John Lewis Gaddis
The city of Kishinev, once part of the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union, and currently the capital of Moldova, is only about 500 miles from the province of Kosovo, which was once part of Yugoslavia and is now officially still part of Serbia. Neither place can be said to have exactly riveted the attention of the United States during most of the twentieth century. And yet there is a curious connection between them, for in each location—Kishinev at the beginning of the century and Kosovo at its end—the question arose of what Americans should do when the government of another sovereign state brutalizes its own citizens. Despite sympathy for the victims, the presidents in power at the time, Theodore Roosevelt and William Jefferson Clinton, responded very differently to their plight. These differences reflect a persistent dilemma for US relations with the rest of the world during the past century, and what is likely to be an even greater one in the century to come.
Begin with the events in Kishinev in April 1903, when a pogrom resulted in the deaths of about 45 Jews, injury to another 4,000-6,000, and the destruction of the homes of about 10,000 more. No Americans were involved in this incident, but the American Jewish community, then only beginning to emerge as a significant force in domestic politics, did put pressure on the Roosevelt Administration to forward a petition of protest to the Russian government. This the president agreed to do, although with some reluctance; it was the first time that the US government had associated itself with a condemnation of Russian anti-Semitism solely on humanitarian grounds. The effect was minimal, for the Russian government rejected the petition and the pogroms continued. So too did the American protests, with growing misgivings on Roosevelt's part. 'For the Jews in Russia we were able to accomplish a little, a very little', he wrote. But he added that 'out in the West we always used to consider it a cardinal crime to draw a revolver and brandish it about unless the man meant to shoot.