pageok
pageok
pageok
Is "Genocide" Really Worse than "Mere" Mass Murder?

Columbia lawprof Michael Dorf discusses some of the issues raised by the congressional resolution that seeks to condemn Turkey's World War I-era mass murder of its Armenian citizens as "genocide." The Turkish government is angry at the prospect that its predecessors actions might be so characterized. Back in 1994-95, there was a similar debate over the question of whether the mass murder of Rwandan Tutsi by Hutu nationalists counted as genocide. As Samantha Power describes in her book, A Problem from Hell, the Clinton Administration and others took the position that it was not genocide in order to reduce political pressure to mount a military intervention. Today, there are arguments about the question of whether there is a genocide in Darfur.

This raises the more general issue of why genocide should be considered worse than the deliberate murder of a similar number of innocent people for other reasons. As I see it, the evil in 1994 Rwanda and 1915 Turkey was that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered without any justification. That they were slaughtered because of their ethnicity rather than for some other reason does not make things worse than they would be otherwise. Yes, it is wrong to kill an innocent person because they are Tutsi or Armenian or Jewish. But why is it somehow less wrong to kill her for being a moderately affluent peasant "kulak" (as in Stalin's mass murders during the 1930s), a member of the wrong social class (as in Pol Pot's mass murders in Cambodia), or a political opponent of the government (many examples throughout history)?

Sometimes, it is argued that genocide is worse than other types of mass murder because it deprives the world of valuable cultural diversity, not just of the contributions of particular individuals. That may well be a real harm of genocide. But other types of mass murders also destroy diversity and other cultural resources. For example, Pol Pot's decimation of Cambodia's educated classes surely did severe damage to Cambodia's culture. Stalin's extermination of Russians active in political movements other than his own certainly undermined valuable diversity in that country, and so on. Whether genocide causes more cultural damage than other types of mass murder will vary from case to case.

Thus, I am left with the question: Is there any good reason to distinguish genocide from other forms of deliberate mass murder of innocent people? If not, then I suggest that both domestic and international law should eliminate the crime of genocide and replace it with a more general crime of mass murder, applicable in all cases where large numbers of innocent people (one can legitimately debate how large they have to be) are deliberately killed for unjustifiable reasons. Among other advantages, this proposal would enable us to avoid unedifying debates over whether obvious instances of mass murder - including those in Rwanda and Sudan - count as "genocide" or not. More importantly, it would eliminate the excuse for inaction created by claims that a particular instance of mass murder doesn't qualify as genocide.

UPDATE: I should note another problem with the cultural damage rationale for considering genocide to be worse than other kinds of mass murder. In some genocides, there is no chance that the killers will succeed in eradicating the entire ethnic group in question, or even a large fraction of it. Thus, there is no danger that that group's cultural contribution to humanity will be completely wiped out. For example, in addition to his non-genocidal murder of hundreds of thousands of his fellow Khmers, Pol Pot also targeted Cambodia's Chinese minority for extermination. There was never any chance that this would result in the destruction of the Chinese contribution to world culture, since there are hundreds of millions of Chinese outside of Cambodia. Yet it was clearly genocide under the current international law definition thereof, which defines the term to include all killings "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such" (emphasis added).

wb (mail):
Ilya,

I agree with you. There seems to be little gained in arguing over the word. Mass murder is a horrendous crime by any name.
10.16.2007 11:34pm
Dave N (mail):
I agree that "mass murder" is often synonymous with "genocide"--and getting into semantic games over whether mass murder is genocide or not allows mass murdering regimes to say, "Hey, what we did doesn't qualify as genocide."

Call it all "mass murder" and make those responsible pay.
10.16.2007 11:36pm
Eric Muller (www):
"Among other advantages, this proposal would enable us to avoid unedifying debates over whether obvious instances of mass murder - including those in Rwanda and Sudan - count as 'genocide' or not."

I don't think Turkey would be any more prepared to enter a guilty plea to a charge of mass murder than to the pending charge of genocide.
10.16.2007 11:37pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
If genocide is worse than regular mass murder, wouldn't that make Andrew Jackson more evil than Hitler -- Jackson's policies came closer to eradicating the Cherokee than Hitler came to eliminating the Jews. Seems like a rather crazy conclusion, but it's a logical consequence of the premise.
10.16.2007 11:41pm
Another guest:

This raises the more general issue of why genocide should be considered worse than the deliberate murder of a similar number of innocent people for other reasons.


Wait a minute - has anyone actually made a case for morally distinguishing between genocide and mass murder for other reasons? Or is this just an assumption to set the pot stirring?
10.16.2007 11:57pm
anonymouseducator:
The Columbia prof you link to seems to classify Pol Pot's murders as genocide:


the Holocaust, Pol Pot or the other well-documented genocides of the last century.


Actually, re-reading it, he seems to classify Pol Pot as genocide.
10.17.2007 12:14am
Ahmad Arturos:
I agree with the argument that the distinction between "genocide" and "mass murder" serves no credible purpose. The primary reason for the distinction is to provide a defense for a nation not to get involved in a foreign humanitarian conflict. Since WWII, foreign nations have been increasing willing to engage in the domestic affairs of another sovereign country. The arbitrariness of the standard in defining "genocide" allows nations to morally reject causes that are not deemed expedient for intervention (i.e., there is no incentive to intervene).

The process of awaiting for the ripening of an actual genocide puts far more people in risk because the perpetrators only have to look at international law to determine whether they will be punished. Creating artificial distinctions is a way to assuage the guilt of nations who desperately want to feel they were not obligated to intervene.

The argument that there should be no distinction between killing innocent people based on ethnicity versus economic class or political allegiance holds less water. For one, the latter do not represent immutable traits. Targeting a populace based on race, ethnicity, or other biological identifiers acts as a mechanism that instills fear in these groups and places them in a psychological death-grip. Individuals targeted by their economic status or political affiliations have the ability to shed these markings and appear differently to their adversaries.
10.17.2007 12:18am
Informant (mail):
"has anyone actually made a case for morally distinguishing between genocide and mass murder for other reasons"

If not expressly stated, the argument is implicit every time people demand that something be *officially* labeled "genocide" when there is otherwise no dispute that hundreds of thousands or millions of people have been killed.
10.17.2007 12:20am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The last sentence is why it won't happen. The excuse would be missed. You'll recall Clinton's order that nobody was to use the word, since acknowledging the fact in Rwanda would legally require action.

I understand the Treaty on Genocid--we have not signed on--also treats the disappearance of an identifiable ethnic group through assimilation and general dying out as genocide. That's nuts.
10.17.2007 12:22am
Eli Rabett (www):
then, pray tell, what is the difference between homicide, manslaugter and murder
10.17.2007 12:23am
TerrencePhilip:
Is there any good reason to distinguish genocide from other forms of deliberate mass murder of innocent people?


If by "good" you mean "resting on universal norms" or "universally accepted" or "irrefutable by virtually everyone," probably not; like basically all value judgments this view rests on arbitrary assumptions that cannot be "proved" wrong or right. It's sometimes possible for people in the spotlight to goad a society in the direction of a desired value judgment, however, by appeals to sympathy and pointing out logical inconsistencies between the challenged view and other widely-held beliefs.
10.17.2007 12:26am
Doug Fretty (mail):
"For example, Pol Pot's decimation of Cambodia's educated classes surely did severe damage to Cambodia's culture."

This is surely true, but it doesn't show that mass murder is on par with genocide. Granted, Pol Pot hurt his country by targeting the educated class. But suppose Pol Pot had instead targeted a small ethnic minority unique to Cambodia. The effect of this would have been suffered worldwide and for the rest of history. Because ethnicities, compared to social groups, are incapable of regenerating after obliteration, genocide warrants its special status.
10.17.2007 12:26am
Christopher Cooke (mail):
I agree that mass murder of innocent civilians on a large scale is likely equivalent to genocide, but I would not equate killing political opponents with killing people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity, although both are abhorrent crimes, to be sure. It seems much more wrongful to kill people who have no connection with politics, who are simply trying to live their lives, than people who are supporting, for example, the political opponents of a government.

I am not sure what practical effect there would be by changing the label. I think that, whatever label we apply to the phenomenon, a government is not going to intervene to stop it in another country if it doesn't want to, and removing "genocide" from the dialogue is not going to suddenly drum up political support for a military intervention in Darfur. The governments that don't want to intervene will come up with other reasons for their inaction. Clinton was right to be condemned for not intervening in Rwanda, but at least he apologized later for his inaction, and later intervened in Kosovo/Bosnia to prevent further atrocities in that region. I haven't heard any apologies from Bush 43 over Darfur and I am not going to hold my breath waiting for one when he leaves office.
10.17.2007 12:38am
rustonite:
I suppose, playing off Eli Rabett's comment about murder and manslaughter. The difference between genocide and mass murder could be intent. If I kill a hell of a lot of people because I'm trying to exterminate a particular ethnic group, that's genocide. If I kill a hell of a lot of people for some other reason, even if they all happen to be of the same ethnic group, that's mass murder. As usual, intent is a tricky thing to pin down, moreso here than in other circumstances, because you're trying to determine the reason behind not just one action but a series of actions.
10.17.2007 12:40am
My 2 Cents (mail):
As I see it the best reason to distinguish genocide from mass murder occurs when the genocide is racially motivated. When a race is exterminated it potentially removes a set of genes from the human gene pool.
10.17.2007 12:41am
Malvolio:
When a race is exterminated it potentially removes a set of genes from the human gene pool.
So if the last few members of some ethnic sub-sub-group refuse to have sex, at least with each other, they're as bad as Hitler?

Reducing the biodiversity of the human species seems like such a petty crime, morally mixing it in with mass-murder sounds like accusing someone of burning down an orphanage, and then leaving the water running.
10.17.2007 12:54am
Elmer (mail):
Biologically, we are here to leave descendants. Attempting to deny that to an entire people is a very big deal.
10.17.2007 12:55am
SMatthewStolte (mail):
Even if mass murder isn't morally better than genocide, there might still be good reasons for making the distinction, as a matter of analyzing the nature of the crime.

I could imagine someone making a case that members of an ethnic group may be entitled, in certain instances, to receive reparations for the systematic effort to exterminate them, but that the same criteria may not apply to academics or political rivals. In fact, I could imagine making the case myself. This isn't to say that one is more wicked than the other. They are differently wicked. This is not to say, of course, that all genocide is the same, as though after Hitler, we have nothing but repetitions of the holocaust.

Nevertheless, states are (necessarily) in the business of killing on a massive scale, and so they really do have to make general distinctions that would be absurd when applied to individuals — hence notions like "war crimes" and "atrocities." Whether the particular category of genocide is the best category to use I guess can be debated, but if you want to argue that all distinctions ought to go out the window, then you wind up with a lot of moral equivalences that — if not altogether absurd — are at least counter-intuitive.
10.17.2007 1:04am
Elliot123 (mail):
"When a race is exterminated it potentially removes a set of genes from the human gene pool."

Do geneticists define race? How?
10.17.2007 1:09am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Brings me back to the debates on the Endangered Species Act... the loss of species is a terrible tragedy, etc., etc.. (One problem being that "species" is very flexible, and the DNA is all over the place).

Of course with ESA, the gov't sometimes had to play wildlife nazis. An endangered trout was unable to expand its habitat (dare I say liebenstraum?). Well, dump a bunch of roetenone in the stream and poison off the competitors. Well, there was the time they got a little carried away on the Virgin River in AZ, and killed several million fish (including hundreds of the endangered ones). Boy, did that hack off the downstream resorts....
10.17.2007 1:11am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I stirred up a real hornet's nest when I made similar points some years ago on this blog. Admittedly, I was a bit more provocational, and expressed it as denying the moral uniqueness of the Holocaust. See my 1/30/04 post, my 2/3/04 post, my 2/4/04 post, and my 2/5/04 post.

No, this isn't a straw man: People not only insist on a distinction between genocide and other murders-of-many-people, but are very emotionally invested in the distinction.
10.17.2007 1:14am
Ilya Somin:
Wait a minute - has anyone actually made a case for morally distinguishing between genocide and mass murder for other reasons? Or is this just an assumption to set the pot stirring?

That is the current state of both international and domestic law.
10.17.2007 1:15am
Ilya Somin:
The difference between genocide and mass murder could be intent. If I kill a hell of a lot of people because I'm trying to exterminate a particular ethnic group, that's genocide. If I kill a hell of a lot of people for some other reason, even if they all happen to be of the same ethnic group, that's mass murder.

Sure, there is a DIFFERENT intent. But why is it a WORSE intent? In both cases, the killing itself was committed intentionally. Only the motive for it was different. But why should that difference in motive matter?
10.17.2007 1:18am
Curt Fischer:

When a race is exterminated it potentially removes a set of genes from the human gene pool.


One other response to this that others missed is that racial diversity is a poor proxy for human genetic diversity.

The effect on the human gene pool of the extermination of the tall, or of all obese people, or of all people with the blood type AB, for example, would likely have a greater effect on human genetic diversity than killing all people of one particular race.

Thus, the argument that genocide is more heinous than "mere" mass murder because of its threat to genetic diversity does not hold water. Unless the definition of genocide includes acts such as mass murder targeting the tall, etc...

This kind of hair-splitting makes me tend to side with Ilya and the other commenters that the distinction between genocide and mass murder is neither easy to determine nor very useful to make.
10.17.2007 1:19am
Ilya Somin:
Biologically, we are here to leave descendants. Attempting to deny that to an entire people is a very big deal.

Of course it is. But why is it a bigger deal than denying it to an entire group of equal size who are not a "people"?
10.17.2007 1:20am
glangston (mail):
A Prof. Rummel at the Univ. of Hawaii calssifies government murder in general as democide. Genocide can be one form of this sponsored murder.

Prof. Rummel
10.17.2007 1:22am
Ilya Somin:
Granted, Pol Pot hurt his country by targeting the educated class. But suppose Pol Pot had instead targeted a small ethnic minority unique to Cambodia. The effect of this would have been suffered worldwide and for the rest of history. Because ethnicities, compared to social groups, are incapable of regenerating after obliteration, genocide warrants its special status.

Perhaps, but the educated people of Cambodia could also have made a unique contribution to world culture - perhaps a more valuable one than the "small ethnic minority" you posit. It is not only ethnicities who are capable of making unique contributions to world culture. Other types of groups (and even individuals) can do so too. And these other groups - and individuals - are also "incapable of regenerating" after death.
10.17.2007 1:23am
GSH (mail) (www):
Genocide is different than mass murder because it has a built in time limit. At some point, genocide will stop because all the potential victims will be dead.

Therefore, action has to be taken before the stopping point. This makes it more urgent.

You could have a genocide where the victims are not linked by ethnicity but by some other factor which they could not change.

I wouldn't say this makes genocide morally worse than mass murder, but I think the time element does differentiate the two.
10.17.2007 1:25am
Armen (mail) (www):
Prof. Somin, if I remember correctly, Raphael Lemkin proposed to include killings motivated by politics into the definition of genocide. A certain veto-wielding member of the Security Council responsible for genocide under such a definition balked, so the current Convention does not include that as a definition.

With that said, I'm perplexed why you think genocide only means mass killing? The entire definition of genocide is:


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.



During the Holocaust, (a) through (d) were used. During the Armenian Genocide all five were used. Going back to your examples, if Stalin hadn't balked at the original definition, then they would surely constitute genocide and that would answer your question. But if you think other mass killings are also in the same league as genocide, then where do we stop? Is the US military committing genocide in Iraq? Serial killers? Does it have to be a state actor?
10.17.2007 2:48am
Dave2L (mail) (www):
As others have noted, the difference between genocide and mass murder is intent. Rather than batting about straw men, someone could have looked up the definition of genocide in Black's: "An international crime involving acts causing serious physical and mental harm with the intent to destroy, partially or entirely, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group."

A larger degree of moral culpability is assigned to genocide as opposed to "simple" mass murder because most legal systems (and, for that matter, most moral systems) assign degrees of culpability based on intent (Any decent 1L crim text can cover this topic if it is proving too difficult). For example, the basic homicide distinction between first and second degree murder, or felony homicide versus regular homicide.

Similarly, society has placed a degree of moral culpability on crimes that are motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious animus. I think there a variety of rationales offered, but a central one is the idea that when someone is singled out as a victim based solely on these characterisitics, it involves two separate moral shortcomings: one, and intent to kill, and two, a racist intent. Our recent history has been such that, as a society, we wish to provide greater condemnation for criminal acts that single out particular groups. We have decided that those that are motivated to kill because of racism or ethnicism are more worthy of condemnation than those that kill for pecuniary gain, or for other motives which we do not find as despicable as racism or ethnicism.

You can agree or disagree with the reasons why we apply greater condemnation to such acts. But the same applies to other arbitrary distinctions. You might as well ask why there are degrees of culpability between breaking and entering and burglary, or between assault and mayhem, or between forgery and embezzlement. For what its worth, as a society we draw distinctions between, say, serial killers, hot-headed alcoholics, jealous lovers, robbers, lynch mobs and gay-bashing gangs.

One other consideration relates to genocide, and that is the international context. We cannot prevent all international conflicts, despotic and murderous regimes, or mass murders. However, in the aftermath of the experience of the Holocaust, we have decided that when there are attempts to exterminate a particular group based on racial or ethnic characteristics, all nations have a responsibility to intervene. Once again, the key issue is intent.... simply killing large numbers of people is not seen as serious as requiring the intervention of the entire world.
10.17.2007 3:02am
Ilya Somin:
A larger degree of moral culpability is assigned to genocide as opposed to "simple" mass murder because most legal systems (and, for that matter, most moral systems) assign degrees of culpability based on intent

This is not a matter of intent (the degree to which the crime was willful), but a matter of the motive for which the crime was committed. Stalin, Pol Pot, etc., had just as much intent to kill as the Rwandan genocidaires. But the latter had a different motive. I don't see why killing an innocent person for one motive (e.g. - class or political animus) is worse than doing so for another (e.g. - racial or ethnic animus).

Similarly, society has placed a degree of moral culpability on crimes that are motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious animus. I think there a variety of rationales offered, but a central one is the idea that when someone is singled out as a victim based solely on these characterisitics, it involves two separate moral shortcomings: one, and intent to kill, and two, a racist intent.

There is no moral consensus on the question of whether "hate crimes" are worse than other murders. I am one of many who think that they aren't. Even if "hate crimes" do deserve special status, it's not clear why crimes motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious hatred should be classified as more severe than those motivated by class, political, or ideological hatred.
10.17.2007 3:17am
Ilya Somin:
We cannot prevent all international conflicts, despotic and murderous regimes, or mass murders. However, in the aftermath of the experience of the Holocaust, we have decided that when there are attempts to exterminate a particular group based on racial or ethnic characteristics, all nations have a responsibility to intervene.

Perhaps "we" have decided that. But the question is, were we right? An obvious alternative is to allocate priorities based on the number of innocent people who are threatened with death, not based on whether the danger is the result of ethnic hatred or some other type of hostility.
10.17.2007 3:19am
Dave N (mail):
I would add to Ilya's posts that motive is not an element of murder (at least in my state), though intent is--and evidence of motive may show intent. We even have a jury instruction that tells jurors not to confuse the two concepts.
10.17.2007 3:22am
Warmongering Lunatic:
Don't you alreeady know? Fascism is inherently evil while communism is good intentions occasionally gone awry. Therefore, the Nazi genocides are worse than the Communist democides. This is also why, for example, Daniel Ortega is a respectable leader, while Augusto Pinochet should have been imprisoned.
10.17.2007 3:46am
HappyConservative:
Somin ably demonstrates this absurd state of affairs, where genocide is considered worse than mere mass murder.

In both cases, the United States simply has no business intervening, unless our business interests are threatened.
10.17.2007 4:00am
Elmer (mail):

Of course it is. But why is it a bigger deal than denying it to an entire group of equal size who are not a "people"?


First answer: To me, it isn't a bigger deal, but I live in the US, where culture is thicker than blood. In other places and times people have placed a higher value on blood ties. Absent hard evidence, I will not dismiss a widely held cultural trait as useless.

Second answer: The distinction in international law is irrelevant, because in this matter international law is irrelevant. The UN will do nothing substantive about the Darfur situation unless China agrees, so nothing will be done. If a genocide program begins in any country larger than Leichtenstein, the US is the only entity that might intervene, and the threshold for action is high. The situation in Darfur seems quite complex, but someone argued that eliminating Sudan's air force might be a nice thing, and would only take a few hours. It doesn't matter, because such an action is politically impossible, as is any action that might change things.

I intended to be asleep ages ago. My early work became redundant when Ilya added the update, which seems terribly unfair. I'll end with advice. If your government wants to kill you and anyone like you, fight and/or run. Others may feel sorry for you, but they are unlikely to help, often for good reasons.
10.17.2007 4:21am
CDU (mail):

I understand the Treaty on Genocid--we have not signed on--also treats the disappearance of an identifiable ethnic group through assimilation and general dying out as genocide. That's nuts.



Two points: First, the U.S. has become a state party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Second, take a look at the actual text of the convention. The relevant parts when it comes to assimilation and dying out are:


(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.


So assimilation and dying out are only genocide when they are imposed forcibly, which seems quite sensible to me.
10.17.2007 4:39am
Dave2L (mail) (www):
This is not a matter of intent (the degree to which the crime was willful), but a matter of the motive for which the crime was committed. Stalin, Pol Pot, etc., had just as much intent to kill as the Rwandan genocidaires. But the latter had a different motive. I don't see why killing an innocent person for one motive (e.g. - class or political animus) is worse than doing so for another (e.g. - racial or ethnic animus).

Why is it worse to kill for premeditated pecuniary gain than for spur-of-the-moment jealosies? That is no less arbitrary, yet results in two different crimes.

The intent required for genocide is elimination of a particular group based on racial, ethnic or religious characteristics. The extent to which the intent is a "motive" in this case is the same degree to which the intent of a burglar to commit a further felony, or the intent to kill one's wealthy spouse, or the intent to perform a robbery (in the case of felony murder) are all "motivated" by pecuniary gain.

Take, for example, burglary. Burglary is entry into a structure with intent to commit a felony. Under your conception, we should punish breaking and entering, but not get into finding further moral culpability because of the burglar's intent (or, as you see it, motive) to commit a further crime. However, many people believe (perhaps you don't) that there is a greater degree of moral culpability in breaking into someone's home with the intent to rob it, or rape someone, or assault someone, than simply for the purpose of dancing a jig in the living room.

Criminal law is in the business of assigning culpability to motives. This did not start with genocide or hate crimes. It has always been so.

Further, genocide can be a crime where there is no other crime committed. For example, a government could imprison a particular ethnic group for life and segregate the population by sex, thus eliminating a particular ethnic group. This would constitute genocide, but no other crime has been committed. Could they do that to people who hold a particular political belief? Yes, they could. But, we have not chosen, as of yet, to identify that particuler situation as one that is deserving of a larger degree of moral condemnation.

What is the basis on which society may protect races and/or ethnic groups? The same basis on which we protect lives, bodily integrity, the apprehension of a battery (assault), property, national security (treason), the interests of the legal process (criminal contempt, aiding and abetting an escape), the regulatory system (insider trading, vote fraud), public order (disorderly conduct, obstruction of government administration), public health (practicing medicine without a license, drug laws), or any other arbitrary thing that society has decided to protect: we think they are worth protecting.

Again, you can disagree with with any or all particular arbitrary reasons for which criminal law assigns degrees of moral culpability, but it is difficult to reconcile an argument that genocide or hate crimes are that much different than the mens rea requirements of many other crimes in castigating particular intents (or motives, if you insist).

An obvious alternative is to allocate priorities based on the number of innocent people who are threatened with death, not based on whether the danger is the result of ethnic hatred or some other type of hostility.

That is an alternative, and one that I think we all understand that you advocate. However, I think many others recognize that there are differences in culpability between people who commit murders for various reasons, and can easily understand and articulate the difference between a lynch mob or the final solution and a Lt. Calley or Hiroshima. I am sure, if you were curious (which you do not seem to be... you definitely do not come across as genuinely curious why some would advocate such positions, but rather smugly self-satisfied in your strawman construction), you could find many, many resources detailing why ethnic, religious and racial violence, particularly that which seeks to exterminate a group, is so loathsome to many people, and thus deserving of moral condemnation.
10.17.2007 6:06am
Another guest:
Wait a minute - has anyone actually made a case for morally distinguishing between genocide and mass murder for other reasons? Or is this just an assumption to set the pot stirring?


That is the current state of both international and domestic law.


It's true that international law distinguishes between the two--but where is the argument that genocide is worse?

You've set people speculating on that point, but didn't point to any authorities who actually argue it.
10.17.2007 7:06am
Zathras (mail):
The same argument occurred over the Holocaust, whether it was worse because it targeted a culture. Arendt makes much the same point against treating it differently in Eichmann in Jerusalem.
10.17.2007 8:17am
NatSecLawGuy:
International Law has put "mass murder" as a category of crimes against humanity. Therefore, the debate here should be limited not to whether we just should just have a mass murder crime (because we already do), rather the question should focus on whether the because of the moral repugnancy of genocide it deserves a different categorization and thus a higher condemnation?

One thing to note, generally punishments for crimes against humanity vs. genocide are not different (each usually getting the highest punishment allowed).
10.17.2007 8:24am
LM (mail):

Sure, there is a DIFFERENT intent. But why is it a WORSE intent? In both cases, the killing itself was committed intentionally. Only the motive for it was different. But why should that difference in motive matter?

I agree it shouldn't. I suspect, though, that people are influenced, at least in part, by the word's rhetorical punch as a term embodying all the elements and conditions of a culpable mass killing in wartime. As previously mentioned here, when apparent civilians get killed, culpability turns on their innocence, their having been targeted, and so on, ethnicity aside. When the accusation is genocide, the same conditions apply, plus those relating to ethnicity, religion, etc.. The difference is that there's a single word, genocide, for the latter, but as far as I'm aware, no single word for non-genocidal culpable killings in wartime. That makes "genocide" an especially potent mixture of concept (the ethnic considerations) and economy (all the factual and legal findings that go into a determination of guilt).

So when you hear about a bunch of civilians wiped out in a war zone, you think maybe it was collateral, maybe not. "Kill" doesn't tell you a whole lot about culpability. But when you hear "genocide," all the factual and legal elements are presumed, the defenses dismissed; pretty much everything's off the table because unlike "kill," "genocide" is a legal conclusion that tells you everything about culpability. If it's genocide, you're guilty. Period.

I'll bet most people assume off hand that all "genocide" is adding to the conversation is an ethnic consideration, when in fact they're being influenced by the implication of a guilty act, not just ethnic animus. Putting it another way, I'd guess Turkey's objection to the genocide label, despite its having long acknowledged mass killing of Armenians, isn't so much a stigma or even heightened culpability of genocidal war crimes, but rather the implication of war crime culpability at all.
10.17.2007 8:26am
Dylanfa (mail) (www):
Whether genocide is worse than mass murder depends on the motive for the genocide (and the murder). Certain illegal and immoral killings have more justification than others. The USSR wiping out every German they could get their hands on in 1946 would be less blameworthy than the Holocaust or Stalin's purges against his own people.

Debating degrees of monstrousness isn't very interesting, however.
10.17.2007 8:27am
NicholasV (mail) (www):
Why is it worse to kill for premeditated pecuniary gain than for spur-of-the-moment jealosies? That is no less arbitrary, yet results in two different crimes.

I can think of a couple of reasons why it's worse, but another separate reason why the penalties should be different. Of course for the victim they're pretty much as bad as each other. But premeditation suggests that the perpetrator has much bigger problems.

I don't know about you but when I get mad I do things I wouldn't normally do. Luckily this does not extend to harming people in my case. I have harmed a couple of pieces of furniture though. I guess it's seen as more forgivable, and that the perpetrator requires less rehabilitation, not actually being evil as such. I imagine it requires a pretty twisted mind to plan and carry out a murder, whereas all it (potentially) requires to commit a crime of passion is a particularly bad temper and an opportunity.

However the real point is, I think, that it may be possible to discourage premeditated murder via larger penalties, by the very fact that the perpetrator has by definition considered it beforehand, and such consideration would extend to the penalties if they are caught. On the other hand a person committing a crime of passion is less likely to be deterred by the penalties. So in a sense, one crime carries punishment both as punishment/rehabilitation and deterrence, while the other does not involve deterrence as much.

IANAL but that's my take on it.

On the main topic, I don't think there's any real moral difference and contra an earlier comment I do think civilized countries have business interfering in people killing each other when it gets bad enough.
10.17.2007 8:38am
PersonFromPorlock:
Moral, schmoral, the practical difference (as several commenters have noted) is that if we insist on 'genocide' we can avoid having to do anything in places like Darfur.

Does anyone else remember how America's response to the on-going Cambodian holocaust was a sudden, years-long preoccupation with the Nazi Holocaust? It was a wonderful foil as we passed by on the other side and it showed just how unwilling we are to get involved.
10.17.2007 9:10am
A.C.:
It seems to me that body count is the fundamental measure of how bad any mass murder is. Each individual counts equally, and the total number annihilated measures the total loss to the world. Arguments about genetic or cultural diversity don't impress me -- the indivual is most important.

That said, I do think you can add the "genocide" label as an aggravating factor AFTER you consider the body count. Trying to wipe out a small ethnic group does seem worse than killing the same small number of people at random. But I think this distinction vanishes when the death toll is high enough.

I draw the same sort of distinction with regular hate crimes. I can see the point in having a hate crime for property damage or simple assault when those actions are motivated by the desire to intimidate a whole group of people. But murder is so severe that the fact it's murder trumps the hate crime designation.
10.17.2007 9:41am
A.C.:
Sorry -- individual. Need more caffeine.
10.17.2007 9:42am
R. Richard Schweitzer (mail):
Isn't all this palaver really about motive?

Presumably there is an issue of when killing, especially murder of those not hostile to the killers, is "justified." E.g., wartime shelling of non hostile villages (Serbs on Croats).

Is it really a question of volume?

And, what is the importance of all this "distinctive" labelling?

R. Richard Schweitzer
s24rrs@aol.com
10.17.2007 10:02am
Enoch:
The USSR wiping out every German they could get their hands on in 1946 would be less blameworthy than the Holocaust or Stalin's purges against his own people.

It would? All three of those sound equally immoral to me.
10.17.2007 10:52am
J. Smith:
The biggest problem with things like the Armenian (attempted) genocide are, of course, the survivors. If you successfully commit genocide, NO ONE CARES. It's when you do a half-assed job of it that people start to get pissy.

I mean, really, how many times during our race's bloody and warlike history do you think an entire tribe, an entire nation, or an entire ethnic group has been wiped out? How about just in the last 4000 years?

But attempted genocide is like ripping someone's fingers off, feeding their forearms into a chipper, plucking out their eyes with a grapefruit spoon, then stopping. What do you think is going to happen?

OF COURSE that mutilated person is gonna be pissed, and of course he's gonna show his mutilated body to everyone who will watch and of course he's gonna want you to pay. That's the difference between genocide and murder: the victim, in a sense, is still "alive" and wants your head.
10.17.2007 10:55am
~aardvark (mail):
Since Somin has cited international law, I feel a need to respond where otherwise I might have passed. It seems that both Somin and a bunch of readers are either deliberately ignoring or are completely ignorant of the legal issues involved.

The distinction has little to do with moral equivalence. Mass killings general fall under "crimes against humanity" category unless they happened to be a result of legitimate combat, in which case they fall under "war crimes". Genocide is specifically singled out as a separate and distinct crime, even though some aspects of genocide do fall under "crimes against humanity" as well. There is nothing seriously wrong with a particular crime falling into more than one category, so, if you follow the conventional definitions of CAH, you will find a number of elements of genocide listed. This should not be surprising--the difference has more to do with the standard of proof than with any ontological distinction.

To make matters more complicated, genocide need not result in mass death per se. If you take international genocide conventions and treaties literally, cultural genocide or forced relocation also falls in the same general category even if they do not result in mass killing.

But, overall, I think, it is misguided to pursue this line of argument. My main point is that there is a foundational reason to make the distinction that has little to do with moral equivalence. There are, however, legal consequences stemming from that distinction. Perpetrators of genocide are essentially subject to no-quarter provisions while those involved in crimes against humanity have a more specific restriction on their movements--that is, only signatories of specific conventions have obligations to turn them over. Again, the issue is the specific treaties and conventions, not moral equivalence.
10.17.2007 11:00am
ronnie dobbs (mail):
As a Jew, I've often thought about why the Nazis (and other genocidal killers) are viewed by most (including myself, at least at a visceral level) as worse than the communist mass murderers, such as Stalinist Russia or Maoist China.

The answer that I've come up with is that the targets of a genocide cannot escape their killers by joining (or pretending to join or at least acquiescing in the ascendancy of) a political movement (such as the Communist Party*)--they are simply marked for death as members of the targeted group, no matter what. Thus, while a million murders is a terrible crime, no matter whether driven by genocidal impulses or "mere" political ones, genocide strikes me as more horrific in the sense that the victims had absolutely no way out--if the murderers are intent on murdering Armenians, or Jews, or Tutsis, there's nothing the victims can do to ameliorate their situation.

*This is not to suggest that various communist regimes didn't engage in crimes that could be characterized as genocidal (e.g., the Khmer Rouge's murders of "intellectuals" probably falls into that category), but merely that the difference between "mainstream" communist regimes, such as the Soviet Union and Cuba, and genocidal regimes, such as Nazi Germany, is that one could "go along to get along" (however difficult and/or soul-killing) under the communists, while there was no such option available to the Jews under the Nazis.
10.17.2007 11:04am
Pluribus (mail):
Is it worse to cover the walls of a synagogue with swastikas than to cover the walls of a bank with the names of a street gang? In the first case, the intent is to strike fear into an entire group (Jews) while in the latter the intent is unclear. Is it worse to burn a cross on the front lawn of a black family than to set fire to the contents of a trash bin in a white family's yard? In both cases, the crime is arson. In the first case, an entire group of people (blacks) are the target of the crime. In the latter, the intent is unclear. I think it is more reprehensible morally to threaten an entire group of people, and that is what I understand the intent of genocide to be.
10.17.2007 11:04am
Seamus (mail):
But suppose Pol Pot had instead targeted a small ethnic minority unique to Cambodia. The effect of this would have been suffered worldwide and for the rest of history. Because ethnicities, compared to social groups, are incapable of regenerating after obliteration, genocide warrants its special status.

So the Genocide Treaty is really a kind of Endangered Species Act for ethnic groups, aimed at preserving ethnodiversity? That's a new one to me.

BTW, I agree that it's a fool's errand to try to define a crime of "genocide", as opposed to simple "mass murder." The problem of figuring out what kinds of mass murder qualify as genocide just get too complicated to be worth it. I'd say the same thing about the attempt to define "hate crimes" (as distinct from simple murder, assault and battery, arson, vandalism, etc.), or "terrorism" (as distinct from murder, air piracy, kidnapping, assault and battery, arson, vandalism, etc.).
10.17.2007 11:27am
talleyrand (mail):
In my view, Ilya raises a strong point--one that is increasingly accepted among human rights advocates. The Genocide Convention imposes on all States-Parties a duty to prevent genocide. Although this clause has never been enforced through armed humanitarian intervention (indeed, States have gone out of their way to avoid calling an act of state-sponsored mass murder "genocide" for that reason), there is a movement among advocates to extend the duty to protect to victims of other forms of mass murder that do not meet the legal definition of genocide.

http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/
10.17.2007 11:35am
Another guest:
aardvark - Thanks. I think your comment nails the point on the head. There is a distinction in international law between genocide and mass murder that does not necessarily depend on a moral equivalence (or lack thereof) between the two.

A moral basis for the distinction may be implied, and is obviously often inferred (as the comments here demonstrate). When the moral distinction is made, it's almost unavoidably an invidious one (as the comments here also demonstrate).
10.17.2007 11:46am
Guestronomy:
I question whether it's worthwhile to pose fundamental questions like this as a matter of first principles without attempting to engage what people in the field say about it -- Dorf not being in the field. But I can see the attraction, and it certainly doesn't stop anyone else from adding their two cents.

1. You should probably bracket the problem you pose in your update -- I believe the received wisdom in the case law is that a "substantial" part is required. The law of attempts is also relevant, but fairly standard to criminal law, and doesn't diminish any underlying distinction, but . . .

2. This picks up on other comments by aardark and talleyrand, but I think you limit artificially the question on the table. The issue isn't genuinely whether mass murders that don't amount to genocide are morally irrelevant, or even of a distinctively lower category of inquiry (though this latter argument is often made, granted). Rather, the international community has been loathe to criminalize conduct by sovereign states and leaders thereof, and so makes choices to isolate certain conduct that may or may not be morally distinctive, but at least is somewhat narrower in character -- and may seem more pressing for historical reasons, more akin to the unlawful conduct of war (this argument was pressed by proponents of outlawing genocide), and so forth. Many favoring a ban on genocide would happily endorse, in theory, a ban on mass murder, but there are limits to what the international system will support. Crimes against humanity are another dimension to this issue.
10.17.2007 11:48am
PLR:

Rather, the international community has been loathe to criminalize conduct by sovereign states and leaders thereof, and so makes choices to isolate certain conduct that may or may not be morally distinctive, but at least is somewhat narrower in character...

Amen to that. Perhaps we should question why we treat those who drop bombs from great heights differently from those who leave bombs at the curbside, for example. But I digress...
10.17.2007 11:56am
Hoosier:
The case of the Khmer Rouge is the most problematic, from my perspective. Pol Pot, Ta Mok, Khieu Sampan and co. sought to wipe-out all non-Khmer ethnics in Cambodia. Viets, Thais, Hmong, Lao, Chinese--all were set for extermination. And they came damned close with the Chinese and Viets. Clearly, genocide in this case

On the other hand, the *vast majority* of Pol Pot's victims were Khmer, like the Khmmer Rouge leadership themselves. So this was "mass murder." But was it "genocide"? If so, it was unique--the only case of ethnic "self-genocide" that I can think of.

The problem is complicated by the fact that these murders--of Khmer and non-Khmer alike--were part of the same program, or policy. It was insane. But it was a policy decided upon by the political leadership, in order to reach its goal of creating a rural, egalitarian, and autarkic socialist state. So I am not sure that it would have made sense to try the perps on separate counts.

And so here is where I lose my legal moorings. Any suggestions from the VCers?
10.17.2007 12:07pm
David M (mail) (www):
Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 10/17/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.
10.17.2007 12:18pm
c.l. ball:
One potential reason for the legal distinction between racial, ethnic, national or religious mass killings is that those classifications usually are applied to children as well as adults and are often ascriptive, not avowed. (We could check the preparatory documents to see if this was the case.) One might be "born" Jewish, Catholic and Armenian but one is not considered "born" Democratic, Communist, Fascist, etc. One can renounce money (give it away) or ideals but not categories that are determined by others to be inherent to the person -- a Jewish or Armenian child. Consider the killings of leftists in Argentina; their children were often adopted by their killers because the children were not considered to be leftists. How many Nazis adopted Jewish children?

Michael Mann, the sociologist not the director, has a good discussion of categorizing mass killings in _The Dark Side of Democracy_. He uses the term "murderous ethnic cleansing" and defines it to incorporate politicide, classicide, and other widespread mass killing. Of course, this is for scholarly and not legal purposes.
10.17.2007 1:03pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Only you lawyer types could try to draw distinctions between "mass murder" and "Genocide". No wonder americKKKa is going down the flusher.

When Hell is full the dead will walk the Earth.
10.17.2007 1:24pm
hattio1:
To take this thought in a different direction, does anyone think governments will really act differently if we adopt Professor Somin's suggestion to do away with the distinction between genocide and mass murder and his implicit suggestion that governments be required to intervene when the mass murder is "unjustified." If that were the distinction in international law, governments would be talking about the rebel groups in Sudan and whether or not the killings in Darfur were justified by that.
What we need to change is not the law, but the political will in the US and worldwide. If you can't do that, no change to the law will matter. If you can, no change to the law will matter.
10.17.2007 1:28pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Another guest asked: 'Wait a minute - has anyone actually made a case for morally distinguishing between genocide and mass murder for other reasons? Or is this just an assumption to set the pot stirring?'

He got three rather abstract replies. Here is a specific person: Jimmy Carter.

Just last week, in Darfur (or having just come back from there), he said it was 'unhelpful' to label the killings -- which he did at least sort of deplore, in an offhand way -- genocide.

This was in an interview on NPR. His reasoning seemed to be that using the word made his meetings with his buddy Bashir uncomfortable.

Well, golly. I can see that.

This is a rather strange discussion. As relates to Darfur, international law appears to be utterly irrelevant, if your goal is to eliminate or even to slightly reduce the number of murders that are racially motivated.

As relates to Turkey, retroactive resolutions about genocide seem beside the point (although I do think Turkey should be broken up in the interests of, among other good things, a Great Kurdistan), but what about the Turkish mass murder or genocide of Armenians in 1892? Don't we care about that?

Finally, why isn't anybody deploring the genocide or mass murder or whatever you call it in Congo, where the death toll is supposed to be about 10 times Darfur and four times Rwanda?

As for Ilya's original question, my counterquestion is, so what? What difference would it make? Why does anyone think international law is the proper way to address these large-scale killings? Has international law been effective so far?

If not, why not?
10.17.2007 1:38pm
jpe (mail):
So long as the author sticks to his consequentialist ethics, s/he won't be able to understand the particular evil of genocide, which is really only explicable from a deontological standpoint (ie, it's the motivation that makes it ethically worse than undifferentiated mass murder)
10.17.2007 1:43pm
cathyf:
One other(perhaps unsavory) element is that genocide feeds directly into the logic of group victimhood. Thus a Jew in Cleveland was a victim of Hitler's genocide, while a gentile who perished in Auschwitz was not. An Armenian in California was a victim of the Turk's genocide, while a Kurd who was killed by the Young Turk government in 1916 was not.
10.17.2007 1:54pm
Ilya Somin:
So long as the author sticks to his consequentialist ethics, s/he won't be able to understand the particular evil of genocide, which is really only explicable from a deontological standpoint (ie, it's the motivation that makes it ethically worse than undifferentiated mass murder)

OK, let's assume that we are Kantian deontologists. It is STILL not clear why racial or ethnic motivations for killing innocent people are worse than than political, class, and other motives for the same kinds of acts.
10.17.2007 1:58pm
Ilya Somin:
As a Jew, I've often thought about why the Nazis (and other genocidal killers) are viewed by most (including myself, at least at a visceral level) as worse than the communist mass murderers, such as Stalinist Russia or Maoist China.

The answer that I've come up with is that the targets of a genocide cannot escape their killers by joining (or pretending to join or at least acquiescing in the ascendancy of) a political movement (such as the Communist Party*)--they are simply marked for death as members of the targeted group, no matter what.


Actually, many of the victims of communist mass murderers also had no option to save their lives by "joining" with the communists. Think of those killed because of their class origins, for example - which people have no more control over than racial origins.
10.17.2007 2:01pm
lee (mail):
Of course the Ottoman Empire was at war with the Russian Empire. The Russians were advancing through the Caucasus. A military decision, not an ethnically motivated decision, was made to eliminate potential Russian allies. Military logic not ethnic hatred(though it was present)dictated this democide.
10.17.2007 2:08pm
Guestronomy:
Ilya,

Your post asked, "Is there any good reason to distinguish genocide from other forms of deliberate mass murder of innocent people?" You now ask "why racial or ethnic motivations for killing innocent people are worse than than political, class, and other motives for the same kinds of acts." These are different questions. An answer to the first may be something like, "It was a good place to start: there was consensus, it admitted of a limiting principle, the conduct more closely resembled other prohibited conduct like warfare, etc."

As to both questions, I would suggest surveying the literature.
10.17.2007 2:25pm
ronnie dobbs (mail):

As a Jew, I've often thought about why the Nazis (and other genocidal killers) are viewed by most (including myself, at least at a visceral level) as worse than the communist mass murderers, such as Stalinist Russia or Maoist China.

The answer that I've come up with is that the targets of a genocide cannot escape their killers by joining (or pretending to join or at least acquiescing in the ascendancy of) a political movement (such as the Communist Party*)--they are simply marked for death as members of the targeted group, no matter what.

Actually, many of the victims of communist mass murderers also had no option to save their lives by "joining" with the communists. Think of those killed because of their class origins, for example - which people have no more control over than racial origins.


I'll certainly concede that point, and to the extent that was the case, I wouldn't draw a distinction between "mass murder" and "genocide." (See my asterisked comment in my original comment.)
10.17.2007 2:29pm
Seamus (mail):
although I do think Turkey should be broken up in the interests of, among other good things, a Great Kurdistan

Well, the Allies tried that in the Treaty of Sevres. The Ottoman government accepted the Allied terms, but Ataturk's government told the Allies to go shove it. The Allies backed down, and the Treaty of Lausanne recognized Turkish rule over the Kurdish portions of what's now Turkey (not to mention what the Allies at Sevres had set aside for the Armenians and the Greeks).
10.17.2007 3:42pm
one of many:
Not easy distinctions to make. I've always considered genocide to be worse than incidental mass murder because of the mens rea (whether intent or motive I am not going to decide). I ask whether X group is targeted because the actor seeks to gain political advantage by attacking X or does so because the continued existance of group X constitutes a moral affort to the actor. Hitler and Rawanda clearly met the latter test, while Stalin seemed to target groups which would threaten political stability thus Stalin was looking for a gain from his actions other than simply a world without kulaks (inter alia) in it. Pol Pot sorely tests this, while his ethnic based killings were based upon a percieved threat offoreign influences combined with Lysenkian 'eugenics' it seems that he was personally affronted by the mere existance of intellectuals and the Lysenkian argument was just a bonus.
10.17.2007 4:23pm
Justin Levine:
I think it might also be useful to consider the distinctions between "mass murder" and a lopsided victory in a war which also involves civilian casulaties. There may be different moral equations between the two - even though they may end up with the same practical result. Unless of course you equate all forms of war with "mass murder" (and "genocide", if you also equate the terms "mass murder" with "genocide") - but if that is the case, then this whole debate simply devolves into an irrelvent excersise in utopian fantasies (which, come to think of it, is how I often look upon notions of "international law").
10.17.2007 4:33pm
Elliot123 (mail):
I'd suggesr we really don't consider genocide to be worse than mass murder; we simply consider the label "genocide" to be worse than the label "mass murder."

Genocide carries more emotional punch than mass murder. I suppose this is because we have heard so much about the horrors of the Holocaust, and have accepted that crime to be the most horrific in our collective memory. It carries the label "genocide," so genocide carries the emotional impact.

"Mass murder" has an emotional punch, just not as much as "genocide." Various crimes involving the killing of large numbers actually compete to carry the label "genocide." Has anyone ever heard an advocate for a group that suffered horrific killing demanding it be called mass murder? Two very similar events can take place. The group that succeeds in getting the label "genocide" rather than "mass murder" will get much more attention.
10.17.2007 5:00pm
Toby:

On the other hand, the *vast majority* of Pol Pot's victims were Khmer, like the Khmmer Rouge leadership themselves. So this was "mass murder." But was it "genocide"? If so, it was unique--the only case of ethnic "self-genocide" that I can think of.

Well that's easy - by following the precendent set by the Endangered Species act. Species used to be defined as populations that could interbreed and produce fertile off-spring. Sub-species were recognized, but were messy under ESA. So new defintions were made, such that fish that interbred easily but had a slightly different hue characteristic of the North Fork, were declared different species.

We can simply do the same with peole and define anything we want as genocide. All ethinc WhoDos. Since uppler class and lower class WhoDos rarely inermarry, although they can, killing of either class must be genocide. Ausbergers people are genetically different, so killing off the technically elite in a society (to return it to its agrarian roots) must be genocide.

The Romanos (if I understand the program correctly) usually breed within their kind, so any converted effort to get rid of a crime family, or even to raise their kids for them when they all get sent to jail, nust be genocide.
10.17.2007 5:52pm
wfjag:
Obviously, "genocide" under the definition in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, includes much more than "mass murder." As noted above, the US is a party to the treaty, and the definition of genocide is:

"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.
"

This raises some other interesting questions about US law, since treaties are also the supreme law of the land. I was struck by the potential application of subpart (d) in connection with an AP article dated OCT 17th, entitled "CHICAGO RESEARCHERS LOOK FOR 'GAY GENE'".

One of the statements was:

"Many gays fear that if gay genes are identified, it could result in discrimination, prenatal testing and even abortions to eliminate homosexuals, said Joel Ginsberg of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association."

Does that mean that abortion rights are limited by the Convention if the abortion is sought because (potentially at some time in the future, assuming that homosexuality has a genetic basis) prenatal testing shows the fetus to have "gay genes"?

And, what of other conditions that have identifiable genetic causes (e.g., Downs). Is it genocide for US law to permit abortions if testing identifies such?

That involves intrepreting the phrase "imposing measures intended" -- does that require a legally valid order from someone in a position of authority, or only establishing legal standards that tolerate the outcome?
10.17.2007 6:13pm
Eli Rabett (www):
The cute little update about Pol Pot (a waste of protoplasm if there ever was one) going after the overseas Chinese in Cambodia simply shows that whoever is pushing this peanut needs to rent a clue. The ethnic Chinese are a distinct community in Cambodia. They are many generations removed from China and with their own traditions and customs.

More to the point, and to push the argument to the wall, shoot it dead, and leave it to decay after being eaten by jackels (you might tell that I have not much respect for it) by the criteria of the update, the Holocaust was not genocide because there were a number of Jews in the Americas. Pfft....
10.17.2007 7:07pm
ys:

Actually, many of the victims of communist mass murderers also had no option to save their lives by "joining" with the communists. Think of those killed because of their class origins, for example - which people have no more control over than racial origins.

I'll certainly concede that point, and to the extent that was the case, I wouldn't draw a distinction between "mass murder" and "genocide." (See my asterisked comment in my original comment.)

And what about people who had no special negative characteristics under any official classification and indeed behaved and expressed their loyalty in the required way, yet they still perished because they were denounced in some way or simply because they were swept in various intake streams that were required by the mass murder system? There were actually numeric quotas in the system that had to be met, just like other quotas of the infamous 5-year plans, and there were plenty of victims just to fulfill the quotas.
10.17.2007 7:27pm
New Pseudonym (mail):
I am confused:


"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."


. . . has been quoted as the text from the convention.

If so, the inclusion of religious group seems to eliminate all the "gene pool" arguments that have been made to justify the distinction between genocide and mass murder.

As for the distinction between religion and class as making a difference, the argument is only valid because it is the wording of the treaty. The previous argument that you are born into a religion, but not a class is beyond me withoug further clarification. I was born Catholic and I was born middle class. Both these facts resulted in me having certain attitudes and beliefs later in life. Although I can make a subjective distinction between the two, is there an objective one? "You're not born into" a social class doesn't make it for me.

Finally, since the Peoples Republic of China has a law which imposes measures intended to prevent births among the Chinese, is it guilty of genocide under the terms of the treaty?

And finally finally, what is the status of the treaty? Has it been signed, or both signed and ratified?
10.17.2007 8:00pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Look, it's 'genocide' if we want to move on it and it's 'mass murder' if we don't. Simple.
10.17.2007 9:34pm
Mary (mail):

Why is it worse to kill for premeditated pecuniary gain than for spur-of-the-moment jealosies? That is no less arbitrary, yet results in two different crimes.


Why is it worse to kill for premeditated jealosies than for spur-of-the-moment pecuniary gain? That is no less arbitrary, yet results in two different crimes.

"Genocide" as a form of mass murder is the jealousy vs. pecuniary gain distinction, not the premeditated vs. spur-of-the-moment.
10.17.2007 10:17pm
Mary (mail):

Is it worse to cover the walls of a synagogue with swastikas than to cover the walls of a bank with the names of a street gang? In the first case, the intent is to strike fear into an entire group (Jews) while in the latter the intent is unclear.


The case may not be unclear in the latter. What if the street gang does it to intimidate everyone?
10.17.2007 10:26pm
JG (mail):
Guestronomy has this right. We could perhaps take a lesson here from Paul Wolfowitz on the WMD rationale for Iraq. Promulgating international law norms is difficult business that requires incredibly broad consensus. We all agree that killing is bad when the motive is race or ethnicity. We do not all agree that killing is bad when the motive is politics. The US committed mass murder in Vietnam. No, wait, they did it pursuant to the laws of war (sometimes), so it's different? The difference is motive of course, and an international law norm that targeted something broader than genocide would get into definitional questions that aren't in everyone's interest. If you want to condemn mass killing, you start with the easy case.
10.17.2007 10:44pm
Enoch:
the targets of a genocide cannot escape their killers by joining (or pretending to join or at least acquiescing in the ascendancy of) a political movement (such as the Communist Party)

many of the victims of communist mass murderers also had no option to save their lives by "joining" with the communists.


Indeed, many of the victims of the communist mass murders were in fact communists! They thought they had already joined the winning team (or acquiesced in its ascendancy) to escape their killers.
10.17.2007 10:55pm
Hoosier:
"No wonder americKKKa is going down the flusher. "

Would have been kinda funny to post this with the "Woman Screams Obscentities at Her Potty" thread. But don't we generally misspell our country's name with three "Ks" and NO "c"? "AmeriKKKa"? That's the only way I have seen it misspelled by very angry people. Like your fine self.

And this is NOT meant to open up the old prescriptivist/descriptivist debate.
10.17.2007 11:02pm
Hoosier:
" The US committed mass murder in Vietnam. No, wait, they did it pursuant to the laws of war (sometimes), so it's different? The difference is motive of course, and an international law norm that targeted something broader than genocide would get into definitional questions that aren't in everyone's interest. If you want to condemn mass killing, you start with the easy case."

Well, yes it is different. It is "war." Which always involves killing people. At least if done competently.

In Vietnam? It is not clear what American actions you define as "mass murder." If you mean killing large numbers of communist Vietnamese--Well, that was how Westmoreland planned on winning the war. Not very pleasant. Or promising. But, again, war involves killing the enemy. Since we have the category or War Crime, it's hard to accept that *all* acts of war are crimes from a legal standpoint. And thus not all killing in war is murder, though some can be.
10.17.2007 11:09pm
JG:
Hoosier, I think you are agreeing with me. War *is* different, which is exactly my point. The difference in war, like the difference in genocide, is motive. So it turns out we do care about motive in law, particularly in international law.
10.18.2007 10:20am
ronnie dobbs (mail):

the targets of a genocide cannot escape their killers by joining (or pretending to join or at least acquiescing in the ascendancy of) a political movement (such as the Communist Party)

many of the victims of communist mass murderers also had no option to save their lives by "joining" with the communists.

Indeed, many of the victims of the communist mass murders were in fact communists! They thought they had already joined the winning team (or acquiesced in its ascendancy) to escape their killers.


Allow me to clarify yet again. First, I am as staunch an anti-communist as you'll find. I am not trying to make excuses for murderous communist regimes, and I do not deny that they frequently engaged in behavior that would fall under my definition of genocide (i.e., the targeting of persons for murder based on an immutable characteristic). I simply meant to inquire as to why I (and apparently many others) tend to view the Nazis, the ethnic cleansing Serbians of the 1990s, and the Hutus as subjectively more evil than mass murderers motivated by other concerns (such as ideological purity in the case of many communist regimes, or territorial/material gains in others).

I merely submit that one way of measuring relative evil is the availability of means of avoidance. While it is surely evil to murder someone because he refuses to sign on (or pretend to sign on) to your political views (or because he refuses to cede a particular piece of territory) (I'd term any resulting killings as "mass murders"), the possibility of avoiding death by complying with the request renders that evil relatively less evil than a program that targets its victims for death without giving those victims any means of defense or avoidance (I'd call this "genocide"). Thus, genocide is worse than mass murder. At the end of the day, I'm not sure how much difference it makes--I certainly wouldn't advocate being more lenient on mass murderers than those who commit genocide, nor is it much an honor to say that you're slightly less evil than a Nazi.
10.18.2007 12:16pm
Lugo:
I merely submit that one way of measuring relative evil is the availability of means of avoidance.

Yet it is not at all clear that the victims of "mass murders" had any more readily available means to avoid their fate than did the victims of "genocide".
10.18.2007 2:05pm
ronnie dobbs (mail):

I merely submit that one way of measuring relative evil is the availability of means of avoidance.

Yet it is not at all clear that the victims of "mass murders" had any more readily available means to avoid their fate than did the victims of "genocide".


An example (or a more detailed hypothetical) here would be helpful.
10.18.2007 3:52pm
Elliot123 (mail):
The term "genocide" has now entered the real of the useless. Does anyone consider removing kids from a group to be on a par with killing everyone in the group?

Who would call the Canadians' forced placement of Indian kids in government schools to be in the same class as the Nazi eradication of Jews?

Does it make much sense to say both the Canadians and the Nazis are guilty of genocide?

Does it make sense to send our war machine overseas to stop placing kids in government schools?
10.18.2007 4:32pm
Hoosier:
"Who would call the Canadians' forced placement of Indian kids in government schools to be in the same class as the Nazi eradication of Jews?"

North American professors, that's who. So, in other words, no one who doesn't have a pragmatic, career-advancement interest in equating the two.
10.18.2007 5:44pm
dweeb:
<i>But why is it somehow less wrong to kill her for being a moderately affluent peasant, a member of the wrong social class, or a political opponent of the government?</i>

It goes to the issue of who is an "innocent." A moderately affluent peasant can give his material wealth away, and cease to be moderately affluent. Typically, the social classes targeted are the upper ones, and one always has the option of downward mobility. Obviously, one always has the option of abandoning opposition to the government. These sorts of personal status are both fluid and alterable by personal choice, and thus, depending on one's moral frame of reference, may serve to exclude people from the category of innocents. There are plenty of people in the USA, and quite a few in Congress, who view affluence, certain class membership, and political opposition as terrible crimes. One cannot, however, alter one's ethnic background, no matter how hard one tries. With genocide, there is no escape clause. Thus, genocide, in addition to being murder, also runs afoul of our intuitive sense of justice, which expects that one's prospects be reasonably related to one's choices.

What I find more interesting is that someone who claims to be a libertarian focusing in on the "loss of cultural diversity" argument for a legal definition. Where, in libertarian ideals, is a desired cultural outcome justification for government action? Or is this focus intended as a straw man to support your position?
10.18.2007 9:24pm
Lugo:
Yet it is not at all clear that the victims of "mass murders" had any more readily available means to avoid their fate than did the victims of "genocide".

An example (or a more detailed hypothetical) here would be helpful.


A great many victims of the Soviet purges were neither Old Bolsheviks nor "counterrevolutionaries" of some sort. How were the many purge victims who were innocent supposed to avoid their fate? They couldn't "support Communism and Stalin" - they already did so, or so they thought. How were the wives and children of "traitors to the motherland" supposed to avoid their fate?

A moderately affluent peasant can give his material wealth away, and cease to be moderately affluent.

Well gee, affluence is in the eye of the beholder. None of the kulaks thought they were kulaks.

Obviously, one always has the option of abandoning opposition to the government.

Except a lot of people swept up in the mass murders did not, in fact, in any meaningful sense oppose the government that killed them. Indeed, many Soviets who were purged supported Communism and Soviet rule.

These sorts of personal status are both fluid and alterable by personal choice, and thus, depending on one's moral frame of reference, may serve to exclude people from the category of innocents.

The moral frame of reference in which kulaks "chose" to be kulaks, were not innocent, and deserved to be killed is completely abhorrent. I find it incomprehensible that anyone could draw a moral distinction between this type of mass murder and race-based genocide.
10.19.2007 5:13pm
dweeb:
Lugo,
Clearly, if people killed for opposing the government didn't actually oppose the government, that wasn't the REAL reason they were killed. Much of the Soviet purges were actually based on ethnicity, and might thus be considered genocide.
The bottom line is that the one personal attribute that can never be changed is who your parents were, and so genocide crosses an additional moral line, in that there is nothing one can do to escape it. While mass murders may not perfectly target their victims, if they are based on a status that the victims can change or avoid, then they don't cross that line.

The moral frame of reference in which kulaks "chose" to be kulaks, were not innocent, and deserved to be killed is completely abhorrent.

I agree completely, but it is internally consistent, and depends upon a causal relationship between one's choices and one's fate. Even in the worst slum, economic pecking orders are well known to everyone, and those who are slightly better off know that they are and can point to the assets that make them so. Abhorrent though such a moral system may be, in responding to a question posed by an atheist, there's really no basis for elevating our moral system above that of the old Soviets.

I find it incomprehensible that anyone could draw a moral distinction between this type of mass murder and race-based genocide.

That's because you're unable to see that genocide can be more evil than mass murder without diminishing the degree to which mass murder is evil. However, I didn't draw a distinction, I just outlined how one could do so in an internally consistent, even if abhorrent, moral system.
10.20.2007 3:18am
dweeb:
Indeed, many of the victims of the communist mass murders were in fact communists! They thought they had already joined the winning team (or acquiesced in its ascendancy) to escape their killers.

BUT, a much smaller percentage of them were killed than of those who openly refused to align with the communists. Thus, joining or pretending to join the communists had a clear impact on the probability of getting killed. The escape strategy doesn't have to be perfect to be meaningful.

If a building collapses and the only survivors are the smokers standing out on the street to get their fix, that doesn't change the fact that smoking will, on average, shorten your life span, or diminish the value of quitting as a survival strategy.
10.20.2007 3:32am
David M. Nieporent (www):
The same argument occurred over the Holocaust, whether it was worse because it targeted a culture. Arendt makes much the same point against treating it differently in Eichmann in Jerusalem.
I think part of the reason -- one of many reasons -- the Nazi genocide, at least, is deemed to be so horrible compared to "mere" mass murder is how senseless it was.

_Most_ mass murder has a point. (Which is, obviously, far different than saying it was justified.) It arises out of conflict between two ethnic groups for the same land/resources/etc. Or country A with majority Ethnic Group A is fighting a war with a country B with majority Ethnic Group B, and A is worried that the minority Bs in its country will ally with the enemy. But the Holocaust had no larger purpose; it was murder solely for its own sake; indeed, the Nazis actually diverted resources from their war effort to carry it out.
10.21.2007 6:58am
Enoch:
if people killed for opposing the government didn't actually oppose the government, that wasn't the REAL reason they were killed. Much of the Soviet purges were actually based on ethnicity, and might thus be considered genocide.

Nope. Most of the victims were Russians, and they were not killed "just for being Russian."

The bottom line is that the one personal attribute that can never be changed is who your parents were, and so genocide crosses an additional moral line, in that there is nothing one can do to escape it.

I don't agree that this is a meaningful "additional moral line", not least because, as I said, the victims of non-ethnic/religious based mass murder largely had no way to escape it either. There was no "choice" they could have made in the real world (as opposed to the world of moral mind games). It is all very well to say that "rich peasants could have given their wealth away", but we all know that these peasants would never have done that because they never imagined that they would be executed someday when their neighbor, who did not own a cow, denounced them for owning a cow. This is just not a real choice and does not create a meaningful moral distinction between such victims and people who were killed because of who their parents were.

For a moral line to have meaning, the affected person has to be aware that they are making a choice. The victims of mass murder were not aware that they were "choosing to be rich peasants" and that their life depended on this choice. Therefore, when the Soviets and Red Chinese killed the rich peasants, that murder was as arbitrary and unavoidable from the standpoint of that rich peasant as was the Nazi execution of a Jew from the standpoint of the Jew. From an outside perspective, why should we condemn someone who kills a lot of people for political reasons that seem totally arbitrary to the victim more strongly than someone who kills a lot of people for ethnic reasons that seem totally arbitrary to the victim?

Anyway, if it's all about "choice" now, let's talk about "choice" and genocide. Every victim of genocide "chose" to live where they lived, and thus become a victim. "Where you live" is a status you can change / avoid just as easily, in the real world, as "what you own". So why should we condemn the Nazis for killing Jews who "chose" to live in Europe more strongly than we condemn the Soviets for killing peasants who "chose" to be rich? (In case it's not clear, my point is that this talk about "choice" is ridiculous, whether it pertains to mass murder or genocide.)

there's really no basis for elevating our moral system above that of the old Soviets.

Say what?

you're unable to see that genocide can be more evil than mass murder without diminishing the degree to which mass murder is evil.

I'm unable to see that genocide is more evil than mass murder because it's not more evil. I see no reason at all to condemn mass murder for arbitrary ethnic/religious reasons than for arbitrary political reasons.

a much smaller percentage of them were killed than of those who openly refused to align with the communists. Thus, joining or pretending to join the communists had a clear impact on the probability of getting killed. The escape strategy doesn't have to be perfect to be meaningful.

Nope. The number of Communists executed in the Great Purges was a much higher proportion of their overall numbers than of the non-Communists (and nobody in the USSR in the 1930s "openly" refused to align with the Communists). In short, you were much more likely to be killed if you were a Party member in 1936 than if you were not. This was not an "escape strategy" -- and talk of "escape" is meaningless in any case, since nobody joined the CPSU in the 1930s thinking this would allow them to "escape" being killed by Stalin.

_Most_ mass murder has a point. (Which is, obviously, far different than saying it was justified.) It arises out of conflict between two ethnic groups for the same land/resources/etc. Or country A with majority Ethnic Group A is fighting a war with a country B with majority Ethnic Group B, and A is worried that the minority Bs in its country will ally with the enemy. But the Holocaust had no larger purpose; it was murder solely for its own sake; indeed, the Nazis actually diverted resources from their war effort to carry it out.

Pointless to who? The Soviet purges and the Chinese Great Leap Forward seem equally pointless to me as the Holocaust. The Nazis definitely thought there was a "point" to killing the Jews - and indeed they thought this point was so convincing that it enjoyed greater priority than the war.

I submit that in every case, mass murder is pointless if considered from the standpoint of a struggle for land and resources. Any two groups will always be richer and more successful overall if they cooperate for the common good rather than trying to kill each other. (It is, of course, a mistake to base policy on this principle, since we have abundant evidence in the Middle East today that many groups would rather kill their enemies than cooperate with them and get rich.)
10.21.2007 3:24pm