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A Problem from Hell: America and the Age…

"A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide

by Samantha Power

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1,540197,700 (4.3)35
Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize For General Nonfiction National Book Critics Circle Award Winner In her award-winning interrogation of the last century of American history, Samantha Power -- a former Balkan war correspondent and founding executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy -- asks the haunting question: Why do American leaders who vow "never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Drawing upon exclusive interviews with Washington's top policy makers, access to newly declassified documents, and her own reporting from the modern killing fields, Power provides the answer in "A Problem from Hell" -- a groundbreaking work that tells the stories of the courageous Americans who risked their careers and lives in an effort to get the United States to act.… (more)
  1. 20
    Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Roméo Dallaire (bookalover89)
    bookalover89: Samantha Power writes an intro to this extraordinary book!
  2. 00
    To Bear Any Burden by Al Santoli (paulkid)
    paulkid: Read Power's book for a more recent overview of many incidents of genocide, including that in Cambodia. Read Santoli's book for many personal accounts of the refugee crises caused by the indochina wars.

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» See also 35 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Ugh. Deep journalism and sledgehammer history. If you want to see America's (lack of) response over and over and over again to genocide across the globe, read this one. It's not easy to read because it's not a pretty picture. ( )
1 vote patl | Feb 18, 2019 |
This book is not for the faint-at-heart. And it's best read when one has the stomach for human tragedy. That said, this is one of the most important books I've read in a very long time. The author, Samantha Power, is the current US Ambassador to the United Nations.

This is a clear-eyed and impassioned view of some of the 20th Century's most horrific events - those that have cleared the definition of genocide in international law. That story is in itself a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.

The book is doubly tragic by framing its narrative around the quixotic figures who did what they could against evil - Raphael Lemkin, who fought tirelessly to get the UN Genocide Convention adopted, and died penniless and broken. Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), who stood on the floor of the US Senate every day that it was in session and spoke out to get the US to ratify the Convention (over 3,000 speeches). State Department field officers who put their careers on the line - sometimes destroying those careers entirely - by speaking out about the killings in Cambodia or the genocide against the Kurds in Iraq in the late 1980s. The generals who led UN peacekeeping missions and who were marginalized for demanding the troops and the rules of engagement that would allow them to stop the killing.

Thank you, Raphael Lemkin. Thank you Peter Galbraith. Thank you Romeo Dallaire. Thank you General Wesley Clark. Thank you Richard Holbrooke. I'll end with a quote from Holbrooke: "If we had bombed those f**kers, as I recommended, Srebrenica would not have happened." ( )
  vlodko62 | Dec 29, 2018 |
Genocide and America’s lack of response to it from the Turks killing the Kurds onwards (with not much about the Holocaust—while it’s the point of comparison, it’s also almost unaddressable on its own terms in this book). Power argues that American policy has in fact been a success, in that American policy has been to ignore genocides whenever possible. She documents that the same arguments always pop up—we don’t know for sure what’s going on, we couldn’t do anything anyway, if we intervened we’d make it worse—and argues that in many cases more aggressive policies could have done some good. That’s the weakest part of the book, in part because there’s so little evidence of any strong power taking military or military-lite action and actually stopping a genocide. (For some instances, she argues, economic threats could’ve worked, or even un-carried-out threats of military action, but again she doesn’t have much to go on.) As a catalog of unredressed atrocities treated as problems of political management, it’s depressing in a completely different way than Generation Kill, although that book possibly works as an argument against her proposal for more aggressive actions. ( )
  rivkat | Jul 8, 2014 |
Great work, full of references. But The last chapters feel rushed and full of personal anecdotes. Furthermore there's a general feeling, specially in the last chapter (conclusion), of the author's trying to justify interventionism for each and every case. ( )
  emed0s | Jan 4, 2014 |
A passionate, but incomplete look at the problems of genocide and intervention. Argues that political quagmires and mismanagement lead to a lack of intervention in times of humanitarian necessity, leading to disaster. Her own experience is with the Balkans and Rwanda, and these chapters are easily the best in the book.

It is one thing to recognize and stop evil. It is another to fight apathy, which the author fights with all her might.

The greatest omission, and one which is only too relevant, is where the United States openly cooperates with or aids dictatorial regimes. The Khmer Rouge was allowed to continue to exist because it would serve as a counterweight to Vietnam or China.

Reagan in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Iraq. Nixon and Pinochet. Guatemala. Haiti and the Duvaliers. Mobutu in Zaire. Noriega. Suharto. Videla in Argentina. Any dictatorial bastard who claimed to be fighting Communism was thus approved and aided, because he's our son of a bitch.

Perhaps in the early stages of the Cold War, such 'lesser of two evils' talk was necessary, with the absolute terror coming out of Stalin's or Mao's little empires. But such is the inherent contradiction in foreign policy. The ideal democratic peace will be brought about by power plays and force. Would such ideas be excusable now?

Presently, the author has a position in the Obama administration, and was the primary reason they decided for intervention in Libya. There, at least, this was widely approved. Of course, our own ugly history makes an appearance there, as new records have shown that Bush II, after removing Qaddafi from the 'Axis of Evil', cooperated with him on imprisonment and torture.


A frightening and passionate book, but one which does not tell the whole story. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
In '' 'A Problem From Hell,' '' Power expertly documents American passivity in the face of Turkey's Armenian genocide, the Khmer Rouge's systematic murder of more than a million Cambodians, the Iraqi regime's gassing of its Kurdish population, the Bosnian Serbian Army's butchery of unarmed Muslims and the Rwandan Hutu militias' slaughter of some 800,000 Tutsi. This vivid and gripping work of American history doubles as a prosecutor's brief: time and again, Power recounts, although the United States had the knowledge and the means to stop genocide abroad, it has not acted. Worse, it has made a resolute commitment to not acting.

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