A prodigiously researched, provocative critique.



From the Cold War to the War on Terror, a historian and foreign-policy analyst charts the rise of human rights and the U.S. government’s appropriation of the doctrine for its own ends.

In the immediate wake of World War II, when America busied itself reorganizing a good portion of the globe, human rights played little role in the nation’s foreign policy. Notwithstanding the noble words adorning the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, American policymakers rejected rhetoric deemed simultaneously too airily sanctimonious and too dangerous, given the nation’s own persistent civil-rights problems. Instead, the country flew the banner of anticommunism, emphasizing the virtues of freedom and modernization. By Jimmy Carter’s administration, after the disastrous Vietnam War, the government sought a new mantra and seized upon human rights, in Zbigniew Brzezinski’s phrase, as “a globally resonant message of a great power.” Relying on decades of documents from the CIA, NSA, the Defense Department, think tanks, government-development agencies and a variety of human-rights groups and NGOs, Peck (Washington’s China: The National Security World, the Cold War, and the Origins of Globalism, 2006) traces the growth and utility of the doctrine though five more administrations, as each has used human rights (and other idealistic rationales like “democratization” and “humanitarianism”) to justify American interventions. The author identifies two currents of the human-rights movement—one concerning itself with individual civil and political rights and another focused on cultural, educational and economic issues—and demonstrates how the United States, while conveniently ignoring embarrassing chunks of its own history, has nimbly highlighted the first at the expense of the second. This clever statecraft has placed the two currents at odds, hamstringing various human-rights organizations insistent upon their own objectivity or subtly manipulating them in service of Washington’s ideological purposes. Peck calls for a broader understanding of human rights, one that doesn’t inoculate leaders against charges of human-rights abuses simply because they head democracies, one that takes collective rights every bit as seriously as individual rights.

A prodigiously researched, provocative critique.

Pub Date: March 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-8328-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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