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"A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide is a book by Samantha Power, Professor of Human Rights Practice at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, which explores America's understanding of, response to, and inaction on genocides in the 20th century from the Armenian genocide to the "ethnic cleansings" of the Kosovo War. It won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 2003.

Power observes that American policymakers have been consistently reluctant to condemn mass atrocities as genocide or take responsibility for leading an international military intervention. She argues that without significant pressure from the American public, policymakers avoid the term "genocide" altogether. Instead, they appeal to the priority of national interests or argue (without merit, she contends) that a U.S. response would be futile and accelerate violence as a justification for inaction.[1]



Power begins with an outline of the international response to the Armenian Genocide (Chapter 1), and then describes Raphael Lemkin's efforts to lobby for American action against Nazi atrocities in Europe (Chapter 2). Then she describes further the difficulties of individuals' efforts to convince Americans and other members of the Allied Powers to recognize the Holocaust, which she explains were compounded by the focus on World War II and anti-Semitic indifference (Chapter 3). She continues in Chapter 4 to describe how Lemkin brought genocide to the forefront of foreign policy issues, leading to the 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Chapter 5 describes Lemkin's mounting disappointments and multiplying adversaries until his death in 1959, whereupon Senator William Proxmire and others picked up the torch. She shows how Senator Proxmire and President Ronald Reagan worked to gain support for the ratification of the Genocide Convention (Chapter 7). In the rest of the book, she mainly focuses on individual genocides and the U.S. response in Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo.

Her work has been criticized by historian Howard Zinn for downplaying the importance of "unintended" and "collateral" civilian deaths that could be classified as genocidal[2]; and by Edward S. Herman for systematically ignoring genocidal projects sponsored by the United States in Guatemala, in East Timor, and Southeast Asia. [3]



  1. ^ Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. pp. xvii-xviii. Basic Books, 2002. ISBN 0-465-06150-8
  2. ^
  3. ^

External links

Preceded by
Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction
Succeeded by
Gulag: A History


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