Monday, October 19, 2009

A fascinating review of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assualt on Humanity in yesterday’s New York Times.

Reviewer James Traub opens with this: “Evil repels analysis. Poets from the time of Homer have sung of war, but only a monster sings of atrocities. So, too, with journalism and scholarship.”

Reading on, Traub quotes Goldhagen: “Elimination politics, like the politics of war, is a politics of purposive acts to achieve political outcomes, often of ultimate ends and often of desired power redistribution.”

Traub: “We place the Holocaust outside of history; Goldhagen embeds it in the larger, recurring pattern of genocidal killing.” An inch or so later: “Invocations of the national interest, [Goldhagen] observes, routinely facilitate mass murder by rationalizing a passive response. Our policy, rather, should be founded on a recognition that genocidal eliminationism, which Goldhagen argues has killed more people in recent generations than war itself, is the supreme moral problem of our time.”

The piece concludes with Traub noting that the United Nations has done “virtually nothing” to enforce the “responsibility to protect” principle introduced by the General Assembly in 2005, and that until it does, “those few states that are committed to preventing mass murder may have to act without international approval.” Sound familiar? It should. The United States made a similar argument the last time they invaded Iraq.

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