This blog is titled On Genocide partly in reflection of Jean Paul Sartre’s 1967 article “On Genocide”. Much as I might disagree with some of Sartre’s contentions, it must be admitted that subsequent events only served to strengthen his central thesis. Beyond that, I would contend that his approach of seeking to use a fundamental understanding of genocide as a phenomenon as a basis for analysis is essential to any productive discourse. This is, sadly, the antithesis of the contemporary genocide discourse which seeks first to destroy fundamental meaning and significance.
Another influence on the name is Carl von Clausewitz and his work On War. Clausewitz is just one theorist, but he is representative of the common underlying conception of war. He gave a theoretical and coherent shape to what was and still is commonly considered to be “war”, a matter of sovereign against sovereign and military against military. When war is discussed it is always implicit or explicit that there is contestation between forces. Hence if military coercion is used against a populace which does not pose a military threat it is not considered war and one should not take Clausewitz’s conception of “absolute war” as somehow breaking that very real barrier.
Lemkin wrote: “Genocide is the antithesis of the Rousseau-Portalis Doctrine, which may be regarded as implicit in the Hague Regulations. This doctrine holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians. In its modern application in civilized society, the doctrine means that war is conducted against states and armed forces and not against populations.” I use “Clausewitzian War” as a shorthand for this conception of war, and I’m not the only person who does so. It is a very convenient way of contrasting with genocide, and, indeed other forms of mass armed violence which are not “military” as we are led to conceive “military”.