No More Genocidal Evasions

"Never again," declared the world in the wake of the Holocaust. Yet, the motto of the half-century since, at least insofar as the world's response to genocide is concerned, might better be stated as "Again and again." Or, at any rate: "Never mind."

Indeed, whenever genocide begins, the world's usual response - especially that of Western leaders - is to turn away. From Hitler's attempted eradication of Europe's Jews to the Rwandan Hutus' extermination of the Tutsi in 1994, policymakers balked at intervening politically, economically, or militarily to obstruct such targeted destructions of minorities. For the most part, they have even refrained from denouncing the perpetrators, clinging to a sham neutrality or taking shelter in the fog of "imperfect information."

Millions of innocent Bengalis, Cambodians, Kurds, Bosnians and Rwandans paid the price for this inaction, as did millions of Jews and Armenians earlier in the 20th century. That price, however, is also exacted from the rest of us, because when extremists are allowed to wipe out their neighbors, the victimized often become radicalized and militarized; they look to settle old scores not only against the perpetrators of genocide, but against those who abetted them.

Many in the Islamic world today cite years of European and American inaction in Bosnia as one root of their resentment. Would-be killers themselves learn that hate and mass murder are legitimate, or at least effective, tools of statecraft. Western governments winked at Saddam Hussein when he gassed the Kurds of northern Iraq in 1987-88, but his agents may yet turn the chemicals he tested there on targets in Berlin, London, or Washington.