Oral History

Historian Peter Black describes need for improvement in world responses to atrocities

In the 1980s and 1990s, historian Peter Black worked for the US Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations, as part of a team tracking and prosecuting suspected war criminals. Black later served as the Senior Historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


The International Military Tribunal was established to deal with a nation that planned and conceived and waged an aggressive war against other nations. You've really got to look at this as a progression. Prior to World War II there was no international apparatus to deal with that. After World War II, with all its ineffectiveness, we do now have a United Nations which is going to respond when one country attacks another. Now the next step is what to do when a country disintegrates, or when one minority in a country starts butchering another minority in a country. That's something that perhaps the development of an international court and certainly the development of a more cohesive international reaction, certainly the development of a quicker response in terms of providing shelter for refugees, which is something we ought to have learned from the last world war, that all of these initiatives are going to have to come into play in the future. Whether we will be able to prevent all killings, we as human beings -- I'm not talking about we the United States but about we as citizens of the world -- will be able to prevent killings is something no one is going to be able to guarantee, but to work towards mitigating killings, to work towards providing sanctuary, speedy sanctuary, for people who might be the victims of killings, and that is something we certainly could have done more quickly in Rwanda at least, and quite probably in Yugoslavia as well. Each situation is different, and we as citizens of the world again -- not just we the United States or we the West, we as citizens of the world -- are going to have to work towards strategies for dealing with internal disturbances, internal civil wars, internal persecution, in a way that is effective.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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