War Crimes: Confronting Atrocity in the Modern World

War Crimes: Confronting Atrocity in the Modern World

War Crimes: Confronting Atrocity in the Modern World

War Crimes: Confronting Atrocity in the Modern World


A nuanced discussion of why war crimes occur, what can be done to bring the perpetrators to justice, and the prospects of preventing such atrocities in the future.


Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in the air
he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master from Germany

—Paul Celan, “Todesfuge” (1944)

Since this is a slightly unusual kind of book, it is probably sensible for me to give an explanation at the very beginning of what kind of book it is and what it is intended to do.

The main focus is a discussion of the possibilities and difficulties of establishing organizations to address war crimes issues, to investigate alleged offenses, and to arrest, try, and convict those thought responsible. In writing these chapters I have drawn on my personal experience, as well as the experiences of colleagues in the United Kingdom, in other countries, and in international organizations. I have tried to paint a picture that is as fair and authoritative as possible. When I was first considering the shape of the book and discussing it with others, however, it rapidly became clear that discussing these issues in the abstract would not always be useful or informative and that some context was required to explain to the reader

“Death Fugue” from Poems of Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger. Translation
copyright © 1972, 1980, 1988, 1994, 2002 by Michael Hamburger. Reprinted by permission
of Persea Books, Inc. (New York) and Anvil Press Poetry (London, 1988).

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