The Political Implications of “Never Again”

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J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he studies literature and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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  1. Avatar tom van dyke
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    says:

    Very enjoyable, Mr. Wall, but I’m having trouble locating your conclusion. Not Never Again but Ever Again, and we stand by and watch? [And issue very stern letters of disapproval.]Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall in reply to tom van dyke
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      says:

      I think that first sentence of yours might be applicable to most things I write — in that the whole coming down out of Theory-Land isn’t something I do too well.

      That said, I do think there’s a bit of a grey area at the border between individual-ethical and collective-political. To return to the Darfur example — at the time, the divestment campaign, not military action, seemed the appropriate type of response. (I’m now much more skeptical of its efficacy but we’ll run with this anyway.) I kept my distance from campus groups, but spent time and column space calling on the university to purge its investment portfolio. Hell, in my wild and crazy afternoon of rebel youth, I even marched on the president’s office. (My logic at this time was something along the lines of “Never Again” — but, unlike, as it happened, a number of more left-leaning friends, I was already chastened enough by Iraq to want American troops nowhere near Sudan.)

      So, onto things more relevant to the present (though perhaps several days out of date now): I think there’s a strong case to be made for a temporary no-fly zone in Libya. There’s also a strong case to be made against it. It’s a matter of the balance among: human rights imperatives, practicality, safety of American citizens in Libya, not wanting to undermine the anti-Qaddhafi revolution, considerations of broader Mid-east policy, etc. On a political level, it’s a factor, but not the factor.

      So — the big question: should the US and UK have bombed the rails leading to the camps? Yes. We were already at war; and, at least in some cases, it would not have been a major diversion of resources or risk to those resources. (Auschwitz, perhaps, might have been out of the question, but there were other camps and other rail-lines.) Do I, on the other hand, manage to understand at least some of the post-factual arguments that it would have done more harm than good? Also yes.

      The point being, if we’re going to talk genocide prevention, the best strategy is just that: prevention, not attempting to intervene once it’s underway. Do I have a grand strategy for prevention? Of course not. I’d have to descend from cloud-cuckoo land for that.Report

  2. Avatar J. Otto Pohl
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    says:

    The phrase “Never Again” is of course basically meaningless because it really does mean never again will Jews be victims of genocide. Of course by some definitions of genocide offerred by people like Katz and Lewy only Jews can be victims of genocide. There is a good article by Robert M. Hayden called “Schindler’s Fate: Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, and Population Transfers,” Slavic Review, vol. 55, no. 4 (Winter 1996) that I assign to my classes. It basically argues that we call very similar events genocide, ethnic cleansing or population transfers based solely on politial criteria. Thus the massive and violent expulsion of over 10 million ethnic Germans from East Central Europe at the end of WWII is a “population transfer” rather than ethnic cleansing or genocide because the Allied Powers (US, UK and USSR) supported it. The problem is of course that using the Holocaust as a model for the definition of genocide and chanting “Never Again” has led to a toleration and even support for all crimes deemed to be less horrible than the Shoa. Since the Holocaust is quite unusual in some of its details this basically gives regimes a carte blanche for all crimes that do not match the extremity of the Holocaust.Report

  3. Avatar 4jkb4ia
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    says:

    That depends on what the professional Holocaust rememberers do. Primo Levi had no qualms about speaking out about the Khmer Rouge, for instance.Report

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