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 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. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.
The following illustration will suffice. The confiscation of property of nationals of an occupied area on the ground that they have left the country may be considered simply as a deprivation of their individual property rights. However, if the confiscations are ordered against individuals solely because they are Poles, Jews, or Czechs, then the same confiscations tend in effect to weaken the national entities of which those persons are members.
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 by the oppressor’s own nationals. – Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, p 79.
That is how the inventor of the term ‘genocide’ introduced the concept. There is a certain problem in that the ‘destruction of the national pattern’ cannot be taken as an absolute, but I will save that for another post. Instead I will use Lemkin’s image of genocide as ‘a composite of different acts of persecution or destruction’ (Axis Rule, p 92) as an entrée into the wide range of topics which pertain to the subject of genocide.
To start with there are the elements of genocide enumerated by Lemkin himself: Economic, social, physical, biological, cultural, political, religious, and moral. Each of these is a separate topic in its own right, but in genocide a number work in synergistic union in a ‘coordinated plan’. Popular imagination for understandable reasons gives primacy to the physical aspect of destruction – the acts of mass murder. For me also, and within this blog, it is the systematic killing of civilians that is of salient importance.* That said, however, it should be recognised that, taking a dispassionate view, the central aspect of genocide is economic destruction (known in and of itself as econocide). Economic destruction is the only single aspect listed by Lemkin that can be realistically utilised to effect all others, including physical destruction (notwithstanding that all of these things are inter-related such that any social destruction, for example, may have an economic effect). A later post will discuss econocide and contentions that it alone may constitute genocide (‘economic genocide’) and the contention that ongoing structural violence against the peoples of poorer states is a form of genocide (‘structural genocide’).
Economics, therefore, will be central to much of the the writing within this blog. They are a key aspect of the perpetration of genocide, and no exception need be made here for the Holocaust or the Shoah, and there is often an economic strategic consideration which provides a central motive in the perpetration of genocide. Of particular interest, something which will be recurrent in posts, is the adoption of an antidevelopmental approach which may come in the form of econocide, but which may also be an impelling strategic factor motivating genocide itself.
Imperialism is linked to both an antidevelopmental paradigm of domination (dating back to the early modern period) and to genocide itself. Lemkin explicitly linked genocide to colonialism (meaning ‘settler colonialism’) but in practice it is almost as intrinsic to imperial hegemony as it is to colonialism. One may see that this is implicitly hinted at in the third paragraph quoted above, although one must expand and elaborate on ‘the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor.’
War and the military provide another set of topics. Most genocides** involve military personnel as the main direct perpetrators of mass murder. Moreover, most genocides** are characterised by perpetrators as a form of warfare. The creation of a perpetrator of genocide begins with whatever chauvinist or other enabling ideologies are abroad in civilian life, continues with military indoctrination and training, and is brought to fruition by the situational*** elements generated in alleged wars.
This brings me to ideology. Ideology is of crucial importance, but it is not, as it is so often portrayed, the driving force behind genocides. Every indication is that genocide is not prompted by a particular hatred, but rather that a pre-existing ideology of hatred is an element that is less motive than enabling. Further, it is clear that those who would undertake genocide deliberately stoke the flames of hatred, while genocide itself fans those very flames among perpetrators. I aim to demonstrate that the seeming ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem posed by the role of ideology can be resolved in favour of regarding ideology as distinctly subservient to strategic considerations among planners of genocide.
Ideology is also distinctly subservient in a arena of international relations, but nevertheless may be of some import if it, for example, facilitates inadmissable independent development and economic sovereignty. More relevant concerns are geostrategic in nature. More to the point are those strategic concerns which are affected by populations – thus, for example, an oil rich state with a small population does not present the same challenges to US imperial hegemony that an oil rich state with a large population does. The religious, cultural, ideological, political and social nature of these populations also has a bearing. ‘Geostrategy’ doesn’t really convey the full sense of this aspect, indeed it really refers to distinct matter, so I am forced to coin the phrase ‘demostrategy’.****
I could continue, but I bet this sort of generalised and abstract exposition is pretty boring to read. The point I wanted to make is that genocide relates directly to a very wide variety of topics. Economics, imperialism, military matters, ideology, geostrategy and demostrategy are not exhaustive by any means. And as the reader will find, if they read further, there is also a great deal to be added on the subject of the misuse of the term genocide.
* I will be posting on the issue of systematic mass murder in contrast to extermination or intended extermination at some point, hopefully soon.
** Strictly speaking I should not claim to be writing of ‘most genocides’ without explaining why I exclude those sets of acts which fit the definition of genocide but which do not involve mass murder. Arguably such ‘genocides’ are greater in number than those involving mass murder, but I am arbitrarily excluding from my considerations all putative genocides which do not bring about mortalities of 100,000 or more. That is very crude and baseless, I do understand, but there is a method in my madness which will be elucidated upon at a later date.
*** A jargon word meaning ‘circumstantial’, presumably adopted because of the confusing connotations given to the term ‘circumstantial’ by literature, film and television dealing with issues of criminal justice.
**** I don’t like the academic tendency to coin terms at the drop of a hat, so when this one sprung from my head like some scholarly demon-spawn, dripping the ichor of tautology, I recoiled. Unfortunately the beast insinuated itself into my thoughts because it just such a useful catch-all for the sort of strategic factors which I consider to be paramount in motivating genocide.