With Thursday night’s talk on humanitarian intervention, the University of North Georgia’s Great Decisions Lecture Series came to a close.
“Overall, the series has been fabulous,” said regular attendee Bruce Logan. “They’ve been enlightening, they’ve been well presented and I think they shine great credit on the university ... my only regret is that there were only eight.”
The lecture series began in January with an analysis of Iran and included lectures on, among other topics, the euro, emergence of Myanmar and China’s involvement in Africa.
However, attendee Philip Kosky was disappointed Thursday, as he was expecting more information on NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, that provide humanitarian aid.
“I’m not sure the title was relevant to what he spoke about,” Kosky said.
Instead, the lecture presented by professor Randall Parish Jr. focused on military intervention, offering a history lesson of sorts on the United Nations and various instances of ethnic cleansing, government overthrows and American involvement.
Prior to World War II, Parish said, there wasn’t much intervention. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the Armenian genocide, Spanish Civil War and the 1937 China-Japan war.
But America was “extremely reluctant to commit our soldiers anywhere else that didn’t directly involve our national interest. We changed our mind with the Holocaust.”
According to Parish, following the end of World War II, countries said “never again.” And while there was no international treaty saying nations couldn’t kill their own citizens, Germans were tried for crimes against humanity.
Soon after, the United Nations was formed. Through the UN, peacekeepers were sent to various disputes to act as a type of intervention, Parish said.
They did not take sides or flex military might, instead they reported what they saw on both sides of the conflict. It took several decades for the idea to catch on, but eventually the peacekeeper effort became more acceptable, particularly after the Cold War.
Parish highlighted conflicts where peacekeepers’ efforts were more robust, even offering military intervention, including Somalia in 1992.
The dictator had been overthrown and was replaced by chaos, followed by famine. Then, Parish said, came the “CNN effect,” where news crews were in Somalia showing “pretty horrific pictures” of malnourished children.
“[The American people] said, ‘Do something. Make it better,’” he recalled.
Lightly armed peacekeepers proved to be little help and the UN offered an aggressive military force. This led to the famous “Black Hawk Down” incident, where nearly 20 U.S. military personnel were lost.
The “CNN effect” happened again, according to Parish, only “this time, we were looking at American bodies.”
Parish also touched on civil wars in Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Rwanda, where more than 800,000 people were killed with machetes in three months.
“We had TV cameras there, but we did virtually nothing,” Parish said.
It was at the 2005 United Nations World Summit where the Responsibility to Protect document pushed for each member state to have the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
“States that are unable or unwilling to do so, the international community has the responsibility to protect populations by whatever means necessary,” said Parish, adding the phrase is code for military intervention.
Parish talked about conflicts as recent as the uprisings in Libya and Syria. In Libya, the U.S. said “if we really want to protect the people, [Muammar] Gaddafi has got to go.”
Parish said the differences between Libya and Syria, where the U.S. has done little, include military ability and opposition unity. Also, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hasn’t used language like Gaddafi, who said he wanted to “exterminate the cockroaches.”
The lecture series, which concluded its third year, has previously been held in branches of the Forsyth County Public Library. However the venue moved to the new University of North Georgia Cumming campus that opened in August.
Logan said with the new building, “I think the university should consider doing this on a much larger scale.”
“They have the classroom now and they have the presenters,” he said.