There is incontrovertible that the US and our allies acted as bystanders during the Armenian genocide. The knowledge the US had of a potential genocide in the Ottoman empire extended even before the leaders of the Young Turks began their deportations of Armenians, “The outside world had known that the Armenians were at a grave risk well before Talaat and the Young Turk leadership ordered their deportation.” And when Turkey entered WWI, Talaat, one of the leaders of the Young Turks made it clear they would be targeting Christians. Britain and France widely publicized the atrocities, as well as the United States as we saw in class in the numerous New York Times articles. This was clearly something Allied civilians and government officials knew an abundance about. The United States knew that if they acknowledged that an entire race of people was purposefully being exterminated it would reflect badly on them not to intervene and at the time they wanted to remain neutral in the war. It allowed them to sustain their moral high ground despite their inaction allowing them to turn a blind eye to the death of over a million people, “It was better not to draw attention to the atrocities, lest US public opinion get stirred up and begin demanding US involvement.” Woodrow Wilson himself stated that, “.... there seems to be a systematic plan to crush the Armenian race.” While lying to their people the US made a political choice with no concern for Armenian lives, deciding that since this “didn’t affect Americans” there was no reason to get involved and become a part of the war. Of course ignoring genocide would end up doing nothing for them as they became involved in the war either way. The United States and its Allies chose to listen to the lies and propaganda that Turkey and its allies were spreading despite what primary sources and their own people were telling them.
A committee on the Armenian genocide was formed and raised $100,000. However the committee did not encourage military intervention, condemning the atrocity but opposing war. One could argue that their existence was futile and was just another way that Americans declared their moral superiority while still being complicit to genocide. They even earned the scorn of Theodore Roosevelt who declared they were willing to have, “peace at any price,” and that he didn’t understand how people could advise neutrality, “between despairing and hunted people, people whose little children are murdered and their women raped, and the victorious and evil wrongdoers.” The government even used relief campaigns, from the committee Roosevelt criticized, as an excuse not to declare war on Turkey.
“ I do not appeal to you in the name of any race or religion but merely as a human being” -Henry Morgenthau. Henry Morgenthau Sr, a German born and Jewish American ambassador to the Ottoman empire begged the US government to intervene and even brought his concerns straight to the Turkish government. He received visits from desperate Armenians and trusted missionaries that explained to him exactly what was happening. Morgnethau could only come to one conclusions, the Ottoman government was committing race murder (the term genocide was not being used a this point). He stated that, “These measures are not in response to popular of fanatical demand but are purely arbitrary and directed from Constantinople in the name of military necessity, often in districts where no military operations are likely to take place.” Understanding that the Armenians had no means to defend themselves against Turkey’s military attacks and that this was not a two sided issue was essential to defining what was happening to them as “race murder.”
The government responded to Morgenthau’s pleas by telling him to seek aid from private sources, since the US government wasn’t responsible for Armenian lives. He was successful in collecting some aid from Christian religious groups and raised $1 million to transport Armenian refugees to the US. Initially Turkey accepted his proposal, but would end up blocking their exit. Further proof that their goal was extermination and not just deportation of the Armenian people. While Morgenthau saw that proof for exactly what it was, US Secretary Lansing saw it as something unfortunate or understandable, unwilling to believe the Turkish government would commit such an act without it being necessary. Morgenthau was not the only ambassador witness to the Armenian genocide, the British ambassador also pleaded with the US to help stating that, “ some crimes which, even now in the convulsion of a great war, the public opinion of the word will not tolerate.” History tells us that both Morgenthau and the British ambassador failed to enlist the US government to help the Armenian people. Morgenthau left the Ottoman Empire in 1916, he could not bear the fact that he had failed to stop the genocide, and earned a reputation among his colleagues for being a loose cannon because of his efforts. While he served as ambassador,over 1 million people were killed. It could be argued that the British ambassdor was incorrect since the genocide was widely publicized and even after the war the world didn’t seem to be much interested in justice for the Armenians. When the US entered the conflict in April 1917, it refused to declare war or break relations with the Ottoman Empire, even more disturbing it was the Ottomans that broke off the relationship with the US, not the other way around. It seemed as though the unrelenting effort by Morgenthau came to no avail, as the US government went beyond just being a bystander, but participated in a relationship with the perpetrators of genocide. As Powers stated, “The United States would offer humanitarian aid to the survivors of “race murder” but would leave those committing it alone.”
The US and its allies’ actions as bystanders would not just have detrimental effects on the Armenians, but would also lead to a pattern, repeating history over and over again, “States would forever be stuck dealing with the consequences of genocide, unable to see of unwilling to act ahead of time to prevent it” (Powers). In response to Morgenthau’s confrontation, Talaat said, “We treat the Americans all right, too, I don’t see why you should complain,” which was the same ideology the US government adapted when considering whether or not to respond to the Armeninan genocide. The Turks treated the Americans “all right” so there was no reason to get involved. The Young Turks cultivated a propaganda campaign that the US wasn’t willing to look beyond, claiming their actions were in response to Armenian revolts and that, “The Armenians have only themselves to blame.” Within its nation the Young Turks were able to create a culture of collective guilt, “ Those who were innocent today might be guilty tomorrow.” Although this was supposed to apply only to Turks that would become complicit in the genocide I believe it also applies to the US as complete ignorance of the genocide may have allowed them to be innocent, but their complete knowledge of it made them guilty.
Raphael Lemkin was a man who admired the actions of Morgenthau. He was a Polish and Jewish man that would dedicate his life to the condemnation of genocide and making the world aware of it. Following the Armenian genocide Lemkin was appalled that state sovereignty would shield the men that committed genocide agains the Armenians and he understood that, “states would rarely pursue justice out of a commitment to justice alone.” Lemkin knew that what happened to the Armenian people would not be a one time occurrence if the world did nothing. He wanted the world states to unite in a campaign to ban genocide, and prepared a law that would do so. When his law was presented to the League of Nations, they were skeptical of his references to Hitler and Jewish families that had already begun to flee Germany. The president of the supreme court of Germany left while his proposal was being read out of protest. The League of Nations wasn’t stupid, they knew what the significance would be if they rejected his proposal, history would look down on them. So they tables it, since they didn’t want to admit they would stand by and allow innocent people to die exactly as all the nations that made up the League had done during the Armenian genocide.
We know now that Lemkin was right, and in the cruelest form of irony it was his people that were target by Nazi Germany. He had to watch as everything he predicted came true, and once again the world did nothing. He tried every method possible to get the world’s attention, he traveled 14,000 miles to the United States to try and tell people what was happening in Germany. He told the US government that Hitler was planning on wiping out Jewish people but was met with people who were indifferent or who didn’t believe him. When he was brought into the US War department as an international law expert he was met with people that were, “masters in switching the discussion in their direction,” meaning they too were not listening. When Lemkin met with the Vice President, he got no reaction, next he tired Franklin D. Roosevelt. The president said it would be too difficult to pass a law banning genocide, urging him to be patient. Of course Lemkin was furious as anyone would be that was forced to watch their people be slaughtered as the world did nothing, “But when the rope is already around the neck of the victim and strangulation is imminent, isn’t the word ‘patience’ an insult to reason and nature?” He believed a double murder was being comitted, one by the Nazis and the others by the Allies that knew but did nothing. It seemed as though the world had learned nothing from what had happened to the Armenians or simply still didn’t care, as once again the US refused to get involved. Their purposeful ignorance would lead to genocide at a devastating scale: the Holocaust.
What the US needs is more people like Lemkin and Morgenthau who stopped at nothing to try and prevent genocide. Especially during a time of war the US already knew exactly what it needed to do, “ … unless Turkey is beaten to its knees very speedily there will soon be no more Christians in the Ottoman Empire” (statement by Red Cross officials). During both the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust the US military already had a presence in Europe or was at least supplying weapons to their allies. Now that we’ve done extensive knowledge on WWI during class, we have come closer to understanding the devastating consequences of it, but for nations already at war helping stop genocide would have brought the death count down by millions. For people that will take, “peace at any price,” The US and international organizations should at least be involved in making sure the victims of genocide recieve justice as the British government attempted to do following the Armenian genocide. Without any support from its allies once the Turkish government took British citizens captive, the British government was stuck and was forced to give up the prisoners they held that were perpetrators of the genocide. This also allowed the Turkish government to take the first step in erasing their history and becoming a nation that would never admit what their government and their people had done. The US government claimed that they could only judge violations against American citizens on American property, which of course is ridiculous coming from a nation that had committed genocide itself, as well as committed atrocities abroad. From now on that needs to change or history will continue as it always has, as it did following WWI and WWII. The UN needs to become a more active governing body that intervenes when genocide is taking place no matter what, and the US needs to stop being a country of self interest since it is frankly hypocritical since it doesn’t care about its own people that its targeted. I’m not going to pretend like I know how to stop a genocide or know exactly how the US should intervene, but I’m sure there are plenty of people involved in the US government and international government that would at least be able to get a foot in the door and who have the knowledge to do so. We can’t let people just sit around with that knowledge as is what happened during the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust.
Even before the Armenian genocide, was the genocide against the Herero and Nama people of present-day Namibia, another genocide the US failed to get involved in. To my knowledge the actions of the US government during the Armenian genocide and the Herero and Nama genocide were similar in the sense that they did nothing. However the US would have a greater interest in not getting involved in South West Africa for two main reasons: one would be the US was an imperialist nation itself and the other would be the belief that Africans were racially inferior. The US had just recently abolished enslavement and wouldn’t criticize a white nation for attempting to “civilize” African people no matter the cost. While there may have been useless empathy for the Armenian people, who were Christians, I doubt there was even that for the Herero and Nama people who were just a part of the price of imperialism. Their deaths would benefit Germany’s economy, which likely allowed more people to turn a blind eye. I suspect that there was also more widespread media coverage for the Armenian genocide and the world was mostly unaware of what was happening in South West Germany, nor am I sure that people would care. It is important to say again that the US did nothing in either case, despite one being more publicized than the other. This history of doing nothing would continue past both world wars as during the Cambodian Genocide and the Rwandan Genocide. Even after so many genocides people refuse to accept that they can take place, Powers stated well that, “The prospect of atrocity seemed to remote.” Even if people acknowledge its existence it can be difficult to make them care beyond a certain point, Hitler himself said when planning the Holocaust, “Who still speaks of the Armenians?”