Robert Melson


A catastrophe averted is likely not to be viewed as a catastrophe. A predicted event that fails to materialize is a non-event, something that did not happen, and politicians who expend wealth and lives on something that fails to happen cannot expect to reap the rewards of their decisions. Quite to the contrary, politicians who spend lives and treasure to prevent catastrophes such as genocide are likely to be vilified and punished for their efforts: to the extent that their actions succeed in averting a catastrophe, there is no proof of their success, only of the costs of their efforts. This last point is especially intriguing, and it goes to the heart of the paradox of genocide prevention. Consider the famous case of Winston S. Churchill. Had he, instead of Neville Chamberlain, been Britain’s prime minister in the 1930s, and thus gone to Munich to meet Adolf Hitler in 1938, there is a good chance that World War II would have been averted and the Holocaust prevented. The irony is that had Churchill been successful in preventing war and genocide, the British public would not know about his triumph, because there would be no evidence for it. All the public would be sure of was that Churchill had brought the world to the brink of war, and he would be blamed for that. The further irony is that, had Churchill succeeded in preventing the war, he might have gone down in history as an erratic warmonger rather than as the greatest war leader of the Western world.