When the World Turns a Blind Eye

Written by Aidan Poole in his junior year of high school.

He says: “It may be a bit rusty, but the subject matter remains poignant and relevant”.

Email: aidanmpoole@gmail.com

Instagram: @aidanpoole18

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September 1945 marked the end of World War II, in which the Axis powers officially surrendered to the Allies. Although the Axis forces had to pay the economic and political prices of military defeat, the pain ridden experiences of the Jewish population in Europe are too great to compare. The world may have been haunted by war, but European Jews were plagued by something far worse: genocide. Genocide is defined by the United Nations as acts carried out with intent to destroy a racial, ethnic, religious, or national group in whole or in part. During the genocide known as the Holocaust, millions of Jews were systematically dehumanized and slaughtered by the Nazi regime because of their religious alignment. After the war, countries around the world stood together and sang the phrase “Never Again” as a way to honor the nearly 6,000,000 Jews who perished and raise awareness in order to protect the future from potential genocides. In the years immediately following the Holocaust, the world seemed determined never to let another genocide occur. As time began to pass, it became evident that more genocides were going to take place. However, the international community did little or nothing to prevent these massacres from happening. The most notable post-Holocaust genocide took place in Rwanda, in which the Hutu majority slaughtered close to 800,000 members of the Tutsi minority in the span of just three months. Equipped with ample information and the ability to intervene, countries around the world refused to stop the killings. Despite the good intentions of the phrase “Never Again,” those words ought to ring facuous and hollow in the ears of all who hear them, as the world has demonstrated it will never act on this empty promise. Although government officials have the ability to intervene and prevent genocides from taking place, they instead sit in their opulent offices and fabricate excuses for their lack of involvement while pretending to care. These excuses are merely covering up the unnerving truth. Although the international community has the ability to intervene and stop genocide, people constantly choose not to due to selfish and xenophobic tendencies, as demonstrated by the Holocaust, and lack of general interest and humanity, as demonstrated by the Rwandan massacres.

Adolf Hitler was appointed as chancellor of Germany during the year 1933. As soon as his Nazi party held enough influence over the government, they began to eliminate political opposition and perpetuate anti-semitic propaganda in German society. Documentaries such as The Eternal Jew and literary works including Mein Kampf made the Nazi’s sinister plan of Jewish extermination explicitly clear. Nazis fostered a sense of hate among the German people by claiming Jews were biologically impure and blaming them for Germany’s poor economic state following World War I. The national socialist party began to implement laws that deprived the German Jews of civic rights, their homes, and eventually their lives. Any outside observer could peer into Germany and agree that the plan to exterminate the Jewish population was clear as day. Journalists within Germany reported on the events, urgent to make the rest of the world aware.  An article from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum states that the US government publicly “confirmed that Nazi Germany planned to murder all the Jews of Europe” (“United States”). This sinister news was “reported widely in the American press.” The people of the United States had access to various reports detailing the German plot to eliminate Jews from Europe. Despite this truth, no action was taken to stop the killings or save those who were being persecuted. Instead, the US government ignored the desperate cries for help as hundreds of Jews were gassed and burned alive every day. The heartless United States claims that it was too busy fighting the war in Europe to intervene. However, digging deeper will reveal that there are a number of darker and more disturbing reasons to explain the failure of the US to get involved and try to save dying European Jews.

One of the reasons that the United States abstained from providing support to European Jews during the Holocaust was simply because members of the government were anti-Jewish as well. One source details that the State Department made certain decisions because it was “characteristically insensitive and influenced by anti-Semitism” (“American Response”). These individuals subscribed to their hateful ideology because they believed in rumors that an organization of Jewish communists would soon try to overthrow the American government and its democratic ideals. In the form of posters and radio shows, propaganda existed in the United States that promoted the idea that Jews were a threat to democracy, striking fear into the hearts of Americans. Other people were anti-Semitic because they believed that a Jewish plot to manipulate financial institutions posed a threat to American economic integrity. The existence of anti-Semitism in the United States government provides a more shocking reason as to why America did not try to stop the killings of Jews. Their reluctance to help can be attributed to racist and backwards motives that the government as a whole would be too embarrassed to admit to.

Another reason that explains the refusal of the United States to aid dying European Jews was the American attitude towards immigrants during this time period. The economy of the United States was already suffering much strain from the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and the fear existed that increasing the immigration quota would give homeless and desperate Jews the chance to steal American jobs. It is for this reason that in the year 1939, “83% of Americans were opposed to the admission of refugees” (“America”). The working class of the US prioritized the safety of their careers over the lives of European Jews, proving the selfish nature of the country as a whole; they were willing to throw ideals of acceptance and equality out the window for better chances at work. People believed that their economic well-being came before the lives of fellow humans, a practice that proves to be egotistical at heart. Economic factors aside, a general fear and mistrust of those who were different also shaped American attitudes towards immigrants during this period. Harmful xenophobia, or fear of foreigners, permeated every part of society, weaving its way into even governmental politics. One source states that “immigration policies were shaped by fears of communist infiltrators and Nazi spies” (“America”). This illustrates the negative light in which society viewed immigrants. Fear of Nazi infiltration and a communist takeover threatened the United States with destruction. This demonstrates how America’s bigoted worldview prevented them from helping suffering European Jews. Although the United States claimed it abstained from intervention due to preoccupation with war, the real reason it refused to get involved was because it disliked and feared minorities and the negative impact it thought they would have on the country.

Much like in the case of the Holocaust, the failure of the international community to intervene during the Rwandan genocide also has disturbing origins. Racism was always an issue in Rwanda, creating high tensions between the Hutu majority and the frequently targeted Tutsi minority. In 1990, a group of persecuted Tutsis, exiled by abusive Hutus, invaded Rwanda to secure a right to their homeland and protect the rights of Tutsis against vicious hate crimes. The Hutu majority used this event as an excuse to enact a policy of genocide upon the Tutsis, killing up to 800,000 of them over 100 days. Plans for the genocide were explicitly transparent in Rwanda, as the public radio was used to dehumanize Tutsis and promote their merciless slaughter. The radio created a culture of hatred, allowing the genocide to take place. The United Nations peacekeeping correspondent in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire, witnessed the events that led up to the genocide personally. He anticipated the start of a slaughter and “gave the UN information of the atrocities that were going to happen” (Merkel). This leaves no doubt as to whether or not the UN was aware of the events going on in Rwanda. Still, despite clear and concise information and knowledge of the killings, the United Nations continually debated whether humanitarian intervention was appropriate to cover up the true reason they did not get involved. The international community abstained from intervening during the Rwandan genocide simply because governments did not care enough to spend time and resources to save lives, suggesting a bankruptcy of humanity in the world.

Those who argued that the United Nations should stay out of Rwanda pointed primarily at the problem with sovereignty. Intervention, “whether humanitarian or not, has always been a problem for states” (Merkel). Many believe that foreign governments should not involve themselves with the affairs of sovereign states in order to preserve the “autonomy and freedom” of the state. Each country has a responsibility to protect its own people. However, the truth is that many times humanitarian intervention is the only way to protect the freedom of states that cannot handle the responsibility of protecting their own people. During the Rwandan genocide, the arguments and regulations defending the sovereignty of foreign states were abused and used as excuses to avoid involvement. Although these arguments have some rationality to them, the truth is that they were a transparent cover to the truth; the UN did not involve itself in Rwanda because it suffered from a severe lack of interest in the matter. By ignoring the glaring evidence of the genocide and refusing to protect the persecuted Tutsis, the United Nations proves itself guilty of this charge. One source details that the international community suffered from “a lack of will to take on the commitment necessary to prevent the genocide” (Winfield). This statement is very true, as it demonstrates that the UN was not willing to pay the financial price of military intervention or spend the time needed to remedy the situation. Instead, they turned a blind eye, proving the organization incapable of carrying out one of its main functions; to preserve international peace.

Another example that demonstrates the baffling degree to which the world refused to care about the Rwandan genocide is the infamous speech delivered by Bill Clinton to the devastated Tutsis after the massacres ended. The weary crowd that gathered to hear him speak expected an official apology, aid for the damage, and a promise for the future. Instead, the US president refused to apologize and merely acknowledged that “we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred” (Power). This statement suggests that America took at least some amount of action to prevent the slaughter of Tutsis, but this is a lie. In fact, it was the United States that took selfish efforts to “remove most of the UN peacekeepers already in Rwanda” when the killings began and it was the United States that refused to use its superior technology to shut down the radio in Rwanda, the main tool for organizing killings. He then formulated the excuse that those in America did not “fully appreciate the depth and the speed by with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror” (Power). This claim of not knowing about the depth and scale of the Rwandan genocide is a blatant lie, as it was the first genocide to be broadcast on television, with news reporters covering it extensively throughout the country. Clinton’s refusal to apologize to the Rwandan people is grossly immature, and his excuse of ignorance regarding the issue is disgustingly sadistic. He tried to work his way around the issue with broken excuses, but the truth is that his failure to intervene stems from a failure to care about the lives of fellow human beings. The “out of sight, out of mind” approach that Clinton and other world leaders took regarding the issue is harrowing.A failure to empathize with others around the globe makes for a dangerous future, one where the interests of the self are promoted above the collective and, with it, humanity.

It is true that the United States makes efforts to help a select few suffering peoples and tries to provide humanitarian aid to broken countries every so often. After all, one of the expressed reasons that the US invaded Iraq in 2003 was the effort of “liberating Iraq from this vicious tyrannical regime” to “bring democratic political process” (“A Necessary War”) to the country. This demonstrates that America is willing to get involved in international conflict to protect the wellbeing and freedom of helpless people. However, a closer examination will reveal more selfish motives for the invasion. The Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had long been an enemy of the US, meaning the invasion was in part a mission to overthrow his regime to push the American political agenda. In addition to this, Iraq is one of the most oil-rich countries in the world. This is an essential product in the United States, needed for the country to run efficiently. It is likely that the greed for oil helped to promote the invasion rather than a benevolent desire to spread democracy. This demonstrates that the US is willing to impose a policy of intervention, but only when it directly benefits them. The implication of these actions is that the country is inherently self-centered and driven by avarice. There was nothing to gain from helping in the Holocaust or Rwanda, so America simply looked the other way and pretended it did not know the scale of the issue.

The international community refuses to stop genocide because of the self-interested and xenophobic tendencies of people who do not care enough to save dying minorities all over the world. To live in a world where governments willingly allow the systematic dehumanization and murder of thousands to take place every year is not only unnerving, but extremely dangerous as well. Genocide is a historical problem as well as a contemporary one. If political leaders and world populations continue to ignore it, the past will repeat itself again and again. If the world community refuses to show human empathy for those in less fortunate situations, an attitude promoting selfishness and greed will rule society, slaying the American ideals of equal opportunity and justice with the mighty sword of inhumanity. Countries around the globe must fulfill their promise of “Never Again” and stop genocides to save the lives of millions and protect the world from a dark future. If this does not happen soon, the world may never see an end to the hopeless vortex of hate and selfishness it has been sliding into.

Works Cited:

“A Necessary War?” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh//pages/frontline/shows/truth/why/necessary.html

“America and the Holocaust.” Facing History and Ourselves, http://www.facinghistory.org/defying-nazis/america-and-holocaust.

“American Response to the Holocaust.” History.com, A&E Networks, 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/american-response-to-the-holocaust.

Merkel, Bernard-Alexandre. “The Rwandan Genocide: The Guilty Bystanders.” E-International Relations, 14 Jan. 2010, http://www.e-ir.info/2010/01/14/the-rwandan-genocide-the-guilty-bystanders/.

Power, Samantha. “Bystanders to Genocide.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 31 Mar. 2017, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/09/bystanders-to-genocide/304571/.

“The United States and the Holocaust, 1942–45.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007094.

Winfield, Nicole. “UN Failed Rwanda.” Global Policy Forum, Associated Press, http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/201-rwanda/39240.html.


Editor’s Note:

Great work Aidan- people have a right to be informed.


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