From Sideshow To Genocide:
What is Genocide?

The deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. N. (1944) [genos Greek: race, kin; cida, from caedere Latin: to cut, to kill]

Genocide is a word that stirs up the deepest emotion, an uncanny chill that makes one realize how inhumane humanity can sometimes be. Incredibly, the word did not even exist until the 1944, when the Polish Jewish scholar Raphael Lemkin used it to describe the anti-semitic atrocities of of Hitler's Nazi Germany. In a period of less than six years the Nazis murdered over 10 million people: Slavs, Roma, and six million Jews. This wasn't the first time that a regime attempted to wipe out so many innocent people. Throughout history there are records of the mass slaughter of civilian populations, but it wasn't until the world's collective recognition of Hitler's "final solution" that we were able to give such destruction its own name.

Genocide, the murder of an entire people. Murder as policy.

In the years immediately following World War II, the newly created United Nations declared genocide an international crime. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1948, declared that genocide was

any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, 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.

Genocide itself was now a crime, along with conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide. Political and military leaders could not cite their sovereign status as their implied right to commit genocide - under no circumstances would genocide be viewed in an acceptable light.

Despite the U.N.'s declaration that genocide would no longer be acceptable, regimes have continued to strike down mercilessly on civilian populations. In the 1990s alone we have witnessed the "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims and Rwandan Tutsis. Though the rhetoric has changed, the results are still the same: hundreds of thousands of people murdered because of their religion, ethnicity or tribe.

While those of us in the United States deplore these atrocities, at a certain level we seem to dismiss their relevance to us. It is all too easy for us to close our eyes and say, "This is not our problem - we have nothing to do with it." In the case of Cambodia, though, the deaths of two million Khmers is our problem. Like it or not, our policies there during the late 1960s and early 1970s contributed to the conditions that allowed for the ascent of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Genocide does not occur in a vacuum. It is the consequence of hatred, paranoia, corruption, and power run amok. It is also the consequence of a world that lacks the will to prevent it.

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From Sideshow to Genocide: Copyright 1999 by Andy Carvin. All Rights Reserved.