Samuel Totten, Gerald Caplan and Amanda Grzyb explore the hypocrisy of American presidents who habitually ignore genocide, and sometimes even support it, all while claiming that we should “never again” tolerate such atrocities.
Samuel Totten, Gerald Caplan and Amanda Grzyb
If it’s April, it must be “Never Again” time once more. You hear this solemn pledge a lot every April, since the month commemorates not only Holocaust Remembrance Day but the official anniversaries of both the Armenian and Rwandan genocides. Leaders at every level seem to love hearing themselves declare “Never Again.” But those who mean it have no power and those with power never mean it. The record speaks for itself.
Last April, in a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, President Barack Obama proudly announced his establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board. “Last year, in the first-ever presidential directive on this challenge, I made it clear that ‘preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America….’ Now we’re doing something more. We’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities.”
Alas, we’ve heard these noble promises before from his predecessors. In 1979, having spent the previous three years doing nothing to stop the Cambodian genocide, Jimmy Carter swore that “never again will the world stand silent… fail to act in time to prevent this terrible act of genocide.” And then Ronald Reagan: “I say in a forthright voice, Never Again!” Yet he was an enthusiastic backer of Guatemalan president Rios Montt, now on trial for genocide against his own people, while renewing the U.S. alliance with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein even while Saddam was gassing the people of Halabja — the precise genocidal crime for which he was to be tried, had he lived.
George H. W. Bush told the world that his visit to Auschwitz left him “with the determination not just to remember but also to act.” Yet his silence as Serbia attempted to ethnically cleanse Bosnia was so thunderous that his rival in the 1992 campaign declared, “If the horrors of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of remaining silent and paralyzed in the face of genocide.”