Growing up in post-World War II America, you felt proud of the country's role in the greatest battle of good versus evil the planet has seen. Never had evil been so capably personified as it had been in the case of Nazi Germany. As I grew up, I was taught not only had the good guys won but every discussion about the horrors of the Holocaust always had the reassuring coda of "never again."
With a new world order that included the United Nations and the Genocide Convention, it was inconceivable that such a thing could happen again. Then came Pol Pot in 1975 who unleashed The Killing Fields as he sought to return Cambodia to "Year Zero." That was an aberration, we told ourselves, since having just exited Vietnam after over a decade of fighting, there was little we could do to stop it.
Then came the 1990s. We learned the word "ethnic cleansing" as the conflict in the former Yugoslavia escalated and Europe seemed incapable of responding. UN Peacekeepers were sent to prevent genocide and French General Philippe Morillon assured refugees in the "safe zone" of Srebenica that "you are now under U.N. protection of the United Nations. I will never abandon you." Except that is exactly what happened as the UN Peacekeepers offered no resistance as the Bosnian Serbs stormed the safe area and slaughtered all of its men.
While this was ongoing, a genocidal campaign was unleashed in Rwanda. The response of the international community was to withdraw U.N. Peacekeepers, ignoring the pleas of its commander in Rwanda. In Washington, unable to deny that genocide was occurring but seeking to avoid an obligation to intervene in Africa after the debacle in Somalia, the Clinton State Department engaged in semantical gymnastics acknowledging only that "acts of genocide" were occurring.
A decade later, a UN tribunal adopted this same semantical tactic to find that no state actor had committed genocide in Bosnia but rather they had merely failed to prevent "acts of genocide".
Today we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, yet despite the fact that it was perpetrated by a regime that no longer exits and with few (if any) living participants, the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge that genocide occurred and is heavily lobbying its allies to do the same. President Obama, who as a candidate promised that he would recognize the Armenian genocide, has like his predecessors back peddled to appease our ally. The United States' reluctance is somewhat ironic because it was the first hand reports of U.S. diplomats that brought the genocide to light in the first place.
The common ingredient in each of the genocides of the last century is not just ethnic or religious hatred but the cowardice of the international community and their failure to respond. My friend Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, one of today's most accomplished Armenian-American politicians, rightfully condemned President Obama's refusal to recognize this horrific event coming just days after the anniversary of the start of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord.
America has always been a beacon of hope to people throughout the world who yearn for freedom and seek to escape tyranny and oppression. It is especially shameful that our government yields its own freedom to a foreign power, especially one that bears responsibility for one of the most grotesque examples of tyranny and oppression in world history... Our country was born when we stood up against the mightiest nation on Earth -- certainly we should now have the strength and moral courage to stand up to Turkish denialists
The problem appears to be that our repeated declarations of never again are directed at the genocide itself and not at the indifference and cowardice that enabled it. Until that changes, we will continue to live in the Age of Genocide.