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What Is Genocide

In: Historical Events

Submitted By delonte1smith
Words 1634
Pages 7
Dante Powell 1st Paper
January 27, 2014
History 231 - Genocide
Dr. Thomas Porter
“What is Genocide?” The term genocide has been one of the most used terms in many on-going debates since the early 20th century. The Holocaust, which took place during World War II, is one of the most common cases of acts of genocide and is a main reason why the term genocide exists. Other widely known cases of genocide are the Rwandan genocide and the Armenian genocide. The question, however, that many historians and those with interests in genocide ask, is exactly what is genocide? Since first being “coined” by Raphael Lemkin, there have been several different definitions of the term. It is these different versions of a description of genocide that have led people to try to figure out what the correct form of the definition should be and how we can use it to try and prevent it from happening. When considering genocide and what it is, one must define it containing three aspects. A definition of genocide must have a mode, an object, and an actor. Initially, I would describe genocide as the intended mass killing of a specific group of people by another party for a desired result. However, there are problems with this definition. This definition is vague as it does not specify a type of reason behind the action being performed. If someone is to commit genocide, there must be a particular reason why an act as violent as this should be committed. Also, the definition does not say why the specific group being targeted are being targeted in the first place. What is it that singles out the specific group of people to be targets of genocide and is it such a difference that the actor must act with genocide? It is this question that has led people to consider other factors in genocide. In a group consensus I was a part of, genocide was agreed to be defined as the intent to destroy or eliminate a defenseless or weak group of people based on their ethnic, religious, national or political background by an organized group. This seems like a more practical definition of genocide because it has a mode, object, and actor that gives certain cases in which a person can be discriminated against that could lead to genocide. However, there are questions that can be formed for this definition as well. Is it genocide if the targeted group is not eliminated as a whole and instead simply forced out of a territory? What if killing is not the intent, but occurs as part of a goal to be reached? If that is the case, would ethnic cleansing be a better term to use rather than genocide.
Another question that is debated is the difference between genocide and ethnic cleansing; is ethnic cleansing genocide or vice-versa? Most mass killings and forced relocations fit into one or both of the two discrete categories. Hitler’s main goal, during the Holocaust, was to push all Jews out of Germany. His intent was to create an all-German nation, so could the Holocaust be considered ethnic cleansing or is it genocide as it is commonly defined to be? However, genocide is the systematic destruction of a group, while ethnic cleansing is the systematic removal of a group from a territory. The actions of ethnic cleansing usually lead to killings as a push to get rid of the unwanted group. So it could be safe to say that ethnic cleansing is a form of genocide. Also, genocide is globally recognized as a crime against humanity, ethnic cleansing is not. It is unlikely that such a broad and often used term could garner the support to declare ethnic cleansing, as a whole, as a crime against humanity.
Today, the word genocide is known across the globe, not only because of the many tragic examples throughout the twentieth century, but also due in large part to the efforts of one man from Poland named Raphael Lemkin. Lemkin defined genocide as follows: "Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups."
Lemkin also states that genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain, or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization of the area by the oppressor's own nationals. It’s important to realize that he describes genocide more as a process rather than an event or act. His definition also supports that the systematic process of genocide involves thoughts that are political, social, legal, intellectual, spiritual, economic, biological, physiological, religious, and moral; considerations of health, food, and nourishment, of family life and care of children, and of birth as well as death; and attention of the honor and dignity of people, and the future of humanity as a world community.
As stated before, the definition of genocide has varied among scholars and those who study genocide. The United Nations Genocide Convention, established a legal definition of the term in 1948. It states that "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
The UNGC’s definition explains that the crime of genocide has two important elements; that of intent and of action. Intent is purposeful and can be proven directly from statements or orders. However, it must be concluded from an organized pattern of coordinated acts. Their legal definition states that whatever the motive may be for the crime, if the perpetrators commit acts intended to destroy a group, even part of a group, it is genocide. Another important point made in the legal definition is that the perpetrators do not need to intend to destroy the entire group. Destruction of only part of a group is also genocide. Most authorities describe the intent to destroy a significant number of group members as mass murder. But an individual criminal may be guilty of genocide even if he kills only one person as long as he knew he was participating in a larger plan to destroy the group.
Daniel Goldhagen is an American author and political scientist at Harvard University. He has also argued about the definition of genocide and its prevention. His documentary, “Worse than War”, which premiered on PBS on April 14, 2010, focuses on the causes of genocide and ethnic cleansing along with his recommendations for how to prevent them. We see him visiting scenes of mass murder in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, Guatemala and Germany, where he talks to survivors and perpetrators alike. He concludes in the documentary that genocide does not “break out” but is always planned, that those who initiate it are making a rational decision based on political gain and that it feeds off of growing fears and displays a confidence on the part of the perpetrators that there will be no consequences for their actions.
Between the stories of the places he visits, and the personal story involving Mr. Goldhagen’s father, Erich, a Holocaust survivor and fellow scholar, one realizes the ongoing problem of genocide and the effects that still carry on today. The stories are both troubling and familiar, and the documentary even sometimes include disturbing archival footage of the killers performing such heinous acts. Goldhagen gives what he believes to be the solution to genocide and its prevention. They include rapid military intervention outside the structure of the United Nations and bounties put on the heads of genocidal leaders. These solutions seem practical and could actually make a difference if the United Nations were willing to intervene. This is seen during the Bosnian genocide when Bosnian Serb forces carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosnians in Srebrenica. In 1995, to counter the Serbs’ actions, NATO forces bombed Serbs military targets, which resulted in a peace treaty that ended the genocide.
The word 'genocide' was coined in 1944 to name a particularly shocking and horrific crime of violence which it was then believed could never happen again. That it has been put into practice so many times in one century is even more shocking. Genocide is not a wild animal nor a natural disaster. It is mass murder consciously planned and carried out by individuals, all of whom are responsible whether they made the plan, gave the order or carried out the order. Whatever its scale, genocide is made up of individual acts, and individual choices to perform them. It is important that a common understanding of genocide be formed by the world. Only after a definite definition of genocide is determined, is it possible that some solution can be made to deal with this crime and to prevent it in the future.

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