Hiltermann’s A Poisonous Affair II. Questions & Comments.

Section two of Hiltermann’s book discusses more public policy than on history. In the later chapters, it focuses largely on International involvement, especially the American involvement.

Through journalism at the time, readers can see the development of the conflict on the international scene. Hiltermann, writing shortly after the conflict, was able to get a better picture, relatively un-skewed by bias and propaganda. When comparing the two situations, it seems more reasonable to believe that the UN wasn’t getting involved. However, the use of chemical gases should have been enough to mandate involvement.


  1. Was Iran involved in Halabja or not?

The Bridge Betrayed. Questions & Comments.

Michael A. Sells is a professor at the University of Chicago; he earned his PhD at the university as well. His area of expertise is Islamic History. His book was published by the University of California Press intended for an academic audience. It was published in 1998; the conflict took place from 1992-1995.

Stories of a Christ figure, Prince Lazar, paint Serbian a history. More ‘histories’ adapted from that story create a hatred of Muslims in Bosnia.  The importance of the idea of Christoslavism is central to ethnic-cleansing in Bosnia. The Yugo slavic people, with similar languages, turned on one another due to their religion. Muslims were denoted by white armbands or marks on their houses. They were expelled or killed. Death centers for Bosnians existed. Massacres were carried out. Serbians destroyed museums, mosques, and other cultural institutions in an explicit attempt to destroy Bosnian history and rewrite it as explicitly Christian. Another way Serbians tried to get rid of Bosnians was by rape. Women and girls were raped in order to destroy Bosnian genes and to ruin the chance of the women marrying.

Similar to the Rwandan genocide, the killing was methodical and extremely physical. Unlike the Holocaust, the genocide was not industrial. Soldiers tortured and killed people through brutal manners.


  1. Were age old sentiments against the Turks a large factor in anti-Islamic thoughts of Serbians and Croatians during the 1990’s?
  2. Why did Serbs hate Bosnians, when the Bosnian leader supported Prince Lazar against the Ottoman Turks?
  3. How were people motivated to kill in this conflict? Was hatred internalized?

Hiltermann’s A Poisonous Affair. Questions & Comments.

Joost Hiltermann studied International Relations at Johns Hopkins and obtained a masters degree in Sociology from University of California, Santa Cruz. He is a humanitarian and specializes in Mid Eastern conflicts; he was the chief operating officer for MENA for the International Crisis Group. He traveled to Iran and Iraq and interviewed many people to write his book. He also studied collections of governmental documents. It was poublished in 2007. This is a secondary source, but it could be considered a primary source depending on the availability of other texts on the subject in English. The text was published by Cambridge University Press and intended for a global audience since the story had been relatively untold before.  It is written with Hiltermann’s best attempt at having no bias, although given propaganda at the time, some things are liable to be false or ambiguous.

5000 dead at Halabja marks the most important day referenced in the text. This is significant because it was the first time chemical warfare had been widely used since the Great War. The Iraqi forces focused on chemical warfare to defeat Iran since they had so many soldiers. Iran used what should have been civilian men and boys to push through Iraq. In retaliation, Iraq began to kill civilians in an effort to stop the human wave tactics. Iraq invested a lot of resources into new chemicals since CW was so effective, despite the few drawbacks (i.e. blowing back onto Iraqis, causing IEPs to be needed, etc)

On an international level, the UN seemingly did nothing. Not enough action was taken on their part due to current laws, including the Geneva Protocol. The U.S., however, was highly involved in the conflict. Iran military forces had been trained by the U.S. and Iran had U.S. weapons. Then the U.S. sided with Iraq until the government admitted to knowing about Iraq’s use of chemical warfare. The Russians were also involved in the conflict, albeit from a lesser standpoint.


  1. Why did the U.S. support Iraq during this time?
  2. Does Iranian use of human wave tactics justify Iraqi attacks on civilians?
  3. Why was the US so tied up in Middle Eastern affairs?

Cambodia Year Zero Questions & Comments.

Francois Ponchaud was a French Catholic priest and missionary who had some experience in the French military and had been to Algeria. Ponchaud also traveled to Cambodia; he was expelled from the country in 1976 when the Khmer Rouge took over. He took notes of the human rights being abused and called for action on the international level. Cambodia: Year Zero was published in 1978 and is a primary source on the genocide since it is a first-hand account of events that transpired in Cambodia. It was published by Henry Holt & Co and intended for a global audience in hopes of bringing attention to human rights abuses in Cambodia as orchestrated by Pol Pot and his regime.

When the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, they, in essence, restarted time as they changed calendars to Year Zero. The regime also collectivized land and relocated people from cities to the countryside so that they could farm. This is a fine example of a rural revolution. Many Chinese and Vietnamese businessmen lived in the city with which the Khmer Rouge was dissatisfied. Elements of class warfare did exist. People who wore glasses were considered to be educated and were killed. The S-21 was a death camp that was formerly a high school where political dissidents were sent. Estimates suggest that 14,000 people died at the camp.


  1. Why would the Khmer Rouge regime want to implement a change in time (i.e. Year Zero)? Is it based in communism or some other reason?
  2. Did the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam influence Pol Pot’s rise to power
  3. Did Vietnam not ‘like’ Cambodia for its relations with China? Or did the Cambodians not ‘like’ the Vietnamese? What was the intranational relation?

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families Part 2.

Comments on Part two of Gourevitch’s book.

Gourevitch clearly has a bias towards the Tutsi’s and is very pro-Kagame, which is evident in his writing and should be noted. Paul Kagame grew up in Uganda and was a member of the RPF. He eventually became President of Rwanda after the Rwandan Patriotic Front stabilized the country.

In the wake of the genocide, many people were wrongfully imprisoned without proper evidence of committing crimes during the time of genocide and war. However, this may have been good as it placated some of the victims that survived, or relatives of any victims in general. Additionally, it was safer for some of the Hutus to be in the camp, since Tutsis could not exact their revenge on them from outside of the prisons and camps. On the contrary, many people were guilty and had been imprisoned.

Refugees from Rwanda fled to neighboring countries where they stayed in refugee camps funded by humanitarian aid agencies. These people were repatriated with great difficulty due to many conditions, including poor health.


  1. Do the religious wars of today count as ideologically-based? Or is it that we use religion as a scapegoat?
  2. Was Habyarimana for a genocide or no? 
  3. How did media portrayal of “an ethinc genocide” not encourage more international interference?

Brother Number One. Questions & Comments.

David P. Chandler earned degrees from Harvard, Yale, and the University of Michigan. His dissertation was on pre-colonial Cambodia. He has worked with governmental agencies, humanitarian organizations, and worked for many top rated universities.  Chandler’s work, Brother Number One, is a biography on Pol Pot. The book was published in 1999 originally and then updated to include more information as more on Pol Pot became available. The text references interviews with Pol Pot and people that knew him, and is a secondary source. However, it is a high-quality source and may some day be considered a primary source as time progresses.

On the content in the book, it seems that Chandler doesn’t believe that Pol Pot, or Saloth Sar, was a real human being. Many times in the first few chapters of the book, Chandler claims that he can’t discern whether or not Sar’s complacent personality– as he was described by many people who knew him– was a facade.  Chandler is definitely biased to believe in the Cult of Personality theory when it comes to Sar. The descriptions presented by Chandler lead readers to believe that Sar was some form of sociopath that faked a pleasant disposition until he came to power.

Pol Pot is a revolutionary name taken on by Saloth Sar when he rose to power. Sar was raised by his wealthy and quasi-prominent cousin in the capital of Cambodia. He was a mediocre student and teacher that studied in Cambodia and France. Being in France and basically segregated with his Cambodian peers exposed him to Marxism and Lenninism, which Chandler cites as a possible source of radicalization. Once he returned to Cambodia, Sar also met many revolutionaries from Vietnam and China which influenced him. Regardless of roots, Pol Pot was only in power for three years (1976-1979), yet still enough people died for an autogenocide to have happened. The collectivization of Cambodian lands and implementation of four year plans led to the starvation of many people in Cambodia. The relocation of city-dwellers to farmlands and purges constituted the rest of the deaths that occured en masse.


  1. The then newly written constitution of Cambodia describes collectivization of land and other principles of Communism. Did the rest of the world watch it happen in ignorance? What circumstances surrounded the international community?
  2. Did Pol Pot really have a bias towards the Khmer population of Cambodia?
  3. What is the true purpose of a revolutionary name? Is it truly to be ‘anonymous’?

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families Part 1.

Philip Gourevitch is a writer for the New Yorker. He wrote the book in 1998 and visited Rwanda for a total of nine months in 1995 and 1996 just after the genocide occurred. His work serves as a secondary text in modern times, but it is likely that at some point in time, it will become a primary source due to the overall quality of the work. Gourevitch is biased towards the Tutsis and tends to put Kagame on a pedestal. This becomes increasingly clear throughout the book as he interviews mostly people that are Tutsis or faced persecution.

The background of the Rwandan genocide falls under an ethnic category. However, it is interesting to note that the Rwandan people did not truly distinguish themselves or one another based on ethnicity. The classifications Hutu and Tutsi existed in Rwanda, but were not important or relevant until the Europeans visited Rwanda. First the Germans ‘noticed’ the two ethnicities, then the Belgians set the two groups diametrically opposed to one another. The idea of these two classes comes not from a long history, as many people believe, but as a result of neo-colonialism in Africa.

The killing of Tutsis by Hutus is remarkable in that the killing was done by such directly violent means. Whereas the Nazis used gassing and other methods that remove the perpetrator from the victim, the Hutus killed their neighbors using machetes and masus. Another factor is the scale of the Rwandan genocide. Estimates range from 800,000 to 1,000,000 victims. What is so critical to understand about that is that unlike an institutional genocide perpetrated by a few people, this genocide was committed by many average people. Neighbors turned against one another under the idea of a superior class created by the Belgians.



  1. Why is it that so many revolutions involve the collectivization of farmland which leads to famine?
  2. Did the Belgians use race supremacy as a justification to eventually drive a wedge between Hutus and Tutsis in order to control them, or is it a reflection of science at the time?
  3. How is it that the government motivated people to turn on their neighbors?

Genocide Since 1945 Ch. 1-4 Comments & Questions.

Philip Spencer is a professor at Kingston University. He studied at Oxford and received his teaching degree at London University.

Spencer’s book, Genocide Since 1945, is part of the “Making of the Contemporary World” series that focuses on modern issues and presents background information on the subject. It is published by Routledge–Taylor and Francis Group intended for an academic audience.

The content of Spencer’s book follows a linear ‘plot’ that outlines the modern genocides. Chapter one struggles with the definition of genocide, as it is contested in modern societies.  Chapter two contains a chart of modern genocides and looks at the effectiveness of the Genocide Convention. Spencer provides basics on the topic so that readers can then follow his arguments. He interprets the recurrence of genocide, even after the Genocide Convention, to mean that it is not stringent enough in its policies, given that there are many definitions of genocide, opportunities that can make it difficult to prove genocide, and different court systems that would be allowed to try countries for war crimes. Another difficulty is whether or not a state can be responsible for a genocide since it is made up of individuals; individuals may not have acted without direction from the state, leading to a problematic cycle.

In chapter three, he seeks to explain genocide by examining the root causes and what factors are involved. He explores types of genocides, as presented by several other experts in the field, including Helen Fein. In chapter four, Spencer adopts a more psychological viewpoint and looks at the people directly involved in the genocide. He details possible motives for the people involved in genocides; he considers the victims, the perpetrators, the rescuers, and the bystanders. He lists some of the emotions that motivate people on the spectrum of genocide such as disgust, fear, and anger. Moreover, he looks at psychological experiments such as the Milgram shock experiment on obedience. He ssummarizes the distribution of power as it motivates people to take action through scopes like peer pressure and conformity.



  1. When describing decimation of culture from a racial standpoint, wouldn’t rape be useless? If in trying to exterminate a race, why would soldiers attempt procreation? The same goes for taking away children and raising them in a different culture since they are genetically still of a different ‘race’ (under the assumption that races exist).
  2. In Fein’s despotic genocide, isn’t that the same as politicide? What sets the two apart?
  3. Have genocides happened in places where true democracies exist? Arguably Germany was a democracy under Hitler until he assumed complete control, and even then the Final Solution was not complete eradication of the Jews.

Bloodlands Questions and Comments. Chapters 6-11.


To paraphrase what we discussed in class, the book is class. The author is reputable, the text itself is approachable, and the content is interesting.

Bloodlands is interesting in that it compares Soviet Russia and Germany in a very linear sense. It makes the book easy to read since it goes in chronological order, but the manner in which it is side-by-side makes it very fluid. The vocabulary itself isn’t so academic which makes it easy to read. And it doesn’t get bogged down in the details so much as Memory of Solferino and They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else. Overall, the book is well put-together.

In my opinion, Snyder did a good job choosing powerful and impactful quotes from victims and news reports. Most of the viewpoints that he includes create a strong image that makes the reader really think about how atrocious conditions were for people starving in Ukraine, being transported in overcrowded train cars, and dying in the work and death camps. Having been to Dachau myself, I can attest to how horrible life would have been, even though I was there 70 years after the Holocaust occurred.

A partisan is similar to a guerrilla or a freedom fighter. I thought that Snyder didn’t do a very good job of covering resistance measures. He mentioned a few towns, one man in charge, and how several people hid Jews, but there was so much more going on in resistance measures. Snyder lacks emphasis in that respect.

Another thing that could have been interesting is if Snyder did some analysis of Power in Politics. There is so much more about institutionalized fear and coercion that he could have discussed. That might have also made it seem more reasonable that people willingly, or not-so-willingly, went along with the schemes of Hitler and Stalin. The way it is now, there are a few reasons that were. at the very least, mentioned that it is almost up to the reader to put together. It is implied that citizens went along with Hitler and Stalin, and then it is mentioned that post WWI sentiment, propaganda, and group psychology are mostly to blame for people’s compliance.



  1. On page 209, what does it mean Jeckeln killed the German Jews that Himmler had not wanted dead? Is it because this happened before the Final Solution meant extermination?
  2. Why were the Estonians so quick to comply by killing all of the Jewish people living within the land?
  3. In Chapter 11, Snyder discusses the end of Stalinism. Is the replacement of Stalinism just Communism, or the socialist interpretation of the next leader?