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David Crowe authors groundbreaking book on war crimes & genocide

“War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice” by Elon University’s David Crowe is a global history of battlefield horrors and the international humanitarian law that developed in response to barbaric behaviors of armies and their leaders.

Professor David Crowe

An Elon University professor internationally recognized for his expertise on the Holocaust and human rights has authored a definitive history of war crimes and the evolving legal efforts to bring to justice those who commit such acts of evil.

Published this winter by Palgrave Macmillan, “War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice” is the latest book by David Crowe, who holds joint appointments in the Elon University School of Law and the Department of History and Geography.

“Legal history is primarily dominated by scholars with legal backgrounds, not historians,” Crowe said. “My interest is in the history and human face of international law, and what impacts the crimes themselves have had on our laws. After all, most international humanitarian law is in response to crimes already committed."

Starting with the earliest dynasties in Egypt and China and tracing the evolution of conflict through the Middle Ages, the Colonial Era and both 20th century world wars, Crowe describes the mindsets and motivations that influenced military and political leaders in their approach to conflict. For some cultures at particular points in history, slaughter of the vanquished was a moral imperative. For others, their barbarism was driven by racial or ethnic prejudice.

It wasn’t until the American Civil War that efforts were made to publish formal rules of war. Francis Lieber, a German-American jurist, drafted the “Code for the Government of Armies in the Field,” more widely known as the Lieber Code, and his contemporaries in Europe soon adopted similar rules as the mechanics and nature of war morphed with technology like the machine gun and mustard gas.

A lack of established international law following World War I made it difficult to hold leaders accountable for atrocities such as the Armenian genocide, Crowe explains. It wasn’t until the years after World War II - an era for which four chapters are dedicated - that the international community created the Genocide and Geneva Conventions.

Those conventions were no panacea, as Crowe notes in the last two chapters, which discuss war crimes and acts of genocide in Tibet, Guatemala, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and elsewhere, and efforts to bring those who committed crimes to justice. Crowe concludes his book with an exploration of vexing 21st century issues, including efforts by the United States to put terrorists on trial at Guantanamo Bay and the relative weakness of the International Criminal Court. He also points out other examples of genocide that modern nations ignored.

"On one level, we do live in a more civilized world. It is a much more civilized place,” Crowe said of today’s global climate. “But what horrors like Rwanda show you is that despite this sophistication, man still has the capacity to commit the kind of brutality you see in antiquity."

The book continues a legacy of scholarship that includes works about ongoing government-sponsored atrocities, the roots and aftermath of the Holocaust, and German industrialist Oskar Schindler, a Nazi best known for personal efforts to save the lives of his Jewish workers during World War II.

“War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice” has already earned praise from one of the world’s leading authorities on the prevention of genocide. Retired Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo A. Dallaire, the man who led a UN peacekeeping mission that attempted to protect ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda, commended Crowe’s research in a back cover endorsement.

“Crowe has done an exceptional job of research and writing of the crime of genocide and war crimes, throughout history, with the skill of the academic, the experience of the practitioner, but in the language of the layman,” Dallaire writes. “I strongly recommend this book to the academic, the lawyer, the student, the activist, and the citizen, who must join together to eradicate these crimes that have plagued humanity since antiquity. This book will contribute to the campaign of finally banishing war crimes and genocide to the dustbin of history.”

Crowe is the recipient of the Southern Conference on Slavic Studies’ 2010 Richard Stites Senior Scholar Award and Elon University’s Distinguished Scholar Award. He has been a visiting scholar at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University and has taught at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. He is president emeritus of the Association for the Study of Nationalities at Columbia University and currently serves as chairman of its Advisory Board.

Past books include “Crimes of State, Past and Present: Government-Sponsored Atrocities and International Legal Responses,” “The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath” and  “Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind The List.”

Crowe was awarded the V. Stanley Vardys Presidents' Prize for Books on Baltic Studies by the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies for his earlier “The Baltic States and the Great Powers: Foreign Relations, 1938-1940.” He authored “Roma and Forced Migration: An Annotated Bibliography, Second Edition” and “World War I & Europe in Crisis” and has published numerous book chapters, articles, and reviews on international law, Russia, the Roma, the Holocaust, Jewish history, and Central and East European history.

Crowe also has testified before the United States Congress Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the New York City Council Subcommittee on Immigration, and has served as an expert witness in scores of court cases in the United States and Canada involving the Roma, Russians, and other ethnic groups.

Eric Townsend,
4/7/2014 9:00 AM