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Three million Biafrans starved to death during the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-70. In this carefully constructed indictment, the former executive secretary of the US Committee for Nigeria-Biafra Relief lays primary responsibility for the tragedy on greedy Western nations and cowardly international organizations and their leaders. Jacobs picks up the Biafran story in May 1968, a year after one of Nigeria's major tribes, the Ibos, had fled to its eastern homeland (Biafra) in response to massacres at the hands of rival tribes. According to Jacobs, a large cast of villains had by then emerged: the Nigerian federal government, of course, proclaiming that ""starvation is a legitimate weapon of war"" and blockading all access to the Ibos in order to force them to surrender, or worse--Jacobs cries ""genocide."" But to succeed, the Nigerian government needed, and got, the total complicity of its former rulers, the British, who, hungry for the vast oil reserves lying beneath Biafra and wary of Soviet influence, armed the Nigerians and maneuvered actively to dampen world protest against the blockade. Also subjected to Jacob's measured wrath are U Thant, whom Jacobs casts as a do-nothinger refusing to involve the United Nations in what he called ""an internal matter of a sovereign nation""; the Red Cross, so fearful of alienating funding nations by stepping into a conflict which some deemed internal that millions died before it acted; and the US, which, cautious of its relations with Britain, indulged in an early silence that Jacobs deems complicitous. Surprisingly, one of the few heroes to emerge in this impressively researched account is Richard Nixon, who, despite opposition by underlings, eventually pressured Britain into sponsoring last-ditch relief efforts. Backed by 70 pages of notes, Jacobs forcefully exposes how easily an entire people can become pawns in the diplomatic chess games played by powers without conscience. His act of witness deserves attention.

Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf