident from page one. My only problem with this book, if it can be called that, is the way I feel it ends without offering a more specific argument for where the United States goes from here. This, I feel, is probably in large part because of the nature of these situations. To plan out a future American response to curtail the "next Rwanda" can leave us woefully unprepared, for example, in dealing with the current Darfur.

In the end, I feel this book is a call to action for Americans. I'm still idealistic enough to believe that US politicians will respond to issues upon which their constituencies place a high cost, so to that end I say "Read this book! Be attentive enough to situations like this that the media outlets are forced to give them greater scrutiny.

An informed populace is also one much better suited to an honest discussion about the merits of US intervention, to which our politicians will respond. Jan 18, Kevin rated it liked it. Samantha Power's excellent history of American responses to genocide in the 20th-century is a very enlightening and very depressing story of moral failure. It follows the story of genocide from the slaughter of Armenians in through the Jewish Holocaust 30 years later, and on to the Khmer-Rouge sponsored killing fields in Cambodia in the late '70s, the mass murder of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam's government in the late '80s, the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides in the early and mid '90s and ending wi Samantha Power's excellent history of American responses to genocide in the 20th-century is a very enlightening and very depressing story of moral failure.

It follows the story of genocide from the slaughter of Armenians in through the Jewish Holocaust 30 years later, and on to the Khmer-Rouge sponsored killing fields in Cambodia in the late '70s, the mass murder of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam's government in the late '80s, the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides in the early and mid '90s and ending with the massacre of Kosovar Albanians in the late '90s. In almost all cases, the American government sat on its ass and did virtually nothing, despite ample warnings of what was coming, alarm bells rung by observers and survivors about the crime in progress, and lackadaisical attempts to punish perpetrators in the aftermath.

This book is very well-documented and well-researched. It is also pretty depressing. We have put our faith in certain institutions of national and international government to keep the peace, and this book begs the question: The book exposes the litany of excuses that the US government and the UN trotted out for doing nothing, but it raises another question, not so much what could really be done to stop a genocide in progress, but what has to happen in the future to make genocide interdiction happen? What price must we pay to save the lives of our fellow men? A friend of mine reccommended this book to me while I was doing research for an author who is writing about the feeble American response to the Holocaust going on in Nazi-occupied Europe.

I saw with my own eyes State Department cables by the dozens full of excuses as to why we could nothing to rescue Jews from Nazi extermination. It struck me that one of the difficulties which governments have in making the decision to stop genocide is that the goal of governments in regards to the rest of the world is to further its own interests, not to further the interests of all mankind. This is precisely why the United Nations is so often paralyzed: This is a good thing to keep in mind when considering the problem of how to motivate governments to take steps to halt genocide.

Jul 30, Ann rated it it was ok. This book does a good job of documenting some of the genocides in the 20th century but offers little insight into how they could have been prevented or how our current systems failed.

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"A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide () is a book by American Samantha Power, at that time Professor of Human Rights Practice at. "A Problem From Hell": America and the Age of Genocide and millions of other books are available for Amazon Kindle. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged. Samantha Power’s “A Problem from Hell” is a good read.

There is larger missing problem which is never addressed in this book, which is how we can respond more quickly and positively in the future. There is no examination of international law as it exists today, how it works and does not work. There is no mention of Russia and China's role on the security council and ho This book does a good job of documenting some of the genocides in the 20th century but offers little insight into how they could have been prevented or how our current systems failed.

There is no mention of Russia and China's role on the security council and how that impacts actions or lack of actions taken regarding genocides. There is no mention of the limitations of the Hague. I was very disappointed in this book as it was touted as offering insight into a very complex problem. Perhaps I expected too much, but the synopsis seemed to offer what wasn't found in the text. Reports by NGO's like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch offer better insight into much of the politics, diplomacy and dynamics surrounding these complex situations.

In the final analysis this appears to be largely a history book told from the prospective of a journalist documenting the events but adding little context or insight into the politics surrounding the events. Aug 06, Rebecca rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Every American should read this book twice!

It is exceptionally well written, well researched, and unbelievably compelling.

It explains the history of America's place in international law and polics from the Armenian genocide of WWI to the genocide in Rwanda in It tells the compelling personal stories of those involved on the international stage, and behind the scenes. This book is exceptionally well balanced.

A Problem from Hell

It neither praises nor villifies the United States. Rather, its purpose is to in Every American should read this book twice!

Rather, its purpose is to inform the American public about American foreign policy, and to help non-Americans understand why America takes the actions - or inactions that it does. Every American should read this book! Jul 27, Vidur Kapur rated it it was amazing Shelves: In this forcefully argued book, Samantha Power urges the United States to place humanitarian objectives at the centre of its foreign policy agenda, and warns against narrowly defined conceptions of the US "national interest" which have often served to prevent the United States from intervening whilst genocides have taken place.

It is well-argued, extremely well-documented, and Power attempts to engage with the strongest arguments against her position. One exception to this is that she does not r In this forcefully argued book, Samantha Power urges the United States to place humanitarian objectives at the centre of its foreign policy agenda, and warns against narrowly defined conceptions of the US "national interest" which have often served to prevent the United States from intervening whilst genocides have taken place.

One exception to this is that she does not really grapple with the question of whether it is right for the West to bypass the UN Security Council if necessary when carrying out a military intervention. Thus, while her section on Kosovo addressed many of the arguments levelled against that controversial intervention, the legal aspect was not addressed. For a book which won the Pulitzer Prize and earned plaudits from across the political spectrum, it is noticeably radical. Like Noam Chomsky, Power accuses the United States government - or rather many individuals within it - of repeatedly being complicit in genocide due to concern for US economic and strategic interests, as well as US lives, outweighing concern for hundreds of thousands of innocent victims.

For example, when criticising the US for its failure to prevent Saddam Hussein's genocide against the Kurds, she writes that "U. Yet, Power herself - while criticizing what she perceives to be Chomsky's reflexive anti-Americanism - endorses his core framework in a review of his book , Hegemony or Survival: The similarities between her views and Noam Chomsky's were noted more than once by right-wing columnists. When the late Howard Zinn, who was another darling of the anti-imperialist left, wrote before going on to criticise her that "Samantha Power has done extraordinary work in chronicling the genocides of our time, and in exposing how the Western powers were complicit by their inaction", Edward Herman who was an occasional co-author of Chomsky's wrote a ferocious response to him, calling Power a member of the "cruise missile left" and accusing her of ignoring genocides and other atrocities that the US had not merely been indifferent to, but had actively condoned, supported or carried out.

While it is true that the Vietnam War did not get much attention, Power does acknowledge that the US bombing of Cambodia helped to lead to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. And, contrary to Herman's assertion, the US-backed Indonesian genocide of does get a mention, albeit a brief one. That said, it is true that there is no mention of the genocide committed in Guatemala, backed by the US, while the genocide in East Timor again, condoned by the US is only briefly mentioned by Power.

In other words, those on the Chomskyite left bitterly complain that Power focuses on genocides committed by "them", but not by "us". Or, to put it another way, Power focuses on the US Government's sins of omission as opposed to their sins of commission. Despite this, around the time of this book's publication, Power did talk of "crimes committed, sponsored or permitted by the United States".

Moreover, those who identify as members of the "anti-imperialist" left do the exact opposite to what they accuse Power of doing. As she writes in the aforementioned review: America, the prime oppressor, can do no right, while the sins of those categorized as oppressed receive scant mention. In some cases, this may require military intervention. In others, it may not. A Problem From Hell is not the final word on how US foreign policy should be conducted, but it is an extremely valuable contribution to the debate, and should be judged on its own merits; neither its supposed omissions nor Power's actions in her subsequent career at the heart of the US Government are valid reasons to dimiss the book as it stands.

This book, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a classic and deserves its reputation. If Power's tone is just a bit too self-righteous for my tastes, her outrage at the world's anemic responses to modern genocides, and particularly those of the United States, is fully warranted by her exhaustive and heart-rending research. Reading the book today, one necessarily muses about Power's own success in preventing contemporary genocides as U. While Ambassador Power has emphatically condemned the crimes committed in the Syrian civil war, her government did precious little to stop them, Obama's "red line" notwithstanding.

Some have accused the Israelis of genocide by expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank I am not one of those , but the accusation illustrates one of the problems in defeating this scourge: Acts of genocide need not reproduce the consequences of the Holocaust, but exactly what acts does it include? At what point do crimes like murder and rape cease being despicable felonies and become genocide? How are national leaders supposed to know? The ambiguities of the UN Genocide Convention formally the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide with regard to the legal elements of genocide and other matters are only some of the imponderables that the West generally, and the United States in particular, have used to justify inaction in deterring or stopping these acts.

Power reserves her most bitter criticisms for the U. The United States, she claims, "repeatedly allowed genocide" and "did almost nothing to deter the crime" p. The United States government was not heartless or itself genocidal, but rather was reluctant to expend the lives and treasure necessary to make a decisive difference, especially when there was little if any American public support for military action p.

American leaders were cautious about even using the "g-word" for fears that it would galvanize public opinion into demanding rash military action, or that the government would be accused of exaggerating the problem in order to justify U. Power also claims that American officials were reluctant to label a situation genocide because they believed that a finding of genocide "carried with it a legal and moral Genocide anywhere creates a moral imperative for states to act, but the legal obligations imposed on states by the Genocide Convention are a different matter. The Convention requires state parties to enact domestic laws prohibiting genocide, and to prosecute or extradite those individuals charged with this crime; the Convention does not, however, require or even permit a state party to apply military force unilaterally in order to prevent genocide in another country , notwithstanding the title of the convention itself.

Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III. There simply is no international legal authority much less an obligation for states to prevent genocide committed by other states, even if perhaps there ought to be.

The only political entity with the authority to interfere in the domestic affairs of another state, which is what the prevention of genocide amounts to, is the UN Security Council or, in some unique cases, the General Assembly. Any belief to the contrary by U. It was relatively easy for Ms.

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Otherwise, throughout the twentieth century as throughout history, genocide has all too often been seen by foreign powers as beyond their remit, an internal matter for the country concerned. Reports from the front, by survivors, refugees or courageous journalists and diplomats, have been ignored or discredited. In the case of the US, as Power argues even more powerfully than we already knew, any overseas adventures have been dictated solely by national self-interest, usually more economic than moral.

To this day, there are disagreements over the precise definition of genocide, flouting the UN declaration and largely designed to dodge any moral imperative to intervene. Pre-Lemkin, and to a shameful extent since, national governments have been left free to treat their own citizens as they choose, ethnic cleansing being as much or as little a matter for foreign interference as any other domestic policy. Power's litany from the last century alone makes highly uncomfortable reading for the world conscience: Amid her righteous anger, Power unwittingly allies herself with the neo-conservatives now calling the shots in Washington, with such apparent influence on our own moral crusader of a Prime Minister.

Many of her arguments are uncomfortably unilateralist; she does not specifically say so, but they tend towards the kind of intervention which recently took place in Iraq, if too late and for all the wrong reasons. If political stability could be achieved by toppling a rotten dictator or if nations could be built at gunpoint, this problem would not be so pressing.

Human rights cannot be reliably protected unless a locally sustained political authority is in place. The horror and tragedy of genocide is a moral issue that transcends national interest. But to prevent another Rwanda , the United States must also have the wisdom to avoid another Somalia. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. From Rwanda to the Balkans, the 90s was the decade of botched interventions.

Martin Woollacott on two studies of the west's failure to confront genocide from Samantha Power and Linda Polman". Retrieved June 11, To stop genocide, the U. The New York Times. America and the Age of Genocide".