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Genocide

by on March 14, 2021

Genocide

by Marco M. Pardi

The ruin of a nation begins in the home of its people”

Ashanti saying.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

The term genocide is once again being raised, this time in the actions of the Chinese government against the minority Uighur population, a Muslim population. I have written previously about the linguistic issue of Usage, and how a term varies in meaning over time, often greatly. We generally accept this in common parlance, though we may not like it and we prefer to remain true to the meanings we learned as children. But variation, or meaning drift, is a far more serious matter in the arena of international law and the consequences which may flow from violation of those laws. And, as is so often the case but which usually goes unchallenged, the presumably consensual meaning drift becomes so tenuous as to raise the question of whether we are now to accept an entirely new meaning. And how does that affect the application of the law?

The meaning of Genocide I grew up with derives from the Greek: Genos – race or tribe; Latin: cide – a suffix meaning killing. The term was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer, in 1944. It refers to a larger class than homicide, the killing of a human and sui (Latin: self) cide – the killing of. I was given to understand that “people” meant all members of a designated group, be it religious, ethnic, tribal or otherwise. And I grew up with the understanding that the book the Christians call the Bible, and especially the part called the Old Testament, is filled with stories of “God commanded” Hebrew slaughters of every man, woman, child, and all living things among any populations standing between them and “the Promised Land”. Of course, the Christian Crusades were heralded as great achievements of eradication of Muslims, though little was said of the murder, rape, and plunder of everyone along the way to the Holy Land. But, a cursory trip through history provides seemingly endless examples of one group trying to eliminate another group “root and branch”.

Hyperbole is sometimes taken as meaning drift but it is not generally codified in legal terms. The excerpt below is from the United Nations Convention on Genocide.

The Genocide Convention establishes in Article I that the crime of genocide may take place in the context of an armed conflict, international or non-international, but also in the context of a peaceful situation. The latter is less common but still possible. The same article establishes the obligation of the contracting parties to prevent and to punish the crime of genocide. The popular understanding of what constitutes genocide tends to be broader than the content of the norm under international law. Article II of the Genocide Convention contains a narrow definition of the crime of genocide, which includes two main elements:

  1. A mental element: the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such”; and
  2. A physical element, which includes the following five acts:
    • Killing members of the group
    • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
    • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
    • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
    • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”

Reading these must certainly bring to mind memories of events within our lifetimes. Let’s consider a few, including only one involving armed conflict. When AIDS was first identified in the Western Hemisphere it was quickly labeled a “gay disease”. But it did not take long to discover it was spreading quickly through minority populations, particularly the Black population. A few years into the progression I was asked to move to Atlanta to work in a federally funded institution, specifically in AIDS epidemiology. What struck me immediately on arrival was the prohibition of any educational and/or outreach programs. But then, the institution was titled The Centers for Disease Control; it was only later, when a different political party took the White House, that the terms and Prevention were added. For six of Reagan’s eight years and four of G. H. W. Bush’s four years we were told to “do more research”. The deaths spiraled beyond imagination and there was a strongly growing sentiment that the government, as held by that political party, was engaged in a hands-off genocide against gays and minorities. Street jokes included such witty questions as, What does gay stand for? Answer: Got AIDS yet?

Shortly after I arrived I detected a flaw in a study protocol I had been asked to join. It addressed four major American cities. I added a common sex tourism city in Southeast Asia and then was asked to join a task force to address cholera in Latin America.

The El Tor biotype of cholera was killing thousands, particularly along the western side of Central and South America and I spent the next five years traveling through that area, but also including the Caribbean and Mexico.

On arrival in a South American country I briefed the Minister of Health and his staff on the morbidity and mortality data we had and outlined a proposal for addressing the thousands of cases and deaths. He thanked me for coming, hoped my stay would be comfortable, and said he would be in touch if anything serious happened. Later, driving up into the Andes to spend a few days in Army tents erected for treating critically ill patients I asked the local physician with me why the official attitude was so dismissive of the problem. His answer: “Only the Indians are dying from it.” Oh.

Not long after, the Balkans exploded in war. The Christian Serbs attacked the Muslim Bosnians and slaughtered men, women, and children by the thousands while the world stood by. Finally, the U.S. stepped in with a bombing campaign. Rwanda erupted into a murderous civil war between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Again the world stood by until finally U.N. pressure was brought to bear. We stood by again as the terrorist group ISIS attempted to extinguish the Yezidis in Iraq and the Myanmar military attacked the minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, killing thousands of men, women, and children. And, for the past six years the U.S. has supported Saudi Arabia as it wages a war of starvation against a much smaller Yemen. Where does the vast bulk of Saudi weapons come from? American companies, glad to enrich their stockholders. Companies supported by a taxpayer funded Pentagon budget which exceeds the military spending of all the other industrialized nations combined. Of course, we could enumerate more. But I think the point is made.

So is it any wonder that, as thousands fled the violence and scarcities in Central America largely brought on by climate change and the struggle to seize control of diminishing resources Americans turned a jaded eye toward the last administration’s policies of taking children, even infants, from their families as they crossed into the United States? The families were often told the children were being taken to give them baths. (Do we dare entertain the memory of German soldiers separating families, loading some members onto trains and gassing others who were told they were getting “showers”?)

Many of the Latino older family members were locked up or deported while the children were dispersed throughout the United States. The latest figures I’ve seen are 524 children unaccounted for and 628 parents not yet found to come for their children.

As the now pandemic of Covid-19 took hold in the United States the administration at the time, the same political party as Reagan and Bush, dismissed it as a hoax. As was the case during the Reagan/Bush years they threw themselves into “research” while stifling any attempts to meaningfully address the virus. HIV/AIDS strategy redux. When it did force its way into our consciousness as a reality the administration applied the xenophobic labels “Chinese virus” and “Kung-fu virus”.

It then quickly became apparent that the populations experiencing the worst outcomes from infection were the minority populations, specifically the African-Americans and the Latinos. Yes, the “Warp Speed” vaccine program poured huge amounts of taxpayer money into drug companies, and a large stockpile of a particularly ineffective malaria drug was purchased. But, cui bono? Who benefited from that huge infusion of standing and promised cash? Could it be certain stockholders? We can all be happy with the three highly efficacious vaccines we now have. But I would like to see the small group of individuals who are now even happier with their highly efficacious stock portfolios.

I’m sure some would draw back at the suggestion that limiting or outright banning of contraception and/or abortion is genocide. But the figures are amazingly clear: those options are overwhelmingly sought by people who recognize that having a child, or another child, would doom them to hard poverty or worse. Yet, every time a particular political party comes to power in the United States a “gag order” descends on foreign service officers stationed throughout the world, particularly in the most desperate nations and regions. Speak of either option and your career is over. Put up so much as one table and chair dedicated to family planning counseling in a general health clinic and the funding for the entire clinic is withdrawn. The result? You can see for yourselves if you care to look. Poor and desperate people are controllable people. Until someone comes along and empowers them to fight back. Someone like a wannabe demagogue descended from a New York slum lord. Able to focus and direct the fears and frustrations of the masses.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit that U.N. definition of genocide and to ask ourselves if we have let the meaning drift away from us. If we have fallen into always applying it to “the other guy”.

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14 Comments
  1. Ray Rivers permalink

    I agree – it is time to reconsider tht definition. If everything is genocide then nothing is genocide.

    Like

    • Thank you, Ray. I agree we have let terms expand too far. This ultimately renders them meaningless. At the same time, we have failed to properly apply those terms, such as genocide, to ourselves when the evidence strongly leans in that direction.

      Like

  2. Mike Stamm permalink

    Am I right in thinking that the Turkish government still refuses to admit that the Armenian atrocities of a century ago were their responsibility? Genocide takes many forms, and not always by the losers. The US is guilty of many such efforts, most blatantly with Native Americans but also with gay and minority groups; Canadians did the same thing with their First Nations and the Russian Old Believers. Perhaps it’s time that some more lethal epidemic dealt with the human race as a whole, so we can leave the planet to the cockroaches, the nematodes, and less homicidal species.

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    • Thank you, Mike. You do pose the Ultimate Solution. But, yes, Turkey does still refuse to acknowledge the reality of genocide against the Armenians, a dreadful example of such a concept. The same is true of the other examples you cite. President Andrew Jackson, “Indian Killer” would have been in the docks with the likes of the Serbian leaders who slaughtered Bosnians. But, we don’t seem to apply these terms to ourselves.

      Like

  3. Alex Matheson permalink

    Marco it seems to me you are talking about “genocide” as also occurring from strategic ignoring of a situation likely to lead to disproportionate death within certain groups. A kind of benign “genocide” where the consequences of inaction can be seen and are welcomed. So they are taking advantage of what they see as a fortuitous opportunity, while not actually wielding the literal knife.
    While people may end up just as dead, there is not the same scrupulousness to root out everybody and kill them. I would prefer a different term for that. alex

    Like

    • Thanks, Alex. Yes, The steel hand in the velvet glove. There must be a specific term for that. What are your ideas?

      Like

  4. Gary permalink

    A good posting.

    However. I would like to address your pithy take on the crusades.

    The method of warfare attributed to the Christian warriors in this period, atrocious as it seems to us in 2021, was normal for the times, and had been SOP in the Islamic world for 400 years of its extra-Arabic conquests following the death of Mohammed in 632 CE. It was not unknown by Mohammed himself dealing with recalcitrant tribes, particularly Jews.

    In the century following his death, Arab Muslims spread Islam throughout the Middle East and North Africa, as well as parts of what is now Europe, particularly the Balkans, and parts of Russia. They did it with great violence equal to that ascribed to the crusaders. The territories they conquered by the sword were taken mostly at the expense of the Christians and Jews who lived under the auspices of the Eastern Roman empire, centred in Constantinople (now Istanbul). Islam had even taken Spain and Portugal and had invaded parts of France. The intention was to make the Mediterranean an Islamic lake, as well as to call as many souls to the service of Allah as possible, or expunge them if they did not convert.

    The crusades were launched by Pope Urban II in 1095, in response to this 400 years of depredation, and it was triggered by the advent of the Seljuk Turks preventing Christians from pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as well as the continuing Muslim designs to capture Constantinople. For several centuries, Christians had taken note of the ferocity and success of Muslim warriors who did not fear death because they were promised a fast track to Paradise if they died fighting for Allah. Popes were urged to grant the same privileges to Christian warriors. This was resisted for centuries until Urban II gave such assurances. While commonly believed that the nobles who led the crusades were simply greedy, looking at new land holdings (and no doubt some were), many nobles sold everything they had to finance their armies and simply to gain salvation fighting for the lord God under these new rules.

    While the conquests of the Christians were bloody affairs, it was not the purpose to kill as many Muslims as possible. In fact, the Christians administered the lands of the Levant in an even hand, not attempting to force Muslims to convert – unlike Islam.

    Like

    • Thank you for the superb post, Gary. It certainly speaks well of your command of history and the motivations behind events.

      As you may know, I’ve lived and traveled in Muslim countries, mostly before the modern surge in terrorist and Islamic Jihad. I was surprised in countries which still had descendants of European colonials. I saw many well functioning Catholic churches, still drawing attendance. As I understood it, the only costs of not being Muslim were in the form of additional taxation. It would be interesting to see if that is still the case today.

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  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, I have nothing I can add right now. This is one of those posts that leaves me momentarily stunned, but yet another that leaves me wishing it could be widely shared.

    Like

  6. Thank you, Dana. I’m looking forward to your thoughts, especially as we find ourselves in continuing turbulence.

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  7. There are so many layers within the concept of genocide. History is full of examples of one group of people killing another group based on ethnic, cultural, or religious differences. Fear and ignorance are at the core of every type of such heinous crimes, for criminal it is to cause the end of something just because it differs from us. What we don’t understand, we fear; and what we fear, we feel the need to destroy. How many cultures, perfect or imperfect within themselves, have others, in their inflated sense of righteous superiority, felt the need, the “calling” to change? How dull this world would be if all of us were the same.

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    • Thank you, Rose. Homo sapiens appears to be an aberration in Nature. Our brains have misled us. We must free our minds.

      Like

  8. jkent33 permalink

    As always your blog neatly fits into my thoughts on matters of that particular issue. The last party in power who treated the refugees coming from central America broke my heart every time I listened to the news. The most disgusting part were people being concerned about children costing money to care for them. No one I know raising that issue are missing any meals or shelter. My heart aches from seeing children who were taken out of the arms of their parents. Even today the GOP Senators who refuse to acknowledge their welfare angers me to no end.

    Several years ago I hired a Latin lady with 2 children to assist me with household chores. I insisted she bring her children and bought lots of toys to occupy their time while she attended to her duties. It didn’t take long before my feeling grew for her and her two boys. Unfortunately her live-in male friend learned of the situation and took her back to Mexico and stripped her of all of her credentials needed for reentry to the USA. My attempts to have her return grew beyond my means. And the threats from her male friend were successful to keep me at bay.

    I’ve always wondered if more people were less greedy the attitude would soften toward our neighbors from the border? I think more people would happy if they used their hearts as guides instead of their hard heads…

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    • Thanks, Jerry. As a father, like you, I was crushed at the sight of young children torn away from their parents, sent off without even adequate tracking. This was so reminiscent of the NAZI policies, which caused my family and me to hide for 10 months while in Rome during the German occupation. My grandmother (English) and my mother (Italian/American) would have been imprisoned or shot. My brother (Italian/American) would have been imprisoned. and I, (Italian) would have been placed in an orphanage. But we had connections, and my mother was an OSS officer, so we hid on Vatican grounds.

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