The book: A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
The author: Samantha Power
One piece of the picture: a bizarre and destructive mental state in which people are able to know, and at the same time not know, about something evil that is happening
An example: Power describes an official in the United States government. In 1942, this official had a face-to-face interview with Jan Karski, a Polish activist who had witnessed, firsthand, the crimes of the German state against Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. Karski reported that he saw, for example, the murder of pregnant women, and people forced to dig their own graves.
The U.S. official said, “I don’t believe you. I do not mean that you are lying. I simply cannot believe you.” (p. 34)
A theologian called this “the twilight between knowing and not knowing.”
Similar but not quite the same as denial, just as dangerous.
Power paraphrases the historian Walter Lacquer’s description of this deranged but common mental state: “many people thought that the Jews were no longer alive, but did not necessarily believe they were dead.”
This is dark, important, human/inhuman stuff.
Another powerfully written book on related horrors is We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed with our Families by Philip Gourevitch.
When I was reading it, and mentioned it to friends, then explained what it was about, (the genocide in Rwanda), most of them said, “Why would you read a book like that?”
It’s a long answer.