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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Genocide Response


On Friday night, Sally and I saw a one-woman performance about the Rwandan genocide of 1994. It was a piece about forgiveness, but I couldn't help thinking about the question of our responsibility as humans and as other countries when a genocide is happening. Until fairly recently it seemed like a no-brainer to me that we should send troops from the UN, NATO, and any other multilateral force to stop a genocide in progress; that it was justifiable violence in a way that no war for oil or territory will ever be. I remember reading how during World War II, Jews begged FDR (unsuccessfully) to bomb all the concentration camps to smithereens, knowing that many Jews in those camps would be killed, but many more would be saved. The horrors and mass insanity of a genocide (In Rwanda 800,000 Tutsi's were hacked to death in 90 days.) seem to justify any type of intervention that could stop it.

It gets more complicated when I think of my 24 year old twins and whether I could bear putting their lives at risk to make that happen in some far away country where we know nobody. Would I go myself? Is the killing of the perpetrators the only way to stop it? In Darfur now, there are some rebel leaders who are political opportunists (according to peacemaker NGO's who spoke on KQED-Forum program) and refuse to seek peace or cease fires while their people are butchered and raped by the Sudanese government and their Janjaweed proxies. That adds another confusing dimension to figuring out our response. I remember the 30th reunion of Stanford grads who had taken over a number of campus buildings during Viet Nam war protests in 1967. The event took place as President Clinton had US troops in Bosnia - ostensibly to end a genocide or ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims by Serbs. The reunion dinner turned into a two hour debate about whether US and NATO actions could be trusted and whether they were justified.

I'm sure there are ethicists who have discussed this issue from every angle. I'd like to read some to see what resonates for me and whether there are creative approaches that deserve worldwide commitment. The genocides keep coming. In California, our government and media repeatedly caution us to be prepared for the next inevitable big earthquake. There are a variety of supplies and procedures we are all supposed to follow. We have extensive planning in place for rapid responses to devastating wildfires. When it comes to genocide, the intervention procedures are vague and largely undiscussed. Memorials, museums, and theatre pieces provide amazing, important testimony, but where do we learn how to put out the fires?

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