“I just read the incredible Fisk materials,” William Osborne writes. “His observations, and the ways he states them, are stunning. As he so clearly demonstrates, journalistic euphemisms to mask atrocities have become a part of our ‘culture.’ Orwellian.
“And I very much appreciate Doug Ireland’s postscript comments in WHAT’S GOIN’ ON?, since he brings to the fore a very important issue. He says that the word ‘genocide’ has ‘a very precise meaning.’ Unfortunately, that is not true. It is only within the last century that humanity has even begun to address genocide. Our thinking about it is still very confused.”
Most dictionaries define genocide in very simplistic and absolutist terms. The American Heritage Dictionary, for example, says that genocide is “The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.”
Such definitions beg obvious questions. What would define “planned”? How planned were the events in Rwanda? What does “entire” mean? In the Balkans, Moslems were exterminated only in areas where it was deemed a necessary part of ethnic cleansing. Was it not genocide because the murder took place only within specific cities and regions? In Sebrenica 8000 Moslem men and boys were mass murdered. Was it not genocide because the women and girls were spared?
And how do we define national, racial, political, and ethnic groups in a world where these delineations are often very fluid? What percentage of a specific group do you have to murder before it becomes genocide? And how wide does the geography of mass murder have to be before it becomes genocide? Isn’t there also such a thing as cultural genocide — the systematic and violent destruction of a people’s identity? How would that be defined? What role does cultural genocide play in helping us to define, prove, and punish physical genocide?
These considerations illustrate that our definitions of genocide are still vague and confused. We have not developed laws that define the many manifestations and degrees of genocide, much less codes that would define the necessary proofs and levels of punishment. Humanity is gradually developing an understanding that it needs a World Court, and this will require new bodies of law. Our vague definitions of genocide will need to be clarified by philosophers and legal theorists.
Naturally, many of our leaders will want to set the bar for the definition of genocide so high and narrow that they will be able to wriggle underneath it. This will be especially true for our Generals. We should not be fooled by that Four Star ruse.
We are arming and training a large Shia/Kurdish majority to fight a dirty, ethnic civil war against a disempowered and deeply hated Sunni minority. History illustrates that over the next 15 years this could lead to a systematic, mass destruction of a large portion of Iraq’s Sunni population and their culture. As I’ve previously estimated, depending on how events evolve, the potential ranges from 500,000 to 1.8 million people through death or exile.
This could be avoided, but if it happens, should those who caused the civil war and who armed its participants be held responsible for some form of genocide? We already know that the invasion was illegal. What about its consequences?
In fact, earlier this month, the BBC broadcast Newsnight staged a war crimes trial about the U.S.-British coalition’s conduct in the “war on terror,” though not specificaly about the war in Iraq. Read the transcript. (Broadbanders: Don’t miss the video.)
Postscript: “J., I was pushing and praising Fisk years ago when no one on this side of the pond knew who he was. I devoted an entire column to him in the Voice back in the late ’80s, and regularly cited and promoted him. Finally, the Iraq war gave him the broader recognition Stateside he so richly deserves. [See FISK ON JOURNALISTAS. — JH] Haven’t yet read his “War for Civilization” but it’s on my list of reads when I have the time (I never have enough reading time, given the inhuman quantities of media I have to absorb for my work).” — D.
PPS: The top story on the front page of The New York Times, “G.I.’s to Increase U.S. Supervision of Iraqi Police” (dateline Baghdad, Dec. 29, 2005), addresses the issues we have been discussing. “Here’s an excerpt,” William Osborne notes, “with the usual double talk”:
The increase is seen as a way to exert firmer control over the commando units, which are suspected of carrying out widespread atrocities against civilians in Sunni Arab neighborhoods. Human rights groups here say the units may be guilty of murdering and torturing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Sunni Arab men of military age.
The conduct of the commandos has become a source of intense friction between the Shiite-led Iraqi government and American officials, who say the reports of the atrocities are jeopardizing the campaign to persuade Sunnis
to stop supporting the insurgency.
The plan to increase the number of American advisers is a significant departure from the overall American strategy of giving the Iraqis the lead role in fighting the insurgency. Indeed, the allegations of atrocities arose only after Americans began to give the Iraqi units more freedom to act on their own.
Even as he talked about the increase in advisers, the officer confirmed details of a shift to fewer American troops covering more Iraqi ground.
“In other words, the article presents talk of more U.S. supervision when, actually, general American participation is being reduced. Is this not what I have described — setting up a potential genocide while distancing ourselves and covering our tracks? It worked against the Mayans in Central America, and it will probably work in Iraq.”
See this from Der Spiegel Online:
In the history of Guatemala’s bloody 36 years of civil war from 1960 to 1996, the early 80s stand out as a period of particular viciousness. In what became known as “The Silent Holocaust,” the Guatemalan army methodically worked its way through the country’s Mayan communities, killing men, women and children. A total of 200,000 people died during the war, many thousands of them Mayan victims of genocide.