Africa

I Don't See Dead People

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Occasional Reasonoid Brendan O'Neill harrumphs at the "pimping" of the term "genocide" to describe (and drum up pity for) every third world conflict.

Consider how easily the genocide tag is attached to conflicts in Africa. Virtually every recent major African war has been labelled a genocide by outside observers. The Rwandan war of 1994 is now widely recognised as a genocide; many refer to the ongoing violence in Uganda as a genocide. In 2004 then US secretary of state Colin Powell declared, on the basis of a report by an American/British fact-finding expedition to Darfur: 'We conclude that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility.' (4) (The UN, however, has not described Darfur as genocide.) Even smaller-scale African wars are discussed as potential genocides. So the spread of instability from Darfur into eastern Chad has led to UN handwringing about 'genocide in Chad'. During the conflict in Liberia in 2003, commentators warned that 'Liberia could be plunged into a Rwanda-style genocide' (5).

The discussion of every war in Africa as a genocide or potential genocide shows that today's genocide-mongering bears little relation to what is happening in conflict zones on the ground. There are great differences, not least in scale, between the wars in Rwanda, Darfur and Liberia; each of these conflicts has been driven by complex local grievances, very often exacerbated by Western intervention. That Western declarations of 'genocide!' are most often made in relation to Africa suggests that behind today's genocide-mongering there lurks some nasty chauvinistic sentiments. At a time when it is unfashionable to talk about 'the dark continent' or 'savage Africans', the more acceptable 'genocide' tag gives the impression that Africa is peculiarly and sickly violent, and that it needs to be saved from itself by more enlightened forces from elsewhere. Importantly, if the UN judges that a genocide is occurring, then that can be used to justify military intervention into said genocide zone.

I think it's interesting to observe precisely who worries about which "genocide." White liberals tremble over the bloodletting in Africa, and not in Iraq; neoconservatives warn of the killings to come in Iraq if the U.S. leaves "before the job is done" (i.e., before your kids are drawing Social Security).

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  1. Most African wars use genocide as their primary strategy. It’s the ultimate in ruthlessly effective tactics. If you kill the women and children, you undercut the enemy not just now but in the future. Your tribe win on demographics. It’s ruthless and effective.

    So it’s not genocide mongering to point out that warfare in Africa is, in fact, usually all about genocide.

  2. Please ignore the second use of ruthless and effective.

  3. Per the genocide convention:

    Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    (a) Killing members of the group;
    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    Groups avoid calling things genocide not just because it isn’t genocide but because the term demands some action. Further, while the US is a party to the genocide convention, it has a reservation attached to the treaty that says that it doesn’t have to actually do anything to stop a genocide, though it may. Other countries do not have such a reservation, and as such, if something is declared a genocide, those countries would be violating international law if they didn’t take action to stop it.

  4. surprise and fear. fear and surprise.
    and ruthless efficiency.

    fear. surprise. ruthless efficiency.

  5. toxic,

    No worries. I once used the phrase “an existential threat to our very existence.”

  6. American Dodgeball Association of America?

  7. “White liberals tremble over the bloodletting in Africa, and not in Iraq”

    I keep waiting for white liberals to wake up and notice what’s going on in Iraq!

    While this may be the exception that proves Weigel’s rule, Sam Brownback in one of a small but growing number of Christian conservatives that also “trembles” at the bloodletting in Africa.

  8. Honestly, I get really irritated that there is a distinction made between mass murders targetting some ethnic group and ones that don’t.

    If I kill millions of people, is it somehow worse if I target everyone of Irish descent rather than targeting a wider range of ethnicities?

    I think it diverts attention from the actual crimes: the murders, the thefts, the rapes etc.

    Mass murder is mass murder. The distribution of ethnicities within the pool of victims in now way diminishes or enhances the enormity of the crime.

    Incidentally, this is not some meaningless splitting of hairs – Stalin’s body count was higher than Hitler’s. Mao’s was even higher. Yet, a person walking around wearing a Maoist hat will not be met with anywhere near the vituperation directed at someone wearing a Nazi symbol.

  9. Abdul,

    For Darfur, yes; for Uganda / Rwanda not so much. They don’t have a dog in that fight.

  10. Tarran, yes that’s true, but there is also the PR element. Stalin and Mao didn’t have their crimes exposed right after they committed them. Pol Pot, for example, comes out on the Hitler side of this. Stalin is still popular in Russia for the one good thing the Soviet Union did, winning WWII, and China’s still got the same government.

  11. okay.

    new addition to the drinking game:

    if anyone points out that either stalin or mao killed more folks than hitler: DRINK!

    seriously. while true, that shit is so tired.

  12. intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    (a) Killing members of the group;
    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    And at the risk of being labeled heartless and uncaring, this is why I think the convention is too broad. The above just described what we broadly refer to as “conflict”.

    For example, the U.S. declaration of war, and subsequent actions against WWII Nazi Germany fit this definition.

    It was our intent to destroy, in part, the national group known as “Germans”. Strategic bombing, for instance, while targeting logistical and supply portions of the german war machine, it’s effect was consistent with the following:

    a; b; c

    None of this is to say that many conflicts in Africa aren’t ‘genocide’, even if on a relatively small scale– tribal etc. I do agree, however, that the term is overused.

  13. Intent to destroy a group means intent to destroy the group, not destroying members of a group incidental to some other intent. In any event, this definition is the law.

  14. Intent to destroy a group means intent to destroy the group, not destroying members of a group incidental to some other intent. In any event, this definition is the law.

    I understand it’s the law. And the law seems quite clear to me, less my personal complaint that it’s overly broad.

    It does not say intent to destroy a group, it says intent to destroy a group in whole or part. It was our intent to destroy the national group known as “Germans”. Yes, you could argue that our intent was to end the conflict with the group of Germans surrendering. But let’s sidestep that and take Japan, an even better example. If there was a war that was “to the death”, the Japanese theater is the finest definition. When it became painfully clear that it was not in the Japanese culture to surrender, our defacto intent was to destroy the group known as Japanese, in whole or part, by whatever means necessary.

    If the framers of Article II didn’t mean conflicts like World War II, then their language was too broad and thus needs refining. You and I may wink at eachother and agree to know what the Article really really means, pinkie promise. But there’s hardly a conflict in the world I can think of that in some way, doesn’t neatly fit into some or all of the A-E criteria.

  15. At a time when it is unfashionable to talk about ‘the dark continent’ or ‘savage Africans’, the more acceptable ‘genocide’ tag gives the impression that Africa is peculiarly and sickly violent,

    Yea, us damn racist westerners need to stop pointing out Africans killing each other.

    Surly the impressions that Africa is “peculiarly and sickly violent” can’t be based on the reality.

  16. neoconservatives warn of the killings to come in Iraq if the U.S. leaves “before the job is done” (i.e., before your kids are drawing Social Security).

    Good one. While driving this morning, I heard Santorum tell Glenn Beck that we need to think of the Iraq War in terms of “years and decades.”

    We’ll all be eating Victory Stew before “the job” is done.

  17. Genocide is the most ancient form of human warfare. It is the purpose of warfare, to remove threats from competing clans. What better way than to kill them?

  18. Weigel, I refuse to believe that you endorse that ridiculous assessment, considering your otherwise reasonable posts.

    Irrespective of whether or not indiscriminate mass murder is morally superior or inferior to genocide, it’s so dumb-fuckingly obvious that Rwanda and Darfur fit the description. It doesn’t matter that the West played an unsavory role in creating and exacerbating the conditions, or that there are underlying political grievances.

    I’d say Uganda is a little more complicated, and to my knowledge so do most other people (killing that strawman if you would agree).

    And can we be more cautious about pushing the meme that wanting to help out other groups is the truly racist attitude? It certainly sounds like a hammer in search of a nail.

  19. Intent to destroy a group in whole or in part means that intent to destroy “Jews in Germany” or “male Jews in a town” equals genocide. Otherwise it would be circular and the genocide would just outlaw plain homicide.

  20. Intent to destroy a group in whole or in part means that intent to destroy “Jews in Germany” or “male Jews in a town” equals genocide.

    Exactly, so my suggestion is that article II be re-written to, you know, say what we mean.

    Perhaps a tweak to the language which might say that ‘a non-incidental intent to destroy a group for no other purpose but to eliminate that group’ might help us pare down what is and isn’t genocide in Africa. And hey, I’m the first to admit that it’s very likely that 80% of all conflicts in Africa would still be considered genocide because, after all, tribal wars have been going on for tens of thousands of years- it’s just now they have guns, and CNN to report it.

  21. Importantly, if the UN judges that a genocide is occurring, then that can be used to justify military intervention into said genocide zone.

    And if UN judges determine that killing thousands of members of a group is not genocide, they can sit on their ass and do nothing. Or encourage the violence in the name of gun control.

  22. Stalin’s body count was higher than Hitler’s. Mao’s was even higher.

    Actually, Mao’s body count was about half as high as Stalin’s even considering those who were killed as a result of famine. Also, Stalin and Mao didn’t establish factories whose sole duty was the murder and cremation of human beings. Hitler did. Cold comfort to the people who died, I realize, and in no way reducing culpability for their actions, but an important distinction for those looking to understand why one isn’t as hated as the other.

    If there was a war that was “to the death”, the Japanese theater is the finest definition. When it became painfully clear that it was not in the Japanese culture to surrender, our defacto intent was to destroy the group known as Japanese, in whole or part, by whatever means necessary.

    That’s just something we told ourselves to feel better about using the Atom Bomb on women and children. The truth is, the Japanese government had been under control of moderate elements for 6 months beforehand; they even made overtures of surrender through the Swedish government. It was ignored because they wanted an assurance that they could keep their Emperor. We refused, demanding unconditional surrender, even though by a few months before August that was all they wanted. Then we used the bomb…and let them keep their Emperor. Looking at it like that, it’s not hard to see why they’re still sore about it…

  23. Not to exonerate Mao, who was ruthless and bloodthirsty, but to say that he is worse than Hitler because he was responsible for more deaths during the Great Leap forward is not a compelling argument since you can just as well argue that Hitler was also responsible for all the dead Europeans in WII, which, when added to all the people who died in the Holocaust, outnumbered all the Chinese killed by Mao directly and indirectly on both abosolute and relative accounts.

    From wikipedia:

    Deaths due to Mao:
    -Great Leap Forward: 20-40 million

    Deaths due to Hitler
    -Holocaust/Concentration Camp: 9-18 Million
    -War deads (including civilians)
    -Germans: 6-7 Million
    -Non Germans
    -USSR: 22 Million
    -Poland: 6 Million
    -etc

  24. What exactly is O’Neill’s and Weigel’s point? That there is no such thing as genocide? That Westerners should not care about Third World conflicts because to do so would be condescending and racist? That Americans and Western Europeans shouldn’t care about any conflict in the world, because to do so would be condescending and racist? I’m sorry, I’m getting a distinct buzz of political correctness here. The fact is that ethnically based conflicts are occurring in many parts of the world. I think some people are uncomfortable acknowledging this because it implies that a whole lot of people think in terms of race and ethnicity, and we’re supposed to have gotten over that by now. Well, Americans have, to a large extent, but things look very different in much of the rest of the world.

  25. History Major,

    Don’t believe everything your professors tell you. If they were all hot to surrender, how come they were still fighting to the death on Iwo Jima (5 mos before V-J) and Okinawa (2 mos before V-J)?

    Critical thinking … not just for conservatives anymore.

  26. crimethink,

    I’m not an expert on this subject, but there’s nothing inconsistent about a government making discreet overtures about surrender through a third party while simultaneously continuing a military policy of fighting to the death.

  27. I agree the criteria are far too broad. Seems like any war would meet them, so for the sake of clarity and rational discourse I’d prefer a more narrow definition.

    I understand very well how Hitler’s factory approach to eliminating the Jews and other “undesirables” has more emotional impact than campaigns that led to higher death counts through horrific but more traditional means.

    Nevertheless, while some people in places such as H&R it might find it tiresome to hear that Stalin killed more than Hitler, there are still plenty of people out there that don’t know that. Hell, there are probably plenty of people out there that don’t really know who Stalin was. And despite the nausea that I feel when I really think about what the Nazis did, I don’t believe Hitler was a worse person than someone like Stalin. He was fucked up and evil in a more dramatically demented way. I agree with tarran’s statement:

    “Mass murder is mass murder. The distribution of ethnicities within the pool of victims in now way diminishes or enhances the enormity of the crime.”

    Yeah, it’s the “hate crime” concept on a much larger scale.

    >>Americans have, to a large extent, but things look very different in much of the rest of the world.

    By the way, did anyone hear about the Cherokee Nation voting something like 77% to exclude the descendents of slaves from their nation?

  28. That’s just something we told ourselves to feel better about using the Atom Bomb on women and children. The truth is, the Japanese government had been under control of moderate elements for 6 months beforehand; they even made overtures of surrender through the Swedish government.

    That’s something we tell ourselves to try bolster a naive view of conflict. After dropping one atom bomb, the Japanese still didn’t surrender. After dropping a second atom bomb, the Emperor finally made his infamous surrender recording, which was then almost intercepted by the Japanese military high command as an attempt to stop said surrender. Yes, there were elements of the Japanese government who wanted surrender, and elements that didn’t– the struggle was ensuing.

    Now fly across the Pacific to the U.S. and try to understand the mindset of the U.S., the government, the army, and the citizenry. The U.S. had just finished a bloody war in Europe. In addition, an incredibly bloody war of attrition in the pacific had been fought, much of which wasn’t even in Japanese territory, and the Japanese had made it abundantly clear that surrender was not something done lightly.

    The President, faced with sending more troops at a rather committed enemy on his own territory (read homeland) after seeing what kind of damage was being done for a small section of malaria infested jungle– wasn’t too keen on sending more troops to their death in what was clearly a war of attrition.

    Add into the mix that the U.S. was tired, tired, tired of this war, and we had, at our fingertips, a weapon so powerful that surely its use would end the war without expending another American life. At that time, you may recall, the U.S. (and its allies) were only accepting unconditional surrender from Germany AND Japan much to the disappointment of the remaining German General staff.

    None of this is to say that dropping the bomb was the correct thing to do. We’ve certainly learned much in the 50+ years since the bombs were dropped. Hindsight is a remarkable teacher. But without the benefit if hindsight, while controversial and yes, questionable, the decision at the time was understandable.

    One oft overlooked fact was the firebombing of Tokyo killed more (about 100,000) than the Nagasaki bomb did and almost as much as the Hiroshima bomb did (if counting related effects).

    As I said, we were trying to eliminate members of a national group, certainly in part.

  29. mental harm to members of the group;

    wow, the danish cartoons are genocide! i need to call mesa right away!

  30. Don’t believe everything your professors tell you. If they were all hot to surrender, how come they were still fighting to the death on Iwo Jima (5 mos before V-J) and Okinawa (2 mos before V-J)?

    Maybe because the actions of low-level and very well indoctrinated soldiers aren’t in any serious way indicative of the thoughts and actions of the civilian leadership, especially when the civilian leadership had nothing to do with their indoctrination in the first place? Try reading about Kantaro Suzuki for a very brief start, and see about what you think about the “Japanese Culture Imperative against Surrender” after that. And try to remember this the next time you reflexively parrot government propaganda.

    Critical thinking; not just for people who actually study a subject in depth anymore.

  31. Screw this, I’m Pedantic Asian Studies Major.

    Paul-A good point. The people of the US were very tired, and given the (largely justified) American propaganda about the Japanese, looking for a way out. But the US government still knew that a sea change was happening, and if they had waited a little bit longer, or allowed for the retention of the Emperor, they could likely have avoided the need to use atomic weapons. This is a lot of the reason why I still suspect that a large portion of the reasoning behind the bomb had less to do with the Japanese and more to do with putting on a strong front for the Soviets in the face of an oncoming struggle for control.

  32. Shem (I like your other handle! cool!)

    do you recall (IIRC 21.12.41) the NY Times, “How to Tell Your Friends from the Japs” crap piece? Look at that type of ahumanizing propaganda and compare it with the current similar anti Islam (Arab/Persian) propaganda!

    At least Kyoto was spared! What a beautiful city!

    Hiroshima is a frightening place to visit…

    Beautiful, historical, but think of Obi Wan when he felt Alderaan explode… Scary. It blows you away!

    cheers!
    VM

  33. Couple of points

    1) pedant, I think you are excluding the famines in the Ukraine and then in China during the colectivization of agriculture.

    The two cases are somewhat similar in that the governments used the famines to break resitence. The people who starved to death were killed by their governments as surely as those who were shot.

    2) clone12 – Hitler didn’t start World War II on his own. The war kicked off when two dictators decided to divide up Eastern Europe. I’ll give you a hint who this second dictator was, he was affectionately called “Uncle Joe” by one U.S. president. So I wouldn’t put all the dead of World War II on Hitler’s doorstep.

  34. VM-Pretty bad, and utterly pointless. I grew up in Seattle’s international district, around Asian-Americans for most of my life, and absent a tell like an accent, even I can only tell a Chinese-descended person from a Japanese-descended person less than half the time. Reminds me of those articles that try to condense 1300 years of Islamic history into Sunni/Shi’ite/Kurd divisions. Just makes people suddenly think they’re experts after reading a 2500 word essay by a guy who probably just talked to a couple of Professors before he wrote it.

    That was a bad, and yet very good pun by the way. Bravo!

    Tarran-Uh, no I didn’t. Stalin killed, with famines, upwards of 43 million people. Mao killed, at most, 20 million. Probably less than that. Hence my statement, Mao’s body count was about half as high as Stalin’s even considering those who were killed as a result of famine. Famine numbers included, despite your arguments about them. I think you were thinking that I was comparing Hitler’s body count to Stalin or Mao’s, but you were mistaken. I still maintain, however, that Hitler is more famous because he created death camps where mass-murder was mechanized to an incredible degree. Starving people=less horrible to imagine than forcing them to herd their families into gas chambers and cremating their bodies afterward=less famous. Ideology doesn’t have as much to do with it as people think.

    And the idea that Stalin was responsible for WWII is as erroneous as saying that the British were responsible for it. Stalin wanted to stay out of it, if Hitler hadn’t invaded, he would have sat aside for the entire war. Stalin was a bad guy, but laying WWII at his feet is just ideological posturing.

  35. This post (or at least the argument it cites) is dumb.

    …gives the impression that Africa is peculiarly and sickly violent

    Oh my! Wherever would one get that impression?!

    recent history maybe?

    Lords a mercy. One only needs a cursory glance at all the shit thats gone/going down in Africa before one draws the conclusion that large parts of Africa are peculiarly, sickly violent. Yes, some conflicts and some regions have been more ‘genocidal’ than others, and maybe the term is used loosely (or for self-serving political reasons)…but that doesnt means it’s necessarily wrong… Perhaps that in Africa, as eskimos to snow, there probably needs to be 10-20 KINDS of genocide defined to appropriately segment the range of mass killings that have gone on. And doing the numbers game is a waste. Small conflicts (genocidal or not) have sometimes had the impact of killing hundreds of thousands through displacement and starvation. The human impact of conflict in africa is almost always devastating… due to the lack of development or stability in the last 100 years. Oh, and AIDS. And crazy motherfuckers like the Lords Resistance Army. I mean, there are whole HISTORIES written about the strategies of kidnapping children to fight in psychotic genocidal tribal militias during the 90s.

    This is fun stuff =

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_petraitis/spirit_war.shtml

    But yes, it’s ‘racist’ of us to admit it’s not *all* bad.

    I mean, check out this piece on cozy vacation hideaways in Somalia.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/07/world/africa/07somaliland.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

  36. sorry, “to not admit”

  37. …Something else to keep in mind is that when it’s noted that we were ‘very, very tired’ of WWII, that’s not an understatement. It’s a matter of historical record (though not at all well-publicized) that there was serious resistance in the rank and file of the US military about going to the Pacific to finish the job – one popular saying was “If I have to go to the Pacific, there’ll be two guys not making it: me and the guy they send to get me.” Some combat units in Europe were pretty much refusing to do much of anything except go home. The manpower barrel wasn’t quite empty, but military planners were deeply concerned that given the expected casualties of a Japanese invasion (one million US dead and wounded by 1947), there wouldn’t be enough surviving troops to see the job to the end. Check out William Manchester’s ‘The Glory And The Dream’ for what is probably the best account of the condition of the US military at the end of WWII.

    Mike

  38. And the idea that Stalin was responsible for WWII is as erroneous as saying that the British were responsible for it. Stalin wanted to stay out of it, if Hitler hadn’t invaded, he would have sat aside for the entire war. Stalin was a bad guy, but laying WWII at his feet is just ideological posturing.

    So Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, pursuant to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, counts as “starting World War II,” but Stalin’s making said Pact, followed up by his own invasion of Poland on September 17, doesn’t?

  39. “Reminds me of those articles that try to condense 1300 years of Islamic history into Sunni/Shi’ite/Kurd divisions. Just makes people suddenly think they’re experts after reading a 2500 word essay by a guy who probably just talked to a couple of Professors before he wrote it.”

    Good call! Or as we saw on the architecture thread from yesterday, the 2500 words are penned by a fellow who spent around 5 minutes google searching ere he turned to Wikipedia!

    cheers,
    VM

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