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A Problem From Hell

by | Apr 29, 2024

A Problem From Hell

by | Apr 29, 2024

samantha power a problem from hell 2069 5 e1669240492595

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

When 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 civilized society, yet many civil societies made it possible. Once Lemkin invented the word to help prosecute the Nazis, it became synonymous with the intentional mass murder of the innocent, a crime that Power argues should be stopped and deterred. Lemkin and his efforts to prevent genocide from happening again are featured in Power’s book and are something she hopes of doing herself.

The Nigerian government’s war against the Igbo, in the brief period that saw the existence of Biafra, was a conflict of mass murder, a genocide. It is estimated that three to four million were killed. Support by the United States and Western powers for the Nigerian government was steered by pragmatism. 

The Bangladeshi genocide leading to perhaps three million dead (though anywhere from three-hundred to five-hundred thousand have been more accurately estimated) was also enabled by the United States. The Richard Nixon administration’s complicity ranges from a reluctance to condemn the murderers due to Cold War politicking to encouraging shipments of arms that were used in the mass killing in Bangladesh. Declassified documents have since revealed that the Nixon White House was well aware of the genocide taking place.

Power uses such examples to shame the U.S. government from not merely ignoring genocide but enabling it and making it sustainable for the killers to continue. She pulls no punches in her criticisms of Uncle Sam and his relationship to 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 rhyme, with White House cables showing an accurate assessment of how many civilians have been killed by the Israeli government in Gaza. Such awareness has not stopped the United states 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 the United States Agency for International Development 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 author and journalist granted her. It is unlikely that she will resign or speak up against the Israeli government. Israel is a close friend of the United States, and as Power points out in her book, allies of the U.S. have a tendency of getting away with murder.

The conclusion 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. This naive assertion is seductive, which likely leads many to enter civil service and other 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 people 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 act of satisfying friends and allies while demonizing 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 realize 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 worst type of parasite, and its foundation on coercion breeds a culture that pollutes and ruins even the most angelic of hearts. Power has worked alongside killers, and her book and status as an anti-genocide voice has granted them credibility.

It is not just that the U.S. government can be used to intervene militarily, but also economically, by removing the offender’s access to finances or with embargos. And it means addressing the elephant in the room: genocide itself. That requires calling the policies of “allies” and “friends” what they are: murder! Shaming them and attracting widespread condemnation is a powerful tool that a president can utilize, but it tends to be avoided.

Power expresses in her book a belief that the United States could and should 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, have ensured that true believers will emerge idealizing 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, but there is no shortage of youngsters who have yet to delve into a similar “pragmatic” path.

Inaction in response to evil, Power reminds the reader, helps to grow evil. The genocide in Rwanda is an example of passive voyeurism, a moment in history that could have been prevented, Power argues, had the United States been proactive. The emotional 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. It is also at risk of exploiting those feelings that give bad actors within the U.S. government an excuse to exercise cynical foreign policy under the guise of human dignity. From the need to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s rapist militias or Saddam Hussein’s WMD plot, these humanitarian catastrophes start under the pretense of saving human lives.

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 many victims in the book are not dismissed, but are respected to the point that it compels her conclusion. For many, the presence of the U.S. military has been a welcome one, supplying food, aid, and providing protection from violent elements. But the opposite is also true.

Power’s did write the book on genocide, and it is the sacred book for the U.S. government and American interventionists. Still, she remains a silent enabler of the Israeli assault on Palestine. The bias of politics has muffled her ability to criticize 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 states that it’s important to recognize genocide after the fact, as in the case of the Armenian Genocide. 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 organizations 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 recognize the mass murder of Palestinians has become political suicide in the realm of U.S. party politics.

As she is today, Samantha 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, and their focus on careerism and politics. The most noble and well meaning people 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 U.S. 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 United States in the current Palestinian crisis is more obvious. The layers of culpability are stacked; the force for good, as Power argued, has become the crucial factor in the current “problem from hell.”

Kym Robinson

Kym Robinson

Kym is the Harry Browne Fellow for The Libertarian Institute. Some times a coach, some times a fighter, some times a writer, often a reader but seldom a cabbage. Professional MMA fighter and coach. Unprofessional believer in liberty. I have studied, enlisted, worked in the meat industry for most of my life, all of that above jazz and to hopefully some day write something worth reading.

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