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Franklin H. Littell: after 40 years in the wilderness--the unfinished agenda.

A critical idea that Franklin Littell proposed well before most seriously considered it--certainly long before governments, the United Nations, and most scholars--was his Genocide Early Warning System. It was an issue and a concept about which he was passionate, one that spoke to his concern about today and tomorrow.

I remember that when I first came across Franklin's document on the Genocide Early Warning System, which was extensive and well-thought-out, I called him because I was very interested in the prevention of genocide. I commented that, "while genocide warning and genocide warning signals are certainly significant, governments don't have a conscience, nations don't have a conscience, and bureaucrats don't seem to have a conscience when it comes to issues of genocide." Franklin replied, "That's my job, that's your job, that's our job--we have to serve as the conscience of humanity; we have to speak out and act on the concerns that we have in regard to genocidal actions."

Interestingly, and coincidentally, last night I heard about a documentary, Scream Bloody Murder, which examines the policies and actions of the United States government in relation to genocide--from the Iraqi gassing of the Kurds in northern Iraq through genocide that is being perpetrated today. It reminded me of Franklin. One of the many things that I loved about him, and there were many, is that he was passionate and did not speak truth solely to power but to idiocy and evil as well. He was not afraid to speak out, and his Early Warning System was part and parcel of that.

As a professor currently teaching a course on the Holocaust to undergraduates, I have discovered that, while the students have some knowledge about the Holocaust, they do not know the specifics and thus keep positing a series of "whys." Their "whys" are actually quite profound in their own way. For example, they ask: "Why did the U.S. State Department ignore the warning of extermination?" "Why did Roosevelt avoid acting to halt the exterminations?" "Why was the St. Louis allowed to dock in Cuba and then steam along the coast of Florida, only to be forced to return to Europe with all of the people still on the ship?" "Why weren't there more Denmarks?" "Why weren't there more White Rose Groups?" "Why weren't there more Raoul Wallenbergs?" While there are certainly answers to some of their questions--such as, there was the isolationism of the U.S., the Antisemitism within the State Department, the concerns with World War II and trying to bring it to an end, which some in power believed would lead to the termination of the exterminations--there are other questions, unfortunately, with which we will continue to wrestle our entire lives. My students are just beginning to wrestle with such ineffable questions; as they do, it is my profound hope that they never cease to wrestle with them, and that in doing so they will become, like Franklin Littell, righteously indignant about the evil of the Nazis and their collaborators and the silence of the West in the face of such horrors. Like Franklin, I hope they will become beacons of hope in that they, too, will speak out about today's and tomorrow's human-rights violations and horrors--including crimes against humanity and genocide--with just as much righteous indignation.

If Franklin was about anything, he was about speaking up when he saw a wrong. One wrong he spoke about throughout his adult life was that of the Holocaust and genocides perpetrated in the post-Holocaust period. His friends and colleagues know that he was both a thinker and a doer, so it should not surprise us that, as he studied and wrote and taught about the Holocaust, he came to believe that it was his duty--his mission, if you will--to develop a means to help prevent future genocides, if he could. Out of that came his work on the development of a genocide early warning system. He was immensely bothered by such genocides as the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge- perpetrated genocide of its own people in Cambodia, the Iraqi gassing of the Kurds in northern Iraq by the regime of Saddam Hussein, the 1994 Rwandan genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu, and the 1995 genocide of some 8,000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica by Serbian forces. No doubt he was extremely exercised by the so-called lack of political will by the international community and the abject influence of realpolitik on the decision-making processes of individual nations and, collectively, the U.N., when it came to preventing genocide. How could he not be, you might ask? But, how many did what Franklin did--that is, set out to develop a means of detecting signs of genocide early on, in order to prevent more carnage?

That brings me to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. On April 6, 1994, when Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down as it returned him to Rwanda from a meeting about the Arusha Accords and genocide broke out immediately upon its downing, one politician after another, including U.S. President Bill Clinton, said that they never saw the genocide coming. They said that they did not sense that the situation in Rwanda was all that dangerous. Yet, the late Alison Des Forges, who, with Human Rights Watch, did courageous and significant work in the early 1990's in Rwanda, issued one report after another detailing the so-called "test killings" of the Tutsi in Rwanda. The reports were available for anyone and everyone to read, analyze, and act upon. The U.S. government certainly had access to the reports. They were the type of early warning signals that Franklin was talking about.

Not only did the Clinton administration ignore the early warning signals, but someone within the administration even issued a mandate that no one refer to the crisis in Rwanda as "genocide." Ultimately, in 100 days in April, May, June, and early July, 1994, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people were killed in what is often referred to as "the machete genocide," a genocide that was largely perpetrated with machetes and farm implements such as hoes. Tellingly, I was told that Hutu power militia members would offer Tutsis the privilege of paying to be shot in the head rather than be killed brutally with a machete, since the latter was carried out with horrific repetitive actions, slow and agonizingly painful.

Of course, Rwanda was not the only scene of genocide in Africa. In the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, mass starvation was purposely induced in the early 1990's under the current president, Omar al-Bashir. A few groups, such as African Rights based in London, raised early warning signals, but again no one listened to them. This lack of attention or concern seemingly sent a message to al-Bashir that he could do whatever he wanted to do, to whomever he wanted to whenever he wanted to, and no one would do anything to stop him. What other message could he have received? Sadly, he acted on that message, and the black Africans of Darfur bore the brunt of the world's cavalier and uncaring attitude. As you know, the crisis in Darfur garnered international attention beginning in late 2003. That crisis is still ongoing today, seven long years later. I can guarantee you that there are people being killed today in Darfur, as well as women and girls being gang-raped by five or six men at a time and left to die unless a relative or close friend is brave enough to save them.

My focus of research takes me to the refugee camps strung out along the Chad/Darfur, Sudan border. Every time I am there I witness how the Black Africans (as they refer to themselves and as the Sudan government refers to them) continue to cross the border, seeking sanctuary from the violence in Darfur. The disturbing thing is that the U.N. knew in 2001 that massacres were being perpetrated by nomadic Arab groups against Black Africans. From the interviews that I have conducted, beginning back in 2004 along the Chad/Darfur border, I have discovered that these attacks by the nomadic Arabs have been going on since 1988-89. I have met people who have left their village three, four, five, and six times after being attacked, and each time they would go back and try to reconstitute their lives until attacked again. Today, there are over 2,000,000 people that are displaced within Darfur and another approximately 250,000 to 300,000 in refugee camps in Chad. It is hard to believe that the U.S. government, the West, the U.N., with all of their intelligence apparatus, would not have been cognizant of such upheaval. Granted, there was an ongoing and deadly war between north and south Sudan that undoubtedly complicated matters, but the point is that if there is ever to be any hope of halting genocide then early warning signals need to be gathered, analyzed, and acted upon. That was what Franklin was talking about and attempting to act upon himself.

In every single case of genocide, from Iraq to Rwanda to the Nuba Mountains to Darfur, there have been early warning signals, but few or no entities ever took the time or care to collect and analyze them, let alone prod the international community to act upon them. The good news today is that the U.S. is looking at the development of a genocide early warning system, as is the U.N.; however, both have been looking at such a possibility for the past decade. There has been a lot of talk, but not much action.

Franklin was about action. My sense is that we will all need to be about action, and we need to recognize the fact that when crimes against humanity are about to be perpetrated that is the time to act to stanch them, not once genocide has already been declared.
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Author:Totten, Samuel
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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