The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective

By Robert Gellately; Ben Kieman | Go to book overview

12
Reflections on Modern Japanese History in the
Context of the Concept of Genocide
GAVAN MCCORMACK

The twentieth century was marked by nothing so much as the intensity of state-sponsored violence and terror. Historians struggle to come to terms with this by making generalizations, weighing and measuring, setting events to a scale. Genocide, understood in broad terms as the attempt to wipe out whole peoples, has beenallocated the polar positionamong such crimes, and among genocides, the Holocaust, understood as the attempt to exterminate the whole of the Jewish and Romany peoples (among an even broader range of categories), the place of absolute and unqualified evil.1 A prominent thread in the literature is that which insists that the only true case of genocide is the Nazi, because only the Nazis tried to achieve the annihilation of an entire people.2 However, it is reasonably clear now that in the evolving construction of the crime of genocide, the “classic” case of the Holocaust has been slowly extended to include at least three major examples: the “Aghet” massacre of Armenians by the Turkish empire between 1914 and 1923; the Khmer Rouge mass murder of Vietnamese, Cham Muslims, and other minorities and finally of urban Khmer between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia; and the massacre of the Tutsi people in Rwanda in the 1990s.3 In that

____________________
1
Although crimes were committed against many groups, from the “six million Jews who were murdered in German concentration camps” to the “countless citizens of the Soviet Union and Poland, ” the Sinti and Romany Gypsies, the homosexuals, and mentally ill, and all those killed for religious or political beliefs, as well as the German people themselves, first and foremost the members of the resistance, the term “Holocaust” is commonly applied to the first of these. (The list here taken from President Richard von Weizsäacker's speech to the German Bundestag, May 8, 1985, reprinted in Geoffrey Hartman [ed.], Bitburg in Moral and Historical Perspective [Bloomington, 1986].)
2
Steven R. Welch, “A Survey of Interpretive Paradigms in Holocaust Studies and a Comment on the Dimensions of the Holocaust, ” paper presented at the Workshop on Comparative Famines and Political Killings, Genocide Studies Program, Yale University and History Department, University of Melbourne, August 1999 <http://www.yale.edu/gsp>.
3
Christian P. Scherrer, “Preventing Genocide: The Role of the International Community, ” Summary of a report to the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, January 26–28, 2000 <http://preventgenocide.org/prevent/scherrer.htm>.

-265-

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