IT WAS UNUSUAL to hear U.S. senators speak of their fathers during the course of debate on the genocide treaty this week. But because the treaty had been stalled in the Senate for more than a generation, it should not come as a surprise that men long dead were involved in the drama that preceded the agreement. But at times the debate became personal and so, as it should for each of us, did the subject.
Sen. Rudy Boschwitz spoke of his father, a Jewish judge in Germany, who came home on that January day in 1933 when Hitler took power, and told his family that they were leaving the country. After almost three years, moving through half a dozen countries, the Boschwitz family was finally admitted to the United States; many relatives who had not acted as quickly perished in the Holocaust.
After recounting this story, Sen. Boschwitz spoke at length and with great respect, of Herbert Pell, father of Sen. Claiborne Pell, who served on President Roosevelt's War Crimes Commission and was in effect fired from a high State Department position because he pressed, with too much enthusiasm, the cause of genocide victims.
Sen. Pell then pointed out that another member of the Foreign Relations Committee had reason to be proud of his father: Sen. Christopher Dodd's father Thomas -- who also served as a senator from Connecticut -- had been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials which helped bring the staggering facts of Nazi-era genocide to the world's attention.
The treaty was written soon after World War II, and it is as relevant to Armenians, Cambodians and others as is it to Holocaust victims. Sent to the Senate for advice and consent in 1949, the pact has been controversial because of unjustified fears that it would somehow override the U.S. Constitution, subject citizens to criminal trial in international courts or give rise to charges against this country based on segregation laws or Vietnam war activities. Through 37 years, though, there were always senators urging debate and ratification and deploring the United States' failure to agree to the document. Sen. William Proxmire in particular distinguished himself in this effort. President Reagan's strong support, announced in 1984, and Sen. Richard Lugar's skilled negotiating were also crucial in persuading undecided senators.
Ratifying this treaty will not end genocide, which continues even today. But it does give formal recognition to this country's moral commitment. This generation has now completed the work of another, begun many decades ago. Supporters of the treaty through this long period can share a sense of accomplishment and pride.