Gary J. Bass. The Blood Telegram. Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. New York, Toronto: Random House, 2014. Pp. 544. $16.95. ISBN: 9780307744623.
This may seem like an odd pick in a list of best books of the year for an international law forum. There is little in this book that expressly addresses international law, and the term ‘international law’ is only used a handful of times.
However, it is precisely the absence of law that makes the book compelling. It is a powerful reminder of the frailty of international law in international crises. The weakness of international law in such moments may have been particularly apparent in the Nixon era, but of course is more generally relevant.
The story that Gary Bass, a political scientist at Princeton, tells us is not totally unknown. [See for earlier discussions eg Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh (Harvard University Press: 2013); Deborah Mayersen, Annie Pohlman Genocide and Mass Atrocities in Asia: Legacies and Prevention (Routledge, 2013). Also Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (Basic Books, 2002) has relevant insights.] Much has been disclosed already about the decision of the United States in 1971 not to use its powers to stop the killing of an estimated 300,000 Bengals (most of them Hindus) by the Pakistani Army. The US also did not act to prevent the fleeing of about 10 million Bengals to India. The US found it more important to maintain good relations with the Pakistani president Yahya Khan so that he could serve as a liaison with China and prepare the way for the opening to China. Moreover, they wished to strengthen and prepare Pakistan for battle with Cold War enemy India. The US not only wilfully abstained from pressuring Yahya Khan to change his ways. Virtually the entire Pakistani military was equipped with American weaponry and depended on the United States to keep it operating.
What makes the account by Bass a must-read is not so much this tragedy as such, but the gripping and excruciating detail in which it zooms in on the doings of Nixon and Kissinger, who was at that time Nixon’s national security adviser. Read the rest of this entry…