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Problems from Hell

Summary:
In her 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power condemned the United States’ failure to intervene to prevent or halt some of the twentieth century’s worst mass atrocities. But, as Power herself would later find out when she served as US Ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, intervention is rarely a straightforward choice. Today, as growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula threaten to plunge the region into turmoil, that lesson looms larger than ever.In her book, Power captured the destructive dynamics that are often set in motion when national or religious chauvinism and state failure coincide. Her title borrows from Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State during the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. “The hatred between all three groups – the Bosnians and the Serbs and the Croatians – is almost unbelievable,” Christopher said. “It’s almost terrifying, and it’s centuries old. That really is a problem from hell.”During periods of rapid technological and economic development, the atavistic impulses underlying such problems can seem anachronistic. “History” may feel as though it is finally giving way to “progress” – an ideal that is incompatible with wholesale bloodletting, forcible depopulation, and refugee crises.

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In her 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power condemned the United States’ failure to intervene to prevent or halt some of the twentieth century’s worst mass atrocities. But, as Power herself would later find out when she served as US Ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, intervention is rarely a straightforward choice. Today, as growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula threaten to plunge the region into turmoil, that lesson looms larger than ever.

In her book, Power captured the destructive dynamics that are often set in motion when national or religious chauvinism and state failure coincide. Her title borrows from Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State during the post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. “The hatred between all three groups – the Bosnians and the Serbs and the Croatians – is almost unbelievable,” Christopher said. “It’s almost terrifying, and it’s centuries old. That really is a problem from hell.”

During periods of rapid technological and economic development, the atavistic impulses underlying such problems can seem anachronistic. “History” may feel as though it is...

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