Questions About Genocide

Periodically, the question of genocide resurfaces. What is genocide? I believe that it is quite a bit like all obscenity. A famous American judge, speaking about the latter, quipped that he knew it, when he saw it.

A problem with genocide is that mass homicidal violence can be perfectly justified. By this I mean that there are cases, in history, where it looks as if it were justified.

The vast coalition which exterminated the Assyrian empire seems to be a case in point. The vigorous way with which Charlemagne annihilated Saxon power in Northern Germany (deporting part of the population in South-West France, among other feats), is another example. The Saxons had stood in the way of civilization for centuries, when not eradicating it outright, after landing in Britannia. Charlemagne’s view was that, after trying everything else, deportation was in order.

A Cherokee Born Long After The Trail Of Tears

A Cherokee Born Long After The Trail Of Tears

A recent example of massive violence to save us from unfathomable evil was the defense against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in WWII.

A number of philosopher have struggled mightily, splitting hair to define genocide. Examples are found in Scientia Salon.

Trying to find a general definition of genocide is best done through examples: by kidnapping their children, did Australia commit genocide against the Natives in the 1960s genocide? According to the United Nations definition, it did. Or was that just a good gesture to give those children a chance?

Was what the USA do to American First Peoples genocide? If so, are there mental structures in the American psyche deriving from that?

Did the invasion of America by Europeans constitute genocide, and, if so, was the genocidal aspect necessary? Otherwise asked, was the genocidal English American invasion model superior to the French “Mission Civilisatrice” in Canada? And if so, in which sense?

Studying particular examples informs the general definition. In mathematics, physics, law, or ethics.

Exterminating the most spectacular aspects of the Aztec civilization was certainly culturocide, and, according to some, all too broad, definitions, would also constitute genocide.

In general stamping out a nasty religion, such as the Punic, Celtic, or Aztec, does not constitute genocide, just well-deserved ethical cleansing. Nobody is crying because we don’t conduct human sacrifices, Celtic, Punic, or Aztec style.

The Roman civilizing principle was that religions requiring human sacrifices ought to be obliterated. Everybody agrees (so why is Abraham, the would-be child killer, so popular?)

However, extermination of 15/16 of the Aztec population, including its leaders and thinkers, certainly constituted genocide (although how it happened was not clear: immunity was partly at fault). After a spectacular trial instigated by rancher cum adventurer and bishop Las Casas, the highest authority in Spain and the Roman Empire, Charles Quint, decided to stop the Conquista.

Revenge and exemplary killing do not constitute genocide: they may be viewed as measures to prevent future genocide, by telling future perpetrators that they could not get away with it.

An example is the 40,000 collaborators executed by France in 1944, and thereafter. Although they all got justice, as deserved, some of this justice was express justice, as deserved.

On the other hand, the behavior of Stalin in Ukraine in the 1930s, or Putin in Chechenia around 2000, seems to fit the definition of genocide. The latter case is an example where a bad man and his collaborators (say the French actor Depardieu) could be put under public disapprobation (Depardieu actually owns property in Chechenia: does that make him an accomplice of genocide, and a violator of the Fourth Geneva Convention?)

And the awkward questions keep on coming: when a nation commits genocide (say Turkey with Armenians) do other nations which conduct business with it become accomplices of said genocide?

The question of the Kurds also surfaces: by cutting Kurdistan into little pieces thrown to the four winds, did colonial powers become accomplice of conditions conducive of genocide against the Kurds?

The genocide of the Jews in World War Two was a mix of the deliberately vicious (Zonderkommandos, as early as June 1941), and deliberate happenstance (famine in 1945). The latter means that one should include in the will to genocide, the will to create such circumstances that cause in turn genocide.

The Nazis knew they were going to go extinct, in 1945. However, consumed by rage, but still full of desire to escape their well-deserved punishment, they remembered the “Trail Of Tears”.

The government of the USA had deported the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, among others, exterminating many in the process. One third of the Cherokees died.

Thus the Nazis decided to force march all concentration camps inmates they did not outright assassinated in a rush. Their hope was that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of these embarrassing witnesses and hated subhumans, would died. They did.

Rwanda’s Kagame is a modern example of that: after having shot down the Rwandan and Burundi presidents, or stealing through proxies the wealth of Congo, he deliberately created conditions for the evil spirits of genocide to raise.

A crime should be defined: endeavor conducive to genocide.

We need to refine our analysis not just of facts but mental plays on the fragile condition of the human spirit. This is true not just for genocide, but for war in general.

Patrice Ayme’

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