On the occasion of having watched The Killing Fields again, I looked into what happened in Cambodia a little more. Samantha Power claims that the genocide there fell into the same old pattern of disbelief, denial, failure to act, and then saying what’s done is done.
That’s true to an extent, but with the Armenian genocides and The Holocaust the United States was not the party that was in the position to step up. In the first instance, I’m not sure who was. In the second instance, the US was just becoming a world power and shares responsibility for not having done more on the one hand, but shares credit for having stopped Hitler on the other.
What made Cambodia and the slaughter of at least 2 million people there different was that not long before that we might have done something whereas there were realpolitik reasons that kept us from intervening in Iraq in the 80s: Vietnam.
There was just no way on earth the US had the political will to do anything in Cambodia after the Vietnam War. In 2013, when everything is amplified and muted, sped up and slowed down, we’ve entered an era where the general consensus was that Bush sold us a false war, but the rehabilitation of the man continues apace and so does the general “yeah it was a mistake, but whatevs” vibe. Vietnam may actually still be more psychologically important!
But when discussions of the problems in Syria arose, it was pretty clear that almost no matter what happened there we weren’t going in. As it turns out, caution was smart because the rebels aren’t our friends and it was they who were using chemical weapons.
But it doesn’t always have to be a genocide that w should be ready for. Sometimes other stuff happens. But if we’ve spent a decade on a mistake, as in Iraq or Vietnam, it’s hard to buck everyone up for the next thing.
It could be Syria; probably not. Maybe not even the Middle East. But whenever there is a cruel alignment of head-in-the-sand pacifism and isolationism ascendant in the US and Europe, look out if your an ethnic minority in the wrong place.