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Genocide – A coordinated plan of actions aimed at destruction & annihilation of national groups Essay Example

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Genocide – A coordinated plan of actions aimed at destruction & annihilation of national groups


Genocide was first defined by Raphael Lemkin as the destruction of a given nation or ethnic grouping within a nation. However, he emphasized the genocide does not just involve the actual destruction but also incorporates the destruction of the primary foundations of life of the involved national groups. He also pointed out that the main aim of all that, was to annihilate those groups. Such plans involve the disintegration of social and political institutions of the victimized grouping and hence the destruction of their language, culture, religion, national feelings and economic well-being (John, 2008, p13).

Helen Fein defined genocide as the series of focused and purposeful actions of a perpetrator to disintegrate and destroy a target group by mass murder and the suppression of social and biological reproduction. The perpetrator can be another grouping, the victim’s state or a foreign state (Fein, 1990, p.5). The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide has defined genocide as the acts committed with the intention of destroying, wholly or partly, an ethnical, national, religious or racial grouping (UN General Assembly, 1948).

This paper will critically assess Lemkin’s argument that genocide is 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.” Various examples will be assessed and the nature of genocide assessed from many perspectives. The essay’s thesis statement will open the argument for thorough analysis. A plethora of various research materials will be used to analyze the argument while providing my own analysis of the concepts and ideas highlighted in the essay.

Genocide – coordinated plans aimed at destruction of essential foundations of life and subsequent annihilation of national groups.

Genocide, though wrong from a humanistic view, is an indirect result of human civilization where different groups of people are forced to live together without giving due credence to their inherent differences and their subsequent inability to cohabit peacefully without warring (Alvarez, 2001, p16). Common sense and learned opinion seek to paint genocide as an anti-thesis of modern civilization. This is because of the basic reasoning that the “advancement of civilization” should represent the advancement of human values, tolerance, common decency and racial/ethnical integration (Rummel, 2002, p.26).

However, the events of the 21st century have proved otherwise. This past century has witnessed the largest human exterminations in the history of the known world, but why? The century is rife with many genocides including; the mass murder of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire, extermination of European Jewry, Poles and Gypsies by the German Third Reich, mass deaths by artificial famine in Stalin’s Ukraine, the slaughter of half a million communists in Indonesia as well as the extermination of around one million Tutsis and Hutu political moderates in Rwanda (Mann, 2005, p.45). All these cases clearly prove a correlation between advancement in civilization and genocide. It is my opinion that when large different groups of people come into contact for various reasons, one of the by-products of the subsequent interactions, power-plays and “emergent civilization” will be genocide of one or more groups in the arrangement

Genocide should not only be seen as a product of civilization but also a necessity for the advancement of civilizations (Rummell, 2002, p.61). It’s an open secret that some of the most advanced democracies have a genocidal past where the original inhabitants were annihilated in the establishment of these civilizations. We are talking about the systematic political, social and economic destruction of indigenous societies in the Americas and Australia by the settling European invaders. One can argue that without the destruction of Red Indian societies, there could not be a United States as currently constituted and acclaimed. Nor would there be an Australia as is known today without the destruction and annihilation of the native Aborigines. It was by genocide that such great civilizations have emerged (Bruce, 1988, p.37).

The means of destruction and annihilation of a people includes not just outright mass murder and slaughter but is varied to introduction of diseases, enslavement, dispossession of property, forced migration, prohibition of traditional culture and religious practices, suppression of native languages, confinement to meager living conditions , abduction of children, separation of families and general destruction of social fabric (Jones, 2011, p.42). Perhaps the wave of genocide in the 20th century can be explained as emanating from the disastrous practices and policies of colonization. For instance, the ethnical hatred in many parts of Africa grew as a result of the colonial policies of divide and rule. The invading colonizers found it easy to pit one ethnic grouping against one another in a bid to weaken them internally and hence rule them easily. This colonial era rivalry exists to date and must have been instrumental in the Rwandese Tutsi massacre of 1994 (Melvern, 2006, p.102).

Attempts to destroy or annihilate groups have been a part of human history. Acts of barbarism by ancient empires such as The Roman and Persian empires, against resisting tribes and nations are known in history. There is an inherent need in humans to want to dominate or even exterminate weaker people. It cannot be helped. But in all its evilness, it is necessary for the collective advancement of the human race, as has been proven by the emergence of great nations in the wake of terrible genocides (Powell, 2011, p.56).

There are many forms or types of genocide such as ecocide, eliticide, classicide, femicide, democide, fratricide, linguicide, gendercide, ethnocide, omnicide, poorcide, memoricide and urbicide among others. For instance, the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda were ethnocide and politicide while the 1945 killings in Slovenia represented classicide. When analyzing genocides, one must look at the destructive structural relationships which are part of the social and economic systems. Structural aggression referred to as “poorcide” can be described as the genocide of poor people by use of systemized poverty (Fein, 1990, p.39).

Various colonizers perpetrated massacres against native peoples. However, there are other potent ways to destroy groupings other than massacre, and this is why the term genocide draws so many definitions, depending on context of use and nature of methods used. For instance, in the Indian context, the Indian residential schools were established by the British in Canada and were run by various churches (William, 1977, p.92). Through these establishments, the native children were forcibly taken from their families and brought up in a foreign environment, which sought to purge out any trace of native culture, and hence alienate these children from their homeland and families. Sexual, physical and psychological abuses were common in these schools, so were frequent deaths. Additionally, the Indian families were driven from their lands into reservations where their wealth could be monitored and their activities watched (William, 1977, p.97). This in itself constitutes genocide as declared in the United Nations Convention on Genocide, i.e. “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (UN General Assembly, 1948). Nonetheless, it can be correctly argued that such a system ensured the incorporation of backward native tribes into the main body politic by use of thorough assimilation. It is by genocide that we can boast of globalization today.

In the African and Asian colonies, the spread of western civilization brought about genocide to those parts. Colonization usually involved part or whole destruction of ethnic, racial, religious and national groups (Powell, 2011, p.58). The reconfiguration of social systems was an effective way to hasten and sustain economic exploitation while ensuring compliance and obedience to the colonial masters. But how else could these people be uplifted from their “dark” pasts? It is arguable that the jolt of genocide has done more for native tribes than any other thing has done for them. It has awakened them to the global realities and hence they can now be incorporated to the global body politic as near equal partners to their former tormentors (Fein, 1990, p.66). The Trans-Atlantic slave trade can be said to be the genocide that never was. Nobody thought it was, for there was contention whether these black slaves were human in the first place. It was first a case of racism practiced on large scale, followed by the exploitation of a weak, clueless people. Indigenous population in Africa was reduced by an estimated 50 million in the period of slavery in Europe and America. The irony of it is that the instigators and major beneficiaries were nations that heralded the age of democracy, enlightenment and civilization (Jones, 2011).

Human beings are not raised nor do they live in a vacuum. Human societies develop within varying cultures. As such, their perceptions of existence and the world at large are molded and shaped by socio-cultural factors. One of these cultures is the human “culture of violence”. This emanates from use of aggression as a problem solving tool; conflict grounded in anti-apathy due to perception of threat and the institutionalization of the ideology of historical or genetic supremacy leading to dehumanization of the perceived lesser groups (Bruce, 1988, p.141). Thus, in many parts of the world, aggression and violence has become so commonplace such that it has been assumed a natural phenomenon of humanity. However, not all societal groups embrace or have a history of violence. Indeed, the major genocides perpetrated in the 20th century were perpetrated by states and groups with a history of aggression or violence. Such societies are still at risk of perpetrating genocide and other kinds of violence to this day (Shaw, 2003, p.27).

Moreover, this inherent relationship between aggression and the perception of threat can be applied to nations with a dark past. In case there is poor or lack of intelligence or good diplomatic relations between states, nations that are aggression oriented may make the assumption that the other nations are a risk and hence prepare for military aggression. For instance, the United States and the Soviet Union heightened the cold war by the buildup of various weapons especially those of mass destruction. This happened from the fear of perceived threat from both camps. Hence, what started as political differences and conflicting ideologies evolved into a possible risk of annihilation, which was mutual, by the use of weapons of mass destruction (Rummell, 2002, p.82). As such, all previously thought threats of annihilation proved true, whether they were real or not to begin with.

In many cultures, the elite and some leaders play on the anxieties and fears of the citizens, in order to influence their perceptions on the use of violence and hence get them to support the cause of violence, aggression and extermination of perceived threats. For instance, in Nazi Germany, the people were constantly reminded of the “Jewish problem” and the need to surgically deal with this ever growing tumor within German borders. Parallels were drawn between the European Jewry and rats (Auron, 2007, p.48). Propaganda was mixed with the truth and repeated over and over again, and as it often happens, a lie repeated over and over is soon perceived as the truth. In the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians were consistently portrayed as a militarized internal threat working in collaboration with hostile neighbors. The Tutsis in Rwanda were identified as the enemies to the Hutus and were perceived as cockroaches; parasites in the Rwandese society (Melvern, 2000, p.30). All this stereotyping, use of propaganda and influencing the general public against the perceived threat is part of commission of genocide, though actual death or annihilation has not occurred.

The Nazis saw the Aryan race as superior to the “sub-races” such as Jews, Slavs and Gypsies. The Hutu saw themselves as superior to the Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide. This ideology of superiority in a culture may be rooted in a dehumanizing history, where bias is perpetrated against target groupings and is institutionalized over time. As such, groups that have been historically marginalized are at a great risk of aggression especially after attaining some social success or acceptance (Shaw, 2003, p.65). Such could be the fate awaiting Blacks in America as well as other minorities whose past is darkened with bias and persecution. However, though cultures and groups cannot change their pasts or histories, they indeed can change their outlook and perception of marginalized groups, hence avert the likelihood of genocide. Such might be the luck of Blacks in America, where tolerance has been embraced over time and inclusion emphasized at all levels. However, racial sentiments still exist and hence the ideologies of supremacy are still rife in the multitudes. Therefore, the possibility of genocide cannot be wished away in America, as long as some people see themselves better or more deserving than others. Indeed, the current social system where the Black and Yellow races in America have been subjugated to impoverished living in projects, mass imprisonment, proliferation of narcotics, governmental neglect, unemployment and broken family systems can be classified as genocide (Shaw, 2003, p.83).

In 1788, a Captain by the name Arthur Phillip docked in Botany Bay, a port in the modern city of Sydney. With him was ship full of convicts. A most bizarre occurrence in the history of race relations occurred when Phillips declared that the land was “terra nullius” meaning “empty land” in Latin (Robert, 1999, p.26). Since the original inhabitants owned the land communally, there was never a clear definition of ownership. As such, the British quickly declared the land vacant rather than annexed. From then onwards, what followed was an undeclared systematic genocide of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. Small pox ravaged 50% of the Aborigine population in the areas surrounding Sydney (Bruce, 1988, p.164). Thousands of Aboriginals were shot for trespassing on “British land” and many forcibly moved to arid areas. Native institutions were established and children were forcibly placed in these institutions in order to “educate” them and turn them to Christianity. This continued over a span of a century and by the 1950s, the official policy all over Australia was assimilation and absorption. As such, the disappearance of the Aboriginal people was being realized by biological absorption, controlled birth rates by genetic engineering, increased death rates and socio-cultural assimilation (Robert, 1999, p.109). This was a catastrophic genocide that played out silently and that is the nature of most genocide. They do not occur as the actual killing of a people, but as Lemkin put it, are planned at a social, cultural and economic level to ensure the slow but sure extermination of a group (John, 2008, p.14).

The first half of the 20th century saw rapid ethnic and racial cleansing in Europe and Australia. The Nazi party of Germany believed in the need to cleanse the German body politic off sub-races that they believed presented problems for the German people. The first target was the European Jewry whose genius for business and accounting had made them so wealthy that virtually 70% of the economy was directly in their control (Auron, 2007, p.67). It is true that Jews have presented problems to the world throughout history, particularly because of their way of life, practice of usury and hatred for manual work. Jews have been expelled from many regions dating as far back as the times of the Roman Empire. Their uncanny ability to dominate trade and finance in whatever region they settle have made them eternal targets of prejudice. Indeed, it is important to note that any group marked as a threat by another has some traits that do not endear them to the other aggressive group. In the case of the Aborigines, their black skin and backward ways were reasons for prejudice against them. The elites of Cambodia were seen by the government of that day as a threat due to their high education (Bruce, 1988, p.135). The Tutsis and Hutus had historical rivalries that were worsened by the advent of colonization. The point I am driving home is that, there must be some inherent hatred, trait or difference that drives one group to annihilate another and thus genocide cannot happen for its own sake. Thus, it was by their inherent historical traits that European Jewry was targeted for extermination and the Third Reich sought to answer “the Jewish question” once and for all (Auron, 2007).

In Australia, the whites created hierarchal Aboriginality by the use of eugenics in a bid to forever exterminate the black race (Alvarez, 2001, p.38). Half-caste offspring represented progenies of a full blooded Aboriginal and a white person. From there, white inheritance was encouraged by allowing breeding between the whites and the half-castes to produce octoroons, or three quarters white offspring. After a generation of octoroons, the offspring could now be legally considered white. A breeding program was forced with the aim of ensuring the disappearance of all Aboriginals and subsequent “whitening” of all half-castes and octoroons (Mann, 2005, p.40). These, together with many other dubious practices by the settlers are important prerequisites to a legitimate claim of genocide. But why have such things happened? Perhaps the best explanation can be borrowed from nature, as captured in Darwinian Evolution- that the fittest species survive at the expense of the weak. Thus, it is only natural that weak groups which in any way present a hindrance to the stronger group will have to deal with natural law and more often than not, that law presents the decree of annihilation of that weak grouping.

The last half of the 20th century and also the 21st century have witnessed much genocide of varying scales. Cases in point are: The Bangladesh mass killings of 1971, Uganda’s mass murders of 1971-1979, Burundi’s genocide of 1972, Cambodia’s Pol pot genocide, Bosnia and Harzegovina in 1992-1995, the Rwanda genocide of 1994, North Korea’s mass murder from 1990-present, Darfur’s ethnicide of 2003-present (Shaw, 2003, p.126) and the ongoing Syrian conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.


There are other subtler forms of genocide going on and that is what Lemkin sought to address in his lengthy explanation of genocide. Indeed, as seen in the discussion above, genocide is an octopus with many arms that work collectively to facilitate the consequent annihilation of a group. It can also be said that the final phase of genocide is not the actual killing but the denial that genocide ever happened in the first place. Denial of genocide in itself should be classified as genocide for it makes it easier for it to happen over and over again. Lemkin’s argument is sound.


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