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The word "Genocide"

Discussion in 'Political Discussion' started by PatsFanInVa, Feb 3, 2009.

  1. PatsFanInVa

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    There is a great deal of use, abuse, and general bandying-about of the term "genocide" on this board.

    I thought we would benefit from an examination of the struggle of Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the word:

    Polish Jew gave his life defining, fighting genocide - CNN.com
    Raphael Lemkin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    He was a lawyer, and intended specifically that his new term have a real definition. He was also a keen social analyst. Any of us can base our current arguments on his writings, and do. It is worthwhile, however, to read said writings. Like the UNHCR, which based its definition of genocide on his, Lemkin's definition is broad. He considers genocide to mean not only the mass murders perpetrated against Jews and Gypsies, but also political and cultural "half measures" intended to replace a pre-existing "national pattern" with a new "national pattern," and to manipulate birth and death rates to effect genocide by means other than the physical murder of each individual in a group. His interest began with the Turkish treatment of Armenians early in the 20th century, and he was steeped in the issue of genocide all during the rise of the Nazis. As a Pole who would have been classified "Jewish" by the Nazis, Lemkin was keenly aware not only of the mass murders the Nazis perpetrated, but of other Nazi policies of occupation intended to "Germanize" conquered territories by other means (i.e., replacement of other nations' symbols with German symbols, deprivation of rations to other nations, etc.)

    Ironically (given subsequent events,) he points to the partitioning of Yugoslavia into states such as Croatia and Slovakia, as part and parcel of these genocidal policies, and points to the division of France into five zones of occupation -- similar to the zones established in Germany after the war, followed by the crystalization of "East and West Germany" -- as another example. History has a way of producing such ironies.

    I have no desire to compare genocides on this thread. I have stated before that anybody who wants to complain that this genocide receives too much attention, while that genocide is comparatively ignored can begin another thread, to which I will be glad to respond. I personally do not want this thread to be hijacked into a bicker-fest, but to be a point of departure from which we can all learn a little.

    In this particular thread, my thought is to provide information on Lemkin himself, his thought, and his historical context.

    PFnV
  2. wistahpatsfan

    wistahpatsfan Rookie

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    Got up early and coudn't get back to sleep.
    Goot thread seed, PFinV. Let's see if we can discuss like big boys and girls.

    The misuse of language can cause some unintended consequences. I have great difficulty with the way some take a term and expand it's definitions to include conditions that are so far-flung from the core that the power of the core definition becomes diluted and, therefor, less powerful. The use of "genocide" is a prime example.

    Lemkin's definition of Genocide extends into other regions that do not necessarily include the physical destruction of human beings because of their racial or cultural commonalities. It seems to me that practices of birth control (and banning the same) can have similar effects while being outside of the sinister definition he gives. When the rationale of government birth control is to limit or reduce a population because of economic hardship or environmental and agricultural disaster like they do in China, I can imagine such a practice falling into the category of genocide as Lemkin so broadly defines it. The anti-birth control policy of the Catholic Church has, arguably, resulted in the deaths of millions in the third world and could well fit under Lemkin's definition of genocide, but the origins of that policy are of religious foundation (All life is sacred) and to maintain a population of believers in the face of dwindling membership in the industrialized world.

    Unless he has decided to intentionally define the term so broadly so as to intentionally dilute its meaning, Lemkin's definition does not not necessarily represent an automatic "license" to retain the original intent of the word. There are no "ownership rights" to words. Genocide may have been modified by some to mean something more specific than Lemkin had intended and since come to mean something different. To most in the popular realm of discourse, the term refers to the Nazi extermination of Jews. In fact, until relatively recently, that was the meaning... "The Holocaust"..."The Genocide"...In the 60's, 70's and 80's, these terms referred virtually exclusively to the Nazi treatment of Jews - the "Final Solution" and those terms were extremely powerful and probably only extended to a few other instances in history (Manchuria, Native Americans, maybe even African slaves). Again, each culture had it's own historical reference to a genocide. The Armenians, Irish, Vietnamese, Tibetans, meso-Americans, the Karen in Burma, etc, all have references to genocidal behavior of their enemies or oppressors, but they were not generally associated with the autrocities of the larger acts that most were familiar with.

    Point being, there should be more concise difinitions of this or any word or it is in danger of losing it's power. Genocide is not the imposition of an invader's cultural values. If it is, then Britain is guilty of genocide in India and the US is guilty of genocide in Iraq. Is Israel guilty of genocide in Palestine? (I've done it now!) No, not IMO. But under Lemkin's definition, they and many others certainly are. We need a new word (or words) for the imposition of economic and cultural values that may or may not cause suffering when a conquered population resists such an imposition, however subtle or overt. It's dangerous when a word loses it's meaning and people forget about the ghastliness or beauty of a word or term. Is a cop involved in crowd control at a protest a "Nazi"? Are "all natural" foods good for you? Maybe some of them. The corporate imposition of their values are killing people with tobacco in China and poisonous fertilizers and preservatives in the food. Are all taxes bad? Is all human life worth saving at all cost? No.

    Oh well, gotta get to work, now. Have at it until I can get to the laptop later.
  3. PatsFanInVa

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    Late for the door myself... but...

    - In the Chinese example, though one could argue they are trying to destroy the Chinese people, they have a long way to go, the experiment has resulted in a higher, not lower quality of life, and the larger threat to them was famine. So yes, there may be an autogenocide accusation, but it comes down to intent...

    - In the case of providing birth control in general, again because the state fears resources are scarce, Lemkin would say we would have to make it available, say, to only Hutus, and encourage Tutsis to have large families, to effect the demographic displacement he sees at the root of the "crime" as he defines it.

    I agree that there is a much more common definition which is limited to the physical destruction of a persecuted group based on "race" (which in Lemkin's definition includes religion, ethnicity, etc. -- but conspicuously not political party or socioeconomic class.)

    PFnV
  4. Harry Boy

    Harry Boy Look Up, It's Amazing PatsFans.com Supporter

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    It's a nasty business, it brings out the animal in us.
  5. patsfan13

    patsfan13 Hall of Fame Poster PatsFans.com Supporter

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    IMO the documentation and formalization of the policies make the NAzi hohocost rather unique. That does not detract from other barbaric activities during the 20th (or other) centuries. The genocide committed bu the Russians is just coming to light (in terms of documentation) since the fall of the SU.
  6. PatsFanInVa

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    PF13 and Harry, I agree. Harry, especially, good insight. It's not "the other guy's crime." A lot of cultures with nothing else in common have indulged in genocidal activities. Again, going back to Lemkin, I think he was intent on not letting the Nazi's grim work stand unchallenged, but had the background not to focus on only the worst outcomes (in a given time frame.) That takes insight on his part -- they were in the aftermath of such a crystal-clear case, and that case had been aimed at Lemkin doubly (as a "Jew" by ethnic definition, and as a Pole.) That he saw not just the immediate horror of what was going on, but also formulated a theory of why this keeps recurring, is to his great credit.

    I think Lemkin's limitation is that he was intent on defining genocide, the murder of a people, because there was so much of it about in the first half of the 20th century, which brings up what we know of Stalin's evil.

    I am not sure (PF13,) whether you mean Soviet genocides are coming to light, or more and more about Soviet "democides," the class and political equivalents. Certainly one could make the case that the famine forced on the Ukraine was a genocide (killing 3 1/2 Ukrainians and 2 1/2 Byelorussians, respectively,) though most of Stalin's work was class motivated and politically motivated (for example, the mass murder of the kulaks.) The "liquidation of the kulaks as a class" has been estimated to have taken anywhere from a few hundred thousand lives to tens of millions. Kulaks were never thought of as composed of one or another ethnic group or religion; they were defined by whether they rented land, mechanical facilities, or other items to other farmers; whether they had hired labor; etc. Some were sent to labor settlements, some died along the way, and some were simply executed. The drive for this democide was the Soviet policy of collectivization. A kulak was a peasant who could bring his product to market on his own; early on, they resisted collectivization. This landed them in the category of "class enemy."

    But again, PF13, I don't know whether these are the sorts of atrocities you are referring to, or whether you mean genocide, by Lemkin's definition or similar ones. I do not say here that Stalin's democides were any worse or better, I only say there is a distinction between the two (perhaps there should not be but there is.)

    PFnV
  7. MrBigglesWorth

    MrBigglesWorth Rookie

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    CNN had a great documentary on Lempkin and genocide of the 20th century

    YouTube - 1/14 Scream Bloody Murder CNN Christiane Amanpour Genocide Armenia Jews Rafael Lemkin Elie Wiesel

    The appauling part of genocide is not that it happens but that those(nations and United Nations) who could stop it just sit back and watch it unfold until it is too late. Until it actually happened.
  8. maverick4

    maverick4 Banned

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    Given that definition, wouldn't the US and former USSR be the biggest culprits of "genocide" in the past 50 years?

    What do you think he meant by "national pattern"? Is that cultural in scope, or also religious and/or political/economic?
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2009
  9. patsfan13

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    I was thinking of the mass starvation of the Ukrainians in the 30's in particular. I agree that for Stalin the issue was more class than racial per se. In Hitler's case he viewed things through the lens of race which in his view defined politics (Jews as the force behind communism, and Darwinism which allowed him to define Aryans as superior to other races, his ability to 'scientifically' define certain races as subhuman allowed for genocide as a state policy).

    As opposed to the types of genocide where violence is 'random' (driven by tribalism and religion, Tutsis being killedby the Hutu's, the Armenians bein killed by the turks and Kurds being killed by the Sunni tribes are examples ).

    Hitler and Stalin organized the state and it's bureaucracies to exterminate the enemies of the state (again with their different ways of identifying their enemies). While the communist conducted murder over an extended period of time. The Nazi speed in exterminating the Jews (and to a lesser extend the Gypsies) They went from the Concentration camps for political enemies to the SS Einsatzkommando (they followed the army around and committed the mass executions (That Patters references in his recent post) (they also has trucks and would put Jews in the trucks and use the exhaust to kill the victims). When these methods weren't 'efficent' enough, they quickly 'progressed' to the Wannsee Conference and the plans for the slave/death camps. They even went to the extent of having priority for rail traffic over the army conducting the war...(There was a great movie done by HBO a couple of years ago about this meeting).

    So in some senses the Holocaust is distinct from even the regime of Russian Communist.

    I would also like to mention a couple of other things. I ran across a book in the Univ of Utah library 30 years ago written by a German Col. serving in Russia during the war. It was unreal to read his descriptions of the Slavs as subhuman, he took this for granted and as a matter of fact. HE described the vision of Russia populated by Aryan landowners who would use the Slavs as slaves until they were replaced by enough Aryans when they too would be eliminated....

    I would also reference Unit 731 which the Japanese used to experiment on Chinese in ways similar to the Nazi medical experiments on Jews (their goal was to develop chem and bio weapons, and research human reaction to extreme environments. Pretty chilling stuff). They had their own camp..
  10. patsfan13

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    How did the US commit Genocide and what were it's motivations?
  11. PatsFanInVa

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    Maverick, Lemkin was as broad as possible, and I believe specifically stated that destruction of the national pattern incorporated cultural elements. For example, the eradication of schools that taught and were conducted in the language spoken by the oppressed party, and the punishment of the teaching of that language. I do not think, however, he meant that the export of a film industry is genocide (just for example.)

    The Soviets engaged in behaviors vis a vis their "nationalities" that fall into this part of Lemkins definition, at home. Like PF13, I am curious to hear your thoughts supporting your last statement regarding the US and the USSR. (In terms of the common definition focusing on the physical death of individuals, the US was in its hayday [famously] during its various wars against the indigenous populations of North America, although historians are divided as to the relative roles that intentional slaughter/bio-warfare and unintentional disease spread played in the decimation of the Native American populations, as well as to the pre-Columbian population of North America in the first place.) Oddly, if you think about it, slavery would only fit under Lemkin's categories if, say, one tribe sold members of another tribe into slavery, in order to impose their own will on the land and edifices of the disposessed, and the buyers would merely be guilty of enslavement, and perhaps of accessory genocide, if they understood the seller's intent. This sheds light on Lemkin's purpose: not solely to re-label every horror that had ever been committed on a large scale, but to get at the core of a specific type of crime, because the term was lacking from the point of view of the crime's intent, i.e., eradication of a people. What's new is not Lemkin's recognition of murder or even mass murder, but his recognition of the drive behind them. Anybody wondering whether Lemkin's terminology was meant to be argued in court need only look at the phrase "in whole or in part," and consider the applicable reducto ad absurdum. I think he understood people could make stretches, but also trusted that the stretches would simply lose the case.

    PF13, I agree that we respond viscerally to the intent displayed by wartime Germany in every detail of their methodology, planning, and record-keeping (for this last bit, I'd recommend Edwin Black's IBM and the Holocaust to get an idea of how precious the data of genocide were to the Nazis. I actually worked for this guy for a bit -- not on a scholarly project, and as a grunt -- and can simply say he was unpleasant to work for. But the book's fascinating.)

    We're looking at several elements, the common thread in which is the intent to destroy a national pattern and replace it with the destroyer's national pattern. It is also telling that in his writing he juxtaposes the word nation against the word state. For Lemkin, nation meant a people; that is why I say he was limited by his own world, the world of European thought, where nations coalesced more or less as states, with various minorities they treated with more or less tolerance. Of course genocide would apply also to groups sharing a national trait, in Lemkin's usage (e.g., an attempt to exterminate English-speakers.) An attempt to eradicate all Americans could be shoe-horned into Lemkin's categories, despite the multinational character one could argue for the American state. This argument would only come into being because of Lemkin's own limited focus.

    Lemkin's particular circumstances may also have been apparent in his use of "in whole or in part," in consideration of the "decapitation" of Polish society, in which the initial policy was to empty Western Poland for lebensraum, destroy the intelligentsia, those with military training, and other potential leaders among the Poles, and enslave the remainder.

    Hitler's dream scenario was to enslave the Slavs, subject them to horrific conditions, and let low birthrates change the demographics of Europe, while encouraging Germans and other "Aryans" to replace dwindling Slavic populations. Clearly, he intended genocide against the Slavs as well, but they did not represent the high-priority targets that Jews and Roma did.

    PFnV
  12. maverick4

    maverick4 Banned

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    Given what you said, that it is board and can include cultural, religious, economic, and political genocide... the US is a major culprit of genocide the past 50 years due to its Manifest Destiny attitude that pervades even to today, where we justify forcing democracy, capitalism, Hollywood, and the rest of our cultural values onto groups of people around the world, based on the belief that we must know best.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2009
  13. Lifer

    Lifer Banned

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    Yes, those Jews and the United States = bad

    Seig Heil, Maverick!!!!!! :eek:
  14. maverick4

    maverick4 Banned

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    Why are you still living in America when you hate America, lifer? You commie bigot.
  15. Lifer

    Lifer Banned

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    so i can keep drawing you out some more Maverick. Please, keep talking.
  16. maverick4

    maverick4 Banned

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    I don't talk to fascists thugs who wish '1984' were a reality
  17. PatsFanInVa

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    To be specific, you asked whether Lemkin described a cultural dimension (as well as others,) and I answered that yes, destruction of a culture with the intent to erase a people fit into his writings.

    Your phrase is odd. A religious group can be the target of a genocide; the term "religious genocide," meaning systematic destruction of a people's religious institutions to the ultimate goal of ending that people's existence, might make sense. "Economic genocide" makes sense if we talk about, for example, using economic deprivation as a tool of genocide (again, the destruction of a national group.) It does not make sense in defining the target group; hence, the need for the term "Democide," coined in response to Soviet rampages on class grounds. "Political genocide," I think, similarly makes sense if one is "decapitating" a society, as part of a larger genocidal policy (i.e., aimed at depriving a national group of its national existence).

    So it is important that when using the above adjectives in front of the noun "genocide," you understand that Lemkin talked about them as techniques, but not all as targeted groups (i.e., killing of an economic class was not part of his thinking, but economically depriving a national group was.)

    Unless accompanied by the planning and carrying out of genocide itself, Lemkin did not define attitudes as genocide. Chauvinism is already a word; one needn't invent one to restate it.

    "Manifest Destiny", i.e., the belief that a supernatural power has decreed certain rights for one's nation, may be irritating to neighbors, allies, and foes, but it is not by itself proof of genocide. I would ask you to establish that this "attitude" is US policy, but there is no point. Even if it is, the US is therefore only guilty of an annoying attitude, not genocide.

    These seem to be the elements of US behavior that you characterize as genocidal. Were you and I to argue the case in court, my defense of America would be that it was encumbent upon you to prove the goal of America would be to destroy a national group (i.e., by virtue of language,) an ethnicity, a race, or a religion.

    In other words, you must prove intent to destroy said groups.

    Again, Lemkin's term was meant to be part of a body of law. One would have to try a case, say, In re: Micky Mouse vs. Humanity.

    Although "regime change" may constitute imperialism and a breach of other international law (waging aggressive war and the like,) I do not think it constitutes genocide.

    And were we in the court of law, here the judge would pound his gavel and say "dismissed". The operative phrase would be "based on the demonstrated desire of the oppressor to destroy the national life of the oppressed."

    PFnV
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2009

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