I’ll never forget standing outside the gates of the Mathhausen concentration camp to tour the prison camp at noontime. The tour guards said, “We’re closing for lunch. You can come back after lunch or if you want to tour Mathhausen right now, we’ll lock you in while we go eat lunch.” On a tight deadline to arrive at our evening destination, we said, “That works for us.” We walked through the gates and they locked us in.
As I toured the ‘sights,’ my imagination took me back in time. Stepping inside the white-tiled, homocidal ‘shower room,’ I imagined myself humiliated and naked, my sweat-terrified flesh compressed against strangers—other men, women and children crunched together in a lethal gas chamber. I surmised how the guards stood outside pouring murderous gas into the ventilation system, rationalizing their actions, as their victims inside the chamber ‘bathed’ to death.
Next to the gas chamber stood brick-fronted incinerators. I lifted the metal stretcher that once held dead bodies and pushed the metal bier toward the gaping mouth of the crematorium designed to ash away to the wind the evidence of homicidal carnage. The heft of a lifeless body. The shrill scraping of metal rasping on metal. How can anyone rationalize genocide? Behind a glass window, shoes of all sizes and kinds worn by the Nazi’s victims made me wonder about the shoe-wearer’s lives, the tiny baby and toddler shoes, the men’s leather shoes, the women’s heels, the physical remnants of clogs in the Nazi’s death machine.
After many empty claims of “Never Again,” no one who listens to or reads media accounts can say, “I’m ignorant,” or ignore Daesh’s commitment to mass murder, beheadings, crucifixions, rape, torture, enslavement, and the kidnaping of children, among other atrocities. Looking “at” and “away” from mass murder splattered in red across the media, leaves me feeling helpless. And yet, for too long, we’ve looked away, anesthetized by helplessness to stop genocide. Genocide is not just an “accident” of history. Perpertrators of genocide are always deliberate and systematic to instill fear in victims, to break their spirits and to kill them. Daesh has never hidden its stated ideology to exterminate all individuals it considers ‘infidels’ who do not obey their interpretation of Islam. While the Syrian President’s wife shops in Paris, Mr. Diktat exterminates people because he values his power over any concern for the Syrian people.
What Is Genocide?
Before 1944, the term “genocide” did not exist. A Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin coined the word the word “genocide” by combining geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with –cide, derived from the Latin word for killing. The definition of genocide being “violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group.”
The U.N. Genocide Convention defined genocide as acts committed “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” These acts can include killing, causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction (e.g., denying the group basic necessitates, destroying properties, etc.), imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group (e.g., killing of the male population while forcibly converting and/or raping the female population), or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (e.g., selling the children of the religious minorities in sex and labor markets). Hello? Does any of this sound familiar?
Can we afford to merely mouth “Never Again,” while simultaneously turning blind eyes to genocide? The U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, Samantha Power once said: if genocide is “not the U.S.’s problem, it’s nobody’s problem.”
Unsettling Truth: The U.S. Has Never Intervened to Stop Genocide
Ambassador Samantha Power’s Pulizer-prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, reveals an unsettling truth: “The United States had never in its history intervened to stop genocide and had in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred.” Drawing upon exclusive interviews with Washington’s top policymakers, thousands of once-classified documents, victims of genocide, and accounts of reporting from the killing fields to show how decent Americans inside and outside government looked away from mass murder, Samantha Power debunks the argument that U.S. leaders were unaware of the horrors as they were occurring against Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Iraqi Kurds, Rwandan Tutsis, and Bosnians during the past century.
I’ll never forget my experiences in Yugoslavia: the hatred between the Serbs and Croatians; firsthand accounts of Christians suffering persecution under the communist dictatorship of Tito. A woman in a market to whom I offered a free Bible, rejected it saying, “No. My son, communist. He kill me.” My heart will never forget my horror when the Bosian Serbs targeted Muslim Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats, demeaning the value of human life worthy only of ethnic cleansing. Or the Hutu’s machetes slashing and hacking people and families to death.
U.S. Presidents often breathe empty, dissipating proclamations into the atmosphere–airing public proannouncements over the media’s loudspeaker–while genocide continues to stalk and haunt the hunted. Just as presidents issued meaningless slogans, they more often than not failed to act or even declare the obvious–genocide–in the face of genocide.
Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated one and a half to three million people died in Cambodia. After ignoring the mass killings in Cambodia, President Carter swore in 1979: “Never again will the world stand silent…fail to act in time to prevent this terrible act of genocide.”
In 1984, President Reagan swore, “I say in a forthright voice, Never Again!”
From April to July 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation of Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. Bill Clinton campaigned, “If the horrors of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of remaining silent and paralyzed in the face of genocide.” Four years after the Rwandan genocide on March 25, 1998, President Clinton admitted, “We did not act quickly enough after the killing began [in Rwanda]. . . . We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide.”
A declassified Department of Defense paper dated May 1, 1994 reveals that during the Rwandan genocide—after an estimated 300,000 Rwandans had already been killed–government officials warned against designating the atrocities in Rwanda as genocide because doing so would force the U.S. Government to act. More specifically, the discussion advised: “Be Careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday–Genocide finding could commit USG to ‘do something.’”
After the Clinton Administration failed to intervene in Rwanda, Susan Rice, the current U.S. National Security Advisor, said: “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.” And yet history continues to prove that American leaders repeatedly fail to count the cost of inaction and apathy in the face of genocide.
On March 21, 2011, President Obama said, “But the core principle that has to be upheld here is that when the entire international community almost unanimously says that there’s a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legitimacy decides to turn his military on his own people, that we can’t simply stand by with empty words; that we have to take some sort of action.”
On August 4, 2011, a Obama White House press release stated: “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.”
The War Crime Census
Daesh revels in their war crime census, even using body counts and the world’s apathy and cowardice as a recruiting tool. The Hebrew words “ki tisa” for “when you take a census” precisely means “when you raise up.” (Exodus 30:11-12) As the war crime body count census accelerated, some rose up to the occasion to move that the United States declare the many gruesome atrocities in Iraq and Syria to be declared genocide.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), unanimously passed two bipartisan measures to address war crimes and genocide in the Middle East. Specifically, the measures condemn ISIS’s genocide against Christians, Yezidis and other ethnic and religious minorities, and call for an international tribunal to hold the brutal Assad regime accountable for war crimes. The war crimes and genocide measures the Committee passed were:
- H. Con. Res. 121, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), strongly condemns the gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Government of Syria, its allies, and other parties to the conflict in Syria; and calls on the President to promote the establishment of a Syrian war crimes tribunal;
- as amended, H. Con. Res. 75, introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), expresses the sense of Congress that the atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
On passage of the bills, Chairman Royce said: “ISIS commits mass murder, beheadings, crucifixions, rape, torture, enslavement, and the kidnaping of children, among other atrocities. ISIS has said it will not allow the continued existence of the Yezidi. And zero indigenous Christian communities remain in areas under ISIS control. So as ISIS destroys churches and other holy sites, they move closer towards eliminating certain communities. Put simply, their desire is to erase the existence of ethnic and religious minorities from their self-proclaimed caliphate, by any means necessary. ISIS is guilty of genocide and it is time we speak the truth about their atrocities. I hope the administration and the world will do the same, before it’s too late.
“But we shouldn’t condemn ISIS atrocities without also denouncing the horrendous war crimes being perpetrated on a massive scale by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. For several years, this Committee has heard searing testimony regarding the terrible atrocities being committed by Syria’s government against its own people — widespread torture, industrial-scale murder, starvation as a tool of war, and the terror of unending barrel bombs. Today’s resolution calls for the creation of an international tribunal to hold those responsible for these heinous crimes accountable – giving hope to those suffering today.”
Thank You, Secretary John Kerry for Belated Designation
On December 23, 2015, the Foreign Affairs Committee penned a letter to The Honorable John F. Kerry, in behalf of Congress urging any designation of genocide “must reflect the actual experience of all minorities whose communities are being erased and whose families are being slaughtered because of their faith.” Kerry’s ‘genocide’ designation comes days after the House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution by a 393-0 vote condemning ISIS atrocities as genocide, and is also the first time our country has called atrocities genocide since the U.S. Congress declared that the atrocities unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, were genocide.
Even though my heart feels like the genocide designation is a few years and wa-a-a-y too many dead lives late, thank you, Secretary of State, John Kerry. In a press conference Secretary Kerry stated: “Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self proclamation, by ideology, and by actions, in what it says, what it believes and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, directed at these same groups, and in some cases, also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities.”
“I say this even though the ongoing conflict and lack of access to key areas has made it impossible to develop a fully detailed and comprehensive picture of all that Daesh is doing and all that it has done. I want to be clear, I am neither judge nor prosecutor nor jury with respect to the allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing by specific persons. Ultimately, the full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through formal legal determination made by a competent court or tribunal. But the United States will strongly support efforts to collect, document, preserve and analyze the evidence of atrocies and we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators of atrocies will be held accountable.”
NBC news reports, “This is only the second time the executive branch has used the term [genocide] in relation to an ongoing conflict.” Designating the atrocities as genocide unlocks options to both prevent further genocide and to punish the perpetrators of genocide. But will our leaders insert the key to unlock and unleash action?
On August 29, 2014, John Kerry wrote an op-ed for The New York Times entitled To Defeat Terror, We Need the World’s Help: “In a polarized region and a complicated world, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria presents a unifying threat to a broad array of countries, including the United States. What’s needed to confront its nihilistic vision and genocidal agenda is a global coalition using political, humanitarian, economic, law enforcement and intelligence tools to support military force.”
Leading the Way
I hope all Kerry’s words aren’t just more “speak to the hand, cause the government ain’t really listening, but we just did it to appease some.” I may be only one of seven billion, but God values each person as His only child whose life deserves respect, ransom, and refuge. It’s easy to think one person or another ethnic group doesn’t matter to God. Genocidal barbarians systematically dehumanize a person or ethnic group’s value, reducing them to just nameless numbers.
Our value to God counts more than we’ll ever understand. And I’m glad Kerry finally Rangered Up (well sorta, Rangers don’t have to be pressured, Rangers lead the way) to call a spade a spade and to call genocide–genocide.