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True atrocities get no press

Every now and then a story will come along that consumes the interests of America and the world. These are news items so compelling, so important, that to ignore them is to demonstrate cruel inhumanity. Ignorance is no excuse.

They are the events and responses that shape our national character. Maybe more telling, though, are the stories that don’t quite make it into the nation’s consciousness.

I wish I could say the atrocities occurring in Darfur, Sudan attracted the same media attention as Columbine, Sept. 11, 2001 or the Iraq war, but this isn’t the case. The situation doesn’t seem to be garnering the amount of interest such brutal crimes call for.

Why is this? Why doesn’t the most vicious mass murder of this new century attract the most significant media coverage? Why aren’t Americans up in arms about a slow international reaction to end the atrocities and prevent future ones?

It seems Michael Jackson’s latest trial has more American lips flapping than an estimated 400,000 murders in northeastern Africa. Likewise, U.S. officials are focusing on one woman’s feeding tube while the past year or so has seen 1.6 million people displaced in an area about the size of the American South.

Maybe it’s because we’re so far removed from the situation. Africa is an entire Atlantic Ocean away and we have our own problems to deal with. After all, a passive reference to Darfur too often draws the response: “What’s Darfur?”

But we’re a nation with international issues on our mind. Iraq has been an issue. Many Americans are discussing Iran now, and I have yet to meet someone who isn’t concerned about North Korea. So it’s not a problem of removal.

Iran, Iraq and North Korea, though, are all linked to the U.S. national security interest, as stated by our president. Is that the answer? Are we blind to Sudan because it doesn’t threaten us? Might this answer our question?

That could be a reason for the Bush administration’s quasi-indifference to the issue (though they must be commended for being one of the more vocal advocates for some sort of international action), but that doesn’t explain why the American public and media are already forgetting about Darfur.

There was ample coverage and discussion of atrocities and responses in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and Rwanda. The only real interest the United States had in these conflicts was saving face. As a nation that stands for humanity, peace and human rights, inaction was compliance. Remember the repetitive public outcries of “never again” and “never forget” after each of these conflicts. The American people and the world still were concerned.

Those conversations aren’t happening now. We will get the occasional hardliner that seems to want to talk about little else, but these reporters and writers are few and far between. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times has devoted a number of his columns to the despicable situation in Sudan. He’s criticized U.S. and U.N. policy toward the crimes and attempted to sustain a national and international conversation regarding a proper response.

Similarly, Samantha Power, Harvard lecturer and author of the thoroughly enlightening and depressing A Problem from Hell, has written many op-ed pieces, academic essays and similar contributions assessing the international response to Darfur and contributing to the small, quiet conversation surrounding the issue. She likely will continue that conversation when she lectures at the University of Nebraska at the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues on Friday.

If authors and commentators like these were a dime a dozen, would there be a more thorough, engaged national conversation? Maybe.

It’s possible, though, that we as Americans can’t possibly grasp the real gravity of the situation. The worst atrocity in the last century that occurred on American soil, if measured in terms of mass deaths, cost the nation more than 3,000 lives in one day. More than three times that many people are raped, mutilated, bashed, beaten and massacred every month in Sudan.

The most important tool in stopping mass murder and crimes against humanity is to learn about them and discuss them. Inform yourself, because the only thing more tragic than forgetting a crisis after the fact is ignoring one while it occurs.

Collin W. Sullivan, Daily Nebraskan, University of Nebraska.