Based on what you’ve read in Power’s account as well as what you’ve viewed in the documentary “America and the Holocaust” as well as your perusal of the website linked to the new US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibition Americans and the Holocaust, how do you assess the United States’ actions?
Reading through Power’s book, I found myself again and again disgusted by the motives behind the rejection of Genocide and the many obstacles in the way of the bill. Two things stood out to me concerning the passing of the Bill to a vote.
The first was the United States’ many excuses for not backing the Bill, or for not backing the phrasing. The issue of genocide remained an issue of profit, rather than on of humanitarian concern. The United States was driven by the need for money and for ‘peace’ among their allies. Since the Bill would accuse their allies of genocide, the US backed down. Instead of calling out their allies, they continued to permit their actions, saying that the murder of innocent was fine, as long as they weren’t friendly with the US. The case was fraught with capitalist scorn, and bias towards a specific, narrow minded agenda. This practice is unfortunately common today, where the US turns a blind eye to mass killings and genocides in other countries, and even to the human rights violations within the US. They are still afraid to own up to their own wrong doings, and this fear --- or refusal --- was a major factor in their opposition against the Bill. In places, there mere phrasing would accuse the US of genocide, and thus was unacceptable. It was as though the US would sign only if the Bill accused non-allied nations, with no risk towards the US or its allies. The administration preferred to cover its own ass rather than preserve millions of lives in the decades to come.
The US also opposed the Bill as it would create unrest within the United States, giving voice to the hundreds of human rights groups standing up against genocide and violation of human existence. I’m not sure what that was about, and I ask someone to clarify this specific section, as I found no reason for the US administration to want to shut down the voices of the people. At the time we were a leading democracy, the pioneer of the people, the future of mankind, and yet the administration sought to cover up the voices which formed the nation, and create one ‘perfect’ voice. It seemed to me like their goal was to preserve face at the cost of lives they couldn’t be bothered to care about.
The second is the issue Lemkin had with the phrasing of the UDHR. He opposed the fact that the UDHR might overlap, and thus cover, genocide. His arguments actually hindered both the UDHR and his argument for genocide, and I believe he could have easily come up with a solution through which both could live equally. I do understand his anger and his frustration, his life’s work potentially thrown away, an issue of global concern marginalized and pushed under the rug. Both could have co-existed. His argument should have stood such that genocide became a named crime, separate from the UDHR, with separate consequence. Genocide is indeed more than mass killings, more than murder, it is the total destruction of a culture, a history, a race, an identity key to the development of the human race as a whole. Terrorist actions are covered separate from most violent crimes, just as homicide and suicide are separated. Genocide and ‘violent crimes’ can, and should, be separated
Overall, what do you think the United States should have done regarding the Holocaust?
I feel like this whole situation is all too common, and could be repaired, should all parties fight for the moral option rather than the option that suited political and economic interest. We, even now, prefer to push issue under the rug and act as though they don’t exist, if it means we can preserve a façade of perfection. Concerning the naming of genocide, I think the US should have signed the Bill and stepped forward to own its own mistakes. It is a lot to ask, but this was a period of change, an opportunity for the United States to take advantage of its prestige and be a leader in human rights preservation. Time and time again we fail to step up, accept change, and thus miss the opportunity to be ‘first’, and instead end up dead last and a laughing stock among leading nations. Sign the Bill, and whatever the Bill means for human rights for the US, deal with it. Take care of it, and stand as a leader on the world stage. I truly believe that if the US had spoken out and made an attempt to change, allies would be pushed to change, and the pressure would be on to convict those within their own nations who committed the crime of genocide or even mass destruction. Let’s say they didn’t feel the heat, maybe they do nothing. The US has still take the upper hand when the time does come around as we’ve seen time and time again. Nothing bad can come to the US from speaking out and changing our selves to be better. In an ideal world the US would suck it up and make moves towards a better US. In a realistic world they would sign the bill, and then fight the allegations that would come at the country years to come. But as far as I am concerned, it’s worth the price.
What course of action would you recommend for our government and civilian population? Explain your thinking!
I’ve already addressed that the US should have backed the Bill. The process after-the-fact might come as a challenge. I would suggest, for the government, that after pushing the bill through, we began to break away from segregation, and make steps towards integration of all races. Segregation being called genocide was one of the US’ primary issues, and signing the bill would force the US to face the facts. However, by clearly making moves to move towards humane treatment the US could say ‘we can do it, we are doing, and so should you. Follow our lead’. The US could even, once again, claim superiority over less developed nations. From there, the US should have begun to put pressure on its allies: convict killers, or face American fury. It’s an unfortunate fact that that would even have to be a tactic, but it could work.
As for today, I am going to follow TurnOverThisPage’s commentary. Letting in migrants is a solid first step towards 1. Setting precedent, 2. Repenting for inaction, and 3. Forging a new nation based on our founding ideals of acceptance and hope. Today, we rip children from parents, we deny entrance to refugees, and we house migrant children in cages and make excuses for it. We fail to take accountability, or even repent for our sins in the past. The United States should follow Canada in accepting migrants, providing shelter, and aiding in assimilation. We should also have the guts to speak up for minority groups: Muslims who are held in concentration camps in China, gun violence and gang violence in our own country, child slavery in Dubai and countless other atrocities. Perhaps this means statements from the White House, or perhaps this means increased funding for news media to research and report all over the world, rather than the limited Euro-centric viewpoint we are conditioned to care about.
As for civilians, it is our responsibility to put pressure on the administration. We are a democracy, so let’s act on it. Civil unrest is far more powerful than we think, especially in the wake of MLK. In such unrest, standing up and speaking out could hold the administration accountable for its actions, or inactions. Boston18 sends a powerful message saying, “Don’t underestimate the power of the public. The government is the product of our views and objectives, and in that way, the government is only as powerful as we want it to be. We get the ultimate word, so we must use it.” The US stood silent, refusing migrants throughout the Holocaust. That shifted when public opinion took root. When the administration was exposed, the people spoke out. When the people spoke out, the administration took action. It really is all about public opinion, and though I don’t believe this is how a government should run, it leaves room for the people to step up and call out their government. We can see today how an administration can lose the favor of the people, and become so disconnected as to fail to represent the people in its entirety. Nothing should be left up to the administration alone, nothing at all. Trump continues his rhetoric because his rallies are full, because he has people in office and out of office telling him that what he is doing is acceptable and right. The voice of the opposition is just not loud enough for him. It is rising, and as it rises he becomes more frantic, more panicked, because as hidden away as it may seem, public opinion does matter. Public action does matter.
And was it a priority, from a legal standpoint, to label the crimes that the Nazis (and before them, the Armenians) had committed?
Absolutely it was a priority.
From a legal standpoint, labeling something makes it official. Labeling something gives it a name, validity, and thus punishment. It means that crimes that otherwise go unpunished can be named and prevented. If someone took my car, and we didn’t call if theft, what would happen? There is no way to punish a crime that, legally, does not exist. It also means that governments can call out countries for human violations with a clear accusation, one that puts pressure on the nation, one that labels the nation. It’s an association tactic, where if the Armenians pulled a genocide, and that same term was used with the Nazis, the term would carry that much more power when accusing the US of genocide of the Native Americans.
From a social standpoint, it means the people have a word to rally around. People rallied around “civil disobedience”, around “terrorist”, around “LGBTQ”, around “American”, and against “immigrant”. The fight is now centralized and up for debate. News media often refuses to name issues as political or give them criminal identification (LOL Fox News), and thus are able to skim the topic, sweeping it under the rug. Without a name the concept has little to no validity. It is recognition of the victims. If not a genocide, it would be a mass killing, and why should that one differ from any other? That simply isn’t true. Its more than mass murder, or systematic oppression, it is all of that combined and so much more. It is the deliberate destruction of a culture, a people, a hope, and a future. Naming the atrocity “genocide” forces us to handle the issue differently, in a new light, as a new horror.
What do you think was important and/or valuable about Lemkin’s efforts?
Lemkin faced considerable opposition in the UN and in his journeys of genocide recognition, but he kept fighting. He fought for something that he believed was right. He brought a new voice to the newly developing UN, one of persistence, one of bi-partisan humanitarian concern, a voice upon which the UN should be founded. He came off as a nuisance, as annoying, but his work forged a path for those who could not speak, to have a voice.
He changed how we think about crime. He showed the world that crimes against humanity should not be the sole responsibility of the state. He bashed national borders, and instead argued that we should be protecting the human race. No longer should we protect the “American people’ but rather mankind. His work forced politicians to reconsider how international law is created and considered. The United Nations is an attempt at crossing borders and unifying the world under one flag, but ultimately fails. I believe that if more people like Lemkin took office in the UN, national borders would hold less meaning when it comes to crimes against humanity, and isn’t that better than inaction?
We allow national borders to hinder our perceptions of the world. We allow borders to force us to sit and watch other people suffer. These borders have created an US/THEM mentality, one that infects the minds of every politician and civilian, promoting tunnel vision, and allowing history to repeat itself. Lemkin fought to make sure history did not repeat itself, and yet here we are. Concentration camps in China. Camps in the US. And those are the ones I know about. Lemkin called for an end. Lemkin called for unity, and for a brief moment in history there was a glimmer of unity. That glimmer was quickly drowned in capitalist mantra, bipartisan conflict, and selfish intent.
I wish I knew what to do, where to turn, some way to make a tangible difference without ending up like Lemkin: derelict and unsatisfied