I believe that the United States and our allies did act as bystanders during the Armenian genocide. As many of my classmates have pointed out, the least we could’ve done was publicly denounce the genocide and ceased trade with Turkey until the human rights violations stopped. We even had the chance to simply attach our name to the joint declaration delivered by the Allied governments on May 24th, 1915, that condemned crimes against humanity and warned that the Turkish government would be held responsible for the massacres. Yet, President Woodrow refused to join. I think that is absolutely disgraceful. A world leader couldn’t even say that crimes against humanity were bad? To me, that is the bare minimum, and we couldn’t meet that. I also say that our allies acted as bystanders despite their putting out the declaration because even though they claimed they would hold the Turkish government responsible, they never really followed through on that claim. Granted, it was because they were busy fighting their own war, but I think that because they released the statement, it became their responsibility to stay true to their word.
I was also flat out embarrassed that when the Allies did try to hold perpetrators accountable after the war through international war crime tribunals for people such as the kaiser, his officers, Talaat, Enver Pasha, and others, American representatives like Robert Lansing dissented and wouldn’t take part. It absolutely blows my mind that someone could argue that the laws of humanity vary from person to person when they’re simply being asked to denounce genocide. Like I said, the bare minimum. Similar to @coral27, I completely disagree with the idea that sovereign leaders are immune to prosecution. I think that is an extremely dangerous sentiment, and one that opens the floodgates to the kind of ideas that would let democracy die.
Despite our country possibly being busy with ideas of war (given that we weren’t even part of it for most of the Armenian genocide), I believe the least we could’ve done is support the Allied declaration and support the international criminal tribunals.
When first reading about international relations during this time, I was actually surprised that the Allies and the United States didn’t do more about the genocide. Although the American stance was that we shouldn’t intervene unless America is directly affected, @ilikekiwis brings up a good point about how Americans should’ve been able to relate to the Armenians due to the similar religious makeup. A large portion of both populations were Christian, so if the United States was going to step in in any genocide, I’d think it’d be this one. Henry Morgenthau even tried this argument on the government when he urged the US to convince the German kaiser to stop the Turks’ “annihilation of a Christian race.”
However, it wasn’t enough to convince the leadership to stray from their policy. Like Morgenthau, I find that policy absolutely maddening. That’s like saying your neighbor’s house is on fire, but you’re going to let it burn because at least it’s not your house, regardless of the fact that the fire will probably come to your house next.
Rationally, we can’t fight in every war in the world, but there are some places where you have to draw the line. I think the United States and other nations equipped to handle it have the moral responsibility to take a stand when entire populations are being destroyed. I also think it’s important to point out to people who use that argument that we don’t have the resources to join every war that there is a difference between war and genocide. While I agree that our presence isn’t necessary or even wanted in every global conflict, a war where both sides are armed and able to conduct warfare amongst themselves is not the same as entire, defenseless populations being wiped off the face of the earth for the sole purpose of hate. It is in those kind of situations that I believe we have the responsibility to intervene every time.
As for the role I would advocate for the United States and other nations when that kind of situation does arise, I think it is reasonable to start with negotiation or peace talks. However, it should be pretty clear pretty quickly whether or not those will amount to anything. If it looks as if peaceful negotiation will be successful, then great. But if not, as history has shown they so often aren’t, other countries should be prepared to step in with military force. While war is an atrocious and regrettable matter, there are some things worth fighting for, and I think defending innocent people against genocide is one of them.
I also think world nations definitely behaved differently during the Armenian genocide than they did during that of the Herero. For one, the world acknowledged the Armenian genocide at the time. A group of extremely powerful countries issued a declaration saying the genocide was wrong and that the Turkish government should be held accountable. To my knowledge, there was no such statement regarding the Namibian genocide at the time. Germany didn’t recognize it until decades later. I think one reason for this could be that the Herero genocide was easier to ignore. I think of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” The Armenian genocide being in Europe probably forced the Allied countries to take notice of it, whereas Africa was a little more removed from international affairs apart from in the sense of what it could do for European nations. I also think race definitely played a role in how the genocides were treated. Like @ilikekiwis says, “The Armenians were considered human, which was already a better start leading to more overall attention.” When most Europeans at the time believed in racist ideas like eugenics or social darwinism, it would probably be hard for them to consider the genocide of Africans as bad as the genocide of Europeans.