Heribert Adam, Ed., Hushed Voices: Unacknowledged Atrocities of the 20th Century

By Ratner, R. S. | Canadian Review of Sociology, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Heribert Adam, Ed., Hushed Voices: Unacknowledged Atrocities of the 20th Century


Ratner, R. S., Canadian Review of Sociology


HERIBERT ADAM, ed., Hushed Voices: Unacknowledged Atrocities of the 20th Century. Berkshire: Berkshire Academic Press, 2011, 216 p., $30.00 softcover (978-1-907784-03-3).

Hushed Voices, in fitting irony, is a clarion call alerting us to what many would prefer to view as an anachronistic form of barbarism--unbridled state-sponsored atrocities. The editor, Heribert Adam, a distinguished professor of Sociology at Simon Fraser University, assembled a group of mature students with diverse professional backgrounds and a common interest--the shameful societal indifference to the victims of so many of these horrific episodes occurring over the period vainly referred to as modernity.

The 15 twentieth-century case studies examined in the book are geographically widespread and range from examples of genocide to political and ethnic revenge massacres to wartime sexual enslavement. The chapters are terse but vivid, some containing insightful parallels to the contemporary "war on terror." In essence, the various accounts reveal the fragility of law, justice, and morality in the face of tyrannical power, and they underscore the political constraints weighing on interstate actors such that atrocity narratives are often shaped in ways that conceal the truth and render perpetrators unaccountable. Threading most of the case studies, and underscoring the crux of modern geopolitics, is the baleful impact of colonization and the carnages in the wake of decolonization. In presenting these disturbing accounts, the authors are motivated by the hope that in speaking for the "hushed voices" and by challenging the official conspiracies of silence, these atrocities can eventually be publicly acknowledged, their causal events understood, and responsibility for their commission finally accepted.

Adam's apt introduction to the collection is complemented by a concluding chapter in which he seeks to highlight the commonalities and causes of these atrocities (without becoming overly formulaic), to explain why they have been officially ignored, and to suggest how such gross injustices can be prevented in the future. In doing so, he identifies a few key motivations that block truth processes: attempts by power holders and governing authorities to avoid implication in accountability and legal liability, and fears about rekindling the embers of conflict. In examining the question of causality, however, Adam focuses less on the propelling role of geopolitics and more on its systemic excrescences (e. …

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