Joint Service Academies Mass Atrocity Prevention Symposium

Dr. David Frey, Associate Professor of History
Director, Center for Holocaust and
Genocide Studies at West Point


Dr. Richard Ruth
Associate Professor of History
United States Naval Academy

Ms. Jennifer Ciardelli
Director, Civic and Defense Initiatives
Levine Institute for Holocaust Education
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Dr. John Riley
Associate Professor of Political Science
United States Air Force Academy


The United States Military Academy’s (USMA) Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) and the United States Naval Academy (USNA) Never Again Initiative, together with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Museum), will conduct the first iteration of the Joint Service Academies Mass Atrocity Prevention Symposium. The purpose of the student-led symposium, which will take place between 28 and 29 April 2017, in Washington, DC, is fourfold. First, the symposium will enable military service academy cadets and midshipmen to have advanced discussions about the causes, contexts and consequences of atrocity with experts in the field.  Second, it will allow cadets and midshipmen an opportunity to present research they have done on the history and study of the Holocaust and other genocides.  Third, it will encourage the students, who will be among the first tasked with responding to future atrocities as military officers, to draw lessons from the past and learn about recent studies by peers that lend insight for creative means of prevention.  Fourth, because cadets and midshipmen play a major role in the organization and execution of the symposium, the event is a superb developmental and leadership opportunity.  Overall, the goal of the symposium is to produce a greater understanding of atrocity detection and prevention and to encourage discussions about the consequences of atrocities while instilling in our country’s future leadership a deep sense of history, ethics, and responsibility. 

The two-day program will focus on the different examples of genocide and atrocity in history, and the world’s response to these situations. Specifically, this seminar will convene cadets and midshipmen from the four main service academies: West Point, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, along with ROTC cadets from the Washington, DC area.  Student participants will be selected by a joint-service academy committee of cadets and midshipmen.  Selection will be based on interest and scholarship, and many of those chosen will have the opportunity to showcase research they have done. Through examination of the foundational event of the Holocaust and contemporary genocides, participants will present their own studies on these subjects and closely examine questions of early warning mechanisms to prevent atrocity; the actions of perpetrators, witnesses, rescuers, enablers, victims and others; and multiple other lessons that can be learned from mass atrocities.

The faculty co-organizers, Dr. David Frey of West Point, Dr. Richard Ruth of Navy, Dr. John Riley of Air Force, and Ms. Jennifer Ciardelli of the Museum, will also gather renowned Holocaust and genocide scholars from the Museum including its Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, and select individuals engaged in atrocity prevention and response work at USAID, the State Department, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  Between student presentations, these experts will present cutting edge research and lead discussions.  Due to its location at the Museum, the symposium will be able to take advantage of the unparalleled resources, artifacts, archives, and exhibits.

An intended outcome from this experience is that symposium participants will draw lessons from past atrocities that will help prevent future genocide and atrocities worldwide. It is important that young men and women, who are preparing to become future military leaders, possess an understanding of the atrocities that have occurred, the role militaries have played or might in the future, and the responsibility they have in preventing future atrocities.

The program’s small size is designed to produce an intense, intimate, and productive environment conducive to creative thinking and enduring collaborative relationships. The symposium has the following specific objectives:

  1. To prepare future military leaders to possess nuanced understandings of the context in which mass atrocities occur;
  2. To further understanding of the Holocaust and genocide with particular emphasis on knowledge relevant to the role militaries have played, and the responsibility they—as our country’s future leaders—have in preventing future occurrences;
  3. To clarify the value of the Holocaust and genocide content in the education of future military officers;
  4. To enhance the relationships among service academy students, Museum staff, other scholars; and
  5. To contribute to the development of the Department of Defense’s readiness to develop further education and training related to atrocity prevention and response.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Joint Service Academies Mass Atrocity Prevention Symposium

 This program is made possible through the support of the May Family Endowment for Civic Responsibility.