Definitions and Typologies of Genocide
As a result of the increasing public awareness of genocide that stems from, among others, the adoption of the UN Convention and the difficulties surrounding its implementation, scholars over the years have proposed a variety of definitions and typologies of the phenomenon. This chapter will explore some of the work in this direction.
A typology is a study of types and classifications. It enables us to organize a topic of study (in this case, genocide) into categories and sub-categories and to examine instances that can be compared to one another in different ways. The definitions and typologies explored here are critical tools for scholars who are attempting to assemble multiple events and processes that have various similarities. Such scholars examine the contexts and conditions in which similar events have taken place with the aim of assessing whether it is possible to make any generalizations about the process that resulted from them. Without a doubt, many of those engaged in the study and teaching of genocide hope that their work will help to prevent, or at least to reduce the occurrence of genocides in the future. For this reason, the series of which this book is part also engages in the development of theoretical tools that can help to provide us with early warning of possible future genocides and better enable us to propose means to prevent them.
Well based insight into the phenomenon of genocide teaches us that it is not something that happens suddenly in the absence of facilitative conditions and social, cultural, political, and ideological contexts. Understanding these elements can help us to better identify, struggle against, and perhaps reduce or prevent genocides in the future.
This chapter discusses the major definitions, typologies, and theories of genocide, and introduces the definition that will be employed throughout the rest of this book. It also introduces a number of typologies of perpetrators and victims of genocide and explores the phenomenon of genocide denial.
Social and Cultural Contexts in Which Genocide Can Occur: Terminology and Definitions
We begin by defining a number of concepts that are directly or indirectly related to the subject of genocide. These definitions will help us to better understand the processes associated with genocide and perhaps also the reasons behind them. To this end, this sub-section draws on the definitions appearing in John J. Macionis' book Sociology, and Anthony Giddens' book of the same name.1 The concepts introduced below are meant to better enable us to understand the socio-cultural contexts in which genocides take place, assuming the existence of a number of additional circumstances.
Race A group of individuals with common biologically transmitted traits that group members view as significant. The classification of race may be based on physical traits such as body shape, skin color, or facial features. Physical diversity in humans developed as the result of living in different geographic regions, as in the case of people living in regions of intense heat, who developed darker skin to protect them from the sun. In contrast, people living in regions with moderate climates have lighter skin. Despite these superficial differences, human beings the world over are members of a single biological species.
In the nineteenth century, biologists divided the world into three major racial groups, calling people with relatively light skin and fine hair Caucasoid; people with darker skin and coarse hair Negroid; and people with yellow or brown skin and folds on their eyelids Mongoloid. This division is misleading at best, as no society contains people who are biologically 'pure'. This diversity stems from migration and intermarriage that have characterized human history and resulted in the fact that many genetic characteristics that were once typical of only one particular geographical location can now be found all over the world.
Ethnicity and Nationality Ethnicity refers to a shared cultural heritage. Ethnic categories are based on common ancestry, language, or religion that results in a distinctive social identity. Race and ethnicity, however, are two distinct concepts: the first relates to biological traits, the second to cultural traits, and both often go hand in hand. The concept of ethnicity, however, is more complex and fluid than the concept of race, and some people define themselves as possessing more than one ethnic identity. Ethnic identity is also something that people may consciously attempt to change. While ethnicity is more closely associated with cultural heritage and historical past, nationality is typically conceived of as being linked to sovereignty, statehood, or the struggle for statehood. Still, the distinction between these concepts is not always clear. People often use the terms race, ethnicity, and nationality interchangeably, and incorrectly.
Minority A minority is any category of people with unique physical or cultural traits that society sets apart as distinct from the dominant majority population, subordinates, and assigns an inferior social standing. The definition of minority has recently been expanded to include people with particular physical challenges, and some definitions also include women. Although the word 'minority' literally indicates a relatively smaller group within a larger group, minorities can also consist of categories that constitute a numerical majority of the population. For this reason, we distinguish between numerical minorities and sociological minorities. For example, blacks in South Africa were considered to constitute a minority subordinated by the white ruling regime, despite the fact that they were ten times greater in number than the country's white population. Another example is women, who make up more than fifty percent of the population in many countries but still must struggle to achieve the same rights and opportunities enjoyed by men.
Prejudice The term prejudice refers to a rigid and unjust generalization regarding a category of people that is predetermined and indiscriminately applied with little or no direct evidence. Prejudice may be applied to particular social classes, genders, sexual orientations, age groups, political affiliations, races, and ethnicities. Because prejudicial attitudes are rooted in culture, everyone possesses at least some measure of prejudice. Attitudes stemming from negative prejudices can range from mild avoidance to open hostility.
Theories of Prejudice
Since, by definition, prejudice does not reflect an objective or rational view of reality, then where does it come from? This sub-section briefly surveys a number of explanations that have been posited over the years to explain the phenomenon of prejudice.
The Scapegoat Theory maintains that prejudice is rooted in the frustration of people who are disadvantaged themselves and who project their anger on others in society who are weaker than them. The resulting prejudice does not improve their situation, except by providing them with an outlet for some of their frustration. Another theory, known as the Authoritarian Personality Theory, holds that people with authoritarian personalities view society as a naturally competitive and hierarchical system in which the strong survive and maintain prejudices against weaker members of society. Culture Theory proposes that because prejudice is embedded in all cultures, no one is completely free of it. Finally, Conflict Theory contends that people with power create and exploit prejudices in order to oppress minorities in a world that is laden with conflict.
Stereotype A stereotype is an exaggerated description applied to every person in a particular category, stemming from a large number of prejudicial views. Stereotypes distort reality and are difficult to debunk, even in the face of hard evidence to the contrary.
Racism Racism is a form of prejudice that results from the belief that one racial category is innately superior or inferior to another. Racism has existed since the beginning of civilization and has served as a pretext for the social oppression of members of innumerable races that were considered inferior. Racism has also provided the justification for brutal conquests and the oppression of peoples thought of as belonging to inferior races, and, in some cases, as sub-human. Racism can assume a number of different forms, including: a) racism as prejudice; b) racism as a behavior type; and c) racism as ideology (race theory). During the twentieth century, racism played a decisive role in the Nazi theory that viewed the Aryan race as a superior race that was destined to rule the world. This ideology led the Nazis to the systematic murder of members of all races they regarded as inferior or flawed.
Discrimination Discrimination, the unequal treatment of various categories of people, is typically the practical outcome of prejudice, stereotypes, and racism. While prejudice refers to attitudes, discrimination is a matter of action. Like prejudice and stereotypes, discrimination can be positive or negative, and can range from subtle to blatant. In some cases, we may discriminate in favor of someone because of his belonging to a particular category, which necessarily results in discrimination against anyone who is not a member of that category. In practice, we all discriminate among the people around us. Discrimination, however, differs from distinctions made for the sake of making the many choices that are crucial in daily life and that are not usually overly problematic (for example, when one person is selected for a position out of a large pool of candidates based on merit). Some societies view particular types of discrimination positively and other types as unacceptable. In countries with low-income populations, discrimination in favor of family members and of the primary group of belonging (the tribe) is typical and acceptable in society. In industrialized countries that have internalized the concept of merit and individual achievement and rejected the concept of collective belonging, such discrimination is considered unacceptable. There is also a difference between discrimination in the behavior and actions of individuals, which is extremely widespread, and legally based discrimination, which provides discrimination with legitimacy and makes no efforts to struggle against it.
Prejudice and Discrimination Prejudice and discrimination are mutually reinforcing and often result in a vicious circle that is difficult and at times impossible to break. Developing a prejudice against a particular category of people, and discriminating against that category based on prejudice, creates a dynamic of social subordination that, again, serves to perpetuate the prejudice, leading, in turn, to more discrimination, and so forth.
Institutional Prejudice and Discrimination This is a particularly destructive phenomenon in which prejudice and discrimination are not simply held and practiced by individual members of society but are rather built into the very functioning of its institutions.
Demonization Perceiving the 'other' as a threat is a process that typically (but by no means necessarily) occurs during wartime, as each side attempts to justify the war by dehumanizing the other side and by convincing the public that it constitutes a threat. In this way, during World War II, the Americans portrayed the Japanese as brutal, uncivilized, unfeeling and immoral apes who posed a threat not only to Asia but to the United States and western civilization as a whole.
Demonization is carried out not only against external populations but against internal populations as well. One example of this phenomenon is the Nazis' depiction of Jews as subhuman and a threat to the Aryan race and to German culture. Another is the Young Turks' depiction of the Armenians as exploiters, anti-patriots, traitors, collaborators with the Russian enemy, and, for all these reasons, as people who needed to be murdered. Demonization and dehumanization processes implemented by the ruling elite are often directly linked to the perpetration of genocide. Totalitarian regimes employ demonization and the depiction of the 'other' as a threat as tools to eradicate groups that interfere with their interests.
Segregation Segregation refers to the physical and social separation of different categories of people. While some social minorities segregate themselves voluntarily, segregation is typically forced upon them. Segregation in South Africa penetrated all aspects of life, and sentenced the black (sociological) minority to second-class citizenship. Other examples include the status of Jews in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and the Hutu-Tutsi segregation in place in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. In some cases, segregation is less encompassing and does not impact all realms of life.
Without a doubt, prejudice, discrimination, segregation, and racism are phenomena that we must strive to eliminate. However, we must also remember that not all manifestations of these phenomena necessarily lead to genocide.
Distinguishing between Genocide and other Types of Extermination: Terminology and Definitions
Our exploration of genocide requires the definition of several more terms that are often used when discussing the subject but that are not synonymous with the term 'genocide'.
Massacre The intentional killing of people because of their belonging to a particular group. Massacres are typically specific and local in character. For example, the inhabitants of one village might be targeted while the inhabitants of a different village with the same traits might not be harmed.
Genocidal Massacre An instance of mass killing with a genocidal component that is not classified as genocide under the narrow definition employed by the UN Convention. One periodically cited example of this phenomenon is the massacres perpetrated in Algeria during the early 1990s.
Pogrom A Russian word referring to a massacre typically carried out with the cooperation or acquiescence of government authorities, involving, among other things, the destruction of property of the victims. In the Yiddish language, the word pogrom is used to refer to the massacres perpetrated against Jews in Russia between 1881 and 1921. Three dramatic increases in the perpetration of pogroms took place during this period, the last of which coincided with the revolution (1917-1921).
Ethnic Cleansing The forceful, intentional, and systematic expulsion from a certain territory of a specific ethnic group, which is considered by the dominant group in the territory to be undesirable and dangerous. Some propose using the term population cleansing, which includes not only ethnic groups but other groups based on religion, race, class, political opinions, and sexual orientation. Although the term ethnic cleansing was only coined recently, acts that fit its definition have been carried out since ancient times. The best known modern example of this phenomenon was carried out in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995, when Bosnian Serbs used violent and non-violent tactics to forcefully remove Bosnian Muslims from Serb territory. Since then, the term has come to be widely used. Ethnic cleansing sometimes involves forced expulsions and transfers and is sometimes accompanied by acts of terrorism, massacres, and mass killing. Under international law, ethnic cleansing is classified as a crime against humanity.
Ethnocide Destruction of the collective identity of an ethnic group without the extermination of its members, or, in other words, the non-physical destruction of an ethnic group. This phenomenon is also sometimes referred to as 'cultural genocide'. For example, some maintain that Chinese policies vis-à-vis the Tibetans are a manifestation of ethnocide, not genocide.
Omnicide This term refers to a full-scale nuclear war that is likely to destroy civilization as a whole. It was widely used during the Cold War.
Homicide The murder of a human being.
Although all the forms of extermination delineated above may be components of genocide, they do not in themselves fall under the definition of genocide. The distinction between these phenomena and the concept of genocide is not only quantitative, as massacres and pogroms can result in the deaths of many people, but also related to intent; that is, whether the actions are aimed at exterminating an entire category of people or at harming only part of the group or some of its members. Some actions are classified as genocide by some researchers but not by others.
Two additional concepts relevant to our discussion here are politicide and democide, which will be discussed in the next chapter.
Typologies, Theories and Definitions of Genocide
The origins and significance of genocide are still not sufficiently understood. Below is a brief survey of the work of prominent scholars who have explored genocide over the past few decades in an attempt to generate academic definitions, classifications, and theoretical tools to help us better understand the phenomenon.2
In 1959, in a broad study entitled "The Crime of State," Dutch law professor Pieter N. Drost examined genocide throughout human history.3 Drost was critical of the exclusion of political and other groups from the definition contained in the UN Convention, as some countries are liable to take advantage of the omission. For this reason, he proposed that the General Assembly adopt a new definition of genocide: "the deliberate destruction of physical life of individual human beings by reason of their membership of any human collectivity as such."
In Du cannibalisme au génocide [From cannibalism to genocide],4 French scholar Hervé Savon also levels criticism at the UN definition and calls for classifying genocides according to their outcome into categories such as genocides of substitution, genocides of devastation, and genocides of elimination. Although Savon's work serves to call attention to the problematic nature of the term, his proposal does not take into consideration the events leading up to the genocide.
Jewish American sociologist and political scientist Irving Louis Horowitz, who has studied and written about genocide since the 1970s, also addressed the challenge of defining the term genocide, among other places, in his book Taking Lives: Genocide and State Power. As the title suggests, Horowitz regards genocide as the result of a policy that aims to assure popular conformity with state rule. According to his definition, genocide is the "structural and systematic destruction of innocent people by a state bureaucratic apparatus." 5
Horowitz focuses on the nature of the societies in which genocide has taken place. In his view, genocide is not a random or sporadic occurrence, but rather a unique type of mass extermination that, in practice, requires state authorization. State regimes use genocide as a tool to create the national solidarity necessary to rid themselves of unwanted social groups. His theory presumes the existence of a continuum of societal types ranging from permissive societies at one extreme, to more liberal and less oppressive societies at the center, to societies with the tendency to carry out genocide at the other extreme. Based on his macro-social academic analysis, Horowitz proposes eight types of societies:6
● Genocidal Societies, in which state authorities take the lives of individuals as a result of deviant or dissident behavior.
● Deportation and Incarceration Societies, in which state authorities either remove individuals from the political realm or prevent their interaction with the rest of society.
● Torture Societies, in which individuals defined as enemies of the state are physically victimized short of death and returned to society as evidence of the high risk of deviance or dissidence.
● Harassment Societies, in which state authorities regularly arrest, search, and harass members of society.
● Shame Societies, in which social pressure that creates a sense of disapproval, shame, and social isolation, serves to ensure participation in the collective will.
● Guilt Societies, in which social pressure that creates a sense of wrongdoing in individuals is used to promote conformity to normative standards of society.
● Tolerant Systems, in which social norms are clearly articulated, but in which deviance and dissidence are neither celebrated nor destroyed.
● Permissive Systems, in which norms are questioned, and in which it is society, and not the state, that sets normative standards of behavior.
Genocide, asserts Horowitz, may occur in the first three societal types but is extremely unlikely to occur in the five remaining types.
Is it possible for a society to be extremely permissive with regard to some deviations from social norms and exceedingly oppressive with regard to others?
In his 1984 article entitled "Genocide and the Reconstruction of Social Theory," Horowitz posited that a totalitarian society is a necessary condition for the process of genocide to take place.7 In contrast to his work on the subject in the past, he later asserted that national culture plays a more decisive role in genocide than ideology.
In a 1975 article entitled "A Typology of Genocide," American sociology professor and Armenian genocide expert Vahakn Dadrian proposed a new definition of genocide for the purpose of research and academic analysis. Following Lemkin, Dadrian's definition emphasized the intent of the perpetrator. "Genocide," he wrote,
is the successful attempt by a dominant group, vested with formal authority and/or with preponderant access to the overall resources of power, to reduce by coercion or lethal violence the number of a minority group whose ultimate extermination is held desirable and useful and whose respective vulnerability is a major factor contributing to the decision for genocide.8
Dadrian's explication of the term genocide focuses on the scope of the gap between perpetrators and the victims, yielding five types of genocide:
● Cultural Genocide: Destruction of the defining cultural characteristics of a group and its forced cultural assimilation.
● Latent Genocide: Carried out indirectly and unwittingly as a result of war, such as the death of innocent civilians during air raids or the unintentional spread of diseases during an invasion.
● Retributive Genocide: Perpetrated as retaliation aimed at punishing part of a minority group that poses a real or perceived threat to the dominant population.
● Utilitarian Genocide: The use of widespread massacre to gain or preserve control over economic resources.
● Optimal Genocide: Perpetrated in order to achieve the complete destruction of an entire group, exemplified by the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide.
Overall, it is perhaps most notable that, while Dadrian's typology includes cultural genocide (ethnocide) and focuses on the motivation of the perpetrators, it does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional acts of extermination.
Beginning in the late 1970s, sociologist Helen Fein made a major theoretical contribution to the study of genocide by stressing the central role of ideology (and the myths that accompany it) in the mechanism of genocide.9 Fein regards genocide as a "rational" planned event with defined goals. According to her analysis, the ruling "formula" developed by a number of regimes during the twentieth century justified the elimination of elements in society that were liable to detract from the legitimacy of the regime. Elimination was carried out through assimilation, expulsion, or extermination.
Among her recommendations for preventing genocide, Fein proposed an initial definition of the phenomenon. "Genocide," she maintained, "is the calculated murder of a segment or all of a group defined outside of the universe of obligation of the perpetrator by a government, elite, staff or crowd representing the perpetrator in response to a crisis or opportunity perceived to be caused by or impeded by the victim." Fein suggested a four-part typology of genocide:
● Developmental Genocide: In which the perpetrators intentionally or unintentionally exterminate people who prevent them from exploiting economic resources.
● Despotic Genocide: Which occurs in a highly polarized multi-ethnic state and aims at eliminating a real or potential force of opposition.
● Retributive Genocide: By which perpetrators attempt to exterminate an actual opponent.
● Ideological Genocide: Which accounts for all cases of genocide against groups that the perpetrators regard as mortal enemies or the embodiment of evil.
Just over a decade later, Fein revised her understanding of genocide from a sociological perspective.10 Now she defined genocide as
a series of purposeful actions by a perpetrator(s) to destroy a collectivity through mass or selective murders of group members and suppressing the biological and social reproduction of the collectivity. This can be accomplished through the imposed proscription or restriction of reproduction of group members, increasing infant mortality, and breaking the linkage between reproduction and socialization of children in the family or group of origin. The perpetrator may represent the state of the victim, another state, or another collectivity.
Fein stresses that states and governing authorities are not the only entities that can carry out genocide; private settlers can do so as well, as in the murder of local populations in Brazil and Paraguay in the mid-twentieth century. Fein's theory explains the murder of the Jews, the Armenians, and the Romanis, but also emphasizes the differences between these three genocides. From a historical perspective, she maintains, all three groups had been under ongoing attack. The Jews had been persecuted in various ways for approximately 2,000 years; the Armenians had been persecuted for 500 years, beginning with the onset of Ottoman rule in Turkey; and the Romanis had been persecuted for almost 1,000 years. Fein provides an account of the processes that resulted in the removal of these and other groups from the realm of responsibility, or the "sanctified universe of obligation," which are briefly reviewed below.
The Muslim Turks labeled the Armenians "infidels" and portrayed them as sheep. Armenians were provided with physical protection as long as they obediently accepted their subordination, discrimination, and oppression. However, prior to and during World War I, the Young Turks attempted to establish their rule and to create a new Turkish identity, which allowed no room for such a large minority with the potential to threaten their legitimacy.
According to Fein, the murder of the Jews is also consistent with an understanding of genocide that regards ideology as a major component. The Nazis made use of a pseudo-scientific, neo-Darwinist, racist ideology that classified the Aryan German people as possessing a unique future and a unique identity — an identity based on "blood." According to Nazi ideology, the Aryan race possessed the messianic right to rule over other peoples, and all means were considered justified in achieving this goal. Such racially motivated ideology is a necessary condition for genocide. As Jews and Romanis (and homosexuals, for other reasons) did not belong to an acceptable group, they were considered to lie outside of Germany's realm of responsibility and outside the human sphere altogether. As such, they were portrayed as destructive animals, genetically abnormal, and dangerous to the purity and unity of the Aryan population. Fein argues that employing a doctrine that classifies victims as lying outside the human sphere effectively removes all limitations and obstacles with regard to what can be done to them.
In Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century, pioneer genocide researcher Leo Kuper advances a broad analysis of genocide in the modern era and its various motivations.11 Kuper's analysis classifies the different cases of genocide into three categories based on their underlying motivating factor:
● Genocide intended to solve religious, ethnic, or racial divisions
● Genocide intended to instill fear in a conquered people or peoples
● Genocide perpetrated in fulfillment of political ideology
Kuper's primary concern is the spread of genocide in the modern era. In his view, genocides are perpetrated primarily in multi-ethnic nation states, and he dedicates a major part of his analysis to the creation of new multi-ethnic nation states during the era of colonization and the era of decolonization that followed. Kuper's analysis also addresses political groups, positing that cases such as the mass murders carried out by Stalin, the murders committed in Indonesia, and the murders in Cambodia should also be recognized as genocide. A large number of these occurrences were also genocide from an ethnic perspective, like, for example, Stalin's expulsion and execution of peoples and ethnic groups that he regarded as politically problematic.
In a subsequent book entitled The Prevention of Genocide,12 Kuper proposes the establishment of an international apparatus to take action against perpetrators before and during genocide, in an effort to halt them while in progress or to prevent them altogether. This indicates that he is aware that the interests of different countries constitute a serious obstacle to applying the UN Convention.
Kuper modified his typology over time, expanding its analysis to accommodate two major types of genocide:
1. Internal genocides resulting from fissures and cleavages within societies. This category consists of four sub-categories:
● The murder of local populations (including hunter and gatherer societies) undertaken for the sake of economic development in our time (for example, the murder of the Apache Indians in Paraguay).
● Murder carried out as a result of decolonization after the transformation of most structures of control (for example, the acts of genocide perpetrated by the Hutu in Rwanda and the Tutsi in Burundi).
● Murder as a result of inter-ethnic and inter-racial power struggles during regime change or during efforts to achieve independence or equal rights (as in Bangladesh).
● The murder of hostages or scapegoats (like the Armenians during World War I and the Jews in the Holocaust).
2. External genocides stemming from warfare and international conflicts. In this category, Kuper classifies America's bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, China's invasion of Tibet, Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, and the American war in Vietnam.
In addition to internal and external genocides, Kuper also addresses the mass murder of political groups (which, as we have seen, were excluded from the UN Convention) and genocidal massacres of ethnic, religious, and racial minorities in multi-ethnic, dictator-controlled societies based on legitimating political or ideological formulas. This broad category covers mass murders perpetrated by the Soviet regime, Nazi Germany, Indonesia, and other countries.
Kuper's analysis draws comparisons between clear cases of genocide and other instances whose classification as genocide has been highly debated, such as the bombing of the German city of Dresden, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Vietnam War. In these cases, the extermination of the German, Japanese, and Vietnamese populations was not an aim in itself.
In his book entitled Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, Jewish-American political scientist Robert Melson explores similarities and differences between the Armenian genocide and the Jewish Holocaust and uses them to generate theoretical conclusions.13 In his view, the Jewish and Armenian cases were similar in four fundamental ways. First, while the Armenians were a tolerated minority in the Middle East, they by no means enjoyed a status of equality with the majority population. Throughout history, this minority was periodically persecuted by the majority population. This was also true for Jews in Europe over the years.
The second similarity was the fact that for both the Armenian minority and the Jews in Germany, the years preceding the murders were a period of economic, social, cultural, and political prosperity. The success and social mobility of the Armenians caused tensions with the majority population, which viewed them as lacking legitimacy and as a threat to the old order, which was itself based on inequality. Similarly, prior to the rise of the Nazis, the Jews enjoyed improved social status in Germany as a result of their relatively recent 'emancipation' from the anti-Semitic policies of the countries in which they lived.
The third similarity was the fact that the Jewish and Armenian minorities were both geographically and ideologically identified with enemies of the country's majority community. Although such identification can be either real or imagined, it nonetheless creates a powerful association between the sense of internal threat and external threat in the minds of the majority.
The fourth similarity was the fact that both majority societies had recently experienced political, military, and economic calamities and perceived themselves as being in the midst of a serious existential crisis. Such situations, Melson asserts, tend to generate support for radical ideas.
According to Melson, this combination of factors results in a perceived linkage between the social success and mobility of the minority group in question, its supposed connections with the enemies of the country, and the crisis facing the country or the majority population. The minority is accused of prospering at the expense of the majority, of bearing responsibility for the disasters impacting the state and the majority society, and of posing a substantial threat to their very existence. Stemming from the resulting radical ideology, the state resolves to redefine its identity and to eliminate the minority from its social structure.
Melson maintains that his model is applicable to most cases of internal genocide that have been committed by state governments. A less complex process, he holds, underlies genocides resulting from confrontations between occupying powers and technologically less developed societies, which the former regard as lying outside their own social and institutional order.
In a 1987 essay, American genocide scholar Roger Smith designated the twentieth century as "the age of genocide" and proposed a typology of genocide based on the intent of the perpetrators.14 Smith's typology accounts for five types of genocide:
● Retributive: Genocide carried out as part of an attempt to exact revenge (such as mythological ruler Genghis Kahn's widespread killing not only of fighting forces but of large civilian populations in thirteenth century Russia and China).
● Institutional: Genocide carried out primarily during military conquest, as was typical of ancient history and the medieval period.
● Utilitarian: Genocide motivated by a drive to accumulate assets (for example, the onial expansion that took place between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in some cases into the twentieth century, and the extermination of local populations that accompanied it).
● Monopolitic: Genocide perpetrated to achieve a ruling monopoly, particularly in divided multi-ethnic societies such as Bangladesh and Burundi.
● Ideological: Genocide carried out in order to establish an idea of redemption or purification or to force such an idea on the general population (common during the twentieth century, and exemplified by the Armenian and Soviet cases, as well as the Jewish Holocaust and the genocide in Cambodia).
Smith emphasizes the changing nature of the factors that motivated genocide throughout history. In the past, victims were selected according to the location of their homes or property, while victims in the modern era were selected primarily based on collective social identity (ethnic, national, racial, and religious groups according to the UN Convention, and additional groups according to other scholars).
Noting the similarities and differences between the definitions and typologies of genocide proposed by scholars sheds additional light on the events surrounding the different genocides that have been committed throughout history. At the same time, however, it is always crucial to bear in mind that, at the end of the day, we are talking about people murdering other people who are innocent of any crime.
In their book, The History and Sociology of Genocide, Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn distinguish between "genocide" and "ethnocide."15 According to their approach, the latter term encompasses the destruction of ethnic groups by non-physical means — such as the repression of language, culture, or religion — which should be distinguished from a group's physical extermination. Chalk and Jonassohn also considered proposing an alternative term for genocide, to remedy the shortcomings and omissions of the concept as defined by the UN Convention, but ultimately refrained from doing so due to the lack of a suitable alternative definition and because of the wide acceptance and usage gained by the term around the world in recent years. They propose the following definition of the term: "a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator."16
Elucidation of this definition requires a word-by-word analysis. The phrase "a form of ... mass killing" emphasizes the fact that although mass killings take different forms, genocide pertains to only one form: mass killing aimed at destroying a particular group. The phrase "mass killing" implies that in genocide, all members of a targeted group are designated to be killed. In this context, it is irrelevant that the aggressors' chances of actually achieving their goal in full are extremely slim. The use of the phrase "intends to destroy a group" enables us to remove from the general definition all acts of killing, murder, massacre, and popular violence, which, although certainly deplorable, may have had a different goal. This also excludes all cases in which mass killing occurred in the absence of premeditated intention (as in the unintentional dissemination of fatal diseases as a result of migration).
The phrase "one-sided" reflects the aggressors' intent to eradicate the victims, and the absence of any such intention on the part of the victims. The phrase is also indicative of the power-disparity between the two groups, and the fact that, even if the victims were to attempt to defend themselves or to resist their attackers, the meager resources at their disposal would make such efforts hopeless. As examples of this dynamic, Chalk and Jonassohn cite the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Armenian resistance/rebellion in the city of Van during the Armenian genocide, which were intended more to solidify the dignity and solidarity of the victims than to mount a bona-fide offensive aimed at achieving victory.
The phrase "one-sided mass killing" is also significant in that it excludes all instances of killing during wartime that are not one-sided and in which neither side is helpless. Although it has often been the case that events classified as genocide occurred during and following wars, it should be remembered that groups under attack in such cases were not actually parties to the war itself. According to Chalk and Jonassohn, the case of Carthage should be considered as genocide due to the mass killing carried out after the war itself ended.
Chalk and Jonassohn also stipulate that genocide does not include the killing of civilians during air bombardments (such as the cases of Dresden and of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), as such actions are considered part of warfare as long as the government of the country is party to the war. This approach runs counter to the view of Jean-Paul Sartre and Leo Kuper, who classified the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as genocide.
Genocide is always committed by a government or some other authority. During the twentieth century, all genocides were carried out by governments, reflecting the growth in government centralization that characterized the period. Chalk and Jonassohn's definition also uses the phrase "other authority" to refer to local governments or other official bodies, which often play a key role in genocide.
In general, the term "group" is difficult to define, as its meaning shifts along its geographical and temporal context. Chalk and Jonassohn's definition of genocide leaves the meaning of the term "group" open (they view membership in a group in this context as determined by the perpetrators themselves), facilitating the inclusion of groups that do not fall under the UN Convention. Moreover, their definition also facilitates the inclusion of groups that were not considered potential victims under the UN definition (such as homosexuals and the mentally ill in Nazi Germany and city dwellers in Cambodia under the regime of Pol Pot), as well as groups existing only in the imagination of the aggressors themselves (such as witches in Western Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries or "enemies of the people" in the Soviet Union under Stalin).
Chalk and Jonassohn are aware that their definition is restrictive in some ways. In an effort to not completely disregard cases that technically do not fall under their definition but that nonetheless require attention, they propose a different term: "genocidal massacres." This term refers to instances of genocide such as ethnocide and cases in which the perpetrator intends to destroy only part of a group.
Israel Charny proposes a humanistic definition of the term genocide: the unrestrained killing of human beings based on national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, geographical, ideological, or other aspects of their identity.17 Charny rejects "out of hand that there can ever be any identity process that in itself will justify the murder of men, women, and children 'because' they are 'anti' some 'ism' or because their physical characteristics are high- or low-cheekbones, short- or long-eared, or green or orange colored."18
Charny believes that his humanistic definition of genocide is the definition that will remain over time, and will even withstand understandable efforts to define genocide as an attempt to destroy the identity of a group of ethnic, national, religious, or other character. According to Charny, because the true, critical issue at hand is the preservation of human life, genocide must be assigned a broader definition: the conscious and unnecessary destruction of a sizable group or a large number of people. In his view, the term genocide should cover every instance in which a large number of people are put to death by other people, except for cases in which perpetrators possess clear evidence that they were acting in self defense. Regardless of the shortcomings of international law and the scholarly debates over terminology, he posits, this is the broad definition that common sense dictates.
Charny also explores the process leading up to genocide. Today, most official bodies understand the catastrophic events referred to as genocide as the intentional extermination of a sizable portion of a particular group for some reason, justified by the ideology of the perpetrators. The events leading up to genocide can be assessed from a number of perspectives that relate to the organization of societies and states, as well as the degree to which such bodies are committed to preserving or, alternately, taking human lives. Charny also maintains that the decline into genocide typically occurs in the context of war as a product of the resulting pressures on society. The final push toward genocide is often related to legitimizing symbols within the society in question — concepts through which a particular group is perceived to threaten the survival of the society as a whole. In some cases, the group in question does not even constitute a real enemy, but rather an alleged enemy against which society unites, mobilizes and struggles to eradicate.
Charny compares the process leading up to genocide to cancer, which involves one part of the body taking control of and beginning to kill other parts of the body. Although the body has many immunological forces capable of fighting cancer, they are often unsuccessful in doing so, thus allowing the illness to run rampant. This may ultimately result not only in the death of the part or parts of the body under attack but of the organism as a whole. Society also has elements that attempt to assume control by killing off some parts of it, as well as forces capable of preventing the violent take over. If these forces are unsuccessful in doing so, the ultimate outcome is extremely destructive.
In 1994, Charny proposed a generic definition of the term:
Genocide in the generic sense means the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military action against the military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defenselessness of the victims.19
Sociologist Jack Nusan Porter, a second generation Holocaust survivor who has worked extensively on the subject of genocide, defines it as
the deliberate destruction, in whole or in part, by a government or its agents, of a racial, sexual, religious, tribal or political minority. It can involve not only mass murder, but also starvation, forced deportation, and political, economic and biological subjugation.20
Porter proposes a broader definition of genocide than that contained in the UN Convention, including the deliberate destruction of political and sexual minorities, racial and religious minorities, and groups that he classifies as tribal or ethnic in character. According to Porter, "genocide involves three major components: ideology, technology, and bureaucracy/organization."21
Porter determined the social conditions which he believed indicate the likelihood that genocide would occur in a specific country (see Table 1). The fact that some or all of these conditions may exist in almost any society at some point in its history demonstrates that genocide, too, is possible in every society. At the time, Porter saw South Africa as a possible site of genocide, although as we know, this country ultimately moved in the opposite direction by dismantling its Apartheid regime. In contrast, he regarded Holland, Sweden, and Switzerland as countries in which genocide was unlikely. In this context, however, it is interesting to note the evidence that has accumulated in recent years of Switzerland's and Sweden's failure to take action to save the Jews and of the assistance (indirect, at the very least) with which they provided the Nazi regime.
Table 1 : Genocide prediction
|Predict Genocide||Predict Genocide Unlikely|
|Minority group is considered an outsider||Pervasive tolerance for minorities|
|Racist ideology||Strong minority with ready access to legal and human rights|
|Strong dependence on military||Temperate attitude to military|
|Power exclusion of political parties||Democratic political structure|
|Leadership has strong territorial aspirations||Weak territorial and imperial ambitions|
|Power of the state has been reduced by defeat and war or internal strife||No such precipitant events|
|Possibility of retaliation for genocide from some source is at minimum||Possibility of retaliation or interference by outside nations is considerable|
Source: Porter, "Introduction: What Is Genocide? Notes toward a Definition."
According to Porter, genocides have taken place in three contexts throughout history:
● In wartime or in the wake of military defeat
● During internal colonization and external imperialism
● As a result of deeply rooted struggles between local populations
War is a dynamic context in which people are easily transformed into victims, with the many atrocities it invites and the fact that belligerent parties tend to regard the death of innocent civilians as an extension of warfare. War also facilitates widespread propaganda accusing enemies of treachery and inhumanity and of posing an inherent threat to society. This, in turn, can potentially create an atmosphere of hysteria among enemy soldiers that can easily result in the death of innocent enemy civilians, or the transformation of the supposed enemy into a scapegoat. As a result, it is easier to carry out genocide and other atrocities during wartime, without being caught and without standing trial.
Porter maintains that the definition of genocide during wartime must encompass only the cases in which the aggressor intends to completely exterminate a people, race, or tribe.22 According to this approach, as reprehensible as they may be, not all killings of civilians during wartime can be classified as genocide. For example, the American attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be considered genocide, due to the fact that the intent of the Americans was the rapid surrender of the Japanese, not their annihilation. Other scholars, such as Leo Kuper, disagree with Porter on this point.
Colonization is another common setting for acts that fall within the definition of genocide. Genocide can take place during internal colonization, as well as during processes of imperialism that can be viewed as a kind of external colonization. Genocide has often served as a tool to suppress local populations, as exemplified in the extermination of the Native Americans in North and South America, the Aborigines in Australia, and the Maori in New Zealand. Porter maintains that the definition of genocide can also encompass indirect actions, such as cases in which entire groups have been wiped off the face of the earth because their bodies were vulnerable to illness carried by settlers. Conflicts between local populations can also lead to genocide, as in Rwanda and Burundi.
As we have seen, there is no consensus among scholars regarding the definition of the term genocide, and disagreements on this point have at times been quite pronounced. Some point to four major definitions of genocide, including the all inclusive definition by Israel Charny; the broad approach based on careful definition, like those espoused by Fein and by Chalk and Jonassohn; the approach that focuses on a single case of genocide while concurrently stressing the importance of comparison with other cases, as reflected in Strom and Parsons' project, "Facing History and Ourselves"23; and the narrow restrictive approach, stressing the uniqueness or exclusivity of a specific case of genocide, such as the Holocaust.
1. The government announces that subversive groups are using terrorism to undermine the foundations of the state. A national state of emergency is declared and members of the subversive groups are arrested and "disappear."
2. The government policy of turning forest areas into agricultural land results in a conflict between new settlers in the country and the original local population. The settlers take measures aimed at expanding agricultural land at the expense of forest areas, destroying not only trees, which constitute the food supply of the local population, but also the local population's culture and source of livelihood. Members of the local population resisting the seizure of their land are transferred to another location, and some die in the process. All of these actions threaten to eradicate the local culture.
3. Within a society that has long been plagued by ethnic tensions, a minority group suffers from unequal treatment by the majority. The efforts of the leadership of the majority group to use discriminatory laws to establish its rule in the country has recently resulted in frustration and a violent reaction on the part of the minority, which has different religious traditions. Certain circles within the majority group serving in the army have embarked upon counter-operations and have massacred elements of the minority living in remote areas.
4. A revolutionary regime recently came to power, despite the efforts of its opponents who held great political influence in the previous regime. Many of these opponents have been arrested, exiled, or sent to labor camps. The government begins to employ a policy of "reeducating" the younger population, and anyone expressing opposition is killed or sent into exile by the army.
5. The state government has decided that the best way to establish its rule is by accusing a particular minority group — against which prejudice has existed within society for many years — of responsibility for the problems facing the country. Despite the presence in the country of a vocal minority of educated people who defend the minority population, and despite moderate pressure exerted by foreign governments, the minority group does not receive significant support in its efforts to counter the accusations against it. Some members of the group have already been uprooted from their homes and stripped of their basic civil rights. Many have fled the country and warn that the government will soon take more stringent measures.
Fugue of Death / Paul Celan24
Translated by Christopher Middleton
Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
drink it and drink it
we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he whistles his
he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in the earth
he commands us now on with the dance
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at nightfall
drink you and drink you
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample
to lie there
He shouts stab deeper in earth you there and you others you sing and you play
he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue are his eyes
stab deeper your spades you there and you others play on for the
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at nightfall
we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at nightfall
drink you and drink you
a man in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents
He shouts play sweeter death's music death comes as a master from
he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you shall climb to the
then you'll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie there
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death comes as a master from Germany
we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you and drink you
a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are blue
with a bullet of lead he will hit in the mark he will hit you
a man in the house your golden hair Margarete
he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a grave
he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a master from Germany
your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith
A memorial to Tutsi victims in a church in Kigali, Rwanda. Carved figures of Jesus and other Catholic holy figures placed among the skulls of the dead.
The Definition of Genocide
For theoretical and practical reasons alike, attempting to define genocide is always a complex and frustrating task, which in practical terms results, for example, in making it difficult to take punitive measures against perpetrators (how does one determine where "massacre" ends and "genocide" begins?). The challenges posed by definition are one problem which we can assume will never be completely solved.
This series uses a somewhat broader definition of genocide than that employed by the UN Convention. In practice, we employ the definition proposed by Chalk and Jonassohn, which does not necessarily contradict other definitions and which provides a way of overcoming the limitations of the definition espoused by the UN. Within this framework, we explore cases in which the targets and victims were political groups, as in the Soviet Union. We also explore the modern day events in Tibet, although debate continues over whether this case should be classified as genocide or as attempted cultural genocide.
We must constantly remind ourselves that, regardless of the precise definition used, every instance of genocide is a case of human beings murdering other human beings because of their membership in a group of national, ethnic, racial, religious, or other character — unrelated to any personal accusation against the individuals killed — and is a serious crime for which there can be no atonement.
Typologies of the Perpetrators
Having surveyed some of the major attempts that have been made to define the concept of genocide, we now turn our attention to a number of academic typologies of perpetrators that have been proposed in recent years. These enable us to probe the phenomenon in greater depth.
Chalk and Jonassohn call for classifying genocides according to the factors that motivate their perpetrators. To this end, they propose four primary motives:25
● To contend with the perception of a bona-fide or potential threat
● To create an atmosphere of terror among real or potential enemies
● To achieve economic wealth
● To put into practice a faith, a theory, or an ideology
Although every case of genocide involves more than one motive, they suggest classifying each case under one of these categories, according to the dominant motivating factor.
We have seen that genocides can be classified according to the type of society that carries them out and to the nature of the perpetrators. Horowitz proposes a continuum of modern societal types based on the extent to which each society tolerates opponents and respects the right of individuals to be different. Other scholars have proposed typologies based on variables such as killing methods, technological sophistication, and organizational complexity. Some others have argued that, in the past, genocides have been committed for the sake of building, strengthening, and preserving empires, but that this kind of genocide became increasingly rare during the twentieth century. Still others point to the importance of assessing the relationship between the establishment of modern nation states and the multiplicity of genocides that have taken place during the twentieth century, distinguishing between empires (of the past) and nation states (of the present). The theoretical work that such an assessment requires, however, has yet to be completed.
Although a great deal has been written about the impact of genocides on victims, less attention has been paid to their impact on the society of the perpetrators. This dynamic is extremely relevant to efforts to prevent the reoccurrence of genocide in the future. From a historical perspective, the impact of genocide on perpetrating societies is directly related to their primary motivating factors. Genocides committed in order to contend with a threat, to spread terror, or to achieve economic power are motivated by concrete, practical concerns. Such cases occurred primarily in ancient times and during the era of onial conquests. Genocides of this type are considered to have been 'successful' from the perspective of the perpetrating society if they eradicated the concrete 'problem' and increased its economic wealth. The factors motivating ideological genocides are much more abstract, as they can be aimed at increased conformity, racial 'purification', legitimation of a new regime, or the creation of homogeneity of a nation state. This type of genocide typically takes a heavier toll on the perpetrating society, as its impact is much deeper, penetrating its foundations, its fundamental social and ethical values, and its very being. For this reason, ideological genocide has the potential to spark deep internal crisis within perpetrating societies.
Typologies of the Victims
Victims may be part of the perpetrating society or external to it. Less preliminary preparation is required to dehumanize external victims, as many societies already view outsiders as having less intrinsic value than their own members and, in some cases, as not human in the full sense of the word. Genocide against victims that are internal to the society of the perpetrators is a phenomenon that occurred primarily during the twentieth century. Internal genocides require that the victims undergo two processes: 1) identification as separate from society as a whole, and 2) isolation and discrimination. These processes were applied in Nazi Germany to the Jews, who were initially regarded as part of German society but at some point were excluded from it. For genocide to be carried out, members of the perpetrating society must first accept the new definition of the victimized group. If this process fails, then the genocide will ultimately fail as well.
Some have argued that most people see outsiders as non-human. Consider the role of the outsider or the 'other' in the crystallization of group identity. Does hostility toward 'others', whether or not accompanied by a desire to kill, serve to strengthen group identity? Or, is it actually a symptom of a group identity that is weak or unstable?
Categories of Victims As we have seen, the UN Convention stipulates four groups of victims: national, ethnic, racial, and religious. Some have called for expanding the definition to include economic, political, and social groups as well. It is also possible to distinguish between 'real groups', which can be identified by external observers, and 'pseudo groups', which can be identified only by the perpetrators themselves. Pseudo groups can be identified by outside observers only in retrospect, after the process of transforming them into victims has begun.
Examples of such a process of transformation include the "great witch hunt"26 and, more recently, Stalin's persecution of "enemies of the people" in the 1930s. The point at which a group of victims can be identified, which is a subject to which we will return later in this book, is of decisive importance when trying to prevent genocide. Typically, victimized groups that can be identified only after a genocide has begun or has been completed are difficult, if not impossible, to save.
Types of Accusations We can also consider the relationship between the type of group being victimized and the nature of the accusations being leveled against them. Most significant is the distinction between accusations based on provable facts and accusations devoid of any factual basis outside the frame of reference of the perpetrators themselves. In this context, it is also important to distinguish between accusations made against individuals and accusations against a collective, the veracity of which is difficult to prove and for which it is difficult to elicit a collective admission of guilt. Alternative typologies have been proposed, such as a scale based on the number of victims, either in absolute numerical values or in percentages (the portion of the victimized group that was actually exterminated).
It is important to examine particular genocides that have taken place in different parts of the world and at different points in history, and, at the same time, to undertake studies that compare these particular cases of genocide to one another. In addition to making an academic contribution, such studies may also prove valuable to the ongoing struggle to prevent future genocides, which must be based on broad understandings of the social circumstances, structures, and processes (economic, political, cultural, psychological, and other) that can lead a society to commit genocide. Only after we acquire the necessary knowledge regarding the genocides of the past can we begin hypothesizing possible causes of the genocides of the future and take action to prevent them.
Genocide scholars around the world are currently exploring different possibilities for preventing genocide in the future, including the Genocide Early Warning Systems (GEWS).
Necessary Conditions for Genocide
We now turn to the conditions and circumstances under which genocide occurs. In this context, we again emphasize that such an assessment is crucial not only to advance the interests of academic study and research but to develop tools that can help us better predict, deter, and prevent genocides in the future.
Every act of genocide involves three main social groups (which can also be broken down into sub-groups):
● Third parties
Acts of genocide can only be committed when the balance of power in a society is such that the perpetrators have complete power over the victims. Genocides, it must be remembered, are not carried out by insane individuals. After all, the insane and the mentally ill may be capable of killing individuals and maybe even large numbers of people. They are not, however, capable of killing entire populations. The crystallization of power relations in which a perpetrating group enjoys such clear dominance requires that the rest of the world behave in a certain manner. Here, the general term "rest of the world" refers to all other people in the world who belong neither to the group of the perpetrators nor to the group of the victims. These "third parties" can be divided into three groups:
Accomplices Perpetrators of genocide always have accomplices, whether their cooperation stems from sincere support in principle or from a concern for their own interests, based on their perception that the perpetrators are a strong force from which they can profit. Indeed, the number of people assisting perpetrators typically exceeds the number of people helping victims. Accomplices assist the murderers in a variety of different ways: some provide assistance to state authorities and are not directly involved with actual acts of murder; others help murderers identify, locate, and deliver victims, as in the case of the arrest and expulsion of the Jews of France during the Holocaust, which was carried out in close cooperation with the French police and other French authorities; and still others provide direct assistance in committing murders, as did portions of the local population and some local organizations during the extermination of the Jews of Eastern Europe.
Those who Aid the Victims Efforts to assist the victims can stem both from personal interest and from ethical and moral considerations. Such efforts can involve significant risks and in some cases mortal danger. It is important to emphasize that those extending assistance to the victims always constitute only a small part of "the rest of the world," as reflected in the Righteous among the Nations during the Holocaust (the final book in this series, So That I Wouldn't Be Among the Silent, offers in-depth exploration of the subject of rescuers and the Righteous among the Nations).
Bystanders Bystanders, or those who remain silent and indifferent as genocide is carried out, constitute a group that is much larger than either of the other two. In some cases, a distinction is made between internal bystanders, who are members of the society carrying out the genocide, and external bystanders, who are not.
It can be argued that through their passivity, bystanders — perhaps unintentionally — provide support for perpetrators, but never for victims. Thus, when we choose not to take a stand, we are actually taking the side of the perpetrator. From a moral perspective, we simply cannot stand by while crimes of genocide are perpetrated. We also cannot accept common justifications such as "nothing could be done to stop it" or "such things happen." Injustice does not cease to be injustice just because it is visited upon someone else. As the Bible teaches, "thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16). At least morally, bystanders too bear responsibility, and perhaps also blame, for such killing.
In her book Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Terror, American psychiatry professor Judith Lewis Herman explores the influence of different types of violence (from domestic abuse to political terrorism) on former combat soldiers, Holocaust survivors, prisoners of war, abused women, and victims of incest. "The ordinary response to atrocities," she explains, is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Murder will out. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims...
To study psychological trauma is to come face to face both with human vulnerability in the natural world and with the capacity for evil in human nature. To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events. When the events are natural disasters or "acts of God," those who bear witness sympathize readily with the victim. But when the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides [my emphasis, YA]. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.27
How and why individuals and groups remain neutral or indifferent in the face of atrocities is a question that can only be answered through an analysis of the individual cases.
Do bystanders bear responsibility and perhaps even blame for acts of genocide, at least from a moral perspective? Objectively speaking, are we not taking the side of the murderers when we choose the safer and more convenient path of compromising our morals and remaining silent in the face of genocide?
According to Helen Fein,28 a number of factors make genocide possible:
● The murderers' ability to carry it out in secret.
● The failure of external third parties to understand the nature of the crime.
● The victims' objective inability to defend themselves and their stigma of being "not so innocent," or of bearing some of the responsibility for their victimization (blaming the victim).
● The victims' inability to take action against the perpetrators, stemming from their overall weakness.
● Third parties' inability or lack of desire to impose sanctions against the perpetrators.
Factors facilitating the perpetration of genocide (including the victims' inability to defend themselves) have implications for the responses that are possible after the fact. Were the perpetrators identified? Did they acknowledge their actions? Were they accused and tried? Were they punished?
A painful question to which there may very well be no satisfactory answer is how it is possible for people to kill such a large number of other people. In an effort to answer this question, some have argued that murder of this kind cannot be carried out when victims are considered human beings. The killing of members of one group by members of another group can only happen when members of the victimized population are not considered to be 'people' in the full sense of the word. There is no evidence that genocide has ever been perpetrated against people regarded as full equals. In this way, victims of genocide are not only subordinate to other social groups, but are also typically defined by their attackers as sub-human. Prior to genocide, perpetrators usually take steps aimed at portraying the group under attack as worthless and outside their universe of obligation, as a direct threat to their existence, and as a group of immoral, sub-human reprobates.
However, despite such concerted campaigns of defamation and dehumanization, it is still sometimes difficult to convince rank and file soldiers and the individuals on the street to physically murder defenseless human beings. In order to do so, perpetrators sometimes find it necessary to employ threats and to make use of mentally disturbed individuals who are eager to harm others. As we will see, however, a number of studies performed in recent decades suggest that it is often not as difficult as once thought to bring 'normal' individuals to take part in such murders. One example is a study by Daniel J. Goldhagen, which posits that Hitler's ranks also included "willing executioners" — "ordinary Germans" who were willing to take part in the killing.29 Another study, by Christopher R. Browning, demonstrates that those who perpetrated the murder included "ordinary men," people like you and me.30 Robert Lifton's study on Nazi doctors also raises challenging questions, such as how individuals whose role it was to bring relief to others could be so quickly transformed into murderers.31 According to Chalk and Jonassohn, this is not surprising, as genocides have always been carried out under centralized regimes. The only times that this was not the case, they maintain, were instances in which the group under attack was small in number, such as some of the groups in Africa that were eliminated by white settlers.32
Most countries in the world have remained indifferent in the face of mass extermination, and major powers such as the United States are no exception. In an influential study, American foreign policy advisor Samantha Power analyzes the attitude of the United States toward various acts of genocide committed during the twentieth century, including the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and the genocides in Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and other parts of the world. "What is most shocking," she concludes, "is that US policy makers did almost nothing to deter the crime. Because America's 'vital national interests' were not considered imperiled by mere genocide, senior US officials did not give genocide the moral attention it warranted."33
One reason that the problem of genocide is not high on the agenda of American politicians (and politicians in many other countries, for that matter) is that it is not a priority for American citizens. For this reason, the struggle of Congress members against the international indifference to the genocide in Rwanda (like that of Knesset members in Israel) and against the policy of their own government, has no significant impact on their political careers and does little or nothing to boost their chances for reelection.
Genocide as a Process
Genocide can be understood as a process that unfolds through a series of mutually reinforcing stages. Although each individual stage cannot be defined as genocide, when the stages take place in conjunction with one another — and if nothing is done to prevent or halt them — genocide is the ultimate outcome.
Classification In all languages and all cultures, people classify; that is, they divide objects and people into different categories. Ethnic classifications are sometimes defined by detailed statutes, such as the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany or the Apartheid Laws in South Africa. Racist countries typically limit or prohibit the mixing of social categories. Societies suffering from bipolar divisions possess a greater likelihood of genocide.
Symbolization By referencing religion, skin color, nose shape, style of dress, and other such traits, people have a tendency to name and choose symbols for groups they have classified. Regimes that have carried out genocide have at times required victimized groups to identify themselves by wearing a symbol on their clothes (the best-known example is, of course, the yellow Star of David that the Nazis forced the Jews to wear).
Dehumanization Classification and symbolization are common in all societies, including societies that do not perpetrate mass killings. However, during the process leading up to genocide, these phenomena function in conjunction with one another to bring about the dehumanization of victims, which, in turn, allows them to be killed without any pangs of conscience on the part of the perpetrators. In an effort to convince others to carry out the killings, perpetrators refer to victims using dehumanizing terms such as lice, rats, and cockroaches. The bodies of genocide victims are often mutilated or dismembered, both reflecting and reinforcing the perception that they are not human beings.
Organization Genocide is always a group action. Although the organization and methods of killing are not always as sophisticated as they were under the Nazi regime, genocide cannot take place without organization. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that genocide is typically conducted by governments or military bodies.
Polarization Groups carrying out genocide take measures to increase the distance between 'legitimate' members of society and potential victims by physically eliminating opposition parties and the moderate political center that typically opposes genocide (for example, by assassinating opponents of the regime). This results in radical polarization and ultimately intense bloodletting. During the violent confrontations between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi, both sides were drawn into escalating cycles of revenge that served to perpetuate the killing. During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Hutus killed Tutsis but also moderate Hutus who opposed the murders.
Identification During or immediately preceding genocide, perpetrators prepare detailed lists of victims (as we have noted, victims are first classified and symbolized and then undergo a process of dehumanization). Victims are then marked using an external sign, such as the marking of the Jews with the yellow Star of David, a special mark on an identity card, or a sign marking the homes of individuals designated to be killed. Such acts of identification enable perpetrators to carry out the extermination process much more efficiently.
Extermination The final step in the process is the actual killing. Use of the word 'extermination' instead of the word 'killing' is meant to emphasize the fact that by this point, perpetrators no longer regard the victims as human beings.
The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
A bold plan was formulated in my mind. This consisted [of] obtaining the ratification by Turkey [of the proposed UN Convention on Genocide] among the first twenty founding nations... I knew however that in this conversation both sides will have to avoid speaking about one thing, although it would be constantly in their minds: the Armenians.
The past three decades have witnessed the publication of a large number of studies on genocide and genocide denial, in particular relating to the Holocaust. Genocide scholars regard denial as the final stage of a genocide that is 'successful' from the perspective of its perpetrators, who, after committing the crime, now attempt to deny the actions of which they are accused, or at least to play down their scope, significance, and seriousness; to blame the victims; and to shirk responsibility, or at least take measures to ensure that neither they nor the state or society in which the acts were committed are blamed in the future. Recent generations have witnessed the denial of the Jewish Holocaust and other acts of genocide that were committed during World War II; the Armenian genocide (by consecutive Turkish governments, who deny the murders carried out by their predecessors); the Native American genocide; the genocide of the Aborigines in Australia; and the more recent genocides perpetrated in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and East Timor. Moreover, some cases of genocide, including the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust, have been the subject of 'historical revisionism'.36
Genocide denial can stem from a variety of factors. Some are 'universal' in nature, including the human inability to believe that such horrifying actions could be committed by human beings. In the decisive year of 1942, the first reports of the Nazi death camps began to spread. Although vague, they were consistent with one another and together painted a picture of a massacre so brutal, so extensive, and with such complicated motivating factors that the public tended to reject it by virtue of its very atrocity. It is significant that the perpetrators themselves envisaged this rejection, as reflected in survivors' memoirs of the warnings of SS men in the camps, like those of Simon Wiesenthal, as recorded in The Murderers Are Among Us:
However this war may end, we have won the war against you; none of you will be left to bear witness, but even if someone were to survive, the world will not believe him. There will perhaps be suspicions, discussions, research by historians, but there will be no certainties, because we will destroy the evidence together with you. And even if some proof should remain and some of you survive, people will say that the events you describe are too monstrous to be believed: they will say that they are the exaggerations of Allied propaganda and will believe us, who will deny everything, and not you. We will be the ones to dictate the history of the Lagers.37
In The Third Chimpanzee, which explores (among other things) the phenomenon of genocide in human history and the uniqueness of the events of the twentieth century, Jared Diamond contends that denial is primarily the product of psychological factors. Genocide causes long-term psychological damage to both the victims and the murderers who experienced it first hand and may also leave deep scars on those who hear about it. The result is silence — the inability to talk about the events and its results.
The frequency of individual and collective denial may very well be much greater than we are willing to acknowledge. Sometimes, such reactions are nothing more than "innocent denial," as reflected in States of Denial, by Stanley Cohen38 and The Sociology of Ignorance, by Amos Funkenstein and Adin Steinsaltz.39 According to Funkenstein and Steinsaltz, the sociology of ignorance is not a mirror image of the sociology of knowledge. Ignorance, they maintain, is not a temporary or incidental lack of knowledge but rather a state that is intentionally produced and preserved by social institutions.
There are also unique reasons for denial that are specific to genocide. The perpetrators of past genocides deny their actions in an effort to avoid being held responsible. For third parties, one motive for denying that a mass killing actually constituted genocide is the desire to absolve themselves of responsibility for failing to prevent the crime. Between April and October 1994, the Clinton Administration objected to referring to the events in Rwanda as genocide in an effort to avoid being forced to take part in the efforts to stop the crime and to punish its perpetrators.40
Academic literature on the Holocaust, genocide, and large-scale massacres pays significant attention to the behavior of perpetrators and third parties who stood idly by as atrocities were carried out. However, full-scale studies offering insight into the actions of individuals and institutions that have taken part in genocide denial have only begun to emerge in the last three decades.
There is no single explanation for the factors motivating genocide denial or the process of denial itself, and our understanding of the ramifications and damage caused by genocide denial is still lacking. In order to enhance our ability to describe the attitudes and involvement of institutions and individuals, we can speak of three types of denial: conscious, blatant denial; calculated denial veiled in a superficial understanding of the subject; and denial stemming from a lack of knowledge and awareness, and from naive attempts to support the other two types.
Israel Charny proposes a broad system of categorizing genocide denial based on two elements: 1) the different levels of knowledge of the deniers in question, ranging from a true lack of knowledge to a broad comprehensive knowledge of the details of the genocide; and 2) the different attitudes of the deniers, ranging from conscious rejection, denunciation, criticism, and the expression of remorse, to hidden or explicit encouragement and malevolent celebration of the genocide.
Charny argues that some deniers are truly unaware that particular genocides actually took place. He proposes viewing such individuals as "innocent deniers,"41 and maintains that the phenomenon of "innocent denial" is more widespread than we would like to think. This, he explains, helps our understanding of the willingness of so many to remain silent and to play roles that make genocide possible in their societies without understanding the full significance of the process of extermination that they are supporting with their silence. An ostensible type of "innocent denial" stems from permitting genocide denial on the basis of freedom of speech, which provides genocide revisionists with free access to university campuses, publications, and other such channels. This type of genocide denial deserves significant attention, as denial propagandists intentionally operate in this manner, disguising themselves as "innocent deniers." For such individuals, arguing for the freedom of speech and the right to "present the other side" are sophisticated ways of introducing denial into academic circles.
Another type of denial described by Charny is "definitionism," or the use of a definition that is so narrow that it excludes particular instances of mass killing. Finally, there is "the insistent refrain of any people that the genocide that befell them is the only true and ultimate form of genocide, while the mass murders of other people have to be defined as some lesser crime and tragedy."42
In their illuminating article,43 genocide scholars Roger Smith, Eric Markusen, and Robert Jay Lifton list the following motivations for genocide denial among intellectuals: "self-serving ideology, bigotry, intellectual confusion, careerism, identification with power, and a particular conception of knowledge. It seems unlikely, however, that denial rests on only one of these motivations; moreover, the particular combinations of motivations may vary with individuals... If we focus not on the content of the motivation but on its form (ideology) and its goals (political and psychological purposes), then the motivations for denial in these two cases [the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide] may have more in common than appear at first glance." 44
Smith, Markusen and Lifton note that scholars who have analyzed Holocaust deniers have concluded that they are motivated primarily by ideology. For example, in his examination of Faurisson and other French "revisionists," Pierre Vidal-Nacquet maintains that "whereas traditional (Maurrassian) French anti-Semitism tends to be pro-Israeli, all revisionists are resolute anti-Zionists."45 Similarly, in reference to deniers of the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt concludes that "it is clear that deniers have no interest in scholarship or reason. Most are anti-Semites or bigots."46 While Smith, Markusen, and Lifton hold that these explanations undoubtedly contain some truth, they acknowledge that they are only partial. They note that there are anti-Zionists as well as some extreme anti-Semites who do not deny that the Holocaust happened.
To deny genocide — to directly or indirectly support the denial of the genocide of the Armenians, the Romanis, or any other group — is to deny fact. It is a moral transgression, and, in some cases, a legal offense. Although the struggle for recognition of genocide often relates to events that took place sixty, ninety, and in some cases hundreds of years ago, it is nonetheless a struggle that is very much about the present and the future. The clear recognition and punishment of past genocides are two necessary conditions (although not sufficient in themselves) for the prevention of genocide in the future.
The Stain Remained on the Wall / David Avidan47
Translated by Tsipi Keller
Someone tried to scrub the stain off the wall
But the stain was too dark (or conversely — too bright)
At any rate — the stain remained on the wall.
So I sent the painter to paint the wall green.
But the stain was too bright.
I hired the plaster man to plaster the wall clean.
But the stain was too dark.
At any rate — the stain remained on the wall.
So I took a kitchen knife and tried to scrape it off.
And the knife was painfully sharp.
Only yesterday they sharpened it.
And I fisted an ax and pummeled the wall, but stopped in time.
I don't know why it suddenly occurred to me
the wall might lapse, and the stain will remain anyway.
At any rate — the stain remained on the wall.
When they put me to the wall, I asked to stand close to it.
I shielded it with a broad chest (who knows: maybe).
And when they slashed my back, a lot of blood flowed, but only from the back.
And I believed the blood will cover the stain.
A second round of shooting.
And I believed so the blood will cover the stain.
At any rate — the stain remained on the wall.
1 Anthony Giddens, Sociology, 6th ed. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009); John J. Macionis, Sociology, 13th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010).
2 For an interesting personal and retrospective view on the work of the first genocide researchers, see Samuel Totten and Steven L. Jacobs (eds.), Pioneers of Genocide Studies (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2002).
3 Pieter N. Drost, "The Crime of State: Penal Protection for Fundamental Freedoms of Persons and People," in Genocide in Theory and Law, ed. Adam Jones (London: Sage, 2009).
4 Hervé Savon, Du cannibalisme au génocide (Paris: Hachette, 1972).
5 Irving L. Horowitz, Taking Lives: Genocide and State Power, 5th rev. ed. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2002), p. 23. See also Horowitz, Genocide: State Power and Mass Murder (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1976).
6 Horowitz, Taking Lives, pp. 154-156.
7 Irving Louis Horowitz, "Genocide and the Reconstruction of Social Theory," Armenian Review 37 (1984), pp. 1-21.
8 Vahakn N. Dadrian, "A Typology of Genocide," International Review of Modern Sociology 5 (1975), pp. 201-212. Reprinted in Genocide in Theory and Law, ed. Adam Jones (London: Sage, 2009).
9 Helen Fein, Accounting for Genocide: National Responses and Jewish Victimization during the Holocaust (New York: The Free Press, 1979).
10 Helen Fein, "Genocide: A Sociological Perspective," Current Sociology 38 (1990), pp. 1-126. Reprinted and updated as Genocide: A Sociological Perspective (London: Sage, 1993).
11 Leo Kuper, Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983).
12 Leo Kuper, The Prevention of Genocide (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985).
13 Robert Melson, Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
14 Roger W. Smith, "Human Destructiveness and Politics: The Twentieth Century as an Age of Genocide," in Genocide and the Modern Age: Etiology and Case Studies of Mass Death, ed. Isidor Wallimann and Michael Dobkowski (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987), pp. 21-40.
15 Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990).
16 Ibid., p. 23.
17 Israel W. Charny, "Genocide: The Ultimate Human Rights Problem," Social Education 49 (1985), pp. 446-452.
18 Ibid., p. 448.
19 Israel W. Charny, "Toward a generic definition of genocide," in Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions, ed. George Andreopoulos (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), pp. 64-94.
20 Jack N. Porter, "Introduction: What is genocide? Notes toward a definition," p. 12.
22 Ibid., pp. 15-16. Some have objected to the use of the term "tribe" based on the assertion that it is a onial concept. We employ this term here in order to present Porter's arguments.
23 Margot Stern Strom and William S. Parsons, Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior (Watertown: International Educators, 1982; new edition, 1994).
24 Paul Celan (1920-1970) was a Jewish poet and translator who wrote mainly in German. Born in Czernowitz (Romania), he spent World War II under Soviet and German occupation. Some regard him as the greatest German poet of the twentieth century. His best known work is "Fugue of Death," which he wrote toward the end of World War II, in either 1944 or 1945.
25 Chalk and Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide, p. 29.
26 The "great witch hunt" lasted for more than 200 years. Between the late fifteenth century and the late seventeenth century, an estimated 100,000 people (mostly women) were executed on charges of witchcraft.
27 Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence — From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 1997), pp. x, 7-8.
28 See Fein, Accounting for Genocide, as well as the large number of articles addressing theoretical approaches to the causes of genocide and ways of fighting and preventing it.
29 Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Knopf, 1996).
30 Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Harper, 1993).
31 Robert J. Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 1986).
32 Chalk and Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide, p. 28.
33 Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2002), p. 504.
34 Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, trans. Aaron Asher (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 4.
35 Raphael Lemkin, Totally Unofficial: The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin. Lemkins' papers are held by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
36 Historical revisionism is historical scholarship aimed at reassessing and rewriting the prevalent understanding of specific historical events in light of new evidence and new interpretations. At the same time, historical revisionism vis-à-vis the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide aimed at raising questions and doubts regarding prevalent beliefs about these events among open-minded and unsuspecting people with limited knowledge of the facts.
37 Simon Wiesenthal, The Murderers Are Among Us (McGraw-Hill, 1967), paraphrased in Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, p. 11.
38 Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (London: Polity Press, 2001).
39 Amos Funkenstein and Adin Steinsaltz, The Sociology of Ignorance (Tel Aviv: Broadcast University and Ministry of Defense, 1987) [Hebrew].
40 Douglas Jehl, "Officials Told to Avoid Calling Rwanda Killing Genocide," New York Times, 10 June 1995; Samantha Power, "Genocide and America," The New York Review of Books, 49 (14 March 2002).
41 Israel W. Charny, "Innocent Denial of Known Genocide: A Further Contribution to the Psychology of Denial of Genocide," Human Rights Review 1 (2000), pp. 15-39.
42 Israel W. Charny, "The Psychology of Denial of Known Genocides," in Charny (ed.), Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review II (New York: Facts on File, 1991), pp. 3-7; Charny, "Commonality in Denial: Classifying the Final Stage of the Genocide Process," International Network on Holocaust and Genocide 11 (1997), pp. 4-7.
43 Roger W. Smith, Erik Markusen, and Robert Jay Lifton, "Professional Ethics and the Denial of Armenian Genocide," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 9 (1995), pp. 1-22.
44 Ibid., p. 14.
45 Pierre Vidal-Nacquet, "Theses on Revisionism," in The Assassins of Memory: Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992).
46 Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: The Free Press, 1993), p. 206.
47 David Avidan (1934-1995) was born in Israel and was regarded by Israeli critics as one of the three most prominent representatives of the "generation of the state." In this poem, Avidan refers to Brecht's well known poem "The Unconquerable Inscription" about an inscription that a prisoner carves on the wall of his cell, which cannot be expunged. Source: Tsipi Keller (ed.), Poets on the Edge: An Anthology of Contemporary Hebrew Poetry (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008), pp. 68-69.