The Shame of Anzac Day



In Aotearoa (New Zealand) and in Australia we observe Anzac day, commemorating the first landings at Gallipoli in 1915 on April 25. The Dardanelles campaign that followed this landing was 8 months of futile slaughter that ended in complete withdrawal. In the century since the sense of loss and the rightful condemnation of the vicious military folly were always muted and buried under tales of honour and national pride, but now we are forgetting altogether. In our fatuous nationalistic self-love we are telling our children that the war was a noble endeavour. History is being rewritten in the most offensive and disgusting manner and we need to finally confront the fact that Anzac Day should be a day of shame, not of pride.

After the Armistice in 1918 people began in many ways to commemorate the war. The event and monuments are solemn. Tombs or tomb-like memorials and plaques listing the fallen became commonplace. Events were also solemn. The Anzac Day service that we observe here in Aotearoa is based on funeral rites. Much of the memorialisation implicitly or explicitly promised to struggle against further war and bloodshed. For many this had been the war to end war, and that was the only meaning and consolation they could find in the futility of the carnage that had occurred. At the same time nationalism and the need to find positive meaning to soften grief shifted people from mourning the loss of lives to honouring the sacrifice of lives. But sacrifice implies that something was gained. Increasingly our commemoration of events that should fill us with deep shame has become an occasion for mistaken pride. We have forgotten the ugly truths of the Great War. Even though wars are happening now in which we have moral, if not material entanglement, we are as foolish as the people of 1914 who thought the War was a romantic adventure and would be “over by Christmas”.

We need to remember the forgotten truths, some of which were buried right from the start. To begin with, there is the fact that large numbers of British people actually opposed the war. On August the 2nd 1914 there was a massive antiwar rally in Trafalgar Square, London. The Manchester Guardian reported that it was “far larger, for example, than the most important of the suffragist rallies”. On that very day the British government decided to go to war. 4 cabinet ministers and one junior minister resigned and the government seemed in danger of falling, but on the 4th of August Germany invaded Belgium and Britain officially declared war. They now had the pretext of protecting Belgian neutrality, though they later violated Greek neutrality in the same manner. In truth, for Britain and for us, this was a war for Empire.

Less than 4 hours after Britain declared war Lord Liverpool, the Governor General of New Zealand, stood on Parliament steps in Wellington are read a proclamation from the Emperor King George. We were ordered to war. Many New Zealanders were wildly enthusiastic but the voices of those opposed to war were never heard. There was no debate and, as a country, we had no voice in this matter.

Young men who had no idea what they would face clamoured to volunteer. 2 years later conscription was introduced and about one third of the men sent overseas from Aotearoa were conscripts. Whether conscript or volunteer, though, the lives of military personnel during wartime are a form of regulated slavery. When ordered to die, they must die. New Zealanders died in numbers that can be hard for us to grasp. It was not lawful to act in the interests of self-preservation regardless of what you thought of the futile slaughter and stalemate that lasted for years on the Western Front. 23 New Zealanders were killed by firing squad for desertion.

April 25 is Anzac day. For both Australia and Aotearoa the formation of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was an occasion of national maturation, but we have always been too polite to admit that our national spirit developed in a very ignoble disdain for the weakness of ordinary Britons. For ordinary soldiers the Anzac spirit came from embarking thinking of themselves as somewhat inferior Britons, but on arrival discovering not only a commonality of culture between the two countries, but also a new sense of self for each. Far from being inferior, the Anzac troops soon developed the belief that they were superior to British soldiers and developed a degree of contempt for them and their murderous officers. British soldiers were physically and mentally weak for the simple reason that the British working class was the most malnourished in Europe. 50% of British military aged men were not even considered fit for military service. The Anzacs thought that they lacked strength, endurance, morale and initiative. That contempt for the less fortunate is how they overcame their sense of colonial inferiority.

As a result of the relative individual weakness of the British troops, British commanders used Canadian and Anzac troops as shock troops throughout the war. Because of this personnel from Aotearoa were over 50% more likely to be killed in the war than their British counterparts.

After three years of often horrific fighting – including the Battle of the Somme which left 2111 New Zealanders dead and 5848 wounded – New Zealand’s military effort culminated in the Third Battle of the Ypres, better known to us as Passchendaele. On the 12th of October 1917 New Zealand forces were ordered to advance in muddy conditions into machine gun fire. On that day alone 800 Kiwis died. Over all, the 3rd Ypres cost New Zealand 1796 lives. In a letter home Private Leonard Hart wrote:

Dozens got hung up in the wire and shot down before their surviving comrades’ eyes. It was now broad daylight and what was left of us realised that the day was lost. We accordingly lay down in shell holes or any cover we could get and waited. Any man who showed his head was immediately shot. They were marvellous shots those Huns. We had lost nearly eighty per cent of our strength and gained about 300 yards of ground in the attempt. This 300 yards was useless to us for the Germans still held and dominated the ridge.”

He also wrote about seeing British wounded who were abandoned by their commanders:

“These chaps, wounded in the defence of their country, had been callously left to die the most awful of deaths in the half frozen mud while tens of thousands of able bodied men were camped within five miles of them behind the lines.”

After Passchendaele the New Zealand Division, worn down by horrible misuse and deprivation, was as broken and lacklustre as their British comrades.

Indeed, the conditions faced by all frontline troops of all nations in the War were enough to break any normal human being. On arrival at the front they were confronted with overwhelming noise and disorientation in time and space. They had to contend with stench, filth, mud, vermin and cold. They were constantly fatigued from hard labour at or behind the front line. They suffered chronic sleep deprivation exacerbated by the reversal of day/night patterns of activity in the front trenches. They were malnourished and extremely prone to physical disease, but were often treated punitively, cruelly or callously on falling ill. They were starved of any, even basic, strategic information and and were frequently blind and helpless as death and danger stalked them or exploded all around them. Their lives were thrown away by others as if they had no value. In these circumstances the front line soldier inevitably came to see some actions of military superiors and politicians (and by association the “home”) as either gratuitously idiotic or insane, or even as intentionally murderous. This was not entirely irrational as many of the commanding officers of Britain and Europe were known to loathe the men they sent into battle. However, along with hatred of those in the rear echelons, frontline soldiers often developed a hatred for women and older men. Some even imagined that women were rejoicing in the slaughter of their own sons.

Deaths in the Great War were often lingering, agonising and horrific. That is the norm for the violence of death in war, yet the technology and the conditions of the fields of battle made this even more so in World War One. Only a lucky few died clean deaths, and many who died slowly would have died unattended, alone with their grief, fear, pain and loneliness. Others might have been dragged away by brave stretcher bearers, only to end up living with horrifying incurable mutilations. These men with lost limbs, crushed joints or incinerated flesh would live in chronic pain, often as beggars.

The sense of helplessness common to soldiers seems to have been a major factor in causing acute psychiatric casualties. Men would break down completely in various ways and there was considerable risk that such people would be tried in a court martial and even shot. Others were sent for treatment and for the first time, but not the last, military psychiatrists struggled with the fact that their job was not to make people better, but to make them effective again and send them back into the situation that was destroying them. We now know that those acute psychiatric cases were the tip of the iceberg. Post-traumatic stress disorder generally develops over many years or even decades. The war created an epidemic of family violence and alcoholism that wreaked havoc on the homefront, but did so behind closed doors.

Some of the men brutalised in the War became violent official or unofficial paramilitary squadrists. The notorious “Black and Tans” sent by Britain to Ireland were largely veterans of the Great War.

Similarly the Fascist and Nazi militias that became active throughout Europe were originally veterans. The violence of fascism was born in the trenches. Like the Spanish Flu that killed up to 50 million people, no mutation of ideology could have been so virulent and so deadly had it not been cultivated in the brutality of the Great War. This is what led to another 60 million dead in the bombed cities, on the battlefields, and in the gas chambers of World War II. As Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer tells us: “The killing, mutilation and gas poisoning of millions of soldiers on both sides had broken taboos and decisively blunted moral sensitivities. Auschwitz cannot be explained without reference to World War I.”

The violence that sprang from the Great War did not end when the next war ended in the nuclear incinerations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The British Empire had devoted fully 25% of its troops to fighting in the Middle East, and in doing so it directly set in motion events that are still causing death and destruction through war as I speak to you now. Men and women are fighting and dying right now, be they volunteers or conscripts. Bombs are dropping on civilians whose homelands may not have known real peace for 2, 3 or even as much as 5 decades.

The British effort in the Middle East was a war for oil. While France pleaded for help and saw one half of her young men die in battle (one half of all French men between the ages of 20 and 32 were killed in the war), but Britain ignored the desperation of her closest ally and invaded first Turkey and then Iraq. They treated their allies very badly. They betrayed their Arab allies by signing the Sykes/Picot agreement that carved up all of the Arab Middle East for Britain and France. They then betrayed the French by redrawing the boundaries of that agreement to put further distance between French territories and the oilfields that were the British goal. Then two days after an armistice that was supposed to end hostilities between Turkey and Britain, a British force invaded Mosul vilayet in what is now northern Iraq. After nearly two weeks of fighting they secured the area and now they had established control over every known source of petroleum in the Middle East. They created the countries of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen and more. In a year or so the British were dropping poison gas on rebellious Iraqi villages.

That is the empire that New Zealand soldiers died for. That is the future that their sacrifice brought us: burning cities, mass graves and wars that now seem destined to simply continue in perpetuity, as if the very idea of peace is lost to us. If we want to honour their memory, we cannot lie to ourselves about the crime perpetrated on them – on all of us. This country sent 10% of its population overseas. We lost less than countries like France, Serbia or Austria (where many civilians starved to death) but look at an atlas. Those countries had little choice. What madness made us do this to our young men? In economic terms alone we crippled ourselves, wasting years of development, not for a worthwhile cause, not even for empty gains, but to help make a world that was much much worse for our efforts and our loss. It is a hard pill to swallow, but it is worse than if they had died for nothing. That is the truth, and if we want to honour their memories we have to work to end the suffering that still follows in the wake of their deaths. Those people who are dying right now in the Middle East are most often dying from arms made by our allies in the US while US and UK based oil companies reap record profits on a new tide of blood. We were craven and wilfully blind to the immorality of the British Empire, but we still provide intelligence, diplomatic and military support to their equally immoral successors. Is that too political? Well war is political and if you don’t talk about politics you cannot talk sensibly about war.

When the Great War was first commemorated it was in the spirit that we must never let this happen again. Antiwar sentiment was the norm, not least in the RSA. In 1922 if you bought one of the first red poppies sold here, you were donating to an organisation that was committed to peace. Now, I fear, we have forgotten the lessons of two world wars and Anzac Day is increasingly nationalistic and militaristic. This is not a day for pride. Pride is the greatest offence against the memories of the fallen.

Jews and Genocide


An audio commentary:

 A sort of companion piece to the article “The Refugee Crisis and the New Holocaust” which explores the political misuse of Holocaust exceptionalism and Judeocide exceptionalism to mask the genocidal nature of empires past and present.

link to mp3:

Partial transcript with hyperlinks:

Jews and Genocide

Zionists like to lay special claim to the term genocide on behalf of all Jews, but now anti-Zionists have taken to supporting this. Some anti-Zionists and supposed anti-imperialists have repeated the false claim that the term was invented to denote the killing of Jews. The only reason that I can see for this is to maintain a false image of genocide as an act of exceptional villains. In fact genocide is a normal behaviour of imperial and colonial powers. Despite many attempts to rehabilitate empires as being on some level noble – all imperial and colonial projects are inescapably genocidal.

However, a number of Jewish nationalist ideologues claim that the only true genocide was that carried out by the Germans against Jews. These people are called “Holocaust exceptionalists”, and their claims are broadly understood by genocide scholars as being nonsense supported by falsehoods. It is fair to surmise that Holocaust exceptionalists are generally ardent Zionists. That is why I have been alarmed to see their most central and fundamental lie being spread by anti-Zionists, anti-imperialists, and antiwar writers. That lie is the idea that the word genocide was ever in any way meant to be a way of describing Judeocide in particular.

One writer went so far as posting that the word genocide “was invented… in order to stress the difference between murdering Jews and killing lesser breeds.” This lie is so easy to disprove that it is laughable. Anyone can spend 30 minutes reading Chapter 9 of Raphael Lemkin’s Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (which can be found here) and they will know that there is no way that Lemkin meant the “genocide” term to be exclusively applied to Jews or to the Judeocide that was happening even as he wrote.

When people refuse to accept or even to re-examine a demonstrably false claim it is because it is an essential foundation of a much larger lie. For Zionists the obvious need is to make Israel morally immaculate and incapable of doing wrong. Holocaust exceptionalists have to perform serious mental contortions to avoid confronting the fact that genocide was not intrinsically related to Judeocide, but apparently the Zionists are not alone in this. When I have tried to correct others on this issue I am met with resounding silence and even censorship. The question is why don’t these antiwar and anti-Zionist people want to face up to a very simple truth? What do they have to hide? Or what are they hiding from?

Genocide is an incredibly important word. That is the reason that the meaning of the word is suppressed. It is a term, like “terrorism”, that is thrown around with great passion by people who would never in a million years be able to explain what they actually mean when they use the term.

Many people bandy the term genocide about with great emotion and no thought. However, there are also people who scorn others for inappropriately using the term when they too would be completely incapable of giving a real definition. The whole discourse between these two sides is even more idiotic than the sum of its parts because it is like a debate without any reasoning. The conflict is invariably between a party who believes that it is a badge of passion, courage and moral engagement to claim that something is genocide, and another that believes labelling something as genocide is premature, rash, irrational, partisan or lacking in scholarly standards.

Unacceptable Ideas

You might wonder how this widespread idiocy came to pass. It is very simple. At the end of World War II a traumatised world wanted to know how the events they had lived through had come to pass. They wanted to criminalise the German and Japanese leaders and they wanted to understand what had led these societies to cause such violence. People wanted to understand this as criminality and pathology. But there were two areas into which inquiring minds might wander which were metaphorically signposted with skull-and-crossbones and the legend “STAY OUT!”

The first area relates to the war that had just been. The victors in this “Good War” were in reality drenched in the blood of the innocent and that was a very delicate matter. We have just passed the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and there is still a suppression of the fact that those bombings were not military in intent. They were not aimed at winning the war against Japan. Nor was the even more deadly campaign of firebombing that preceded the atom bombs. In fact most of the “strategic” bombing carried out by the US and UK in World War II was simply mass murder of civilian populations, and it was militarily counterproductive – a misuse of resources that hindered military progress. I could illustrate this in detail, but let me try to save time and effort by using a comparison. The Soviet Union produced more armaments than anyone else in the war. They did not build bomber fleets to bomb German cities. To do so would have been an unthinkable, nigh suicidal, waste of resources. The Western Allies had the luxury of wasting their most valuable materiel and personnel on a project of mass murder, but the underlying strategic calculus is the same – it was militarily counterproductive.

With the deaths of millions of civilians weighing on the consciences of leaders and on the collective conscience of the people’s who had fought against the greater evil of Axis, the last thing anyone would want would be the suggestion that the actions of the Allied leaders in killing civilians were in some intrinsic and essential way linked to the atrocities committed by Japan and Germany. Both collectively and individually, both consciously and unconsciously, people knew not to explore any notion that would suggest that mass killings of civilians by Allies had any fundamental and immutable connection to the mass killings of civilians by Axis powers.

This is best summed up by Justice Robert Jackson’s opening statement at the Nuremberg Trials, “…the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.” Please note that he is not talking about a future trial of a future regime, but the way “history” will judge “us” – meaning Jackson and his contemporaries. The discourse of aggressive war that was created at Nuremberg was closely and precisely shaped to construct a crime of which the Germans were guilty but of which the Allies were not. That is why Hermann Göring at times shouted out “What about Hamburg?” and “What about Hiroshima?” Göring knew that wasn’t a legal defence in and of itself, he was trying to fracture the narrative framework with which his prosecutors and judges legitimated themselves.

And then there is another no-go area – another place from which the collective consciousness (and most individual consciousnesses) shied away in fear. In addition to avoiding any suggestion that Axis atrocities might bear any resemblance to the Allied habit of incinerating innocent human beings by the tens of thousands, it was also imperative that there be no suggestion whatsoever that Japanese and German conquest and occupation might in any way resemble the colonial and imperial policies of Britain, France and the US.

The Frightening Truth

To be very clear: the Allies killed millions in World War II, but the Axis powers killed tens of millions. Within reason, aggression can justly be called “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Thus, to suggest that there is a moral equivalence between Axis and Allied crime is not really acceptable. (It is equally unacceptable to claim a moral equivalence between Nazi crimes and those of Communist regimes in the USSR or China).

That said, however, the atrocities that the Germans and Japanese committed against the peoples of Europe and Asia inevitably resemble the crimes of other colonising and imperially hegemonic powers. Both of these Axis powers, along with Italy, consciously wanted to repeat the imperialist and colonialist conquests of the British and French. The difference is that with changes of technology the intensity and speed were unprecedented. What would have been 50 years of killing for the British Empire was squeezed into 5 years. Yet the principle was the same, and I cannot help but think that the main reason that people saw a moral distinction between German imperial expansion in Europe and, say, British expansion in Africa was that most of the victims of the Germans were White.

Meanwhile policies of deliberately and systematically killing civilians came to dominate the so-called “strategic bombing” of the UK and US during the war. They too bore chilling similarities to the policies of mass killing pursued by the Germans and Japanese. Eric Markusen and David Kopf published a book called The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing which documents parallels in the way the Germans and the Western Allies were justifying ever greater mass killings with pretensions of clinical detachment and inevitability, along with eerily similar euphemisms – such as the German “evacuation” and the British “dehousing”.

The fact is that there is an essential and fundamental connection between the actual extermination of peoples, such as the Aboriginals of Tasmania, the “hyperexploitation” such as lead to millions of deaths at Potosí and 10 million in King Leopold’s Congo, and the social and cultural destruction accompanying the economic and political subjugation of imperial or neocolonial domination. Within that framework there are also practices of ethnic cleansing and of any systematic attempt to reduce a non-military population through killing, preventing births, or reducing material wellbeing to lower lifespans.

The Germans did, or attempted to do, all of the above to various peoples under the Nazi leadership of the “Third Reich”. In many ways this project was inchoate and even contradictory, and yet viewed from enough distance it had a distinct singular form. One man, Raphael Lemkin, saw it and recognised in it “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups.” He called that “genocide”.

Disney Genocide

Lemkin had a profound insight which had three things in common with other fundamental changes in paradigmatic thinking. The first is that it had a long gestation. Lemkin didn’t just base his idea on German policies under Hitler, he had been researching and thinking about these issues since he was a teenager nearly three decades earlier. He was horrified by the Armenian genocide and spent his early adulthood trying to understand and encapsulate that violence, with the particular aim of making it an “international crime”.

The second is that its significance was much greater than the originator himself understood at the time. Later, Lemkin himself, much to the detriment of his career and political standing, made a clear link between genocide and settler-colonialism. He spent a great deal of his time writing about the genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples in the Americas. In my opinion he did this despite wishing to think the best of his new home in the United States. Had he lived longer he would have been forced to confront the fact that imperialism is inherently genocidal even when it is not engaged in settler colonial expansion. Rather than seeking to impose the “national pattern” of the imperial centre it seeks to impose an “imperial pattern” which is equally alien to the victim group but which also cements their subjugation in an ethnoracial imperialist hierarchy. This is achieved with exactly the same social, political, cultural and economic destruction and the same forced displacement, concentration and mass killing that characterises settler-colonial genocides. This is true regardless of whether the empire is predominantly formal, informal, or neocolonial.

The third thing that happens when new revolutionary ideas arrive is that people try to cling on to outmoded beliefs and ways of thinking. They are resistant, and in the case of genocide this resistance has been nourished by political interests and given a fertile discursive medium by the historical experiences of the internal and external relations of Germany’s Third Reich. The nature of genocide was obscured from the very genesis of the term by a strident and loud imagery of Nazi exceptionalism.

An exceptionalist emphasis was one of two opposing reactions to the unprecedented suffering inflicted on the world by the Nazi regime. The other emphasis was to try to understand what conditions had led to members of our species doing or allowing things that seem to be unvarnished evil from the outside. A lot of good and bad things came out of line of thought, but I would argue that it greatly profited societies to think of the German experience as one to be studied and avoided. It is from this tradition, which is always at least partly relativistic, that sprung concepts like Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” and our understanding of the psychology of authoritarians. I think that a very frightening aspect of contemporary life is that our understanding of these Nazi traits fades, and as the understanding fades the traits themselves become more and more manifest in ever more shamelessly inhuman official discourse. Two recent examples being the US “Law of Warfare” field manual which authorises the killing of journalists and the West Point professor who wants the military to kill lawyers and scholars who oppose US military actions to the list of targets – not to mention attacking mosques and various other enemies of US military freedom.

In contrast to those who sought deeper understanding of Nazism, all forms of exceptionalism involve taking supposedly unique aspects of something and presenting them as essential and defining characteristics. This vastly overstates the substance of those aspects that are claimed as being exceptional and, if accepted, makes comparisons impossible. This exceptionalist approach can be seen in the famous Disney wartime propaganda film “Education for Death”. It is understandable that there was a desire to dramatise the oppressive and invasive nature of the Nazi regime, but it encapsulates a fetishistic approach that is literally a cartoon version of reality. As propaganda this is to be expected, but after the war it is not as if people said to themselves: “Now that that is over I need to take a more nuanced view of the National Socialist government in Germany if I am to truly grasp the nature of that regime and its atrocities.”

The danger of exceptionalist narratives is that they deny context and refuse to allow comparisons. The upshot of this is that people emphasise the wrong things in the fetishistic and cartoon manner which I mentioned. Thus US exceptionalists create a fetish out of surface aspects of their constitution that they are formally and informally indoctrinated at a young age to view as essential parts of “democracy”. In reality, the excessive focus and attention then given to the “democratic” nature of US governance actually makes it far easier for undemocratic power relations to develop and entrench themselves.

Similarly, an exceptionalist narrative about Nazi Germany emphasises surface appearances and destroys any ability to learn and to avoid repetition. To use a reductio ab Hitlerum analogy, it is like saying that everything will always be okay as long as the highest political office is not occupied by a man with a funny moustache.


Holocaust Exceptionalism

Here is a multi-choice question:

The US has just won a war against the forces of darkness embodied by Germany and Japan. There is a new word around called “genocide”. Are you inclined to think that this word means a) what Hitler did to the Jews, b) what Hitler did to the Jews and what was done to the indigenous people of North America in order to create the US – illustrate your answer with reference to the screen appearances of John Wayne.

Clearly no ordinary citizen of the victor states would want to think that the crime of genocide, which saw millions of Jews systematically murdered, was a very prominent part of their own proud national heritage. Canada, Aotearoa, the US, and Australia didn’t want to see their origins as stained by comparison to the roving mass-murders of the Einsatzgruppen. The USSR didn’t want to see the Terror Famine in Ukraine or Stalin’s ethnic cleansing transmigrations as bearing any resemblance to the Camps in which so many of their own died. And the old imperial powers, France and Britain, didn’t want to see their bejewelled traditions of civilising hegemony equated in any way to gassing children.

In the fertile ground of Nazi exceptionalism that was already established it was inevitable that Holocaust exceptionalism take root, not just as the explicit belief of hardliners, but also as the default starting point for general layperson’s discourse. The base belief is that the Holocaust is the defining archetype of what genocide is and that other events are “genocidal” to the extent that they can be compared to the Holocaust.

What is this Holocaust that they are talking about? Part of the problem is that this is an extremely slippery concept. The real problem is that people don’t want a robust definition of the Holocaust. They want to be able to know what it is without having to cogently delineate that knowledge. For most people the Holocaust is emotive but vague. It is misunderstood not in the manner that one might misunderstand historic events like the War of the Roses or the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, but rather the impressionistic imagery is so powerful as to drown out actual detail. This is understandable, but still regrettable.

The Holocaust is so overwhelming that a film like Schindler’s List had to be made in monochrome because even the sombre and washed-out cinematic tones that are conventionally used for Eastern Europe in World War II are insufficient for an actual concentration camp. Genocide is literally made to be black-and-white. Our sensitivities to the issue are so high that misters used to cool visitors to Auschwitz today caused an international outcry because they were reminiscent “the Holocaust showers” (as one news bulletin called them). There were, of course, no actual “Holocaust showers”. The realities are not any less horrifying than the nightmare images, but they are more complicated. In fact, the realities are more horrifying than the symbolic beliefs, and once you know them you can’t unlearn them. That is why people create a totemic imagery of the Holocaust. They can feel all of the horror, grief and outrage without the crippling depression. Most of all, they don’t feel the burden of obligation to end suffering. Instead, steeped in the dark cartoon visions of “Holocaust showers”, they are more able and more likely to inflict suffering because they are artificially separating the suffering of certain human beings from other members of the same species.

The symbolic or cartoonish approach to conceptualising the Holocaust has the advantage that you do not have to be categorical about something to make it a defining character. It is possible to retain the notion that the Holocaust is encapsulated in the conspiracy of the Final Solution, in the Judeocide, and in the gas chambers of death camps. Everything that is not part of that vision is either forcibly incorporated or essentially ignored.

To clarify my point, let me draw your attention to the role of a) gas chambers and b) the Final Solution. These things are synonymous with genocide in most people’s minds, but Lemkin never included them in his description of genocide for the very simple reason that he didn’t know about them. Moreover, if these things had not existed it might have meant that many more Jews would have survived in relative terms, but most European Jews would still have been killed by the genocide policies that Lemkin described. Those Jews who died were joined by many millions of others who died as a result of genocide. The Final Solution and the gas chambers are clearly linked to genocide in that they are a way of enacting genocide that is entirely consistent with the logic of genocide take to its greatest extreme – that of extermination. These things are linked to genocide, but they do not typify let alone embody genocide.

The end result is that the paradigmatic exemplar of genocide, the Holocaust, is a misrepresentation of itself, let alone genocide as a whole. For some that means that the Holocaust was the only genocide. For most, however, it means that when one decides to use the “g-word”, one constructs the newly acknowledged genocide as being a reflected image of that mythologised Holocaust. By maintaining that exceptionalist purity one never needs to accept something as genocide if one does not want to. In fact, people can get very angry when someone labels something genocide on the basis that to do so is to accuse the perpetrator of being as bad as the worst atrocities of German mass murder. Conversely you can appropriate the imagery of the Holocaust for anything you don’t like, particularly if you can label it anti-Semitic. In an extreme example a man was filmed at a rally opposing the “Iran nuclear deal” recently where he yelled that Obama was releasing money to “the terrorist Nazi regime which is building nuclear gas chambers!”


Kelly’s Law

If you are attempting establish the moral validity of acts by refuting any comparison to Hitler’s acts, you are defending the indefensible.

Most readers will probably be familiar with Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”. The most common corollary is that the party that makes the analogy has lost the argument. It is dated now, and perhaps it was always more inclined to be used against critical thought than to promote it. I propose instead that what we need now is a “law” that states that if you are attempting establish the moral validity of acts by refuting any comparison to Hitler, you are defending the indefensible. This is true whether the reaction is the gut reaction of an Israeli who spits and yells with genuinely distraught anger at the suggestion that Israel is committing genocide; or whether it is the snide put-downs of a pundit, politician, bureaucrat or academic who sneers at those who claim that the US or UK or France has committed genocide.

The corollary of Kelly’s Law is that not only must the person refuting the Hitler comparison be defending the indefensible, but they are almost certain to be demolishing a straw man in doing so. To say that someone has committed genocide is not the same as saying that they are morally equivalent to Hitler in the same way that saying the we evolved through processes of natural selection is not the same as calling someone a monkey. For example, in his book Empire Niall Ferguson first himself compares the actions of British forces during the Indian Mutiny to those of the SS against Jews, but then concludes that the British weren’t actually as bad as the SS as if that somehow makes things better.

Nazi exceptionalism and Holocaust exceptionalism are the gift that keep on giving. As long as you avoid building death camps with giant gas chambers and crematoria then you can incinerate and starve hundreds of thousands. It is like teflon coating for genocide perpetrators. It shields them from all serious accusations of intentional wrongdoing because any attempt to suggest a systematic purpose behind Western mass violence is delegitimised as being an invalid attempt to equate our leaders with the Nazis. I fear that this will continue until the point where it Western governments, particularly the US, actually do become the moral equivalent of the Nazis – and that moment does get closer over time.

A New Holocaust

People don’t want to face up to the reality of genocide, because they will then have to admit that Western states are committing massive acts of genocide right now. The Western interventions most apparent in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia have created mass destruction and mass death.

The tempo of violence that exists now does not even match that of the bombing during the Korean War, let alone the enormous scale of violence of World War II. However, this violence never ends. It seems destined to continue for eternity and the scale of death continues to creep upwards. Western interventions of many types have sowed conflict and instability and they keep tearing at these open wounds, often blaming the victims. I cannot shake the feeling that if Germany had not been at war, Nazi genocide policies would have been enacted at the same slowly accumulating pace.

The destruction and the violence are often meted out by enemies of the United States, but I think people are beginning to grasp that to greater or lesser extents the US is often the creator and sponsor of these enemies. Moreover these enemies are often materially dependent on the US either directly or through allied regimes. That is the new reality, or at least one of the new realities. Lemkin’s understanding of genocide was of disparate acts that could only be related to each other when you grasped the underlying strategic reasoning,

That is why anti-Zionists are embracing Holocaust exceptionalism. Israel provides such easy cartoon villains, Netanyahu and a cabinet of political colleagues that seems unable to go two months without a minister openly calling for the extermination or ethnic-cleansing of non-Jews. They might as well have a leader with a funny moustache. It is facile and comforting, but it is stupid. Israel does not have the power to effectuate all this destruction, nor does it control the US. Everything the US has done has followed a trajectory it has clearly been on since 1945. Trying to explain it current genocidal actions is like trying to explain the trajectory of a cannonball by a stiff gust that arose during its flight without any suggestion that there might have been a cannon involved at any point.

The Refugee Crisis and the New Holocaust


The world has suddenly realised that there is a “refugee crisis”. There are more refugees now than at any time since World War II. The number has grown three-fold since the end of 2001. The problem is treated as if it arose just recently, but it has been a long time coming. The pressure has been building and building until it has burst the dams of wilful ignorance.

Death and despair has migrated to the doorsteps of Europe. But tens of millions of people do not simply abandon home and native land for an insecure dangerous future of desperate struggle. The forces that have created this crisis are massive and historic in scale. People are now confronted with a tiny fraction of the horrors that have been visited upon millions and millions in the last 14 years. The refugee crisis is merely a symptom of the far greater and far more brutal reality. This is not just a “current crisis” to last a dozen news cycles, and it will not be resolved by humanitarian support.

The current crisis is similar in magnitude to that of World War II because the events causing it are nearly as epochal and momentous as a World War. Those who leave their homelands now face much greater peril of death than asylum seekers faced 20 years ago, yet despite this their numbers have swollen to the tens of millions.

The crisis has been caused by a new Holocaust, but it is one we refuse to acknowledge. The facts of the mass violence and mass destruction are not hidden. We can see the destruction and death that follows Western intervention, but we have been living in wilful ignorance and denial, just as the Germans denied the obvious fact and nature of German genocide. We don’t want to understand. However, like the Germans under Nazism, our self-serving ignorance is nurtured and magnified by a propaganda discourse that is in our news and entertainment media, and also in our halls of education and the halls of power.

We do not understand the genocidal nature of US-led Western interventions because we do not understand the nature of genocide. We have allowed Zionist and US imperialist elites to dictate that genocide be understood through a lens of Holocaust exceptionalism, Nazi exceptionalism, and Judeocide exceptionalism. But genocide was never meant to be specifically Nazi nor anti-Semitic in nature. The word “genocide” was coined by a Jew, Raphael Lemkin, but was never intended to apply specifically to Jews. It was meant to describe a strategy of deliberately visiting violence and destruction on “nations and peoples” as opposed to visiting it on armies. Lemkin wrote a great deal about genocide against the native people’s of the Americas, but that work went unpublished.

The truth is that there is widespread genocide in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. A new Holocaust is upon us and the refugee numbers are the just tip of a genocidal iceberg. By bombing, invading, destabilising, subverting, Balkanising, sanctioning, corrupting, indebting, debasing, destroying, assassinating, immiserating and even enraging, the US has led “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups….” That is where tens of millions of refugees have come from, but we refuse to see the fact of coordination. We blind ourselves to clear indications of Western agency and intentionality. We twist ourselves in knots to avoid seeing coherence or any pattern in US foreign policy. We are blinded by nonsense from pundits about party-political rhetoric and power struggles in DC, and we ignore the monolithic elephant of coherent imperial strategy that is threatening to crash through the floor and destroy the room altogether.

Westerners don’t want to face the truth of what their governments are doing – particularly NATO governments, and the US government most of all. The millions who died in Iraq were victims of a genocide that was intended to kill Iraqis in such numbers. The victims were not incidental to some other project. The same was true in Korea and Viet Nam, but it is also true in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen, in Somalia, in the DR Congo, and in many other places. The destruction, the death, the misery and the chaos are not “failures” of “ill-advised” policy. This is not even some sort of “Plan-B” where the US creates failed states when it cannot install the regime it wants. This is Plan-A and it is becoming harder and harder to deny the fact.

Wars no longer end. We cannot simply pretend that there is no reason for that. Wars no longer end because instability and conflict are the deliberate means of attacking the people – the means of destroying their nations as such. That is what “genocide” means, and that is why we avoid the knowledge. This knowledge will destroy comforting delusions and reveal the cowardly false critiques of those who think that the US government is “misguided” in its attempts to bring stability. The US doesn’t bring stability, it doesn’t seek to bring stability. It destabilises one country after another. It infects entire regions with a disease of acute or chronic destruction, dysfunction and death.

This is a Neo-Holocaust. It slowly builds and grinds. It is the gradual, frog-boiling way to commit genocide. And, like the dullard masses of a dystopian satire, we keep adjusting every time it presents us with a new “normal”. It is a postmodern, neocolonial Holocaust of mass death and mass deprivation. It rises and falls in intensity, but will not end until the entire world awakes and ends it in revulsion.


There are now more refugees than at any time since World War II. It bears repeating. The numbers have tripled since 9/11 and the launch of what has been labelled the “Global War on Terror” and the “Long War”. The situation has become akin to that in World War II, but we seem to be quite comfortable treating it as if it wasn’t a response to a single phenomenon. In WWII it was self-evident that people were fleeing war and genocide, but we apparently accept the tripling of refugee numbers now as resulting from all sorts of different causes. The only factor we are supposed to perceive as linking these crises appears to be Islamist terrorism, even though in the most prominent cases the terrorism arrives after the Western intervention and conflict.

We can no longer excuse the habit of treating each victim of US/NATO intervention as having separate endogenous sources of conflict. Yes, there are ethnic and religious fissures in countries, and yes there are economic and environmental crises which create instability. But, when the opportunity arises weapons flood into these hotspots. There is always an influx of arms. It is the great constant. But many other thing might also happen, particularly economic destabilisation and “democracy promotion”. There is no single playbook from which the US and its partners are making all their moves. There are major direct interventions, such as the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya, and the creation of South Sudan. There are proxy interventions such as the bombing of Yemen, incursions into DR Congo, and fomenting civil war in Syria. Add into this the continuous covert interventions, economic interventions, destabilisations, sanctions, coups, debt crises then you can see a differentiated complex of systematic genocide that very closely resembles the differentiated complex of systematic genocide initially described by Raphael Lemkin in 1944.

The tempo of violence that exists now does not even match that of the bombing during the Korean War, let alone the enormous scale of violence of World War II. However, the difference is that this violence never ends. It seems destined to continue for eternity and the scale of death continues to creep upwards. I cannot shake the feeling that if Germany had not been at war, Nazi genocide policies would have been enacted at the same slowly accumulating pace. The destruction and the violence are often meted out by enemies of the United States, but I think people are beginning to grasp that to some extent the US is often the creator and sponsor of these enemies. Moreover these enemies are often materially dependent on the US either directly or through allied regimes.

Cumulatively, this has still become an historic era of mass death that in some respects resembles the “hyperexploitation” and socio-economic destruction of “Scramble for Africa” and in other respects resembles German genocide policies in occupied Europe. In future, when people come to add up the human cost of this new Holocaust they won’t be trying to prove their credibility by being conservative. Conservatism in such matters is nothing but purposeful inaccuracy and bias. When they calculate all of the excess mortality that has resulted from military, proxy, covert and economic intervention by the West in the post-9/11 era it will be in the tens of millions. It is already of the same order of magnitude as the Nazi Holocaust, and it is far from over.

We see a drowned boy in on a beach and the suffering strikes home. That is a tragedy, but the obscenity is not in the death of a small child. The obscenity is in the fact that it was an act of murder by Western states. Now try to picture what that obscenity looks like multiplied, and multiplied, and multiplied until the boy, Aylan Kurdi, is just a grain of sand on that beach. It seems almost serene, but that is an illusion. We are socialised to lack what is called “statistical empathy” and that lack makes us irrational. Whenever we face the statistics of human pain and loss we must learn to counter this unnatural detachment by making ourselves face the full individual humanity of victims. The key to understanding the Holocaust is not to obsess about the evil Nazi race hatred and cruel machinery of death, it is to picture a child dying in agony in the dark of a crowded gas chamber and to juxtapose that with the callous indifference of Germans, of French, of English and of many others to the fate of that child at the time.

Without compassion, we are intellectually as well as morally stunted. Understanding the ongoing holocaust means you must picture a burned child dying slowly, crying for help that will never come, in the dark rubble of a shelled home next to the corpses of her mother and father. Now juxtapose that with the callous indifference we are induced to feel until we are told that it is officially a crime committed by villains rather than regrettable collateral damage stemming from benignly intended Western acts. After the fact we care, but at that time of the Judeocide almost every country sent Jewish refugees back to certain death. People reacted with callousness and also vile contempt to Jewish refugees, almost exactly like the British tourists who have recently wished mass death on the “tides of filth” that are ruining their playground on the Greek isle of Kos.

To avoid the truth, we select only certain victims as being worthy and fully human. When it becomes officially correct to feel compassion, we create cartoon villains to blame who, by their very conception, are aberrations and departures from a systemic norm. It might be the Zionist lobby, or Netanyahu or Trump or the Kochs or the military-industrial complex, but it must be something other than business as usual. This thinking is cowardice. It is stupidity. It is self-serving. It is morally and intellectually bankrupt. There is a new Holocaust happening now and it is the logical outcome of US imperialism.

In the final analysis, the refugees are the result of years of conflict, destruction and suffering. The scariest thing is that we are incapable of stopping the progress of this plague because we will not face up to the principles behind it. It has become a one-way street. Areas that are lost to civil strife can never find peace. Cities reduced to rubble can never be rebuilt. Communities that are torn apart can never again knit together. Worse will come and it will not end until the US empire is destroyed. Please let us find a way to do that without another World War.

US Rule in Occupied Earth (or Everything You Need to Know About Genocide, but Never Knew to Ask) Part 4: You Are Next


Leunig - How to do it

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Lemkin defined genocide as being a form of warfare, but instead of it being military warfare “against sovereigns and armies” it was war against “subjects and civilians”. We do not need to distinguish between the sort of internal “war” declared against a minority within a state and the sort of “war” that is waged against a foreign people. So, for example, the Japanese “3 Alls Policy” of “Kill all. Burn all. Loot all,” was genocidal because it was aimed at the Chinese people and was not a truly military scorched earth policy.

Lemkin focussed originally on occupied Europe, but he saw the same processes in the conquest of the Americas and he spent much more time studying and writing about genocide in the Americas than about Germany’s genocides in Europe. He characterised Indian reservations as being a form of concentration camp and symptomatic of genocide. As you can imagine, this sort of thing did not go down well in 1950s USA. He was unable to find publishers for his later works. As John Docker has said: “We can only mourn that Lemkin’s manuscript writings were not published as he hoped, for in them the inherent and constitutive relationship between genocide and settler-colonialism is strongly argued, given subtle intricate methodological form, and brought descriptively to life.” Lemkin died poor and comparatively obscure 1959. Only 6 people attended his funeral. Had he lived longer he would have recognised that the strategic hamlet programme in Viet Nam was also symptomatic of genocide and I am sure he would have made the leap that links genocide to all forms of imperialism, not merely settler-colonialism.

Whether related to settler-colonialism or not, genocide reveals itself best in military occupations because they allow the full panoply of genocidal behaviour to manifest. Lemkin saw genocide as a combination of ancient and modern practices. On one occasion it might be the visceral slaughter of a massacre, on another the dispassionate exercise of issuing papers that reclassify people as no longer having the right to live in their homes. One might reduce the food intake available to a people who have been previously deprived of subsistence resources, or create a policy of retaliatory violence. One might order a carpet bombing raid or institute a military doctrine of “force protection” guaranteed to cause mass civilian death and widespread terror. In short, genocide can manifest as wanton violence and destruction or targeted violence and destruction. It can involve policies designed to control, to destroy, to immiserate, to alienate, or to provoke.

Perpetrators of genocides like to claim that their actions are military in intent. Sometimes they are deliberately deceiving and sometimes they are wilfully lying to themselves. The greatest lie they tell themselves and others is that attacking the civilian population and its infrastructure is a valid way of degrading military strength. This is the lie that was behind of the “strategic bombing” of civilian areas in World War II and was used to implement the genocidal sanctions against Iraq. These are very instructive examples of genocide undertaken in the guise of warfare, yet, instead of looking at those I want to focus on counterinsurgency.

Imagine a materially and/or numerically inferior people who occupy land that you covet. You start taking their land by force and/or start using your superiority to coerce their departure through inflicting some form of pain. Eventually resistance will ensue. The resistance may or may not have been part of the plan, but it now becomes the excuse for ever greater violence against the people as such. War against a people as such is, by definition, genocide. When you deconstruct counterinsurgency programmes throughout history you will find that this pattern of genocide is common to many.

I already mentioned the Japanese “3 Alls” campaign. The excuse for this genocidal behaviour was that it was a way of combating the People’s Liberation Army which drew sustenance from the people themselves. Mao said, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” But the point is that the people wouldn’t have supported the PLA if it did not in some way embody their collective will. The Japanese, by contrast, were inimical to the Chinese people. Their occupation was already genocidal, if they hadn’t been strategically inclined to inflict destruction of Chinese people as such, then they would have dealt with any insurgency by actions, policing or military, that were restricted to the PLA itself. In fact, the genocidal strategic imperative was greater for the Japanese than the military strategic imperative because such “counterinsurgency” is inherently counterproductive militarily.

To put it in simple terms you win a counterinsurgency by winning the “hearts and minds” of the people and thus isolating the guerillas from the material support of the people and delegitimising them so that violence against them does not cause the people to hate you. But, if your strategic designs are against the fundamental welfare of the people themselves you cannot win their hearts and minds and so it is inevitable that when armed resistance arises the response, if you do not alter your strategic aims, will be genocidal.

It is no great secret that the way to win against an insurgency is to win the acceptance of the people and then treat the guerillas as a separate military or policing operation. The reason this is not done is not that people don’t know it, but because they cannot accommodate the will of the people even to the degree that would get them to cease supporting the conflict of armed resistance. In short, for demostrategic reasons they are enemies of the people and they are at war with the people. It doesn’t matter of it is a tribe of 300, or a nation of millions, the same applies. Just as the genocidal acts of the Japanese drove people into the arms of the PLA, the same pattern has been enacted throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia, and in Eastern Europe during the Partisan War. In fact, Hitler said: This partisan war has its advantages as well. It gives us the opportunity to stamp out everything that stands against us.” It is well worth remembering at this point that Lemkin described Hitler’s genocides as being “a new technique of occupation aimed at winning the peace even though the war itself is lost.”

Since the First Indochina War, the US has shown unmistakeable signs that it welcomes and even fosters insurgent resistance as a way to channel its military might into genocidal violence and destruction. Few people realise how much of the US effort in Indochina went into systematically attacking civilians without even the pretext of a nominal insurgent presence. They did this on the basis that the people themselves were the sea in which the guerilla swam. The entire Phoenix Programme, for example, was aimed at civilians. “Free-fire zones” were, among other things, designed to re-designate non-combatants as legitimate targets for death. Under this logic missions of mass death could be carried out without any hint that an actual combatant might be present. US personnel were also trained to view the people of Viet Nam through a hostile racial lens. That and the way the GIs were deployed created a systematic situational predisposition for US personnel to view the the people of Viet Nam to be their enemy. If the US had wanted it to, a fraction of the money they spent on fighting in Indochina could have been spent in ways that won the “hearts and minds” of the local peoples. But that would have empowered the people. The Vietnamese, for example, would have been very thankful and then have firmly continued to move towards reunifying their country and exercising self-determination.

The US now exerts more hegemony over Viet Nam by having visited genocidal destruction and lost the military struggle than it could ever have done by making the concessions needed to allow it to achieve military victory. The state of Viet Nam was far less damaged by US destruction than the people of Viet Nam. The war had actually left the country as a military powerhouse and regional hegemon. On the other hand, bottom-up development was crushed. When industrialisation took hold it was not some form of strategic development that empowered the proleteriat and the nation, it was low-wage light manufacturing for the benefit of Western multinationals and Western consumers. That is a profound strategic victory for the US empire.

Viet Nam’s ongoing weakness means that it is subject to the governance of the “Washington Consensus” institutions which use debt and trade to prevent development in a for of structural violence, but at least there seems to be little prospect of hostile military action from the US. Iraq, on the other hand, seems to be slated for an eternal grinding and inhuman violence punctuated by periods of mass slaughter. Iraq has become like Prometheus to the US Zeus. Zeus ordered his servants Force and Violence to chain Prometheus to a rock where each night an eagle would tear out his liver. This was partly in revenge for Prometheus tricking Zeus out of what Zeus thought he deserved to be given as offerings by humans, and partly because Prometheus, a friend to humanity, had given fire to humans. In many respects the analogy is chillingly apt. For the US, even backing successful coups in Iraq didn’t produce regimes that were willing to make sure that Iraqi oil wealth was used to benefit US hegemony, thus Iraq cheated the US out of its due.

Due to a combination of petroleum, geography, demography, culture and history the Iraqi people, as such, are indelible enemies of US empire. Even under Saddam Hussein oil resources were nationalised and oil profits went into national development. Iraq is too large to be a rich rentier state with a small wealthy citizenry and it is too small for the oil profits to be inaccessible by the bulk of the population as in Nigeria. This is a big problem for an imperial polity, ie the US empire, that specifically uses control of petroleum as a method of strategic hegemony.

The result is that if you want to see an almost exhaustive exemplar of genocide then you should look to what the US has done in Iraq. It has been, to paraphrase Lemkin, “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of [Iraqis], with the aim of annihilating [Iraq itself]. The objectives of [the] plan [are 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.” To outline the Iraq Genocide I can go through each one of Lemkin’s “techniques of genocide”. He enumerated these in Chapter 9 of Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, which, as you will recall, is where the term “genocide” originates. His descriptions of techniques of genocide can be very closely mapped to US actions in Iraq. And remember that this is the original defining document on what genocide actually is and you can go through it point by point and see how well it applies to US actions. The process is far too complex to detail fully here, but I will give a rough outline and hopefully you can use your own faculties and prior knowledge to fill in some gaps.

  1. Thee first technique of genocide was labelled Political – this would include the entire “De-Baathification” process; the period of rule by Paul Bremer; the suppression of mass demonstrations, of political dissent and of organised labour; the subversion of sovereignty; and the imposition of constitutional arrangements.

  2. Social – changing the legal structure; abolishing unionism; targeted killings of community leaders; fomenting sectarian division; disruption family social and economic life by targeting “military-age males” for disappearance or death. One of the biggest social impacts has come from the eliticidal killings of intellectuals and certain professionals such as doctors. This began with “Debaathification”, and then there were kidnappings, then the US instituted the “Salvador Option” and since that time intellectuals have often been targeted by death squads.

  3. Cultural – To paraphrase Lemkin by merely changing the word “regimentation” to “chaos” and the word “Poland” to “Iraq”: “Not only have national creative activities in the cultural and artistic field been rendered impossible by chaos, but the population has also been deprived inspiration from the existing cultural and artistic values. Thus, especially in Iraq, were national monuments destroyed and libraries, archives, museums, and galleries of art carried away.” Let me repeat: “…national monuments destroyed and libraries, archives, museums, and galleries of art carried away.”

  4. Economic – to quote Lemkin again: “The destruction of the foundations of the economic existence of a national group necessarily brings about a crippling of its development, even a retrogression. The lowering of the standards of living creates difficulties in fulfilling cultural-spiritual requirements. Furthermore, a daily fight literally for bread and for physical survival may handicap thinking in both general and national terms.” In 2013 Iraq passed the $100 billion US dollar mark for post invasion oil sales, and yet Iraqis still languish in poverty.

  5. Biological – in this category Lemkin discussed measures that the Germans used to lower birthrates particularly by geographically separating the men and women. The US has pursued policies which separate men from women en masse, but not to such an extent that it would affect the birthrate significantly. Bear in mind, however, that the physical and environmental aspects of genocide against Iraqis have also acted to reduce birthrates and may be even crueller than dividing families.

  6. Physical – Lemkin divided this into 3 subcategories: a) Discrimination in feeding – by 1998 it was calculated that 1 million had died because of sanctions imposed on Iraq. In infants particularly this was from a combination of disease and malnourishment. The perpetrators – the US and the UK – blamed the Iraqi government, but the rationing system in Iraq was as efficient and equitable as could reasonably be expected. In fact it cannot be denied that in this regard the Ba’ath government provided a far better and far less corrupt service than any large-scale service provided by the US government or any US contractor in Iraq. In reality, the deaths were the result of the deliberate withholding of essential nutrition and medications; b) Endangering of health – in addition to the sanctions preventing medications from reaching Iraq they also prevented medical equipment from being replaced. This was a slow torturous atrocity whose intentionality cannot be questioned. Then during the invasion and occupation US military forces systematically targeted medical personnel and medical facilities. This was something that Dahr Jamail was at pains to document at the time and compiled into an alarming report in 2005. Not content with merely bombing hospitals and systematically murdering health workers, the occupation authorities also used the same sort of destructive policies they used on economic assets – giving both US and Iraqi money to corrupt contractors who had been formally been made immune to both Iraqi and US law and were thus guaranteed impunity in advance. While facilities struggled to cope with mass violence and to rebuild that which was degraded during the sanctions period, Iraqi funds were misspent on lining the pockets of rich US contractors. c) Mass killing – the shocking results of the mortality survey in 2006, known as “Lancet2” or “L2”, have now been vindicated. As well as a very high rate of violent death L2 showed that up to 2006, where known, most people were killed by coalition forces and most people were killed by small arms. Total mortality in Iraq due to the invasion is above one million. If this is added to the fatalities caused throughout the previous 13 years the figure in considerably in excess of 2 million.

  7. Religious – Here I could cite the numerous attacks on and destructions of Mosques carried out by Coalition forces in the first few years of the occupation. But it is impossible to avoid mention of the sectarian and religious conflicts caused by the occupation. This is portrayed as something that is an endemic problem, but that is a complete lie. Westerners don’t seem to grasp how unusually blood-drenched Christianity is, and how sickeningly racist it is to project that peculiar tradition of violent intolerance onto others in order to avoid seeing Western culpability in fomenting bitter divisions. Just to be clear, it is not Christian theology that originated the violence of the religion, but rather the fact that it became the state religion of a thousand year-old empire that had the established habit of brutally killing those it considered to be ideologically heterodox. Indeed, Christians themselves had frequently been victims of this impulse. Once Christianity was bedded in to Roman politics it was inevitable that the Roman approach to heresy would reassert itself. Then the Church split, with Rome becoming the centre of a quasi-sovereign multinational “Papal monarchy”. This Western church found that its power was greatest when it was fighting heretics and infidels and it became addicted to bloody Crusades. These were not just to the Holy Land, but also included the brutal genocide of the Albigensian Crusade. After that was the Inquisition and then the Reformation set off the wars of religion which killed millions upon millions. That is not even to mention the indelibly Christian flavour of Western imperialist violence which continues to this day. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam all have violence in their past and present, but none have a history that compares to this. For that reason I get very angry when people talk about the sectarian violence in Iraq as being the result of some ancient enmity. Very little of the violence in Islam’s history has a sectarian origin. Western historians talk about Shi’a political participation in the original Sunni ruled Caliphate as being “political quietism”, but even that is projecting a Western standard coloured by things like the massacre of Huguenots in Paris. I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

  8. Moral – Lemkin wrote: “In order to weaken the spiritual resistance of the national group, the occupant attempts to create an atmosphere of moral debasement within this group. According to this plan, the mental energy of the group should be concentrated upon base instincts and should be diverted from moral and national thinking. It is important for the realization of such a plan that the desire for cheap individual pleasure be substituted for the desire for collective feelings and ideals based upon a higher morality.” I think that this is a subjective area, but I think that the imperial pattern that the US tries to replicate everywhere, including at home, is one of atomised consumerism. In Iraq’s case this meshes with the social, cultural and economic destruction mentioned above.

  9. Environmental – Lemkin did not have this category, but it seems now a salient and highly important technique of genocide. Lemkin had no environmental awareness, as such, because of the times in which he lived, but some people now use the term ecocide to refer to systematic environmental destruction and I believe that ecodide is best understood as being one of these techniques of genocide. In Iraq the US has systematically caused environmental degradation by destroying infrastructure and contaminating areas with toxins, radioactive material and unexploded anti-personnel ordnance. Perhaps the most well known pollutant is depleted uranium, but recent studies in Fallujah show that it is only one part of a toxic cocktail that causes birth defects and cancer. Practices like using burn pits have also created deadly exposure to toxins for both Iraqis and US personnel. Like Agent Orange, these are slow motion chemical weapons attacks, and like a gas attacks there is always some “blowback” onto your own personnel (for a war leader, sacrificing pawns is necessary to win the game). Like Agent Orange, the pollution will kill for generations, causing health problems and heart-rending grief. Worse than even Agent Orange, however, some of these pollutants will stay for as long as we can foresee – a legacy of death and suffering that is practically eternal.

The Iraq occupation was a watershed moment, but it was not an aberration. It was part of an increasingly genocidal imperial policy that has blossomed into a series of ongoing neocolonial postmodern holocausts. The US sows conflict and instability and ensures that there is never any conclusion. Through direct or proxy interventions the US has created one eternal warzone after another. There is now a string of destabilised states, many of them so-called “failed states”, whose people are denied any path to peace. The situation is proliferating: Yemen, South Sudan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, western Pakistan and eastern DR Congo. These are the acute cases, but there are many other countries have a lower level of chronic violence and instability.

These spreading zones of violence are a new form of genocide that slowly effectuates “the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups”. Can it be said that the goal is to “annihilate” these nations? Yes it can, because the goal is to annihilate them as such. It is imprinted in the logic of the genocide. Because the violence provokes resistance, the logic of the genocide will demand unending violence. The violence creates its own strategic imperative for continuation while at the same time the institutions created to carry out that violence gain substance and a life of their own.

History will record the current era as a time of neocolonial slaughter much like the spasm of imperialist violence at the end of the 19th century – an increasingly mechanised blood-letting that foreshadowed the slaughter of World War I. However, genocide is not a discrete and absolute phenomenon. It is never the case that “a genocide” is committed in isolation. The current genocides have long historical roots. US “counterinsurgency” in the “Indian Wars”, in Latin America and in Asia, is cross-pollinated with South Africa’s “Total War” against its neighbours, and Indonesia’s genocides, and Israel’s invasions of Lebanon. This has created a system of in institutional knowledge rife with various techniques of Balkanisation and destabilisation.

By playing Hawks off against Doves, US imperialists create room for themselves to inflict unending violence without ever allowing the perception of control that a military victory would give. Retired General Mike Flynn believed that the US needed to use more military force to defeat IS but has also said: What we have is this continued investment in conflict. The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict.” This is a complaint that has gone right back to 1950, becoming particularly prominent during the 2nd Indochina War. Military officials try to explain that they are hamstrung and prevented from achieving military victory, but rather than taking their claims seriously they are written off as being overzealous madmen. The fact is that apart from some insane proposals to use nuclear weapons, the military types do have a point. Military decisions are avoided for the same reason that counterinsurgencies become counter-productive, because the real enemy is the people and a military victory would only hinder the strategic goal of crushing the people themselves.

It would also be wrong and artificial to separate genocidal wars abroad from domestic governance. The institutions of genocide that Germany created when it committed genocide in East Africa are considered important antecedents of the later genocides in Europe. But the first people that the Germans put in concentration camps were German political dissidents. The first Nazi mass killings were of disabled Germans. Military war, genocide, and the quotidian oppression of domestic governance partake from each other. In the US there is a long interplay between the criminal justice system and the genocidal attacks on peoples of other countries. This is inseparable from the past genocides of colonisation. Ajamu Baraka, writing on the recent death in custody of anti-police brutality activist Sandra Bland wrote “The struggle in the U.S. must be placed in an anti-colonial context or we will find ourselves begging for the colonial state to violate the logic of its existence by pretending that it will end something called police brutality and state killings.”

Mass incarceration, domestic torture, police killings, and mass surveillance are all institutions that feed and feed from genocide abroad. In this sense you can see that it becomes an impediment to argue that a given phenomenon is “a genocide”, instead we need to acknowledge that a phenomenon such as US mass incarceration is genocidal and not “a genocide”.

A famous quote from Martin Niemöller begins: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.” It ends: “When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.” That is the nature of genocide. If we do not find a way to end the genocidal interventions in the Third World our turn will come, and collectively it already has. An elite habituated to meeting obstacles with genocidal violence will enact it on their own people, and that has already begun. If an innocent Caucasian is brutalised by a US policing and mass incarceration system that is primarily aimed at people of colour, that does not make that person an aberration of collateral damage but rather an indication that those institutions will be used against whomever it serves. The divisions between some “Them” and some “Us” are lies. They mean nothing, but we are made to feel that the mass violence perpetrated by our governments on distant foreigners is no threat to us, and may even be to protect us. It is not true. Every death we allow to happen places us all at greater risk, places our loved ones at greater risk. And one day, when it happens where you live, those who might speak for you will be dead or silenced.

But speaking out now has to be an act of true revolt. Ours is an age in which there is no more crucial imperative than that of demolishing the lies of elite ideology. Western regimes are almost impervious to the opinion of the masses, so mass education is far less important than deprogramming the apparatchiks that populate our boardrooms, newsrooms, seminar rooms and lecture theatres. We do not need to educate the masses. What will they do when they are educated, be knowledgeably powerless? No, we need to enrage the masses and delegitimise the elites. Their intellectual and moral pretensions are hollow.

To do this more than anything we need two things. One is to rediscover the knowledge and analysis of imperial power, and the other is to understand that imperialist violence, including structural violence, is genocidal in nature. Elite Western ideology was struck a blow by the end of the Cold War. By the late 1990s analysis of “globalisation” had begun to merge with a new, and not exclusively Marxist or Marxian, interest in the US empire. By now this has been almost completely expunged. In its place we have the traditional dullard stance of those who, without ever having to trouble their brains for confirmation, take it as granted that the default approach of the US is to seek to create stability and spread democracy. Less Pollyanna-ish, but equally blind are those who view US foreign policy as a variety of “realism” in response to “national security threats” such as “Islamist terrorism”. Most infuriating of all are the opponents and critics of US foreign policy who are now dominated by beliefs that US foreign policy is controlled by the Israel Lobby and/or acts primarily in order to deliver profits to the military-industrial complex. These are not only tropes of repugnant apologism, they are fatuous ahistorical and anti-intellectual conceptual cul-de-sacs which make cogent analysis impossible. They clearly satisfy deep-seated psychological needs, but they mainly fulfil the role of concealing continuities and preventing people from seeing the true shape of US imperial interventions.

To illustrate the potency of the term genocide imagine how difficult it would have been for the US to justify its actions in Iraq, if academic and media interlocutors had seen the pattern of genocide in US actions. Currently continuity and intentionality are concealed by simply replacing and recycling varying excuses made to limitlessly amnesiac intelligentsia. No one steps back and asks whether the current excuse for genocidal violence actually makes sense in the larger picture. Saddam might invade his neighbours again? Bomb the water infrastructure! Saddam has WMDs? Starve the people! There is resistance to our occupation? Dismantle all of the economic infrastructure and destroy historic sites! Insurgency? Kill! ISIS? Bomb! Iraqis don’t love us? Bomb some, arm others, then arm the ones you bombed and bomb the ones you armed! If it wasn’t so horrifically serious, it would be a pathetic joke.

Understanding the genocidal nature of this violence is the only way to end the cycle of mutating rationalisations. If they can’t launch a bombing campaign with a lie about a gas attack, the next lie will come along shortly and eventually one will stick. Take Gaza, for example. Israel’s violence has been justified as being: “Because Hamas. Because rockets.” But already you can see the beginnings of a new trendier discourse being established, where it is the failure of Hamas to control Salafists that will justify future genocidal violence. “Because ISIS. Because rockets.” And when that wears out there will be another excuse. And if we don’t escape the parameters of discourse set by the idea that Israeli actions are related to security (whether you agree with them or not), then there will never be an end to potential excuses. While we debate the merits, they will kill more. And so it will continue.

To conclude, then, I hope that Anuradha Mittal learns what I have said here and I hope she decides that it is not a good idea to give a detailed hour-long account of a genocide and to baulk at using the word “genocide” itself. What she described was a people who were dispossessed, had their movement controlled, were cut of from the native soil that provided them economic and psychological health, had family lives shattered, were traumatised, were deprived of materials of culture and religion, had social networks destroyed or degraded, and finally had their history, their agency and ultimately their humanity expunged from the official state narrative of history. If that isn’t genocide then there can be no such thing.

I would also like Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian to reflect on the fact that they published a book in 2008 that specifically claimed that US personnel were systematically murdering Iraqis in large numbers, but never used the word genocide. Perhaps they can now see that they effectively orphaned their work and made it irrelevant by not giving the systematic killing its rightful context as being genocidal mass killing. To put the murders they talk about in any real context that relates them to the bombing, sanctions, economic destruction, social disintegration and civil war absolutely requires that the word and the concept of genocide be used.

The word must be used because the genocide continues in Sri Lanka just as it does in Iraq. The situation in Iraq is well known, but what Mittal describes is also alarming because the Sri Lankan government seems to use weakness to deepen persecution. They seem to have exploited the military weakness of the Tamil Tigers at the end of the civil war to conduct mass murder and they have used their victory to rewrite history to further denigrate the Tamils. That forebodes further armed mass violence. By the appropriate use of the term genocide, however, public alarm and discontent can be wakened. Once people actually grasp the meaning of the word it will be much easier for groups such as Tamils to awaken people and much harder for perpetrators to convince them to stay asleep.

Perhaps most important of all is the potential to cause a “revolt of the guards”. This is something that Howard Zinn famously advocated at the end of a People’s History of the United States and it is also something that Chris Hedges refers to frequently. The fact is that when people come to understand that they are engaged in a necessarily atrocious and criminal enterprise they are liable to stop. The concept of genocide can open peoples’ eyes to the cruelty in which they have become enmeshed.

But the power of the word does not end there. Many of the war resisters within the US military who acted against the genocide in Indochina used the term genocide to justify their actions, or refusal to act. It is a very powerful position to take, to say: “This is genocide, and I will not partake in genocide”. If someone says “this war is immoral” the counter-argument is that it is not for them to decide what is moral. But if you say “this is genocide” then any disputant is inevitably going to have to argue that it is not genocide and that opens up the discourse to discussions of human suffering as opposed to notions of threats and security and combat that dominate the discourse of war.

The fact is that there are clearly people out there who will actually argue that it is sometimes right to commit genocide. In that sense perhaps spreading a greater understanding of the term does risk “debasing the coin”. These people will crawl out of the woodwork, and then there will be a discourse of genocide and genocide-lite. Various reasons will be put forward that some genocide is tolerable, maybe necessary, and even, perhaps, sometimes a moral good. But most people will never buy into that. Genocide necessarily means deliberately inflicting suffering on the innocent. In practice military warfare also means this, but proponents can always argue that such suffering an unfortunate side-effect of an otherwise perfectly moral enterprise of destruction killing and maiming. When something is appropriately labelled and understood as genocide, the perpetrators have no place to hide. That is what we need.

US Rule in Occupied Earth (or Everything You Need to Know About Genocide, but Never Knew to Ask) Part 3: Lemkin’s Logic




or direct link to mp3:


The misuse of words is a key way to ensure that the ideological hegemony of the powerful is not disrupted when they commit acts that ordinary people find abhorrent. In 1946 George Orwell wrote “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.” A couple of years later he famously satirised this as “Newspeak” – a language of journalists and intelligentsia which systematically stripped the language of all meaningful terms, replacing them with good, bad, plus-good, plus-bad, double-plus-good, and double-plus-bad. A key aspect of using a concept of double-plus-bad or double-plus-good is that it cannot be argued against because it doesn’t have a concrete definition. We do this in a low-grade level as human beings because we are lazy and proud. We like to impress and to win arguments by using buzzwords in the place of thought. But at the higher levels of discourse (at the double-plus-bad and double-plus-good level) the use of language becomes systematically controlled in a way that shows clear purpose.

The higher one’s social ranking, the more constricted and controlled one’s vocabulary and hence thought. In part this is due to conscious propaganda manipulation coming from government and corporate interests which have long targeted “opinion leaders” with propaganda and left the messaging to “trickle down” (in the words of the US Government’s “Vietnam Information Group”). Orwell satirised this as being a “Party Line”, portraying it as a centrally coordinated effort, but what he was really suggesting is that the system functions the same whether there is a “Politburo” giving orders or not. The point is, that the ideology is internalised and the elites become their own and each other’s thought police. That was what Orwell analogised as being constant surveillance and inescapable broadcasting. The constant unstoppable nagging of the television and the inescapable omnipresent surveillance in 1984 were allegories for the internalised orthodox ideology.

The actual centralised dissemination of ideology is relatively crude, as the comparative failure of the Vietnam Information Group illustrates. The decentralised co-optation of elites is more subtle, more profound and more robust. It harnesses people’s imaginations, but more importantly it harnesses their ability to avoid imagination and thought. In real life what this may mean is that a word that does have a definition, has that definition suppressed and people use the word as if there was no actual definition at all. An obvious example is the word “terrorism”.

The word “terrorism” is used in a manner that has little to do with any actual stable definition. Originally terrorism referred to advocating the use of terror during the French Revolution. It was actually put forward as a way of minimising state violence because the emphasis on generating terror would maximise the disciplinary effects of violence. In other words, if you scare the shit out of people you don’t need to kill as many to make them all behave the way you want them to. It’s an old idea, of course, just named and given a post-enlightenment rationalisation. That form of terrorism is still very current everywhere that there is a military occupation. More broadly, though, terrorism came to denote a warfare technique where violence is used to terrorise the general population as a way of exerting pressure on a state power without having to inflict military defeats. As a technique of asymmetric warfare it has an obvious appeal, but it is usually counterproductive and a gift to your enemies. Indiscriminate attacks, like the terror-bombing campaign waged by Britain against Germany, tend to consolidate public support behind government and military leaders.

In real terrorism, the regime that rules the target population generally benefits. Moreover, ever since there has been the asymmetric use of terror, state regimes have labelled all asymmetric warfare as terrorism. In fact they have lumped in as many actions of their enemies under the category of terrorism as possible and, without exception, this is done as a way of garnering support for their own acts of terrorism, which they call “policing”, “security operations”, “counterinsurgency” or “counterterror”. The use of the term “counterterror” is quite interesting because it allows states to overtly signal to their personnel that they are to use terror tactics, but it has enough linguistic slippage to provide deniability.

In propaganda discourse terrorism is never something that stands alone, you tie it to other things like ethnicity and religion. The Germans of the Third Reich were not induced simply to hate distinct groups of people. Their propaganda system, just like ours, conflated various plus-bads and double-plus-bads to make them all seem like a great interlocked multifaceted double-plus-badness. Criminals were bad and perhaps deviants, sexual deviants who were decadent, devolved creatures, Jews or Jew-like, who are all lefties, socialists, Communists, and they want to destroy Germany. So the enemy was the criminal-queer-Jew-decadent-racial-deviant-Commie. If someone was shown to be one, they were tainted with all others. And if they were demonstrably not homosexual, for example, it didn’t matter because there was a more profound way in which they actually were – they embodied the real essence of the category rather than the mere outward form. And even though the Nazis related all of this to racial and cultural hygiene, the fact is that the most common immediate excuse for using violence against these Chimerical enemies was terrorism.

Germans used the concept of terrorism for exactly the same reasons as it is used now:

1) Because regimes like to pretend that terrorism threatens the stability of the entire society, notwithstanding that actual terrorism does not generally destabilise regimes, even if it disrupts society.

2) Because each individual will feel that they could be a victim. Terrorists are not going to stop to ask your political opinion before they kill you. This makes people feel as if they are on the side of the government because they share a common enemy.

3) Because calling people terrorists provides the all important sense of reciprocity that makes state violence against the “terrorists” seem justified. Britain, France, Israel and the US have all, just like Germany, used the label of “terrorism” to denominate entire populations as being terroristic in some essentialised way. This is used to make genocidal violence and terrorism against those populations seem justified.

In one of the most striking examples of late, Israel has just passed a law giving themselves permission to force feed hunger strikers in the manner practiced by the US and recognised elsewhere as torture. Telesur reports that security minister Gilad Erdan explained: “Prisoners are interested in turning a hunger strike into a new type of suicide terrorist attack through which they will threaten the state of Israel.”

Once upon a time, academics would have at least kept in the backs of their minds the notion that terrorism was a politically misused term. However, instead of that translating into publicly railing against the hypocritical misuse of the term by Western terrorist governments, their public contribution would tend to be along the lines of reminding people that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Like most fatuous clichés, this has the advantage of seeming thought-provoking whilst, in fact, being thought-killing. That was the typical liberal educated view – not to actually attempt to put things into a robust linguistic framework that could facilitate real analysis, but to imply that it is all a matter of opinion anyway.

As bad as that sounds, it all changed for the worse after 2001. Suddenly there was a boost for academic “security” specialists. People who had perhaps been more marginal in terrorism studies and security studies found that their way of defining terrorism (by taking the people they wanted to call “terrorists” and working backwards) were suddenly more prominent. The response from more level-headed academics was, of course, to immediately concede the middle ground to them and allow them to set the agenda. This meant that state terrorism, which was never incorporated into “terrorism studies” anyway, was now unmentionable. The idea that no definition of terrorism should prejudicially exclude a certain type of perpetrator is apparently alien to respectable scholars. Dissenting academics turned to “critical security studies” and the new “critical terrorism studies”. But these are self-marginalising positions which by their very names tell us that practitioners do not study a thing, but rather study the way that thing is discussed. The existence of something like “critical terrorism studies” necessarily embeds an orthodox “terrorism studies”. In practice, this provides a dual academic track wherein those who question what they are told voluntarily concede the greatest authority to those who are more inclined to parrot what they are told.

To force those who use words like “democracy” and “terrorism” to only do so in accordance with robust fully contextualised definitional criteria would be to deprive potential aggressors of a potent tool against thought. This is just as true of the term “genocide”, but there is an additional significance to the term. A true understanding of genocide will do more prevent its misuse as a way of eliciting a desired uncritical emotional response. This is because genocide differs as a concept in that understanding genocide will also strip away ability for perpetrators, especially repeated perpetrators such as the United States of America, to conceal the immorality of their intents as well as their actions. The meaning and applicability of the term genocide not only belies the rhetoric of moral righteousness, wherein the US strikes for freedom and to protect the innocent from evil-doers, but also the equally repulsive rhetoric of blunders, of inadvertence, and of self-driven systemic dysfunction. Applying the concept of genocide to US foreign policy reveals a conscious systematic intentionality in a project that very few people would consider morally acceptable. But to apply the term genocide, we need to recover the original meaning, which is to say a stable meaning that does not contradict itself and can be reconciled with historical usage.

To understand what genocide means it is best to trace the thinking of Raphael Lemkin, who invented the term. Lemkin was a Polish Jew who was passionate about history. When he was a teenager the Armenian holocaust had a huge impact on him. This was understandably emotional but was also a profound intellectual impact. He saw in these horrible events something related to the history of the persecution of Jews and the violence of pogroms. He became a lawyer and in the 1933 he advocated that new international laws be passed banning acts which would be considered crimes against the law of nations. He proposed two new international crimes which were, in brief terms, killing people on the basis of their ethnic, religious or national identity (barbarity”) and the destruction of items of culture, places of worship and so forth (vandalism”). Amusingly, his collective term for the crimes of “barbarity” and “vandalism” was “terrorism”.

Lemkin’s genius was not, despite his intents, in naming a crime but rather in naming a strategic behaviour. It would be better if genocide had never been thought of as a crime. Genocide is something that the powerful do to the weak and, despite the mythology, legal remedies do not work between parties of highly disparate power. Whilst people like to claim that laws are an equaliser that provides the weak with a tool to fight the powerful, that is not the historical experience of criminal law nor of international law. Power includes the power to police and enforce law and the power to defy law, thus the law must always be obeisant to power. Admittedly, one can theorise a society wherein a social contract made all people equal before the law, such as posited by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but in practice that would have to be a society with no significant hierarchical differentiation. The hegemonic group in any society has always used different forms of law, including criminal law, against lower classes and ethnic minorities or, when desirable, women, the LGBT community, religious groups, or people who hold undesirable political opinions. Law, in short, is inescapably predisposed to be a tool of the powerful against the weak. That is not to say that people cannot use the law for the benefit of the weak, but that is a function of individuals working against the general inclination of the system.

The limits of laws can be be demonstrated by a counter-factual thought experiment. Imagine that Lemkin had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in 1933 and that the current UN Genocide Convention had been signed and ratified by all countries including Germany in 1933. Would that have impacted the passage of the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935? Well it didn’t stop South Africa instituting draconian “Pass Laws” in 1952, so one would have to say no. In fact there is no way in which our historical experience of the UNCG seems to suggest it would have constrained Germany in any way at all. By the time people in Allied countries were reacting to German genocides with demands for action, their governments were already at war with Germany. Moreover, their excuse for not acting against the infrastructure of extermination was the over-riding need to win the war, and argument that would not have been altered by the existence of a genocide convention. On the other hand, in 1938 the existence of a genocide convention might have strengthened Germany’s claims that ethnic Germans were being persecuted in the Sudetenland and given more legitimacy to the Munich Agreement which gave Germany the Sudetenland and left Czechoslovakia nearly defenceless against future German aggression.

That is why it is actually a pity that Lemkin was a crusading lawyer, because his great insight was in inventing a theoretically rich term which was the crystallisation of considerable historical knowledge. The breakthrough he made was to realise that the violence he had called “barbarity” and the destruction he had called “vandalism” could be reconceptualised as a single practice called “genocide”. This is absolutely fundamental to understanding what genocide means.

Here is how Lemkin introduced the subject:

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.”

So Lemkin’s first example of an act of genocide is the confiscation of property from “Poles, Jews or Czechs….” This is a concept in which mass violence against people’s physical bodies is only one facet of a larger practice. In other words, when the Canadian government admitted recently to committing “cultural genocide” they were not truly apologising, but using slimy evasive apologetics. There is no such thing as “cultural genocide”, there is only genocide. Pamela Palmater introduced her reaction thus: “What happened in residential schools was not ‘cultural genocide’. It wasn’t ‘language genocide’. And it wasn’t ‘almost genocide’. What happened in residential schools was genocide. Canadian officials targeted Indians for assimilation and elimination purely for economic and political reasons.”

When Palmater wrote that she was merely introducing an extended argument, but she made a much more revealing comment about the nature of genocide when speaking on Democracy Now!:

“I know there was a focus on culture and that people were abused and beaten for speaking their language and culture, and they were clearly denied their identity. But for many of these children, upwards of 40 percent, they were denied their right to live. And that goes far beyond culture. Think about at the same time the forced sterilizations that were happening against indigenous women and little girls all across the country. Sterilization has nothing to do with one’s culture, but, in essence, the one’s right to continue on in their cultural group or nation-based group. The objective was to get rid of Indians in whatever way possible. Culture was one aspect of it, but also denying them the right to live or to procreate was an essential part of this.”

The key sentence is: “The objective was to get rid of Indians in whatever way possible”. Palmater knows that that does not mean the literal extermination of every single person that is even nominally Indian. What it means is erasing Indians from the places that they are not wanted at that historical moment. As Lemkin wrote, “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.This can be achieved through killing, assimilation, immiseration or dispossession. This can be achieved through transmigration – the ancient Assyrians, the Atlantic slavers, and the Soviet Union all uprooted populations to weaken them by taking them from their native soil. Equally, mass settler migration to the US, to Aotearoa, to West Papua, to Tibet or to Palestine imposes a new “national pattern” on the land.

The connection to native soil has profound personal aspects that might be considered spiritual, cultural or psychological, but let us not ignore the more immediately physical and concrete factors. Uprooting people utterly destroys their economic independence and can seriously degrade social interconnections that help provide the essentials of life. Thus, the famous susceptibility that colonised people have to Old World diseases has often struck when they are forced away from the land on which they rely for sustenance. People use the excuse of a purely biological fact (namely, the lower efficacy of immune response in populations that have not had generations of exposure to certain pathogens) to conceal the degree to which those who die of disease are often outright murder victims. When those who survive are relocated it may be to camps, ghettos, or reservations that provide little for independent existence. In fact the genocide perpetrator will place them in a subordinate and precarious position, exerting as much control over them as possible whilst creating the greatest degree of appearance that the victim population are separate and autonomous. Once again we are referring to the position of included exclusion, but with the pretence that the situation is the inverse – that the victims are autonomous and choose their own situation. All of this makes victim blaming much easier and allows further genocidal depredations to take place should the perpetrators discover the need for further dispossession.

This is what is facing a number of Western Australian Aboriginal communities currently. These communities are dependent on government supplying services, as are we all, but the cost of supplying services to Aboriginal communities will no longer be subsidised by the federal government, and the WA state government is refusing to make up the shortfall. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.” That could be said about any rural community because they all cost more to provide services to. In fact, mathematically there must always be places that cost more to provides services to than the average, and this same Western Australian government has just announced that it will be spending $32 million to upgrade rural water facilities that happen to be in the electorate of the Minister for Water.

Abbott’s words are particularly incendiary, though, because even if these are the traditional lands of the people living in these communities, when you look at the whole picture of colonisation in Australia the most heavily populated and resource rich lands are now all full of the descendants of settlers. The places that Aboriginal people can most easily maintain cultural autonomy and cohesion are those that were economically marginal to the early settlers, and those places were generally more marginal and sparsely by the indigenous people for the same reasons. Moreover, there is the fact that continued occupation of traditional lands might lead to the granting of native title. (You might think that 40,000 years is long enough to justify any such claim, but in legal terms let us not forget that until 1967 Aboriginal people were counted as wildlife not humans.) Some of these communities might be economically underdeveloped, but they do happen to be adjacent to large amounts of mineral wealth. Many put this latest attack against Aboriginal communities in the context of the 7 year old “intervention” in rural Northern Territories communities. As John Pilger has documented in the film Utopia the intervention was based on lies and seems more to do with exerting control over lands that are a potential source of strategic mineral wealth.

If official Australia is trying to dispossess Aboriginal people as such from land over which they want to exert control it is genocide. However, I do not want to overemphasise the significance of “ethnic cleansing” in a way that replicates the over-emphasis on mass murder that is more common. As scholar John Docker puts it, Lemkin took great care to define genocide as composite and manifold”. Acts of genocide are interrelated and interlocking events that create a network though space and time. Genocide against Aboriginal peoples has at various times and in various places meant extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, theft, fraud and impoverishment. Famously the genocide of Aboriginal peoples also involved the “stolen generation” of abducted children taken from Aboriginal parents and raised by “white” Australians.

The UN Genocide Convention specifically references the “forcible transfer” of children. This came from Lemkin’s observations of the Germanisation of other Caucasians. Lemkin and all those who contributed to the wording of the Genocide Convention would have had this sort of “denationalisation” in mind. Even though the abduction of Aboriginal children was occurring at the time that the Convention was written, I don’t think the people of the time really thought that it would apply to different “racial” groups, or at least those with generally distinct appearance. Regardless of the rhetorical equivocations on the subject, nobody thought that Aboriginal children would become white because they were raised by white parents or in white institutions. It was not a transfer into the hegemonic group, it was a transfer out of connection with others of the victim group. In fact, taking children was and is a way of trying to create that which all wielders of political power are innately inclined to want. They want to create human husks, cyphers who act only according to the stimuli given to them. Taking children functions in the same way that transmigration or concentration functions. It strips agency and magnifies the power of the perpetrator over the bodily existence of the victims. It is intended to also provide control over the mental existence of the victims, usurping their decision-making and imposing the “rationality” of the perpetrator.

There is a lot to unpack here. Genocide is actually the expression of a desire for complete power, a fantasy which is not unique to genocide at all. People become pure objects to be moved and used at will. Their own independent existence and agency is nullified even to the point where if it is determined that they are to die it is achieved with the mere flick of a switch. This sort of power cannot be achieved without exerting destructive violence. For individuals torture might be used to produce “learned helplessness” in order to exert this sort of power over them. Genocide aims to exert this power over defined groups who are connected by familial relations. As with torture, the power relation that it creates and the violence in which it is expressed, become the ends as well as the means.

I will relate this all back to mass murder and systematic annihilation in Part 4, but first let me mention race. Race and racism are social constructs but the important thing to realise is that racial discourse does not generate genocide. It may provide fertile ground, but the seed itself is from elsewhere.

Genocide has a dynamic relationship with racism or other forms of group hatred. A significant part of that is the systematic inculcation of hatred in a perpetrator population. This is a very old part of warfare and genocide, generally signalled by leaders who promulgate atrocity propaganda. This propaganda might be a story about soldiers killing babies, or it could be about how the enemy leader’s great-great-grandfather murdered an honoured ancestor. The idea is that the intended perpetrators will view any of the intended victims as somehow linked to the crime in some essential way. The violence of warfare and/or genocide naturally fuels the sense that membership in a group makes one guilty of the crimes of any of that group. In the former Yugoslavia it has been found that ethnic animosities were generated by acts of genocide, not the other way around. This is true whether the animosity is towards perpetrators or victims. If you are part of a group that is perpetrating genocide you will have a driving need to hate the victims. This is because we are socialised in such a way that to see some from our group as the “bad guys” in relation to the Other is like an act of painful self-mutilation that hurts, maims, and causes social death.

The point is that genocide is not an expression of racial hatred as such and it does not conform to the logic of racial thinking. If you believe that some undesirable trait or stain is carried in the “blood” in accordance with racial theories, it makes no sense to transfer children from the victim population. Hitler appeared to be conscious of this at least in the case of Jews. In a letter to Martin Bormann he wrote: “We use the term Jewish race merely for reasons of linguistic convenience, for in the real sense of the word, and from a genetic point of view there is no Jewish race. Present circumstances force upon us this characterization of the group of common race and intellect, to which all the Jews of the world profess their loyalty, regardless of the nationality identified in the passport of each individual. This group of persons we designate as the Jewish race. … The Jewish race is above all a community of the spirit. … Spiritual race is of a more solid and more durable kind than natural race. Wherever he goes, the Jew remains a Jew.” This is the other face of the coin revealed by Palmater in the quote above: “The objective was to get rid of Jews in whatever way possible”, not because of some special singular property of Jews but because of the entire multiplicity of everything that created the group identity of Jews.

With Native Americans in Canada and with Jews in Germany the object was to efface a group as such in order to allow the expansion of the hegemonic national identity. For Hitler this was philosophically linked with group will, but the same conclusions can be reached by your average prosaic greedy white supremacist who wants to get their hands on mineral resources, votes, or an expanded tax base. But Hitler’s genocidal activities and intents did not stop at the borders of Germany or Greater Germany. He wasn’t just attacking an internal minority he was also attacking ethnic and national groups outside of Germany’s borders for the purposes of imperial expansion and he was doing so using the same process – the process of genocide.

We have so overemphasised the concept of genocide as being an attack on an internal minority that even genocide scholars write about Jewish victims of German genocide as if they were a German minority. For Lemkin’s memory this is doubly abusive because he was a Polish Jew, as were half of the Jews killed by Germany. Lemkin’s prime exemplar of genocide, when he coined the term, was Poland. He mentioned many victim groups, including Jews, but the most commonly cited group he used to demonstrate “techniques of genocide” were the Poles, as such. He understood that Jews were slated for annihilation, but genocide had to be shown as a much broader phenomenon.

In genocide what is attacked is the sum of all of those things that make the victim group a group. We don’t have a term for this thing. At the risk of creating confusion I am just going to label the entire collection of inherent connections that provide a group identity its “demotic” and I think the unique essence that is created can be referred to as the “demotic idiom”. I do this to ground the terms by reference to the complex, but concrete, phenomenon of language. I also wish to make reference to demos because genocide is a strategic response to demographic circumstances. Genocide can be thought of as a demostrategic phenomenon.

So the demotic of the group is what is attacked in genocide. It is aimed at the victim group – the genos – as such. Thus the demotic is all of those things that make the group the group as such, and those things contribute strength and richness to the demotic idiom, which is, of course, unique. This would be individual and collective property, folklore, places of worship, sports stars, social welfare programmes, poets, statuary, language and public transport infrastructure – to name just a few random things. For convenience I am going to ignore weaknesses and say that anything that contributes in any way to the group identity as such is part of the demotic and is therefore potentially a target of genocide. You can attack an entire group by killing a single poet, for example.

Lemkin didn’t really quite understand the implications of the breadth of genocide. Instead of what I refer to as the demotic, he referred to a “biological aspect” to what had previously been called “denationalisation”. He specifically referenced the fact that Hitler viewed biology in essentialist terms: “Hitler’s conception of genocide is based not upon cultural but biological patterns. He believes that ‘Germanization can only be carried out with the soil and never with men.’” Therefore there is a contradiction here between the public Hitler of Mein Kampf and the private Hitler, confessing to Bormann that he doesn’t actually believe the literal truth of those words.

In fact, there is no “biological aspect”. Genocide is in that sense a misnomer. What Lemkin had mistaken for biological was actually the familial aspect of the demotic. Racial ideology and differences in phenotype notwithstanding, a genos is actually a social construct. It is a socially constructed demographic entity and it is reproduced primarily through child-rearing. The family is where language, customs, and the simple fact of self-identification are passed to the individual by their parents and other relatives. Moreover, even beyond the fundamental inscribing of group character on the individual, without which the group would not even exist, the familial interconnection carries through in later life. Connections with family form the closest social bond. Almost always individuals share group membership in the genos with those relatives with which they share the most significant social bonds. Inevitably, then, the familial interconnections correspond with biological structure and genetics and are the most significant sustenance of the demotic idiom.

Genocide scholars emphasise the fact that it is the way that perpetrators define the group that is important, not the way victims self-identify. Here is where we run into what seems to be a problem, because perpetrators tend to define victims in biological racial terms. However, it may be that someone’s life is spared on the basis that they do not display the “racial” characteristics by which the perpetrator claims to identify the victim group, but then again it might not. Ultimately the racial hygiene pretensions of some genocide perpetrators must be treated as hollow because the biological pretensions of racial discourse are hollow and unstable. No genos can actually be defined by “race”. The nature of human diversity is such that even the originating defining character of a genos is unstable. In fact, the hard defining lines that may form around a genos tend to be in reaction to racism, persecution and genocide. It is these things that prevent pluralistic integration.

I feel that I am drifting away from the central points about genocide, even though the problematics of identity are very important. Getting back to the demostrategic logic of genocide, there are several prominent motives for committing genocide, but in reality they are not as distinct as we might think. A settler-colony that wishes to cleanse the land of the indigenous is ultimately trying to achieve the same thing as an imperial power that wishes to crush and insurgent people which is much the same as a nationalist state that wants to erase a discordant minority and exert greater control through uniformity. The point is that all of these are undertaken by visiting destruction on the demotic idiom in the form of violence against the people and the destruction and degradation of those aspects of existence which collectively provide substance to the group.

Continued in Part 4: “You Are Next”.

US Rule in Occupied Earth (or Everything You Need to Know About Genocide, but Never Knew to Ask), Part 1: State of Exception




or direct link to mp3:

[Below is a transcript which is about 95% complete and which contains links to some material that is cited in the commentary]

It would be a vast understatement to say that the word “genocide” is not well understood. In politics, in academia and in normal everyday communication the word is almost exclusively misused and abused.

You might believe that the normal everyday usage (or, sometimes the usage of those with the authority of knowledge) is definitive. What a word means is what meaning is given to it. In most cases I would agree. The usage by ordinary people of a word is where the word usually derives its meaning. Not, however, when that usage contradicts itself. Not when that usage can only misrepresent the actualities that it purports to describe. And not when it is completely divorced from its original meaning.

For example, a recent Buzzfeed article refers several times to the British “attempting” genocide against Aborigines. That makes no sense. Genocide isn’t a single act, like burglary. Genocide either happens, or it doesn’t. We don’t refer to the genocide of Jews in World War II as “attempted genocide”. We don’t even refer to an “attempted genocide” in Rwanda. People have a vague notion that genocide must somehow mean complete extermination, except that they are not consistent in that. Genocide is used in different ways according to political criteria,. This isn’t merely slippage, but it actually requires that people do not have an actual definition of the word. It is a word that has had its meaning suppressed because the concept that the word represents is a dangerous concept. It is a concept which cannot be held on an ideological leash. It will drag the holder into the brambles of radical unorthodoxy rather than let itself be led to the park to chase a frisbee.

Any limit to our vocabulary is a limit to our thinking. Our society, like all others, constrains our vocabularies so that some thoughts are unthinkable. We may live in a pluralistic multinational global culture that is in many ways organic and diverse, but the repression of thought to which I refer is systematic and purposive and it is in the service of power. All languages have words or phrases that others lack, but I am not suggesting that merely lacking the word for a concept is systematic repression. Instead, words like “genocide” or “terrorism” are stripped of stable rational meaning whilst being vested heavily with emotive affect. This is the process that creates an orthodox idiom – which is to say a systematically and coherently circumscribed mode of language and thought.

This meanings are, as I have said, suppressed rather than erased. It would be wrong to view these words simply as “empty signifiers” as if the arbitrary nature of language meant that one could exert one’s will over language with full control. That is a type of vulgar postmodernism – a megalomaniac fantasy such as Karl Rove was indulging when he said: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

Outside of Rove’s self-aggrandising fantasies, you cannot simply assign meanings to words at will. They must fit within a network of intelligibility that is grounded in a history of usage. Instead of simply redefining words what orthodox usage does is to load a word with emotion and political ideology whilst suppressing its basic and fundamental defining characteristics (which may be more or less broad, more or less faceted, and more or less mutable over time). This leads to an unstable and contradictory usage. That isn’t a problem to the orthodox ideologue but rather a great boon. It allows the word to be used differently according to need. Furthermore, because of the emotionality attached people will fight against any attempts to reinstate a stable and comparatively objective usage.

Genocide is exactly such a word. It first appeared in a work called Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in 1944. It’s original meaning cannot be erased because it is part of a network of inter-contextualised signifiers which exist in history. At the same time, though, that meaning is thoroughly obscured. People argue that something is genocide because it is really bad, while other people argue that you can’t call something genocide because it is not bad enough and to label it genocide would be an insult to victims of real genocide.

The meaning of “genocide” has not changed over time because the meaning was suppressed from the beginning. It was always a dangerous notion. People wrongly think that it was purely a response to the German atrocities that Winston Churchill referred to as “a crime without a name”. But Raphael Lemkin, who invented the term genocide, had long been thinking on this topic and what he described was a far broader and more historically significant phenomenon which didn’t merely describe acts of mass murder, but made sense of them. Unfortunately for Lemkin’s future career, once the logic of genocide is grasped it will reveal truths that are unpalatable and unacceptable. In the 1950s Lemkin devoted much of his attention to the genocides of indigenous people in the Americas, particularly North America. Lemkin established a clear intrinsic link between settler-colonialism and genocide and had he lived longer he would inevitably had to have recognised that the link between genocide and all forms of imperialism was nearly as inescapable.

Genocide is not, and never has been, something that you switch on and off. It is not a discrete act. It is not distinct from war and militarism, nor authoritarianism and political oppression. The institutions of genocide that a state creates will not end until they are eradicated. The German genocide in East Africa at the beginning of the 20th century created institutions which would later be instruments of genocide, but were also tools of repression used on political dissidents. Likewise, the institutions of genocide that are deployed in the Middle East and Africa are continuations of genocidal practices from Asia and Latin America, and are already imprinted in the nature of policing in the USA and in the authoritarian rhetoric and policies of David Cameron and the Conservative government in the UK.

Many contemporary thinkers from Sheldon Wolin and Giorgio Agamben to Jeff Halper and Chris Hedges are trying to grapple with the increasingly arbitrary nature of the state, its increasing hostility to humanity, and the increasing precarity of the people. (When I refer to the state here, I am referring to the nexus of governmental and “private” power which exercises effective sovereignty, not to the narrow concept of a governmental state power with formally recognised sovereignty). If we are to understand this situation in a way that will help to end its deadly progress, the greatest single step that we could take at this time is to reacquire the term “genocide”. Lemkin used it to describe the phenomenon that was the driving force behind German occupation policies in Europe. This inevitably also applied to Germany itself, though that was not Lemkin’s focus. For Lemkin the concentration camp was the defining institution of genocide. But Lemkin meant the term broadly. He considered Indian Reservations to be a form of concentration camp and would have most likely conceded that its is the power structure created by the barbed wire enclosures that is more important than the wire itself. For Giorgio Agamben the prevailing logic of the concentration camp is that of the “inclusive exclusion” and he has contended that that is the “biopolitical” paradigm of our age. The term “biopolitical” in its broader sense, refers to the way in which power exerts control over bodies, and I will argue that on a large scale the “biopolitical” becomes the “demostrategic”. At the large-scale demostrategic level, this paradigm of power may express itself in the very phenomenon of genocide that Lemkin first described.

In this series of articles I am going to draw threads together that show the need make appropriate usage of the term genocide as a way of revealing a pattern of destruction and mass violence that is interconnected. It is the millions of deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; it is the permanent dysfunction and instability of Somalia and Libya; it is Plan Colombia; it is Iraq and Afghanistan; it is mass surveillance and it is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement; it is Haiti and its is the political and drug related violence in Mexico; it is the “huge concentration camp” of Gaza and it is al-Sisi’s Egypt. This is the nature of US Rule on the Occupied Earth. It is all of a piece. It is all shaped by genocide. It is all becoming more genocidal.

Sadly, even the best intellectuals seem only to vaguely grasp that the term “genocide” has actual an definitional meaning. In contrast those who are more inclined to be opinionated or generally less inclined to to use cogent thinking are only too happy to forcefully tell people that their usage is not only wrong but offensive and dangerous. It is like the poem by Yeats, which, as it happens, foreshadowed the rise of Nazism,

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

Israel Shamir, for example, has let his anger at the misuse of the term genocide obliterate his mental faculties. He recently wrote that Lemkin coined the word genocide “in order to stress the difference between murdering Jews and killing lesser breeds. The word is quite meaningless otherwise.” He must know at some level that this is untrue, but he writes with thoughtless rage. The effect is to tell his readers not to even think about genocide – “It would be good to ban this word altogether.” That is not going to prevent the misuse of the word. In fact it plays into the hands of those who misuse the term in order the perpetrate aggression and genocide. The way to end the misuse is to treat the word genocide the way you would treat any other. When genocide is asserted we should expect that the usage is justified based on definitional criteria. As it is, telling a readership that already opposes imperialism and Zionism that the word “genocide” has no meaning only makes it easier to exploit the term for propaganda purposes.

“Genocide” is a word that itself exists in a state of exception. People will scream at you for suggesting that it can be weighed or compared in any way with anything else. Even some genocide scholars call it a “sui generis” phenomenon, meaning that they want to say that it cannot be defined, but they reserve the right to label some things as being genocide on the basis that they themselves know what it is when they see it. Moreover, there is a broad intellectual trend to treat genocide as a sacred word which only special experts may employ, because any improper usage would be hyperbole and damaging to one’s credibility.

Sadly this was the case on the radio programme Against the Grain, which is from broadcast Berkeley by KPFA (a storied non-profit radio station which also broadcasts the superb programme Flashpoints).

Against the Grain is aptly named. In a world of growing anti-intellectualism, interviewers and producers C. S. Soong and Sasha Lilley do their work with a depth that is hard to find elsewhere in political analysis. They interview intellectuals with the sole aim of facilitating the transmission of ideas and information. No words are wasted on flattery or extraneous personal detail. Above all, when Soong or Lilley conduct an interview they are very conversant with the material they are discussing. Most impressive to me, though, is that they never assume that the interviewee can’t explain something to the audience. They don’t try to avoid things on the grounds that they might bore or confuse us mere plebs, instead they chop them up with timely interjections so that they are digestible and so that the flow is maintained. In other words, they make it as easy for the audience as possible, but they don’t pander in any way.

Pandering is, of course, the one of the great intellectual plagues of our age. Ideas that came from the realms of marketing and mass entertainment have spread to infect all corners of society. The ideology of using a restricted vocabulary of words and ideas in order to never tax people’s brains by asking them to learn something new is an obvious recipe for disaster. You cannot learn if you are never presented with anything you do not already know. Pandering makes people stupider on the whole, but it also makes substantive change impossible. Pandering is not just about avoiding inflicting the pain of thought on people, it is also about not disturbing ideology. In political activism pandering is rife, and it is always represented as being “tactical” and “realistic”. That is why I appreciate a programme, like Against the Grain, that pulls no punches and tells it like it is.

However, if there is one thing on which people are guaranteed to pander in both intellectual and ideological terms it is the topic of genocide. People mystify it and misuse it. They sneer at the people who dare to suggest that the US or Israel or the UK is committing genocide, because they “know” that anyone making such an accusation is just engaging in political sloganeering. This is supposedly “debasing the coinage” in the words of the late Michael Mandel, showing that even the most admirable people can be very stupid when it comes to this topic.

Equally admirable people show that there is another face to this debased coin, using the term “genocide” to try to raise the alarm on the world’s horrors. A recent example of this was an interview with Professor David Isaacs on the plight of asylum seekers held on Nauru. What he reveals is an alarming and inhumanly cruel situation. It is a situation that cries out for action. But then he says that he is told “don’t use the g-word, the genocide word, … or people will think you are too extreme”. He is thinking exactly the same way that Mandel thinks, but from the other direction. In their construction “genocide” is a type of currency that is to expended when our subjective sense of alarm tells us that something is really really really bad.

For this reason, I was disappointed but not exactly surprised when the subject of the “g-word” was broached on Against the Grain and then treated as some special mystical term whose applicability could only be determined by the most authoritative authorities. This was towards the end of an otherwise excellent interview about the plight of Sri Lanka’s Tamils now, 6 years after the end of the 26 year-long civil war.

What was described by interviewee Anuradha Mittal is a textbook example of genocide. In genocide the killing of the victim population as such is not the end it is the means. When he first coined the term “genocide” Raphaël Lemkin wrote the following:

“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.”

In other words, the Sinhalisation of both the Tamil peoples and the land to which they belong is a defining genocidal characteristic. The direct violence of genocide arises because resistance is inevitable. The deprivation of social, cultural, religious, economic, and linguistic capital is itself a form of violence which victims cannot help but resist.

Mittal’s interview reveals that it was persecution and communal violence that initially drove some Tamils into an armed separatist movement. Now in the aftermath of the long bloody civil war she gives details of conditions based on a recently released report that she authored. Once you understand the concept of genocide, what she is describing in every aspect is symptomatic of genocide. Everything she talks about is characteristically genocidal, from the way the hegemonic victor tries to enforce a certain historical narrative through memorials, to the way the land is imprinted with a state, military, religious or linguistic character to alienate it from Tamils. In fact, the most salient and striking genocidal features are not the mass violence, but the unusual things such as having military run tourist resorts in occupied territory. That sort of behaviour only makes sense in the context of genocide.

At one point Mittal quotes Dr Rajani Thiranagama: “Objectivity, the pursuit of truth and critical, honest positions, is crucial for the community, but is a view that could cost many of us our lives. It is undertaken to revitalize a community sinking into a state of oblivion.” In that spirit, it is absolutely essential that genocide be understood for what it is. Without full and frank comprehension it will never end, even if the intensity of direct violence waxes and wanes.

Consider the persecution of Jews under the Reconquista, when Spain and Portugal were conquered by Christians 500 years ago. The persecution arose from a confluence of interests of state-building political elites, religious authorities seeking to increase power, and individuals looking to acquire land and other property sowed seeds of violence that would continue through the ages. The state sought to integrate Jews as “Conversos”, but the state also sought to repudiate that conversion in order to enforce uniformity, exercise religious authority and sieze property. In other words, the Converso’s became the “included exclusion” – the very circumstance to which concentration camp inmates are subjected. From that came the concept of “Crypto-Jews”, leading to the ideological linking of Judaism with occult conspiracy. Additionally the concept of ineradicable and heritable “blood guilt” was used. This not only fuelled future pogroms, but arguably formed a key ideological foundation of all modern racism. In the same manner, until the genocide of the Sri Lankan state is comprehended, exposed and repudiated by consensus, the ideological tools for future genocidal violence will remain intact. Tamil resistance, whether violent or not, will be delegitimised as “terrorism” and this will in turn be used to legitimate violent and deadly repression.

That is why my heart sank so low when the conversation on Against the Grain turned to genocide. There was a general tone shared by Soong and Mittal that was suggestive of the “ultimate crime” which the exchange portrayed as being beyond mere “war crimes”. Then Mittal said that the question of whether genocide had occurred should not be prejudged but should be decided by the “international community”. This makes me want to ask, what does that mean? Is it somehow above your pay grade to weigh the evidence? Is genocide something so controversial that only the high and mighty can pontificate on it? This is anti-intellectualism. Mittal is tacitly stating that we should not think about such things and that the thinking should be left to authorities. And what authorities are these? The term “international community” effectively means the US State Dept. or what Noam Chomsky has labelled as “IntCom”. This is true regardless of the intent of the speaker because if you promote the “international community” then those who control the usage of that term in political discourse get to decide what it entails and your original intent is meaningless.

Things took a turn for the worse when Mittal brought the ICC into the conversation. I don’t know what mania is gripping people at the moment, but every advocate for victims of persecution seems to think that the solution will be found by putting people in the dock at the Hague. I think that this is some sort of woefully misplaced yearning for a corrective patriarchal authority figure, and it poisons our discourse on genocide and on war crimes. People think that wrongs must be righted by the exercise of power in order to grant some psychologically satisfying sense of balance. This is quite divorced from practical realities including that of actually ending today’s atrocities, rather than fixating on a tiny percentage of those that occurred a generation ago. Does anyone actually look at the record of the ICC? There are some informed apologists for the ICC out there, but even they don’t defend it actions thus far as much as they claim that it will do better things in the future. Critics like David Hoile cannot be countered except with speculation about how wonderful the ICC will be at some future point. Hoile is an old Tory who may or may not be in the pay of Sudanese war criminals, but when he (a right-wing white man who was once photographed with a “Hang Nelson Mandela” sticker on his tie) debated the ICC in the pages of New Internationalist, he was far more convincing in suggesting that the ICC was institutionally racist than Angela Mudukuti, who argued that “attempting to undermine its legitimacy with allegations of racism will take the global international criminal justice project no further.” It is well worth looking up that debate for the sheer surrealism of the fact that the young bleeding-heart African woman effectively tells the old hairy white male Tory that he needs to be more trusting of the authorities or he will harm their efforts to run the world in an orderly manner. Whatever one thinks of Hoile, though, he has published a 600 page volume on the ICC which is full of substantive criticisms that stand regardless of his history or motives.

The fact is that if you don’t accept in advance that the ICC is both benevolent and a repository of expertise and authority, it is pretty difficult to see anything good in its patchy record of expensive and unacceptably lengthy proceedings all of which are against Africans. As an instrument of justice it is inefficient, dysfunctional and pathetic beyond belief; as an instrument of neocolonial domination it is very expensive, but probably considered worth the price by the European powers which bankroll its activities; as a propaganda instrument capable of making slaves scream out for more chains and whips, it is clearly priceless beyond measure.

The fact is that many national courts and international bodies can chose to exercise so-called “universal jurisdiction” over cases of genocide anywhere in the world. The ICC is a very silly place into which to channel one’s energies, but are prosecutions in general any better? There are two problems here. … Labelling genocide as a crime has become a very harmful distraction. It is this, more than anything, that has turned the term into one that is so misused for political ends. Genocide is represented as “an act” and the “crime of crimes” that exists in the world of black-and-white morality where its ultimate evil justifies acts of great violence, and makes people feel the glow of self-righteous anger.

People like to call for prosecutions because it is an instant source of gratification. The judicial system becomes a proxy instrument of violence either as combat or retribution. This is appealing to those who are in one way or another impotent. Prosecutors are symbolically taking the role of their antecedents, champions of weak who fought in trials by combat. Sometimes the most fervent advocates of this form of state violence are “pacifists”. The problem seems particularly acute in the US where the punitive impulse runs very deeply. It seems that US citizens are induced to feel acutely threatened and constrained by the domestic or foreign Other and are thus prone to support police, judicial or military state violence.

You might think that it is good that state violence be used against those found guilty of genocide and, to the extent necessary, those merely accused of the crime. That is fine if you call it what it is – retribution. If you consider that to be justice, then your concept of justice is retributive. I know that some would also argue that victims gain a sense satisfaction and closure, but since the vast majority of the victims of mass violence will never have access to this “satisfaction” it is a rather hollow and bitter virtue.

People talk about prosecutions as if they will have practical beneficial ramifications in ending violence. This flies in the face of the historical record. No one is ever prosecuted before they are in one manner or other defeated. In some cases they might be the sacrificial offering by a criminal grouping that consolidates itself by allowing one member to be culled, but more often it is simply a matter of victor’s justice. The accused is defeated by hard power means before they are ever detained. They might be very guilty of heinous crimes, but guilt is in fact incidental to a thoroughly political process.

Meanwhile, the ICC enthusiasts claim to be all about ending impunity. If you actually just step back for a second you will see that the application of international criminal justice in the ICC, ICTY, ICTR and in national courts does absolutely nothing to end impunity. Instead of viewing Charles Taylor and Slobadan Milosevic as villains who deserved punishment, imagine what message their prosecutions sent to the world. It is the same message sent by the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Muammer Ghaddafi, and that message is that the only hope for someone who is targeted by the US is to fight to the death. Making peace and going into exile is not an option. International criminal justice is only victor’s justice against the vanquished and a neocolonial weapon in fighting Third World nationalists.

The only other way that someone responsible for mass violence might be prosecuted is when the real war is won on their home turf. That real war is the intellectual and moral struggle – the fight to expose the means and ends of those who commit mass atrocities and, above all, the fight to vanquish apologetics. Jay Janson, who writes in Dissident Voice and Counter Currents, castigates people like me for not constantly calling for prosecutions of US officials and for not condemning every single citizen of each and every Western state to be a war criminal. He is right though, to point out that we must never stop referring to the crimes of the US “hyper-empire” as crimes. But history shows that the crimes do not end until the regime itself is recognised as criminal. It is not enough to recognise individual acts as crimes or actors as criminals. A majority of US citizens once recognised US interventions in Indochina as war crimes, but it changed nothing because it was constructed as a failing and a failure, not as a success.

Fatuous pundits and lying politicians like to claim that the US relies on “international legitimacy” and that this makes military interventions failures, but if you examine the history of US war crimes and crimes against humanity you can see that they follow the Maoist principle that all power comes from the barrel of a gun. They coerce other countries, including close allies, into treating them as legitimate. The real problems for the US regime that arose from the aggressions against Indochina were a dispersed and pluralistic domestic insurrection, that might have consolidated into a revolution, and a mutinous military. Once they had those problems solved they went back to serial aggression and serial genocide and many millions have died as a result. Therefore, it is necessary to create a consensus that the political establishment is criminal as a whole. Once that fight is won you can choose to try and move forward with prosecutions, as in Argentina, or with a truth and reconciliation process, as in South Africa.

Prosecutions are not a road to change. You can’t expect the corrupt institutions of a corrupt society to take any action that does not make the problem worse. The best that a campaign calling for prosecutions can be is an awareness raising campaign. If you really think that if you mobilise people and push hard enough some top-down bureaucratic judicial body will make a positive difference, then you need to find out what time it really is. We don’t need to lock Bush and Blair in prison, we need to de-legitimise them, disempower them, disempower those who support them, and end the criminal regimes of which they are merely transient components. It is true that if George W. Bush were in prison he wouldn’t be able to charge $100,000 to give a speech for a charity raising money for amputee veterans. But as grotesque and freakish as that is, the Bushes, the Clintons and Tony Blair only get so much money because a whole stratum of society worships power. In a situation that is equally reminiscent of pre-revolutionary France and Nazi Germany, our elites simply do not have any functioning morals. Without coercion they will never even acknowledge a moral component to the exercise of power, but will fawn all the more over those that commit war crimes because that is an exercise of great power.

Continued in Part 2: “Days of Revolt”.

The Obscenities of the Great War




The killing, mutilation and gas poisoning of millions of soldiers on both sides had broken taboos and decisively blunted moral sensitivities. Auschwitz cannot be explained without reference to World War I.” – Yehuda Baueri

World War I brought about great political and strategic changes. We acknowledge the political and strategic links joining World Wars I and II, but we seldom acknowledge the link of trauma that ties the brutalities visited on the combatants of the first war to the systematic mass killings of civilians in the second. The impact of the Great War echoes strongly through the generations, but to understand its impact we need to remind ourselves of the conditions endured by combatants. This was like a holocaust of young men, a multinational holocaust which even enemy states shared in common. It was one of histories great obscenities akin to a genocide or the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade, and it sowed the seeds of even greater future suffering.

The factors acting to derange the senses of the front line troops began even before enlistment with unrealistic, romantic and chauvinistic expectations of violence, combat and war;ii masculinity;iii and the martial prowess of their nation.iv As to the Great War itself, they genuinely expected it to be “over by Christmas”.v They, and those who were to remain home, felt that war would cleansevi and unite societyvii – renewing lost values and providing an “escape from modernity”.viii

In training troops were intentionally degraded, brutalised and stripped of individuality.ix Perhaps more importantly their training did next to nothing to prepare them for the realities of the front line, and very little to help them fight or survive.x

On arrival at the front they were confronted with overwhelming noisexi and disorientation in time and space,xii producing an immediate and lasting sense of befuddlement.xiii They had to contend with stench, filth, mud, vermin and, above all, cold.xiv They were constantly fatigued from hard labour at or behind the front line,xv they suffered chronic sleep deprivation exacerbated by the reversal of day/night patterns of activity in the front trenches.xvi They were malnourished in the field, and many had been malnourished in earlier life.xvii They were extremely prone to physical disease and were often treated punitively, cruelly or callously on falling ill.xviii They were starved of any, even basic, strategic informationxix and deprived, by physical realities, of a visual or tactical understanding of their situation – living in what Leed refers to as the “labyrinth”.xx Winter suggests that these factors caused “mental depression and physical sluggishness… from… lack of sleep combined with a total lack of information, which added to the lack of a sense of purpose.”xxi Their lives were expended with what can only be described as great profligacy. In these circumstances the front line soldier inevitably came to see some actions of military superiors and politicians (and by association the “home”) as either gratuitously idiotic or insane,xxii or as intentionally murderous.xxiii

The three greatest factors impacting the combatants’ psyches were the prevalences of fear, immobility and death. Leed emphasises the impact of immobility, contending that it destroyed any sense of identity as an “offensive” soldier.xxiv Psychiatric casualty rates certainly reflect the impact of static warfare.xxv This is most clearly illustrated by the fact that rates were lower during mobile war phases despite higher death and injury rates.xxvi On a more basic level than that of identity, however, soldiers were exposed to danger, provoking fear and adrenal response, and prevented from the active defence that both self-preservative cognition and biochemistry demanded. It is only too reasonable to expect that in these circumstances they would become neurasthenic and, as Aldington hinted, begin to morbidly fear fear itself.xxvii They were also constantly confronted with manifest death, the importance of which is shown by the centrality of encounters with corpses in both memoryxxviii and in the way combatants framed and interpreted the meaning of the war.xxix Killing could prompt guilt (although it should be remembered that only a small minority of infantry soldiers would have killed anyone). The loss of comrades could be a source of grief which, because of the necessarily close bonding of military units, caused “a large vertiginous emotional drain, and… a seemingly endless process of mourning.”xxx Combatants were radically desensitised, losing their normal reactions to both death and decay.xxxi Leed describes an instance where a soldier is blown by a shell onto the rotten stomach of an enemy, causing the excreta and rotten entrails of the corpse to enter his mouth – a single incident that illustrates the violation of profound values which confronted soldiers.xxxii The most damaging aspect of the confrontation with death was the reminder of one’s own mortality. In a war where front line soldiers were only too aware that they had little or no agency in their own self-preservation, each corpse represented the viewer’s own death save for a small sliver of fate or fortune. All agency and the disbursement of death was relegated to technology, the war-machine,xxxiii the soldiers were “unprotected by anything but cloth”.xxxiv They could not physically defend themselves and took refuge in superstitions talismans ritual and spells,xxxv largely abandoning established religion which offered only post-mortem salvation.xxxvi

The above is but a short list of some of the more prominent aspects of the front line that served to alienate and to enact profound psychic changes. These are two faces of the same coin – the war altered combatants but it was a “silent teacher” imparting a “secret which can never be communicated”.xxxvii Walter Benjamin noted that returning soldiers had “grown silent – not richer but poorer in communicable experience.”xxxviii The incommunicability of experience could make home leave unbearable because by itself it could be so intensely alienating.xxxix

The “silence” of the front line soldier was exacerbated by their lack of a military “offensive” identity.xl Soldiers are meant to be killers, shooters, attackers – they are trained as such and people, even today, believe it is their role. This derangement is not merely one affecting the popular imagination and popular culture, but is entrenched even in the scholarship of the subject. Joanna Bourke opens An Intimate History of Killing with the sentence, “The characteristic act of men at war is not dying, it is killing.” However, although she seeks to include the imaginary in constructing the meaning of war to participants, the point is not sustained even by her own selected evidence and although she deals with the fear of death she does not draw a link between it and the interpretation of the act of killing.xli Denis Winter makes the point that “danger was the most crucial trigger of aggression and sustainer of it….” Thus death precedes and shapes the act of killing.xlii Also in his reconstruction of the experience of battle it is fear of death that preconditions the soldier so intensely that its release leads to an immediate sense of euphoria, but also of detachment and unreality, which could change into positive enjoyment.xliii As discussed below this can have seldom been linked to killing in reality, and the sequence would suggest that the killing imaginary, and the narrative conventions of killing, are the product of the fear of death and a way of reclaiming agency after profound feelings of helplessness. Bourke herself cites an example of euphoric sensations and coital associations, identical to those that she suggests are associated with killing, deriving from a situation of danger where there was no remote possibility of the subject killing anyone, nor did he envisage or imagine doing so.xliv Similarly David Grossman is utterly insistent on seeing an erotic aspect to the act of killing when, if the only evidence by which to judge this is that offered by Grossman, there is more to be gleaned about the predispositions of Grossman and Bourke than any true erotic element to killing.xlv

Whether eroticised or not, the fascination with the ground soldier’s lethal agency, their acts of killing, seriously interfere with our ability to understand the soldier’s situation and the long-term effects of immersion in this situation. In fiction it is hard to find an infantry protagonist who does not kill an enemy soldier at some stage. However in reality, most front line soldiers were not killed, and 58 per cent of deaths that did occur were caused by shellfire.xlvi Of the remainder snipers, machine-guns, accident, disease, gas, aircraft and other causes would have accounted for so many that, given the relatively even matching of forces, only a tiny percentage of infantry could have actually killed someone with rifle, bayonet or grenade. The role of the infantry was not to kill but to occupy space. This is a source of cognitive dissonance to the soldier who has been instilled with an “offensive” identity, but also a source of cognitive estrangement from civilians and the values of a “society at war”.xlvii

The front and the home were also polarised in their attitudes towards the enemy. Civilian hatred towards the enemy was frequently a source of bitter anger for those serving at the front.xlviii The front line soldiers tended to lack hatred towards the enemy and often felt identification or even empathy.xlix To Stevenson this arose from the fact that they were all “trapped in a killing machine by pressure from above”.l The hatred of the enemy, and the pro-war patriotism of the home front was a source of bitter alienation in itself,li greatly aggravated by a blithe ignorance of the horrors facing combatants and a frequent expectation that the soldier should conform to preconceptions and be actively desirous of combat.lii The home front’s enthusiasm for slaughter was not simply a matter of estrangement of perceptions and beliefs, it made them part of the “killing machine”, as much a part of the apparatus as the staff officers in the rear lines. Some soldiers felt that civilians were responsible for maliciously and knowingly sending young men to die for their own profit or enjoyment, deceiving them as to the nature of military life and the reality of war.liii To Sassoon war was a “dirty trick” on his generationliv perpetuated by the “callous complacence” of There was not only bitterness but immense disdain directed at the older generation.lvi Remarque writes of their “moral bankruptcy”, his protagonist is “forced to conclude that our generation is more honourable than theirs.”lvii It was strongly felt that those staying behind were profiting from suffering and death of the front line troops, be they “profiteers” or armaments workers.lviii

Even more acute than the anger felt towards elders was that felt towards women.lix Some held that they derived positive enjoyment from young men’s sufferings. Aldington went so far as to write that the news of a son’s death was “almost wholly erotic” to a mother and that “all the dying and wounds… [from] a safe distance… gave [women] a great kick….lx More commonly women were blamed as active recruiters, although not entirely without reason.lxi

Psychologically the world was primed for an unprecedented turn towards genocide. We cannot forget that the experiences of Great War combatants were diverse, but at the same time we would be extremely foolish not to acknowledge the singular historical significance of the unprecedented sharing of such extreme conditions among tens of millions of young men. Never before have so many from so many nations shared so much with each other that they did not share with the rest of humanity. The reactions were also diverse among returned servicemen. An societal embrace of pacifism was a natural reaction, often shared by veterans, but other brutalised men were all too ready to don the uniforms of paramilitary police or fascist militias. The resentment of civilian impunity worked its way into military doctrine. Three early advocates of mass aerial bombardment were Giulio Douhet (Italy), Hugh Trenchard (Britain), and Billy Mitchell (US). Douhet and Trenchard argued against the distinction between civilian and combatant, Mitchell was an advocate of incendiary bombing, and all three argued that mass bombing of urban areas would shorten wars, preventing the horrors of drawn out trench warfare.lxii Thus, even without recourse to Nazi racial theories, it became quite normal in some circles to think that the mass-murder of civilians was a normal and desirable part of warfare. The callousness with which war leaders had used young men in the Great War sowed the seeds of genocidal brutality for the next generation of war leaders. These leaders would lay waste to entire countries and collectively slaughter tens of millions of civilians.

iYehuda Bauer, A History of the Holocaust. New York: Franklin Watts, 1982, pp 58-9, quoted in Eric Markusen and David Kopf, The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing: Genocide and Total War in the Twentieth Century. Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: 1995, p 30.

iiMichael C.C. Adams, The Great Adventure: Male Desire and the Coming of World War I, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990, pp 71-2.

iiiIbid p 30.

ivEric J. Leed, No Man’s Land: Combat and Identity in World War I, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979, p 40; J.G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies 1914-1918, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, p 37.

vDenis Winter, Death’s Men: Soldiers of the Great War, London: Penguin, 1979, p 32.

viMichael C.C. Adams, The Great Adventure: Male Desire and the Coming of World War I, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1990, p 61.

viiLeed, No Man’s Land, pp 44-5.

viiiIbid pp 58-72.

ixWinter, Death’s Men, pp 41-3. The destruction of individuality was also ipso facto the destruction of identity, or more specifically civilian identity, which was, in theory replaced with a less individual identity as a soldier. The problem, as we shall see, is that a soldier identity, as everyone understood it and as the military attempted to instil it, was totally untenable in the conditions of trench warfare (see below).

xIbid pp 36, 39-40.

xiLeed, No Man’s Land, pp 126, 131.

xiiIbid pp 124-5; Winter, Death’s Men, p 101.

xiiiWinter, Death’s Men:, pp 82, 226; Leed, No Man’s Land, p 21.

xivWinter, Death’s Men, pp 95-8.

xvIbid p 86, David Stevenson, 1914-1918:The History of the First World War, London: Penguin 2004, p 185; Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture, pp 76-8.

xviDenis Winter, Death’s Men: Soldiers of the Great War, London: Penguin, 1979, p 100.

xviiIbid pp 30, 102; Jock Phillips, Nicholas Boyack, and E.P. Malone (eds), The Great Adventure: New Zealand Soldiers Describe the First World War, Wellington: Allen and Unwin, 1988, p 9; Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture…, p 60.

xviiiWinter, Death’s Men, pp 99, 201-2.

xixFuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture…, pp 62-4.

xxLeed, No Man’s Land , pp 77-80.

xxiWinter, Death’s Men, p 100.

xxiiIbid, pp 213; Leed, No Man’s Land, p 99.

xxiiiLeed, No Man’s Land, pp 106-7.

xxivIbid 180-6.

xxvJoanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare, London: Granta, 1999, p 249. See also note 8 above.

xxviStevenson, 1914-1918, p 215.

xxviiWinter, Death’s Men, p 133. Winter paraphrases Aldington as suggesting that men were ‘horribly afraid of seeming afraid’, however it is a reasonable inference to suggest that, given the risk of death or insanity that uncontrolled fear brought, they truly did fear fear. Such safety as there was against shelling required immobility, which required the control of fear. Again there are resonances with Catch-22.

xxviiiIbid p 181.

xxixIbid p 206-8. There is also the strong, if not cliché, narrative convention of the encounter with an enemy corpse prompting a realisation of the humanity of the enemy. For example, Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, London: Vintage, 2005, pp 153-9, wherein the protagonist is also confronted by a protracted death at his own hands.

xxxLeed, No Man’s Land, p 210.

xxxiJoanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, p 77.

xxxiiLeed, No Man’s Land, p 19.

xxxiiiIbid pp 29-33.

xxxivJohn Keegan, The First World War, New York: Vintage, 2000, p 273.

xxxvLeed, No Man’s Land, pp 127-8; Winter, Death’s Men, p 118.

xxxviStevenson, 1914-1918, p 215.

xxxviiCharles Carrington quoted in Leed, No Man’s Land, p 12.

xxxviiiIbid p 209.

xxxixStevenson, 1914-1918, p 212.

xlLeed, No Man’s Land, p 113.

xliBourke, An Intimate History of Killing, pp 1-3.

xliiWinter, Death’s Men, p 216.

xliiiIbid, pp 179-81.

xlivBourke, An Intimate History of Killing, pp 150-1.

xlvDavid Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, New York: Back Bay Books / Little, Brown and Company, 1995.

xlviStevenson, 1914-1918, p 184.

xlviiLeed, No Man’s Land, p 110.

xlviiiIbid 106

xlixIbid p 107; in contrast Winter perceives more hatred, or rather ‘dislike’, but suggests that it seems to have been linked to the degree of danger and to have rapidly disappeared in time of truce, (Death’s Men, pp 209-13).

lStevenson, 1914-1918, p 92.

liWinter, Death’s Men, p 167.

liiFuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture…, p 17.

liiiAdams, The Great Adventure, pp 125-133; Leed, No Man’s Land, pp 206-7

livAdams, The Great Adventure, p 133.

lvLeed, No Man’s Land, p 207.

lviIbid p 74.

lviiRemarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, p 9.

lviiiLeed, No Man’s Land, p 206; Adams, The Great Adventure, p 116; Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture…, p 60; Winter, Death’s Men, pp 167-8.

lixAdams, The Great Adventure, p 108.

lxIbid p 128. Women were psychologically mobilised for the war effort and part of this was an effort to consciously indoctrinate them into viewing the death of their loved one’s as a positive sacrifice and a source of satisfaction. It seems unlikely that women were quite so thrilled at losing their sons as Aldington suggests, but the very existence of widespread propaganda to that effect makes Aldington’s viewpoint seem less extreme. See Nicoletta F. Gullace, The Blood of our Sons: Men Women and the Renegotiation of British Citizenship During the Great War, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002, p 63.

lxiDavid Stevenson, 1914-1918:The History of the First World War, London: Penguin 2004, p 292; Nicoletta F. Gullace, The Blood of our Sons: Men Women and the Renegotiation of British Citizenship During the Great War, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002, pp 3-4, 53-60, 81-3.

lxiiEric Markusen and David Kopf, TheHolocaustandStrategicBombing:GenocideandTotalWarintheTwentiethCentury, Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press, 1995, pp 201-2