In 1938, I was bar mitzvahed and also learned about Kristellnacht (the “Night of Glass”) in Berlin—the prelude to the Final Solution. As the Holocaust went on, I had a personal extra-parochial interest in Hitler’s extermination of the Jews because I was growing up in Boston, then the most anti-Semitic city in the country. A Jewish kid on the street, outside the ghetto after dark, could be punished for being a “Christ-killer.” I lost some teeth that way.
Listening continually to CBS’s William Shirer reporting from Berlin, I asked my parents, “How long is nobody going to do anything?” My mother told me of being a child in the old country in a Russian ghetto, when her mother—hearing “The Cossacks are coming!”—put her into the oven to save her from the pogrom. Fortunately, it was not lit.
Shaking their heads, my parents had no answer to my question and were not surprised when Hitler’s ovens were used for another purpose.
Partly because of my mother’s story about the Cossacks riding into the shtetl, I have for the past twelve years been reporting about the genocide in Sudan directed by Africa’s Hitler, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. First, in the South, Bashir’s Arab Janjaweed regularly engaged in mass rapes and murders of black Christians and animists. They also enslaved some of the survivors and sent them north to permanent labor.
Then came the genocide in Darfur, again involving the Janjaweed, with regular Sudanese army forces and attack helicopters killing black Muslim villagers. The soldiers burned down their villages, occasionally throwing infants into the flames. The rapes, of course, continued.
The first world leader to call this lower-case holocaust “genocide” was George W. Bush. As is its custom, the United Nations was useless. At the Security Council, China—with ever-growing oil and other business interests in Sudan—blocked any meaningful sanctions. There could be no armed intervention because the U.N. forbids such disrespect for the autonomy of its members. There were, of course, toothless resolutions passed by the General Assembly and even the Security Council that Bashir agreed to and then ignored.
As the corpses piled up—while international humanitarian organizations did what they could to provide food and medical care to the survivors—I was somewhat heartened by a December 2005 Washington Post article by then-senators Barack Obama and Sam Brownback. They warned that if President Bush did nothing more than say he would not countenance genocide “on my watch”: “An already grim situation is likely to spiral out of control. . . . When the history of this tragedy is written, nobody will remember how many times officials visited the region or how much humanitarian aid was delivered. They will only remember the death toll.”
I was reminded of the tragedy in Rwanda, when President Bill Clinton ordered the State Department and others in his administration not to use the term genocide as it was going on, lest he’d have to do something about it.
At long last, on March 4, 2009, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for General al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, forcible transfer (of civilian populations), torture, and rape. Surely, Bashir, in fear of being arrested if he traveled to the many member countries of the ICC, would be a pariah in the world and forced to drop his plans for a “final solution” in Darfur. But Bashir continues to be welcomed in Arab nations and has nothing of consequence to fear from the United Nations.
However, he did react to the arrest warrants by banishing from his nation thirteen of the key international humanitarian organizations that have been keeping the black Muslim survivors alive. Indeed, he was delighted to get rid of Doctors Without Borders and the others because they could no longer be direct witnesses to his government’s crimes.
As I write this, the U.N. humanitarian agencies—who now can do nothing but care—estimate that of the 2.7 million black Muslims driven from their villages to refugee camps, more than a million will soon have hardly any access to clean water, food, or medical care.
During an October 7, 2008, presidential debate, then-Senator Obama pledged “to help mobilize the international community and lead” to impose a no-fly zone over Sudan, grounding Bashir’s murderous attack helicopters—and to make sure that Congress provides logistical support to the impotent U.N.–African Union peace-keeping mission that has no peace to keep.
Especially passionate about this ongoing genocide was Joe Biden, who urged sending NATO forces into Darfur. But as vice president, the voluble Mr. Biden has not shown what his commander in chief called “the force of urgency” that he displayed in pushing for his own election.
All that President Obama has done so far on his watch is to send special envoys to Sudan. One, Scott Gration, arrived, “with my hands open,” assuring the Bashir regime that “I love Sudan.” He hoped Sudan would “respond with a hand of friendship.”
Even more ineffectual has been a subsequent special envoy, Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He promised such “concessions” to the genocidal regime as removing it from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Kerry, utterly ignoring Bashir’s perfect record of breaking every single pledge he’s made, actually said, as reported in the April 18, 2009, Sudan Tribune: “Special envoy Gration has succeeded in negotiating a strong agreement with the government with many positive elements to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur.” (The Sudan Tribune Web site [sudantribune.com] is an invaluable daily source of news and analysis on this holocaust. Based in Paris, it reports—and quotes from other reliable news services—the doomsday record in Darfur.)
In the American press, Darfur hardly ever makes the front pages, or much else inside. A chilling illustration was a one-paragraph story at the very bottom of page 8 of April 28’s New York Times quoting the U.N.’s senior representative to Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, who refused “to characterize the conflict as a continuing genocide,” adding that “though the United Nations was concerned about the dangers posed by Sudan’s decision to expel aid groups from Darfur, ‘the solution relies on the government’” (emphasis added).
Anybody remember Neville Chamberlain?
On April 19, 2009, President Obama spoke in Washington at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Annual Day of Remembrance Ceremony. The theme of the year was “Never Again: What You Do Matters.”
And what did President Obama say? From the April 25, 2009, Sudan Tribune: “[he] mourned the loss of many lives during the Nazi Holocaust, and noted his commitment to ‘prevent and end atrocities like those that took place in Rwanda [and] those taking place in Darfur.’” He had previously described the latter genocide as a “stain on our souls.”
In April, Hussein Abu Sharati, spokesman for a network of leaders of the refugee camps, wrote to Obama: “Mr. President, we need quick and immediate multilateral or unilateral intervention to save use from imminent death—the unconditional return of the international humanitarian organizations expelled by the regime. . . . [Their expulsion] is the regime’s final goal and the deadly blow to accelerate our death by slow mot
ion through starvation, malnutrition and diseases.” So far as I know, Mr. Sharati has yet to receive an answer.
Some years from now, at a memorial for the Darfur dead, some U.S. president will be swearing: “Never again!”