Keeping true to Scripps College tradition, it was announced recently that the 2016 commencement speaker will be none other than former Secretary of State, white feminist and repeated genocide enabler Madeleine Albright. If you hadn’t already guessed it, I’m deeply disgusted that on the happiest day of my life (up to this point) I have to sit quietly and smile at the cameras of my parents and grandparents while this woman tells me to go out into the world and be amazing, even though according to her, I’m going to hell.
I admit, I didn’t know much about former Secretary Albright until she told the world that there is a “special place in hell” for women who aren’t voting for Hillary Clinton and the whispers of her being our commencement speaker erupted all over my Facebook. It did not take long to decide that this was not the person I wanted to listen to on my graduation day, and she is certainly not the person I want any of my classmates—or God forbid, my little sister—to model their lives after. You see, in addition to Madeleine Albright condemning me to eternal damnation for choosing to vote based on a candidate’s political record and proposed policies instead of my gender identity, her hands are also covered in blood.
In April of 1994, before I was even born, the volatile relationship between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda came to a heartbreaking and foreseeable head. What was the then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation’s response? It was to write to the State Department and propose that the U.S. lead an effort to remove UN peacekeeping forces from Rwanda. This was after the death count already had already begun to rise. Six days after the conflict erupted, Albright argued for the removal of troops. The result is what we now refer to as the Rwandan genocide: nearly one million people died in 100 days. Men, women, children were slaughtered, and they were given the green light to do so after Albright successfully lobbied for the removal of troops from the area. She’s since apologized for this “mistake,” but I can’t consider her apology to be genuine when she continued to be complicit in multiple genocides afterward.
After taking office as the U.S. Secretary of State, Albright advocated for military intervention in the Balkans—which is a nice way of saying she wanted to bomb former Yugoslavia until the killings stopped. What’s the best way to ending genocide? Bombs, apparently. Furthermore, you have to wonder why she was so enthusiastic about bombing in Europe to end the genocide of non-Serbians and Bosniaks, but supported non-action in Rwanda. I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions about that, but I’m of the opinion that it had nothing to do with her learning from her mistakes in Rwanda and everything to do with power and the value of relationships.
In 1996, Albright gave an interview on 60 Minutes during which she was asked if the deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a result of the trade and financial resource sanctions imposed on Iraq were worth it. Her answer? Yes. That alone should be enough to make your stomach turn.
The above situations are just a few of the examples of how many mistakes Albright made during her time in office. These are mistakes that cost thousands of people their lives. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand how big of a deal this is for the Scripps Class of 2016. It is incredibly impressive that our class representatives were able to get Albright to be our speaker; I’m not trying to minimize the work that anyone did, nor am I saying that the people involved in bringing her here are bad people or to blame for her actions. I am also not discrediting former Secretary Albright’s considerable achievements—being the first woman to be the U.S. Secretary of State is extraordinary. But being the first woman to do something impressive does not give you a free pass on human rights, it does not give you a free pass to be complicit in genocide, and it does not give you a free pass to call the deaths of half a million children “worth it.”
Madeleine Albright is not my feminist idol. I don’t want her to be my ten-year-old sister’s idol. I cannot forgive her for the deaths of those children or for the trauma her actions helped inflict on hundreds of thousands of people. I don’t know how to fix the situation; I know that it’s too late for things to change, but I also know that we cannot allow people to escape criticism simply because they’re women. If my time at Scripps taught me anything, it has certainly taught me that.
Kinzie Mabon SC '16 is a Nebraska native and Anthropology major.