Monday, December 8, 2008

Some comments on CNN's "Scream Bloody Murder"

Just as a quick preface, I'll merely mention that this is the start of finals week, so consider this commentary merely a brief overview - I'd definitely like to discuss a few elements of Christiane Amanpour's recent CNN special on genocide, Scream Bloody Murder, in greater detail; if sufficient time permits I'll do so over the course of the week. Otherwise, the more detailed version will have to await the end of test administration and grading.

On the one hand, I want to see mainstream media take on the topic of genocide, and share information about its causes and consequences to a mass audience. More folks need to know that although the concept of genocide itself is a relatively recent development in human history, it did not begin and end with the Nazi Holocaust. There were certainly holocausts prior to the Nazi era, and as the last several sorry decades have made too readily apparent, at least a few holocausts since.

On some levels, Amanpour's narrative is okay insofar as it goes. It was certainly interesting to learn about some of the individuals who have tried to alert the rest of humanity to some truly horrifying human rights violations, and their frustrations in terms of inciting action on behalf of the victims. It is also useful to at least get some exposure to the extent that US government regimes have supported various genocidal regimes over the last few decades. However, the narrative manages to contain some inaccuracies, and is spun in such a way as to be a two-hour infomercial plugging "humanitarian" interventionism. Since I know a bit about the individual who coined the term genocide, Raphael Lemkin, I was disappointed in the whitewash of the history of the UN's resolution on genocide. One would get the impression from Anampour's narrative that the UN put Lemkin's ideas into action, when the truth is that the organization actually watered down Lemkin's definition of genocide for the sake of political expedience. Had the UN actually adopted Lemkin's definition verbatim, there was a real risk that the US and Soviet governments, just for the sake of example, would have been in legal hot water for their own genocidal actions.

With regard to the genocide in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime, Amanpour's narrative seems to put the onus of responsibility for the ensuing bloodbath on the "Vietnam Syndrome"; perhaps she does not do so in so many words, but it is pretty clear that those darned antiwar protesters and a war-weary US public are in Anampour's eyes, a major stumbling block to a "humanitarian" intervention. She does manage to make some mention of the US alliance of convenience with Pol Pot's regime as mutual opponents of Vietnam's regime, but it seems more an afterthought.

Throughout the remainder of the show, the impression one gets is that these terrible atrocities could only have been prevented had the US committed a few war planes for bombing raids on the capitals of the perpetrating nations. The Balkans region is used as a case study of one of the few "successes" at getting this particular approach used, albeit belatedly according to Amanpour. Even then, if one digs deeper, it is at best unclear as to whether such an approach was even warranted in the first place. As I said, I'll intend on having a bit more to say about the program over the next several days as time permits.

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