and Prevent Future Genocides
Genocide is the most severe crime that humans can commit. It involves the deliberate attempt to wipe out a group of people based on their race, religion, or ethnic identification. The violence committed by European settlers against the Native Americans has been called a slow genocide, with millions of deaths over about four hundred years. But during the 20th century, technology, such as the telegraphs, the machine gun, and many others, allowed governments to organize and conduct much more intense killings.
From 1932 to 1933, in the Soviet Union, the “Holdomor” occurred, which was a famine that killed five to ten million people in Ukraine. Historians have debated whether this was intentional, in which case it would qualify as genocide, or the result of misguided Totalitarian extremist policies of forced collectivism.
During World War II, Nazi Germany exterminated about 15 million people they saw as “subhuman,” including about six million Jews. After this, the world vowed: Never again! But several genocides have nonetheless happened since then. For example, the Cambodian genocide killed about two million people in the 1970s, and the Rwandan genocide killed around 800,000 people over just 100 days in 1994. In 2014, the ISIS terrorist group killed thousands of people from the tiny Yazidi religious group. In the novel, eleven-year-old Danielle gives a speech at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial to a worldwide audience, calling on people everywhere never again to let genocides happen.
So how can you answer Danielle’s call? First, make an effort to learn more about genocide and understand why it happens. These resources can be a starting point:
- Basic facts about genocide1 and its history over the last century or so.
- The Ten Stages of Genocide,2a model that describes how prejudices gradually escalate from ideas to killing. By recognizing that a society is moving through these stages, the international community may be able to stop it before a genocide happens.
- I recommend reading Night,3a short but powerful book by Elie Wiesel about his experiences during the Holocaust. The subject matter is upsetting, but it is important to learn about this history to truly understand why everyone must work together to prevent future genocides.
- A fascinating and heartbreaking talk by scholar and diplomat Samantha Power4 about the Rwandan genocide, and why nobody stepped in to stop it before it was too late.
- Key information on the Armenian genocide,5 of which Armenians were victims over a century ago. To this day, the Turks and the Armenians bitterly disagree about the facts of the genocide, with Turkey denying responsibility.
- Additional articles about genocide and genocide prevention,6 compiled by Genocide Watch.
Evil leaders do not commit genocide by themselves. It takes thousands, if not millions, of ordinary people going along with it—following orders to kill innocent human beings without questioning those orders. As Danielle puts it in the novel, this is a failure of critical thinking. When people don’t think skeptically about the ideas they hear, and don’t take moral responsibility for their actions and those of the people around them, they are more likely to go along with unjust actions.
Education can give people the tools to be better critical thinkers. Yet in some parts of the world, people don’t even have access to basic education. They may not know how to read. This means they have to rely on the leaders for their information, and can be easily misled. You can help make genocide less likely by supporting organizations that provide education to people in the developing world. The more ordinary people have access education and achieve literacy, the harder it is for leaders to commit genocide. Here are some good options:
- The American University’s list of 10 innovative organizations7 providing education to poor young people around the world.
- The World Literacy Foundation8works to ensure that all children learn to read, including with the use of innovative technology. The foundation uses a solar-powered tablet called Sun Books to let children read in areas that don’t have access to electricity.
- United World Schools9educates some of the most vulnerable children in Southeast Asia, and connects them with sponsors in developed countries to support them.
Sometimes, education is not enough to prevent genocide. German citizens in the 1930s, when Hitler was coming to power, were highly educated. If leaders convince enough people that a minority group should be destroyed, violence can begin very quickly. So, it is important to monitor situations of prejudice all over the world and sound the alarm long before a genocide begins. If the danger is identified in time, the international community can step in to prevent it. The United Nations, supported by the United States and other powerful countries, can put political and economic pressure on the people thinking of committing genocide. If this doesn’t solve the problem, they can send peacekeeping troops or other military forces to protect the vulnerable group.
This process relies on organizations that keep a lookout for potential genocides and give warning when signs of danger appear. These include:
- Genocide Watch10 focuses on anticipating genocides before they happen and raising global awareness before it is too late. This mission has five main components. The first is educating people about the problem of genocide, both in general and regarding particular high-risk areas. The second is using predictive models to forecast possible genocides. The third is prevention, suggesting how the international community can stop genocide before it starts. The fourth is intervention—rallying support for military intervention to stop genocides once they begin. The fifth is campaigning to ensure that people who have committed genocides are brought to justice.
- Stop Genocide Now11is a grassroots movement that uses technology and media to tell stories about genocide and make people care more strongly about preventing genocide. It suggests concrete ways that ordinary people can take action to prevent future genocides.
- STAND12is the world’s largest student anti-genocide movement. STAND provides support and training for students who found local chapters of young people dedicated to preventing genocide. These resources show students how they can make their voices heard, both on how to raise awareness among their peers and achieve major political change.
Genocide never happens without warning. There is always a period of months or years when a group realizes it is under threat, as the society around them goes through the Ten Stages of Genocide. People who know a genocide might happen often try to escape. During the 1930s, Jews in Germany realized they were in danger before the mass killings began. Many left behind their property and careers and tried to flee to other countries that seemed safer, such as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. My parents and their families were amongst those who fled. My Aunt Dorit Whiteman (my late mother’s sister) wrote a book about this experience, titled The Uprooted.13 But most of these refugees were denied safe haven and had no other way to escape.
To provide a safe haven before genocides occur, it is important to help refugees find safe places to go long before killing starts. These organizations play key roles in assisting refugees:
- UNICEF14 is the United Nations organization that helps children fleeing war and violence, like that in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. This includes supplies and life-saving aid, as well as programs to provide education and stability.
- The International Rescue Committee15provides a wide range of services to refugees, and tries to make sure they get fair treatment by governments. The IRC is known for its innovative programs and for collecting information about its own performance. It uses this information to increase its effectiveness.
- The Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees16 works to increase cooperation among countries on solving refugee crises. Before the Holocaust, other countries had plenty of room to take in Jewish refugees, but they generally acted like it was someone else’s problem. The UNHCR aims to prevent this by promoting international collaboration.
One common way students support organizations like those above is starting anti-genocide clubs at their schools. These clubs can hold meetings to watch documentaries about genocide, invite genocide survivors to give talks, and see videos about the work that charities are doing to prevent future genocides. Club members can then raise money for anti-genocide organizations or assist directly by facilitating research, communication, and efforts to oppose oppressive actions that can lead to genocide.
In addition to supporting anti-genocide organizations, students can also have an impact by contacting politicians directly. The average elected official has dozens of priorities all competing for her time and attention. Powerful donors want her to spend time on projects they think are important, and her priority is to keep donors happy so she can raise money for reelection, but at the same time keep ordinary voters happy as much as possible. The key to getting politicians to act is either by recruiting their donors to care about genocide, or showing them that large numbers of voters care. Even if you’re too young to vote, contacting politicians will have an impact. For one thing, they are likely to believe that older members of your family likely agree with you.
Students can write letters and make phone calls, either to the politician directly or to their biggest donors, whose names are usually publicly available. Explain, based on what you’ve learned, why stopping genocide in time is of critical importance both morally and to contribute to a more peaceful and just world. Figure out a specific action the politician should take, such as voting for an intervention to halt an ongoing genocide. Many politicians hold “town halls” or other local meetings where you can make your voice heard publicly.
Finally, genocide prevention always has room for improvement through new technology. If you know how to code, see if you can brainstorm some ways to create a tool that could make genocide less likely. If you haven’t learned coding yet, see the entry for “How You Can Be a Danielle and Learn to Program Computers from a Young Age” for more information. Here are some areas where there’s need for new innovation:
- Better tools for people to document atrocities on video and share them with a wide audience.
- A platform for people in developed countries to more realistically experience what life is like as a group that is at risk of genocide.
- More accurate methods of measuring the impact of charity programs in improving the lives of refugees.
- Equipment that makes it easier for refugees to survive while fleeing dangerous situations.
- Software that helps refugee children deal with the trauma of their experiences.
For more information, please see the following entries in the companion book A Chronicle of Ideas: A Guide for Superheroines (and Superheroes): Hitler’s “Final Solution”, Yad Vashem, Holocaust, Eternal Flame, Hall of Remembrance, Shoah, Hall of Names, Adolf Eichmann, Never Again.