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Genocide Exhibit
The genocide exhibit in The Air Force Academy's McDermott Library catches the eye of Cadet 4th Class Athina Teicher. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Mike Kaplan)
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Shedding light on genocide

Posted 9/16/2011   Updated 9/16/2011 Email story   Print story


by David Edwards
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

9/16/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Not every place in the world is as open to coming to grips with acts of genocide as the Air Force Academy.

Cadets can learn about genocide from two Academy faculty members who are bona fide experts on the topic. And for a couple of weeks, they can get a primer by checking out the McDermott Library exhibit that formally opened Monday.

Dr. Fran Pilch and Lt. Col. John Donovan introduced the exhibit, which resulted from a flash of inspiration that library staffer Janice Young had a few months ago.

Pilch emphasized the need to look beyond the body count when considering the horror and evil of genocide.

"We talk in terms of huge numbers," she said. "What I try to tell my students is that all of these people were human souls and they were important to somebody."

As the instructor of an Academy political science course titled "War Crimes, Genocide and Human Rights," Pilch is intimately familiar with the most sordid episodes of human history.

Her fieldwork has burnished her credentials and put her face to face with societies scarred by epic cruelty. In 2008, she went to South Africa on a Fulbright Scholarship and studied post-apartheid education.

She won another Fulbright Scholarship and will travel to Mongolia in the spring to provide instruction in international law at the Mongolian Academy for Diplomats.

"It's really perfect that we're having this dedication the day after we remembered Sept. 11," Pilch said. "All of this extends from hatred, from extremism, from the inability to see people as human beings."

Donovan was given the floor after Pilch, and he talked about the historical roots of genocide. He also plugged a new core course at the Academy, History 300, which shows genocide to be an old phenomenon with a relatively new name.

He said Hitler and the Nazis drew on a legacy of anti-Semitism that was shared by numerous cultures and dated back centuries.

"There was hatred of Jewish people in Europe that goes back to medieval times," he said. "This doesn't happen overnight. This is exactly what you need to see, because human identity is so important."

To illustrate his point, Donovan used the Rwandan genocide as an example. He said the Belgian colonizers in Africa created and encouraged an ethnic divide and favored the Hutus against the minority Tutsis.

Both Pilch and Donovan expressed gratitude to Young for her idea and her three months of research into the six campaigns of genocide documented in the exhibit.

"I thought, 'Let's do a display and bring this back to the forefront,'" Young said. "I like the collaboration of the library and the faculty. It's like we're an extension of the classroom."

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