Reading Room: A Problem from Hell

Posted: 28th September 2012 by Generals Wrestling in Reading Room, Uncategorized

“Nothing less than a masterwork of contemporary journalism…An angry, brilliant, fiercely useful, absolutely essential book.” The New Republic

In “A Problem from Hell” America in the Age of Genocide Samantha Power examines many of the major genocides of the twentieth century, from the Armenian genocide in Turkey at the beginning of the century to the massacres in Rwanda toward the end.  Through exceptionally thorough research, and in some cases compelling personal experience, Power relates the sequence of events leading up to, throughout, and following each case of genocide, specifically focusing on the role played by the government of the United States.

In each case she finds overwhelming evidence that the US government as well as the United Nations were fully informed of the serious potential for erupting violence in the countries in question, but time and again chose not to take any preventative measures.  Even once the massacres were fully underway and US foreign affairs officials were reporting images of mass graves and horror stories from refugees of torture, rape, and murder, the US government waited until the very last minute, if ever, to intervene.  Power examines the reasons behind the apparent indifference of the US government toward the gross and systematic suffering of these peoples, and ultimately calls for us to drastically change our ways.

Having grown up in the 1990s, I was too young to really experience any of the genocides covered by Power.  Not being a history major, neither had I really learned about any before reading this book, with the exception of the holocaust.  I was shocked that such horrible suffering could have occurred, and so recently, without having made any sort of impression on me.  No one will argue with the view that genocide is unacceptable, and it seems to follow that if we are in a position where we can prevent such mass suffering, we ought to do so.  However this has simply not been the case.  Reading this book really made me examine my conception of the world I live in today, and has certainly made me more aware of recent history and government policy.  I would recommend this book to everyone, because I think it is important to be aware of the huge capacity for evil people can exhibit, and because it is entirely too easy to remain indifferent and unmotivated in the face of ignorance.

Izzy Brassfield, (WLU ’13) Biology and Philosophy Major, Greensboro, NC