The Human Condition

Genocide Videoconferencing Unit

Book List




blood_and_soil.jpgBlood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination From Sparta to Darfur by Ben Kiernan
For thirty years Ben Kiernan has been deeply involved in the study of genocide and crimes against humanity. He has played a key role in unearthing confidential documentation of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. His writings have transformed our understanding not only of twentieth-century Cambodia but also of the historical phenomenon of genocide. This new book—the first global history of genocide and extermination from ancient times—is among his most important achievements. Kiernan examines outbreaks of mass violence from the classical era to the present, focusing on worldwide colonial exterminations and twentieth-century case studies including the Armenian genocide, the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s mass murders, and the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. He identifies connections, patterns, and features that in nearly every case gave early warning of the catastrophe to come: racism or religious prejudice, territorial expansionism, and cults of antiquity and agrarianism. The ideologies that have motivated perpetrators of mass killings in the past persist in our new century, says Kiernan. He urges that we heed the rich historical evidence with its telltale signs for predicting and preventing future genocides.

worse_than_war.jpgWorse Than War: Eliminationism and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity by Daniel Goldhagen
This book goes way beyond talking about numbers. It looks deep down into the heart of darkness. There have been many genocides. Goldhagen explains that they all share common elements. I read this book and came to a deeper understanding of the planet and the people on it. Ultimately this book is about the human condition. What's in people's hearts. What's it like to mobilize others to kill, what's it like to be a killer, to be a victim, to be a bystander. The book is breathtaking in its scope. Panoramic. It opened my eyes. This book makes the incomprehensible understandable -- that more people have died in genocides than in all military combat combined is breathtaking to think about, and is just the start. That huge, abstract number frames the book. To kill large numbers of people means large numbers of other people are mobilized to do the job. Goldhagen looks into the hands, the hearts and the minds of those who are pulling the triggers and holding the machetes. He examines the local and global conditions at the moment a man, a woman, or a child is felled. He makes it very real, very personal. At the very core of genocide is hate. The perpetrators hate their victims for reasons simple and complex, and the spark of killing is ignited time and again by a political decision, a political calculus, usually by a tyrant in one place or another to mobilize local hatreds for his own political purposes. The killing usually stops when all or substantially all of the victims are gone. The world watches. Time and again, it does nothing or not enough. This is a hugely important book. Because by reading it, you realize, it's not the world that's watching anymore. It's us. It is each one of us looking, knowing, understanding that somewhere not just one child is being killed, but ultimately millions. Goldhagen points out that if a child were killed on a suburban street in the United States or in England or in France there would be outrage, and a call for action. Good people do not want killing like this to happen. Yet no action is taken when it is half a world away. Nearly ALL the children, the men and the women of the targeted group die. This book is what happens in places far from our everyday lives. The sanctity of life. Of human suffering. Of the hate in people's hearts. Of the failure of good people and their institutions to protect the weak. After reading it, you can no longer say that you don't know, or don't understand. This book is a very important work that makes sense of the world. It looks evil in the eye and it makes you think.

problem_from_hell.jpgA Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide by Samantha Powersexternal image C:%5CDOCUME%7E1%5CECaine%5CLOCALS%7E1%5CTemp%5Cmsohtml1%5C11%5Cclip_image006.jpg

Power, a former journalist for U.S. News and World Report and the Economist and now the executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, offers an uncompromising and disturbing examination of 20th-century acts of genocide and U.S responses to them. In clean, unadorned prose, Power revisits the Turkish genocide directed at Armenians in 1915-1916, the Holocaust, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Iraqi attacks on Kurdish populations, Rwanda, and Bosnian "ethnic cleansing," and in doing so, argues that U.S. intervention has been shamefully inadequate. The emotional force of Power's argument is carried by moving, sometimes almost unbearable stories of the victims and survivors of such brutality. Her analysis of U.S. politics what she casts as the State Department's unwritten rule that nonaction is better than action with a PR backlash; the Pentagon's unwillingness to see a moral imperative; an isolationist right; a suspicious left and a population unconcerned with distant nations aims to show how ingrained inertia is, even as she argues that the U.S. must reevaluate the principles it applies to foreign policy choices. In the face of firsthand accounts of genocide, invocations of geopolitical considerations and studied and repeated refusals to accept the reality of genocidal campaigns simply fail to convince, she insists. But Power also sees signs that the fight against genocide has made progress. Prominent among those who made a difference are Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who invented the word genocide and who lobbied the U.N. to make genocide the subject of an international treaty, and Senator William Proxmire, who for 19 years spoke every day on the floor of the U.S. Senate to urge the U.S. to ratify the U.N. treaty inspired by Lemkin's work. This is a well-researched and powerful study that is both a history and a call to action.

black_dog.jpgBlack Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian
An essential American story of the author's upbringing as the child of Armenian immigrants--and of his gradual discovery of an entire culture's genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915. For poet Balakian (English/Colgate Univ.; Dyer's Thistle, etc.), a Tenafly, New Jersey, childhood circa 1960 revolved around food-centered rituals with relatives, some vividly characterized here, including his grandmother, Nafina Aroosian. While together they baked a sweet bread called choereg, she told him odd, parable- like stories, including one involving the black dog of the book's title. Similarly puzzling were his family's occasional references to the old country.'' As a student and young poet the author began to glean bits of this past, but his education in Armenia's sad history didn't really begin until after college, when, in a watershed moment, he picked up the memoir of the US ambassador to Turkey on the eve of the Great War. That text is extensively quoted to re-create Balakian's experience of reading, in rushing, energetic blasts, this difficult-to-fathom saga of persecution, brutality, and murder. Revelation of his own family's experience of the genocide came next. In dreamlike, novelistic prose, Balakian tells of his relative Dovey's suffering on the forced deportation march'' from her Anatolian homeland. The author encounters a Bishop Balakian's'' memoir of the atrocities, which he describes as like reading a skeleton,'' the words like pieces of bone.'' This and the other excerpted primary sources through which the dead speak provide dramatic perspective, authenticating the nightmare. In light of what Balakian calls the Turkish authorities' paper trail of denial extend[ing] to the present,'' he insists that commemoration is an essential process for survivors; and he comes to understand his family's numbed response as a necessary coping mechanism. A rare work of seasoned introspection, haunting beauty, and high moral seriousness. Includes a chilling genealogy of Balakian's parents' families.

burning_tigris.jpg The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response by Peter Balakian

Now faded from memory in the shadow of the Holocaust, the Turkish slaughter of more than a million Armenians in 1915-1916 was a virtual template for the 20th-century horrors that followed, and much of what Balakian describes so powerfully is now chillingly familiar: inhuman brutality; mass deportations of helpless civilians (often in overcrowded railroad boxcars); headlines screaming of "systematic race extermination"; activists and intellectuals calling for intervention; and, most devastatingly, the lack of political will in the West to intervene to stop the slaughter. Balakian exposes the roots of the genocide in the "total war" atmosphere of WWI, which combusted with the pan-Turkish nationalism of the Young Turk government, inflamed Muslim rage against "infidel" Armenian Christians, and a long-simmering Ottoman hatred of the Armenians dating to Sultan Abdul Hamid II and his slaughters in the 1890s. Balakian, who wrote so movingly of the impact of the genocide on his own family in Black Dog of Fate, also underscores how well known the Armenian destruction was in America through detailed reports by U.S. consuls throughout Turkey and steady newspaper reporting, and how great the response was in providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and survivors. In a horrifying account, city by city, region by region, Balakian quotes firsthand testimony about the decimation of the Armenian population and their towns and culture. Yet he retains the measured tone of a historian throughout; if anything, he lets Woodrow Wilson off too easily for not declaring war on Turkey. But readers will come away sadly convinced that Armenians' brave but doomed stand in Van should be as celebrated as the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and the corpse-strewn Lake Gaeljak as well known as Babi Yar.
Not My Turn To Die by Savo Heleta not_my_turn.jpg

In 1992, Savo Heleta was a young Serbian boy enjoying an idyllic, peaceful childhood in Gorazde, a primarily Muslim city in Bosnia. At the age of just thirteen, Savo's life was turned upside down as war broke out. When Bosnian Serbs attacked the city, Savo and his family became objects of suspicion overnight. Through the next two years, they endured treatment that no human being should ever be subjected to. Their lives were threatened, they were shot at, terrorized, put in a detention camp, starved, and eventually stripped of everything they owned. But after two long years, Savo and his family managed to escape. And then the real transformation took place. From his childhood before the war to his internment and eventual freedom, we follow Savo's emotional journey from a young teenager seeking retribution to a peace-seeking diplomat seeking healing and reconciliation. As the war unfolds, we meet the incredible people who helped shape Savo's life, from his brave younger sister Sanja to Meho, the family friend who would become the family's ultimate betrayer. Through it all, we begin to understand this young man's arduous struggle to forgive the very people he could no longer trust. At once powerful and elegiac, Not My Turn to Die offers a unique look at a conflict that continues to fascinate and enlighten us.


first_they_killed.jpg First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

In 1975, Ung, now the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World, was the five-year-old child of a large, affluent family living in Phnom Penh, the cosmopolitan Cambodian capital. As extraordinarily well-educated Chinese-Cambodians, with the father a government agent, her family was in great danger when the Khmer Rouge took over the country and throughout Pol Pot's barbaric regime. Her parents' strength and her father's knowledge of Khmer Rouge ideology enabled the family to survive together for a while, posing as illiterate peasants, moving first between villages, and then from one work camp to another. The father was honest with the children, explaining dangers and how to avoid them, and this, along with clear sight, intelligence and the pragmatism of a young child, helped Ung to survive the war. Her restrained, unsentimental account of the four years she spent surviving the regime before escaping with a brother to Thailand and eventually the United States is astonishing--not just because of the tragedies, but also because of the immense love for her family that Ung holds onto, no matter how she is brutalized. She describes the physical devastation she is surrounded by but always returns to her memories and hopes for those she loves. Her joyful memories of life in Phnom Penh are close even as she is being trained as a child soldier, and as, one after another, both parents and two of her six siblings are murdered in the camps. Skillfully constructed, this account also stands as an eyewitness history of the period, because as a child Ung was so aware of her surroundings, and because as an adult writer she adds details to clarify the family's moves and separations. Twenty-five years after the rise of the Khmer Rouge, this powerful account is a triumph.

When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge by Charinthy Him external image C:%5CDOCUME%7E1%5CECaine%5CLOCALS%7E1%5CTemp%5Cmsohtml1%5C13%5Cclip_image002.jpg

Born in Cambodia in 1965, Him lived from the age of three with the fear of war overflowing from neighboring Vietnam and suffered through the U.S.'s bombing of her native land. However, thanks to her loving and open-minded family, her outlook remained positive--until 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized control and turned her world upside down. (According to a Cambodian proverb, "broken glass floats" when the world is unbalanced.) Armed with a nearly photographic memory, Him forcefully expresses the utter horror of life under the revolutionary regime. Evacuated from Phnom Penh and and shunted from villages to labor camps, her close-knit family of 12 was decimated: both parents were murdered, and five of her siblings starved or died from treatable illnesses. Meanwhile, the culture of local communities was destroyed and replaced with the simple desire to survive famine. Yet for all their suffering throughout these years, the surviving Hims remained loyal to one another, saving any extra food they collected and making dangerous trips to other camps to share it with weaker family members. Friendships were also formed at great risk, and small favors were exchanged. But by the end of the book, Him finds herself surprised when she encounters remnants of humanity in people, for she has learned to live by mistrusting, by relying on her own wits and strength. When the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, Him moved to a refugee camp in Thailand. Today she works with the Khmer Adolescent Project in Oregon. This beautifully told story is an important addition to the literature of this period.

gate.jpgThe Gate by Francois Bizot
"It's better to have a sparsely populated Cambodia than a country full of incompetents!" The speaker of this chilling statement is Douch, the Khmer Rouge true believer who ran the camp that held French ethnologist Bizot for the closing months of 1971, several years before the Marxist revolutionaries unleashed massive bloodshed on the small Southeast Asian country. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge's chaotic occupation of Phnom Penh confined the small French community in the city to the premises of the French embassy, the portal of which supplies this volume with its title. Married to a Cambodian citizen, Bizot was an unusual Westerner there, in that once the terror started, he showed little inclination to flee the country. Bizot exploited his status as a rare Khmer-speaking Westerner not only to escape execution but also to extract a measure of autonomy for himself. He frequently showed remarkable defiance toward his heavily armed and ruthless captors. Bizot's account maintains a melancholy tone throughout. Despite his frequent heroic acts, Bizot emphasizes his own frailty and weakness-when he's not looking to set the record straight. He remains especially angry at Western leftists who insisted that the Vietnamese played little role in Cambodia despite ample evidence to the contrary. What's especially striking is the apparent contradiction between Bizot's sympathetic portrait of Douch and his description of the countless murders Douch committed in the name of the revolution. For many Americans, the senseless tragedy of Cambodia remains a mystery; this elegant volume helps outline the contours of that tragedy from a unique perspective.
Slave by Mende Nazer slave.jpg

Born into the Karko tribe in the Nuba mountains of northern Sudan, Nazer has written a straightforward, harrowing memoir that's a sobering reminder that slavery still needs to be stamped out. The first, substantial section of the book concentrates on Nazer's idyllic childhood, made all the more poignant for the misery readers know is to come. Nazer is presented as intelligent and headstrong, and her people as peaceful, generous and kind. In 1994, around age 12 (the Nuba do not keep birth records), Nazer was snatched by Arab raiders, raped and shipped to the nation's capital, Khartoum, where she was installed as a maid for a wealthy suburban family. (For readers expecting her fate to include a grimy factory or barren field, the domesticity of her prison comes as a shock.) To Nazer, the modern landscape of Khartoum could not possibly have been more alien; after all, she had never seen even a spoon, a mirror or a sink, much less a telephone or television set. Nazer's urbane tormentors-mostly the pampered housewife-beat her frequently and dehumanized her in dozens of ways. They were affluent, petty and calculatedly cruel, all in the name of "keeping up appearances." The contrast between Nazer's pleasant but "primitive" early life and the horrors she experienced in Khartoum could hardly be more stark; it's an object lesson in the sometimes dehumanizing power of progress and creature comforts. After seven years, Nazer was sent to work in the U.K., where she contacted other Sudanese and eventually escaped to freedom. Her book is a profound meditation on the human ability to survive virtually any circumstances.

Escape From Slavery by Francis Bok external image C:%5CDOCUME%7E1%5CECaine%5CLOCALS%7E1%5CTemp%5Cmsohtml1%5C14%5Cclip_image002.jpg

Seven-year-old Francis Piol Bol Buk was living happily on his family's southern Sudan farm. One day in 1986, he was sent on errands to the marketplace. There, a slave raid ripped him from his contented life and threw him into a wretched existence serving under a northern Sudanese Arab. After he escaped at age 17, Buk made his way to Cairo with a black market passport incorrectly listing his name as Bok and became a U.N. refugee allowed to settle in the U.S. in 1999. Although he found contentment in Iowa among other refugees, the following year Bok decided to work with an American antislavery organization, and testified before Congress about the atrocities in Sudan. While this is a remarkable story, its power is conveyed most effectively through Bok's simple retelling. His sincerity compels, especially when he describes the decade of mistreatment he endured. After two failed escape attempts, he's told he'll be killed in the morning, and while bound, he thinks of the morning ahead: "I would be dead and finally through with this place and this family. My mind preferred death." Yet when his master changes his mind, Bok immediately starts plotting again. For all his emotional strength, though, Bok remains humble. He thanks God and everyone who helps him escape slavery. This is a powerful, exceptionally well-told story, equally riveting and heartbreaking. Although legal strides have been made, with the help of people like Bok, the persistence of slavery in the world makes this a work that can't be ignored.

God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir by John Bul Dau gods_grew_tire.jpg
Just 13 in 1987 when he was driven from his village and separated from his family in the raging civil war in southern Sudan, John Bul Dau spent years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, until in 2001 he came to the U.S. as one of 4,000 Lost Boys of Sudan. His memoir is the subject of a new, award-winning documentary film. Like Deng's They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky (2005), this is a stark, first-person account of trauma and survival. Dau tells it quietly, in fast, simple prose true to the young teen's viewpoint. He's funny about the culture shock in America and honest about his years in the camp, even the fact that, trauma notwithstanding, he liked being tabbed as a leader. Although appreciative of this country and the chance for work and college, he never denies his connections to Africa. Unforgettable photos document his reunion--after 19 years--with family he did not know were alive.

we_wish_to_inform_you.jpg We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families
by Philip Gourevitch


What courage must it have required to research and write this book? And who will read such a ghastly chronicle? Gourevitch, who reported from Rwanda for the New Yorker, faces these questions up front: "The best reason I have come up with for looking more closely into Rwanda's stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it." The stories are unrelentingly horrifying and filled with "the idiocy, the waste, the sheer wrongness" of one group of Rwandans (Hutus) methodically exterminating another (Tutsis). With 800,000 people killed in 100 days, Gourevitch found many numbed Rwandans who had lost whole families to the machete. He discovered a few admirable characters, including hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, who, "armed with nothing but a liquor cabinet, a phone line, an internationally famous address, and his spirit of resistance," managed to save refugees in his Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali. General Paul Kagame, one of Gourevitch's main sources in the new government, offers another bleak and consistent voice of truth. But failure is everywhere. Gourevitch excoriates the French for supporting the Hutus for essentially racist reasons; the international relief agencies, which he characterizes as largely devoid of moral courage; and the surrounding countries that preyed on the millions of refugees?many fleeing the consequences of their part in the killings. As the Rwandans try to rebuild their lives while awaiting the slow-moving justice system, the careful yet passionate advocacy of reporters like Gourevitch serves to remind both Rwandans and others that genocide occurred in this decade while the world looked on.


Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama dalai_lama.jpg

The Dalai Lama's autobiography should leave no one in doubt of his humility and genuine compassion. Written without the slightest hint of pretense, the exiled leader of Tibet recounts his life, from the time he was whisked away from his home in 1939 at the age of 4, to his treacherous escape from Tibet in 1959, to his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The backdrop of the story is the 1950 Chinese invasion of Tibet. He calmly relates details of imprisonment, torture, rape, famine, ecological disaster, and genocide that under four decades of Chinese rule have left 1.25 million Tibetans dead and the Tibetan natural and religious landscapes decimated. Yet the Dalai Lama's story is strangely one of hope. This man who prays for four hours a day harbors no ill will toward the Chinese and sees the potential for good everywhere he casts his gaze. Someday, he hopes, all of Tibet will be a zone of peace and the world's largest nature preserve. Such optimism is not naive but rather a result of his daily studies in Buddhist philosophy and his doctrine of Universal Responsibility. Inspiring in every way, Freedom in Exile is both a historical document and a fable of deepest trust in humanity.