Turkey entered World War I on the side of Germany against Great Britain, Russia, and France. Talaat Pasha was the Turkish interior minister at the time. In 1915, Talaat led the mass killing of over 1 million Armenians through bludgeoning, starvation, and firing squads. Talaat made it extremely clear that he was planning on executing the Christian subjects of the empire. He started by disarming Armenian men in the Ottoman army, executing Armenian intellectuals, and enlisting Armenian individuals as “pack animals” to transport Turkish supplies. Teachers were killed, schools were closed, and churches were desecrated. Additionally, Turkish authorities “posted deportation orders requiring the Armenians to relocate to camps prepared in the deserts of Syria” knowing “that no facilities had been prepared”. Over half of the deported Armenians died on the way. Talaat wrote, “we are ensuring their eternal rest.”
Turkish authorities tried to justify the mass relocation and execution of Armenians with the pretext of a “revolutionary uprising”, referring to the previous year when Russia had invited Armenians living in Turkey to rise up against Ottoman rule after Russia declared war on Turkey. Few agreed, most were just trying to survive under Ottoman rule. This is similar to the Germans claiming that the Herero and Nama people were a serious threat to their safety as a way to justify the war they were waging against them. In both cases, there were people trying to survive under oppressive rule or encroachment that were dehumanized.
Other countries, including the United States, did little to nothing to fight against or prevent the Armenian Genocide. While Germany was in the best position to act, they “generally covered up Talaat’s campaign, ridiculing the Allied accounts of the terror as ‘pure invention’ and ‘grown exaggerations’”. They even said that the Turks were acting appropriately in response to the “Armenian treason during wartime.” The Germans were determined not to “offend (their) ally”. Their lack of action and bystanderism is not surprising considering their own role in genocides, such as their role in the Herero and Nama Genocide in Namibia.
The United States did not endorse the violence, but they also did not actively try to stop it. President Woodrow Wilson decided that the United States should maintain neutrality in the war. The United States did not pressure Turkey or Germany and did not join the Allies. President Wilson was aware that drawing the attention of the public to the Armenian Genocide would stir up pressure by the public to get involved in the war. While Americans in the United States were complete bystanders, Americans in Turkey were not. An American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau Sr., pressured the United States to act. The problem was that Morgenthau was trying to act under almost impossible conditions, “first, the Wilson administration was resolved to stay out of World War I. Picking fights with Turkey did not seem a good way to advance that objective. And second, diplomatic protocol demanded that ambassadors act respectfully toward their host governments.” Similarly, American missionaries driven out of Turkey, such as William A. Shedd, a Presbyterian missionary, wrote to the U.S. Secretary of State,
I am sure there are a great many thoughtful Americans ...feel that silence on the part of our Government is perilous and that for our Government to make no public protest against a crime of such magnitude perpetrated by a Government on noncombatants, the great majority of them helpless women and children, is to miss an unusual opportunity to serve humanity, if not to risk grave danger of dishonor on the name of America and of lessening our right to speak for humanity and justice. I am aware, of course, that it may seem presumptuous to suggest procedure in matters of diplomacy; but the need of these multitudes of people suffering in Turkey is desperate, and the only hope of influence is the Government of the United States.
Others called on the United States to act too. Viscount Bryce, a former British ambassador to the United states begged that they used their influence with Germany, "If anything can stop the destroying hand of the Turkish Government,” Bryce argued, as did the missionaries who had appealed to Morgenthau,"it will be an expression of the opinion of neutral nations, chiefly the judgment of humane America." Despite all of the requests and proof, the United States still refused to take any real action, stating, “however much we may deplore the suffering of the Armenians, we cannot take any active steps to come to their assistance at the present time."Their solution was to tell Morgenthau to tell Turkish authorities that “that the atrocities would "jeopardize the good feeling of the people of the United States toward the people of Turkey". Eventually Germany was asked by the U.S. Secretary of State to “restrain Turkey”, but he still expressed an understanding for “Turkey’s security concerns” in 1916 writing, “I could see that (the Armenians'] well-known disloyalty to the Ottoman Government and the fact that the territory which they inhabited was within the zone of military operations constituted grounds more or less justifiable for compelling them to depart their homes." His obvious attempts to downplay the violence by using words like “compelling” and phrases like “depart their homes” adds to his bystanderism and in a way unites him with the perpetrators. The United States’s attempts to shield the public from the truth acts in the same way as Talaat Pasha’s attempts to keep everything quiet by censoring communication to the United States and even saying that it was simply “mob violence”. Even though Talaat made attempts to hide some of his actions, in response to U.S. statements saying that “Talaat and other senior officials would eventually be held responsible before the court of public opinion, particularly in the United States”, he also openly expressed his lack of care in statements such as, ‘“We don't give a rap for the future!’ It was evident that the ‘threats’ from the U.S. had no effect. Eventually in 1917, the United States joined World War I, two years after the Armenian Genocide started. In short, the United States acted as bystanders during the Armenian genocide. Nations act this way when they adopt policies that put their nation first with little to no concern for other nations. In other words, when nations don’t prioritize the wellbeing of humanity as a whole or when nationalism is separated from and prioritized over globalism. The United States should have directly intervened by sending troops to Turkey to combat the Turkish military. They also should have sent aid and relief to the Armenians. This would’ve marked the beginning of their role in World War I. If they did not do that, making relations with Turkey and Germany tense, then they should have at the very least pressured Germany into using their influence, as Viscount Bryce called for. Any action taken against the Turkish authorities would have been a better alternative than what they did.
World nations did not behave much differently during the Armenian Genocide than they did during the carnage in German South West Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nations acted as bystanders as groups of people were dehumanized and executed. In what is now Namibia, the Herero and Nama people were executed, forced into the desert where they starved, taken prisoner in concentration camps, and forced into labor. This is similar to what happened in Turkey. World nations did not intervene. One difference is that there seemed to be more attention in the media, such as in The New York Times, and more pressure from individuals to act during the Armenian Genocide.