Monday, February 21, 2011

Never Again and Again and Again

Never again will Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940s.

In the the February 1, 2011 issue of Policy Review, David Rieff looks at The Persistence of Genocide, “Never Again,” again and again and asks an unaskable question. Is it even possible to prevent future genocides?

. . Bluntly put, an undeniable gulf exists between the frequency with which the phrase [never again] is used — above all on days of remembrance most commonly marking the Shoah, but now, increasingly, other great crimes against humanity — and the reality, which is that 65 years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, “never again” has proved to be nothing more than a promise on which no state has ever been willing to deliver. When, last May, the writer Elie Wiesel, himself a former prisoner in Buchenwald, accompanied President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel to the site of the camp, he said that he had always imagined that he would return some day and tell his father’s ghost that the world had learned from the Holocaust and that it had become a “sacred duty” for people everywhere to prevent it from recurring. But, Wiesel continued, had the world actually learned anything, “there would be no Cambodia, and no Rwanda and no Darfur and no Bosnia.”

Wiesel was right: The world has learned very little. But this has not stopped it from pontificating much. The Obama administration’s National Security Strategy Paper, issued in May 2010, exemplifies this tendency. It asserts confidently that “The United States is committed to working with our allies, and to strengthening our own internal capabilities, in order to ensure that the United States and the international community are proactively engaged in a strategic effort to prevent mass atrocities and genocide.” And yet again, we are treated to the promise, “never again.” “In the event that prevention fails,” the report states, “the United States will work both multilaterally and bilaterally to mobilize diplomatic, humanitarian, financial, and — in certain instances — military means to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities.”

Of course, this is not strategy, but a promise that, decade in and decade out, has proved to be empty. For if one were to evaluate these commitments by the results they have produced so far, one would have to say that all this “proactive engagement” and “diplomatic, financial, and humanitarian mobilization” has not accomplished very much. No one should be surprised by this. The U.S. is fighting two wars and still coping (though it has fallen from the headlines) with the floods in Pakistan, whose effects will be felt for many years in a country where America’s security interests and humanitarian relief efforts are inseparable. At the same time, the crisis over Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons capability is approaching its culmination. Add to this the fact that the American economy is in shambles, and you do not exactly have a recipe for engagement. The stark fact is that “never again” has never been a political priority for either the United States or the so-called international community . . . . Nor, despite all the bluff talk about moral imperatives backed by international resolve, is there any evidence that it is becoming one.

Read the entire article

HT: Arts and Letters Daily


There is trend to call for handling International Law problems with what can be described as a 911 mentality (phone number - not date.)

If there is a problem in a town some one calls the 911 and a policeman is sent, if he can’t handle it he calls for support, if the support can’t handle it perhaps a SWAT team or whatever. AFTER it is over the courts sort it out. The decisions to deploy the first policeman and the reinforcements based on nominal information.

Contrary wise, if there is an international situation that calls for military force, presumable and quite often there is considerable discovery discussion and calculation as to the practical and moral implications of the intervention BEFORE deployment, even if it held behind closed doors. Hopefully the tenets of the International Law Just War Doctrine were consulted.

More and more, there is a call for international problems to be handled on a 911 basis. In this case, the first preliminary reports of a genocide cause troops to deploy. In Rwanda this would have saved mnany lives. But it would be awfully easy for ordinary street riots or civil unrest to be inadvertently or tactically elevated to “incipient Genocide” and force deployed and used only to find out it wasn‘t justified. In a police 911 situation force is deployed in the confidence that the police can deal with any opposition, but applied to the international community it would mean a policy of going to war before asking if the war can be won.

I think there are things that can be done prevent Genocide and move toward it's elimnation, but making a promise of "Never Again" with no intent or willingness to enforce it is useless.

My Genocide Topic

Author David Rieff is a New York-based writer and policy analyst who has written extensively about humanitarian aid and human rights. He is the author of eight books, including A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis and At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention, and is currently writing a book on the global food crisis


Anonymous said...


um, this is a WIDELY misunderstood quote. And it's WIDE misunderstanding is intentional. What "never again" always MEANT was "Never again will this certain non-Christian group allow THEMSELVES to be put upon WITHOUT FIGHTING BACK."

It has no broad implications for ANY other group. But it SOUNDS nice. Mao killed (was responsible for the deaths of) 100 MILLION people. Mao is still described as a "poet"


hank_F_M said...


Thanks for reading and commenting.

Of course you are right.

It is the original meaning, and it is certainly more sensible than the other meanings attributed to it. It is these other very common meanings, often held in good faith, that I was satirizing with "never again and again and again . . ."

What happened to a "certain non-Christian group" in the 1940's should not happen to any group any time or anywhere,

Those who promise "Never Again" with no intent or willingness to enforce it are part of the problem.

We need many more who will say "Never Again" meaning. they will not "allow THEMSELVES to be put upon WITHOUT FIGHTING BACK." are part of the solution

Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

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