Meeting Benjamin Ferencz

February 3rd, 2015


Reading a resume and meeting the man have shockingly different effects on a person. Benjamin Ferencz was a Harvard graduate lawyer who fought in World War II, served in some of the most important campaigns, and after the war lead the tribunal that tried the Einsatzgruppen, Hitler’s murder squads. His name will go down as one of the founders of international law. Upon meeting him, you are even more impressed that such a kind, little elderly man had accomplished so much in his life.

The Benjamin Ferencz talk was filled with students, teachers, and ethics center staff of all types. Several of the students, myself included, had studied in The Hague, learning about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the current state of international law. All were eager to hear the wisdom he could impart.

Ferencz made the talk very casual. He walked through his humble beginnings as an immigrant, his rise to Harvard law, and his service. He recalled with scorn the horrors he’d seen while liberating the concentration camps with the third army, and the evidence he had to collect for the trials in Nuremberg. How he insisted on a trial of the Einsatzgruppen, because of this fell into running a tribunal, and in doing so would help to change history.

When the floor was opened for questions, people were eager. Some asked about his impressions on current issues such as Israel, others asked for his thoughts on his past. Ferencz was eager to answer all. He gave off an energy of optimism, even after seeing so many years and witnessing so many injustices of humanity. He still believed that humanity would be capable of establishing a world order that would safeguard all people and their rights as humans. Even at his age, he maintained a lighthearted, pleasant humor about life.

When the question came about the name of Watchers of the Sky, the documentary Ferencz had helped to create. Ferencz chuckled and began telling the story of the original poem “Watchers of the Sky.” With tears in his eyes, he recalls how the astronomer in the poem knew not what his discoveries would be used for, but that they would help someone else be 20 years closer to the answers. No one in the audience spoke, all sitting in awe of this little old man who had created international law and still believed in the eventual goal of peace.

-Brandon Gale ’15, Fall 2014 ECLC member

Reflections on the Ethical Inquiry “The Ethics of International Aid: Who should direct international aid efforts?”

February 3rd, 2015

same Nasa url as the last one please

This post is a response to “The Ethics of International Aid: Who should direct international aid efforts?”

International aid is a highly contested topic. In 1648, when the treaty of Westphalia was passed, it made state sovereignty supreme and gave authority and priority to the state. Governments typically didn’t want to contribute resources to recognize international organizations because it involved giving up some of their power.

When the concept of humanitarian intervention developed, it became a challenge because of the law of state sovereignty. Individuals argued that such intervention would be a direct violation of the UN charter, that intervention simplifies the situation, produces a negative affect on the country being intervened in and is not successful, has alternative motives to yield resources for the country intervening, and is racist. But, humanitarian intervention has lived on; why one might ask?

Personally, I would advocate that international aid is ethical when the other country requests assistance, and when the indigenous population believes that it will not infringe on their society. The problem is that when a genocide or ethic cleansing occurs, countries might feel obliged to intervene based on human rights accords (Helsinki Accords 1975).

Human rights can triumph state sovereignty, but other than that state sovereignty prevails.

Also, I was stuck by the idea that it is more important to work with the people and not just hand out cash. It’s easier to distribute cash, then to commit yourself and dedicate time and resources to go abroad and try to implement the change that you want to invest money in. They are two separate things. People want to help (or get tax credit) and typically don’t have the time/financial stability to drop their lives to try to change the world. That might be a cynical view of aid, but in my mind those who physically go abroad and attempt to implement policies and change the world, are more likely to affect lasting change, rather than those who occasionally donate. It is important to find out what a community wants and needs.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues that the only way to help the oppressed is for the oppressed to realize that they are oppressed. As outsiders, and hopefully humanitarians, we go into countries and want to make a difference without using cultural invasion (imposing our values, beliefs, education, and background onto others). As anthropologists, it’s crucial to essentially be re-born and discard our previously ascribed identities in order to fully integrate with a community to impact social, political, and economic change.

Allowing the oppressed to engage in open dialogue with one another not only generates trust between the alienated population, but it can also greatly strengthen the group should they decide to stage a revolution to overthrow the oppressors. “The revolutionaries can’t treat the oppressed as their possession,” rather they must become “oppressed” in order to fully empathize with their situation, which means that they need to strip themselves of their title or position of authority and truly live like those who are oppressed. The revolutionaries sometimes view the oppressed as incompetent or lazy and want to change the system without them, however Freire argues that the oppressed are ultimately responsible for achieving their own social change.

“Analysts like Tomohisa Hattori do not see international aid as the straightforward story of simple philanthropy, but rather as a far more complex structural system based on dominance and indebtedness, with socio-political implications beyond the act of aid distribution”

“Gilbert Rist suggests, however, that this flow of aid from the governments of richer nations to poorer nations is “genuinely hegemonic, because it appeared to be not only the best [solution] but the only possible one.

Both of these quotes above utilized in this article relate to my Anthropology of Development class this semester. We talked about theories of development and the way in which governments operate. In addition, these quotes emphasized how international aid might not be based on genuine intentions; rather it could be to foster a power hierarchy.

In Seeing Like a State, James Scott argues that states use international development as a way to control the population and try to simplify situations in order to make it easier on themselves; it allows governments to manipulate society to make the administrative system more efficient for collecting taxes and regulating policies, enables them to control the population through peaceful coercion or violence, and provides an opportunity for states to collectivize the population with regards to agriculture and production. By simplifying states, development leaders and politicians create a predetermined, more rigid, and potentially violent society, typically without the consent of the people.

Even though international aid is a topic that is the subject of much debate, I would argue that to some extent aid is necessary in creating a better future.

-Kira Levin ’17, Fall 2014 ECLC Member

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