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I have been working on this essay for the last six months. It was inspired in part after one of my class mates (after watching
Schindler's List) asked if the Holocaust was really that bad. What I took for common knowledge (the atrocities of the holocaust) other knew little or nothing about. I then realized that in my high school and collage level history classes the holocaust was only mentioned as a side note. Originally this was just about the Nazi holocaust, but as I did more research I realized how many genocidal events had happened that we knew little or nothing about. 

As of Jan 16th 2008 I do not have my reference page done, but it will be added.  

For many Americans, when they hear the word ‘Holocaust’ they think of the genocide of the Jewish people and other minorities in Nazi occupied Europe. They also tend to think that it is a thing of the past - that today’s enlightened more tolerant people could never do something like that. What goes unknown to many Americans is that there were genocides long before the Holocaust, and unfortunately, there have been many since.  Just in the past 100 years conservative thought gives us nine genocides, with another six events that are arguably genocides.
Even with that large number of genocidal events, most of us think of only one, the Holocaust.  Some know of the Darfur Genocide from world news, and a few may recognize or remember the Rwandan and Bosnian events as genocides. Other than historians and the descendants of those prosecuted, few have heard of the Armenian Genocide, Assyrian Genocide, or the political genocides of Mao, Stalin and the Khmer Rouge. As for the debatable genocides, most Americans would recognize the segregation of blacks in America since the Civil War as a horrible thing, but few would think of it as genocide. The same can be said of American actions toward the American Indian, the actions of Australians towards the Aboriginal people, whites towards blacks in South Africa, the Young Turks to the Pontiac Greeks, and the actions of those of Spanish descent to the natives in Guatemala. While little known, they are often denied to be genocides by the perpetrators.
So, with all the widely agreed genocides and possible genocides in the last 100 years, why are so many of them unknown to us, and what, if anything, did we do at the time to stop them? While there are 14 genocides listed, because of time restraints only four will be discussed in detail, but some of the other ten will be referenced.
What’s in a Word?
            Before we can explore the genocides of the last 100 years, we must first determine exactly what genocide means. We must also explore the sister terms of holocaust and ethnic cleansing.
            As a term, genocide is relatively new. It was coined in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin. As defined by Merriam-Webster, genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group”. The United Nations (UN) however has developed a much more specific definition. As stated in Article II of the UN’s Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG);
“…genocide means 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.”
Because of its greater specificity for this paper the definition from the CPPCG will be used.
            To go along with genocide, we also have the terms “holocaust” and “ethnic cleansing”. Originally the term holocaust referred to destruction or sacrifice via fire. As a term it dates back to the 13th century.  Because of the use of crematories by the Nazis to dispose of their victims, this term was chosen to represent the genocide committed by them. In recent thought it has come to mean merely a mass killing, not necessarily by fire. Ethnic cleansing, a term first used in the 1990’s by Americans, means “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity”.  When combined, those terms cover much of the definition of genocide from the CPPCG. These terms are used more to refine a genocide when referenced rather than in an attempt to replace the term genocide. Research shows that often Americans use the term ethnic cleansing to downplay a genocide so that we do not feel guilty about not preventing it. The most popular use of the term is in describing the wars in the Balkan states in the early to mid 1990s. Many times we not only had warning that genocidal events would take place, but we had UN peacekeepers nearby, and journalists in the surrounding area. With people practically witnessing events of genocide right in front of them, then doing nothing about it, a new term was used to cover up or downplay guilt.
Not on our Watch: The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
            As a response to the Nazi Holocaust world leaders, spurred on by Lemkin, created and passed a world law on the prevention and punishment of future genocide. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948 and came into effect in January 1951. This convention was the brainchild of Raphael Lemkin, who had been working on getting mass murder of a minority group by a majority group outlawed since 1933. At the time he called the crime of genocide “barbarity” or “vandalism”, depending on exactly what was done.  At first, his proposal was shot down. Many of his colleagues thought that there was no need for the law because events like that would not happen in civilized places such as Europe. Others were already feeling the pressure of Hitler and his Anti-Semitic ideals and so they denied the law because Lemkin was Jewish. After his proposal was defeated at the League of Nations, Lemkin went back to his home to Poland. But quickly he felt the coming wave of Nazism, and in 1939 he immigrated to America.
Seeing America as the land of opportunity, he again started his battle to prohibit mass murder. This time, however, he realized that he needed a new word to encompass the crimes of this magnitude. As news of the Nazi crisis reached America, Lemkin started a one man lobbying machine. He toured the states giving speeches, and spoke to congressmen and senators, often as they were trying to avoid him. He was relentless in his mission to not only get the event of mass killing of a minority made a crime, but to get the United States to add stopping the Nazi’s mass murder of Jews and others as a war goal. In 1943 Lemkin finally hit on a word to encompass this brand of mass murder, “genocide”.  Once he had his new word, Lemkin began to push for its use when describing Nazi crimes. At the end of the war when the Nuremburg trials were set up, Lemkin was ecstatic. He believed that finally this gruesome crime would be prosecuted. He was soon disappointed. Not only did the Nuremburg judges ignore him and his new word, but they only prosecuted the Nazi mass killings that took place after the Nazis invaded another country. Any Jews or other minorities that were killed from Germany or German territories was legal.
After this disappointing turn of events, Lemkin turned to the newly formed UN.  By 1948 the draft for CPPCG was complete and it went to vote. It was passed unanimously. For years Lemkin had lobbied for his law, haunting anyone who had any influence. When the CPPCG was passed many expected to find Lemkin celebrating, but he was missing from the voting floor. He was later found weeping in the UN assembly hall. One witness described him weeping “As if his heart would break”. When asked what was wrong, Lemkin said “Let me sit here alone…[the CPPCG is an] epitaph on my mother’s grave…she and many millions did not die in vain.” His great work had been passed. From the unanimous vote it seemed like a “shoe-in” for ratification, which required twenty member states to pass it in their countries. At the time it was thought that America would be one of the first to ratify it, but in fact, it took until 1986, when the USA was the 98th nation to ratify the CPPCG.
            What seemed like an easy vote became a long drawn out battle in the United States for many reasons, primarily because of the isolationist attitude of America at the time.  Lingering anti-Semitic forces blocked the legislation to ratify the CPPCG in America, as well as the southern states because of fears that they would be charged with genocide due to slavery. At the beginning, the American Bar Association (ABA) also opposed the CPPCG because it was considered to broad too be a law, but the ABA dropped its opposition in 1976. For years Lemkin again lobbied the U.S. Senate and the presidents, up until his death in 1959. In a twist of irony, the man who built his life on remembrance only had seven people attend his funeral. The fight to get the CPPCG ratified was taken up by Senator William Proxmire.  From his election in 1967 to the ratification in 1986, Proxmire used a strategy of once-a-day speeches on the issue of genocide to drive home the need to pass the CPPCG. Each day the U.S. Senate was in session he gave a new speech, for a total of 3,211 speeches. He and Lemkin were tireless crusaders in the fight against genocide, but both are little known.
            The general lack of interest in passing the CPPCG typified the American response to genocide. In each genocide in the past century America has had prior warning on unrest in the area, if not outright warning that people were going to be killed. In each instance we ignored it. No U.S. president has ever made the prevention of genocide a goal in a war or police action. Bill Clinton is the only U.S. president to have tried to stop a genocide when in progress, but he relented on the advice of his military advisors.
“Who now remembers the Armenians?”: Hitler and the Nazi Holocaust
            Between 1935 and 1945 the Nazi’s caused the death of 5.9 million Jews, 1.8-1.9 million Poles, 220,000-500,000 Roma and Sinti (gypsies), 200,000-250,000 handicapped people, 5,000-15,000 homosexuals, 2,500-5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious dissenters. Many more of these minority groups were imprisoned, deported or sterilized. It is commonly thought that the Nazi Holocaust did not begin until the opening of Ghettos in 1939 after the invasion of Poland. However, if you use the CCPCG genocide definitions, the Nazi holocaust would have started 1935 with the Nuremberg Laws. The Nuremberg Laws prohibited Jews from German citizenship, from certain jobs, allowed hospitals to refuse Jews and from marrying a ‘pure’ German. The Nuremberg Laws also affected handicapped people and had provision for sterilization or euthanasia. When the ghettos first opened in 1939 they were filled predominately with Jews and Poles. Homosexuals, handicapped, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Roma and Sinti were arrested and sent to jails or mental hospitals rather than ghettos. Systematic mass murder of the Jews did not start until 1941 when the Nazis used mobile killing squads called Einsatzgruppen. In 1942 when Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibór began operations as death camps the mass killings were extended to Roma and Sinti. Others undesirables were sentenced to work camps or the firing range. By 1945 the Nazi holocaust had been stopped. However, stopping the Holocaust itself was not a war aim. It merely happened once the Nazi’s were defeated.
The predominant non-Jewish feeling in American towards the Holocaust ranged from ‘at least its not us” to ‘Oh no! How bad, but I can’t do anything about it”. For the most part non-Jewish Americans reacted the same way most do now-a-days to those commercials about starving children in Africa. They felt bad…and then did nothing. A minority of non-Jewish Americans sent money to Jewish Aid Leagues and tried to persuade the government to act. 
            The American Jewish reaction to news of the Holocaust was similar to European Jewish reaction when the Nazis first occupied an area -- disbelief. Many could not believe that people could be so cruel to one another. Once that naiveté was shattered, many American Jews turned to anger -- anger at Hitler and the Nazis for being so inhumane, anger at FDR and Congress for doing nothing, despite the fact that he had the power to do something. This anger was often turned to military service, political pressure, and fundraising.
            American political reaction was much like the non-Jewish reaction of the American populace. Few tried to introduce bills to help, but they were shot down by those that didn’t care, or by those who saw the bills as a threat to the people already living in America. FDR’s reaction seems to be slow, as if he couldn’t believe it was true, or as if he didn’t care. However, as hateful as the Holocaust was, it was not the only thing happening in WWII, and in the long run a quick end to the war could save more lives than railroad bombings.
            Military reactions again parallel the general reaction of Americans. The exception to this would be after a unit had liberated a Nazi camp. As many units liberated camps, they would hand out food to the starving people, often giving away treats sent from home. Other times if a unit stayed in the area long enough, they would force the civilians from the surrounding areas into the liberated camp to see what they had condoned by their inactivity. In the case of Jewish American soldiers, they saw themselves as not only fighting for their county, but for their people. As many Jewish families were newly immigrated (only a generation or two) each Jewish soldier had the potential to liberate family members as they went from camp to camp.
“Keeping you is no profit; losing you is no loss.": The Khmer Rouge
            The Khmer Rouge were a radical communist government in Cambodia from 1975-1999. The Khmer Rouge government arrested, tortured and eventually executed anyone suspected of being in one of the enemy classes. The enemy classes were anyone with connections to the former government, anyone with connections to foreign governments, anyone who was an intellectual or showed signs of learning, anyone of non-Cambodian ethnic background, anyone practicing their religion, and anyone who was a social undesirable (prostitutes, homosexuals, criminals, etc).  Many of the victims were killed on the spot, but some were sent to the Tuol Sleng Centre (also known as S-21) for processing before they were killed. Of the 10,000-15,000 people sent to S-21, only 7 are known to have survived. The mass killings of the Khmer Rouge mostly took place from 1975-1979, during the time that Pol Pot forced evacuations of the city into the county.
            During the Vietnam War, we viewed Cambodia as a possible and probable threat. We bombed South Cambodia, and secret missions took place throughout the county. By the time of the Khmer Rouge anti-U.S. sentiment was high. Our actions made any anti-U.S party look good to the Cambodian people, and hence we drove people to favor the Khmer Rouge. Once the Vietnam war ended we basically ignored the country, except for the normal anti-communist polices (accepting large numbers of refugees from Cambodia). While on the surface it looked like a typical communist state with intellectuals fleeing, it quickly became more.
            We soon realized that this communist regime had gone beyond those before it. At the start they sent all city dwellers into rural exile. They were expected to work in the rice field, just like those born into farming. Many of the urban exiles had no idea how to farm, or even how to find their own food. Many starved, or were executed for not making the food they were supposed to (because they must not have tried.) Some urban dwellers were killed before they could ever farm. Those who were educated, or even who just had glasses, were exterminated in camps like S-21, which ironically enough used to be a high school.
            American reaction to the news of the genocidal kills was little or nothing at the time. There were a bit of donations to help the newly immigrated, a few news stories, and little else. Since the cold war ended, our action has increased, mostly in the last five years. Within the last five years we have been a major player in the calling for, and the organization of, the Khmer Rouge genocide trials. Despite all this, I have so far found very little acknowledging that our actions during the Vietnam war in Cambodia helped turn people to communism, and into the arms of Pol Pot.
“Cut down the Tall Trees”: Rwanda Genocide
            The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 is to date the most brutal genocide of the past 100 years. In the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide more people died per day than in any other modern genocide. And in what may be the saddest part, we knew for a fact that it was coming. Lieutenant-General Roméo Alain Dallaire of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda sent repeated reports on rising tribal tension, Hutu militias growing violent, and of weapons stockpiles. Instead of acting on this information it was covered up. When the genocide started, Dallaire again pleaded for international help. The only response he got was that he was not to engage in combat. As more UN peacekeeping troops were pulled out, Dallaire concentrated his defense efforts in the capitol city. Because of his actions, even when he and his troops were vastly outnumbered, they were able to save 20,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates. It was revealed during the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, that the genocide was brutally efficient. While it lasted for only 100 days it lead to the murder of between 800,000 and 1.2 million Tutsi and Hutu moderates and over two million people were displaced.
            In the Nazi Holocaust we ignored what was happening for the ‘greater good’ or the war. For the Khmer Rouge we may have pushed the Cambodians to the Communist party and Pol Pot. But in the case of Rwanda we directly caused the deaths of 100,000’s of people. We had repeated eye witness warnings of U.N. observers of militia type groups arming up, of increased Hutu and Tutsi tension, and of countless thefts of weapons by Hutu extremists. We ignored them all.
            Even once the killings started, when it was early enough to stop many of the deaths, we did nothing. We didn’t just ignore it, we made it worse. By dismissing what was going on as a civil war or internal conflict, we delayed national aid. By endorsing or proposing U.N. resolutions that would remove most of the peace-keepers we eliminated what few safety zones there were. Even when we finally acknowledged that it was not a civil war, we quibbled over semantics long enough for more to die.
            The only western country more at blame than the U.S. was France. Safety zones established by the French were anything but safe. There are also reports of the French helping the Hutu extremists in an effort to keep control of the French-African areas.
            In total, the American reaction the Rwanda Genocide was appalling. Perhaps because it was so (comparatively) sudden our concern did not have enough time to kick in until it was too late. Or perhaps lingering racial ideals are to blame. It should be noted that while it lasted only 100 days, even using the conservative death estimates, the killings per day are higher than in any other modern genocide.
On our Watch: The Darfur Conflict
            The current conflict in Darfur is long and confusing. The central debate around it is whether or not the killings in Darfur at the moment are a genocide or a civil war. Unlike other cases where we wanted to call a genocide a civil war, there is a valid argument for it here. The conflict started in early 2003. The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked and overran a military base in the Darfur region. The JEM complained that the non-Arab people of Darfur were not being treated equally to the Arab people. For the next six months the JEM led successful attacks against the Sudanese government in the Darfur region. At this point the conflict was still a civil war. But in mid July the Sudanese government unofficially sent in the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed is primarily comprised of black Arabs, where the JEM and much of the Darfur region is composed of Africans. If the Janjaweed had only attacked the JEM bases this would still be a civil war. However the Janjaweed choose to attack civilian African villages and would rape and slaughter the inhabitants. The Janjaweed quickly gained the upper hand. By the spring of 2004, several thousand people had been killed and as much as 1 million more had been driven from their homes into neigboring countries. In one notable event over 100,000 refugees poured into neighboring Chad while being pursued by Janjaweed militia men. As the refugees made it over the border the militia men clashed with the Chadian forces.  At the end of the skirmish 70 militia men and 10 Chadian soldiers were dead. By April of 2004 UN observers were reporting that non-Arab villages in the region were being targeted while Arab villages were being left alone by the Janjaweed.
Also in 2004 the first of many ceasefires was negotiated with the help of Chad and then broken by the Janjaweed. Throughout 2005 UN and Chadian government officials warned the world that the conflict in Darfur was on the brink of being a genocide. Despite these warnings the western world at large ignored the conflict. At most money was sent to the Red Cross with an earmark for Darfur. In 2005 the conflict tapered off slightly as Red Cross official came into the area to distribute supplies. In 2006, however, the respite was over. The attacks increased to the level that it was no longer safe for the Red Cross to operate in many areas. Despite UN resolutions to help the area, 2006 saw little international help as the aid agency pulled out. In a new wave of terror, the Janjaweed started raping women en mass. Because of cultural ideals, raped women were seen as unclean and unable to be married. The Janjaweed was well aware of this, so these actions can be seen as a systematic effort to end the non-Arab ethnic group in Darfur by limiting the way in which the next generation can be born. Because of international and U.S. reluctance to upset the Sudanese government the conflict only grows worse. While the Sudanese government is not officially helping or condoning the Janjaweed, they are known to have provided them with weapons and are reluctant to do anything that would limit their movements. Add to this the undermining of the sanctions by Russia and China in 2007, and little has changed. In late 2007 significant progress was made when the JEM and other smaller non-Arab rebel groups united in a larger group and agreed to go into negotiations with the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government. As of yet, however, little has come of this, and the conflict is still ongoing.
For the most part, American response to the Darfur conflict is ‘spot on’ to the response we have had to other Genocides. People send in money, the government says that it is a horrible event, and then we all ignore it. Every few months a new celebrity will have a ‘Save Darfur’ benefit, or someone will put out a new book or song. But for the most part we have made no concrete effort to end this. Unlike Rwanda where we had 100 days, we have had almost five years to stop or slow down this genocide. If actions truly speak louder than words, then we have failed.
Crimes against Humanity: Genocide Justice
            The first trials for genocide were the Nuremburg trails after WWII. While groundbreaking in their own way, these trials were greatly flawed. Not only did they make no mention of the word genocide, but they only punished the Nazi murders in invaded countries. Basically stating, if anyone wanted to commit the mass murder of a minority, it was okay, as long as they kept it in their country. The CPPCG changed that, but even after it was ratified (made into a world law) no genocide charges were brought against any county until the late 1990s.
The first genocide trial under CCPCG was for acts committed in the wars in the Balkan states. Shortly after the start of that genocide trial, one was started for the genocide in Rwanda. At first both trials were ineffective because they suffered from a lack of funding and public attention. It took almost three years for a major arrest in the trials at the Hague (where the trial for the genocides committed in the Balkan wars was held). Even after that arrest, many of the perpetrators of the genocides in the Balkans were not arrested. This was not because we did not know who or where they were, simply because it was not an aim of the UN peacekeepers at the time. Most arrests were made by chance. It was not until 1998 that arrests began in earnest. One of the biggest perpetrators of genocide in the Balkan region was Slobodan Milosevic, who was not arrested until 1999. Ratko Mladić, another major figure in the genocides in the Balkan wars, has yet to be caught. Slobodan Milosevic died in 2006 without ever being tried. Overall the biggest problem with the Hague court is that people in that area have no great trust in government, let alone the justice system, and have been reluctant to cooperate with it. Once over that hurdle, there is still the problem of witness intimidation. Of the people that get passed, there is then a long wait in the trials because of the nature of them. So far the biggest war criminal the Hague has prosecuted is Radislav Krstic. During his trail Krstic did show a small degree of remorse. After the testimony of an elderly Muslim woman, whose husband and two young boys had been taken from their house and shot on Krstic’s order, the woman asked to address Krstic. She asked him “…if there is any hope…at least for that [youngest] child that they took from my hands…if he is somewhere alive?...” After that question, Krstic froze, and lowered his head, unable to look the woman in the face.
In contrast with the Balkan trials, the problem with the trial for the Rwandian genocide was not that they were unable to capture the perpetrators. The vast majority of those in the upper command of the Hutu militias were captured swiftly because of the fact that they fled to neighboring counties which swiftly turned them over to UN control. While getting arrested is normally seen as unlucky, it was in fact, very lucky that these men were turned over to the UN. Any high up members of the Hutu militia that were captured by the restored Rwandian authorities were automatically sentenced to be hanged. The trials were to be held in Arusha, Tanzania.  Because of technology issues, it was difficult for the people in Rwanda who were gathering evidence to communicate with those in Arusha who were trying to prepare the cases. Add to that, the corruption of the Arusha court because of the high wages paid by the UN (lawyers native to the region would earn in an hour what would normally take them a month) and the trials were slow to the point where some accused them of being inhumane. Once the corruption and technology issues were taken care of, the trials proceeded at a slow but steady pace. In 1998 a precedent setting decision was made. Jean-Paul Akayesu was convicted of genocide on the grounds that the systematic rape of Taba Commune that he ordered was in fact, a genocidal event. In 2003 another precedent setting decision was made. The court decided that the broadcast radio personalities of the media, which encouraged the genocide of 1994, had committed genocidal actions. The three main people responsible for this were sentenced to life in prison (the harshest sentence allowed in the Arushain court). The U.S. contributed to these trials both lawyers and judges, as well as sattellite and other intelligence that was gathered at the time of the events.
 “My ethnic group is the human race.”: Preventing Genocide
            When all is said and done, the Genocide has in one way or another been with the human race for time in memoriam. We have tried to ignore it, tried to criminalize it, tried to guilt people into preventing it; we have threatened people with bombings to get them to stop the killings, but those actions have not stopped genocide. At best, they have only slowed genocide down.  The only way to truly put an end to genocide is through education.  If we can manage to get people, even just a few people, of both sides to understand each other it could change the world.  Granted, the change would start small, but it could grow. This change would most likely start with children, as it is easier for children to change their ideals than it is for adults.  In 1997 when Hutu militants attacked a school in Burundi, the school children refused the orders of the militants to separate into their tribes so the Tutsi students could be killed. These brave children stood up to the militants for their friends. The militants, however, did not take these actions kindly, and decided to massacre all the students instead of just the Tutsi. Afterwards, one of the surviving students said “My ethnic group is the human race. We stayed together to the end. No one sold the other out.”. Children at the point of a gun realized the universal truth that we are all the same. That death of one of us, of one ethnic group, diminishes us as a whole. If we can now take the knowledge that these children learned, teach it to other children, foreign and domestic, then in generations to come we may be able to eradicate genocide. But this will only happen if We Do Something! It will not happen just because we wish it, or because we toss money at it. Only hard work, countless hours of education and outreach can eradicate genocide. It will start small, as all things do, but in the end it will be an enormous change in the human condition. A drop of water in a pond will first cause a small ripple, but that ripple will grow, until it reaches all points in the pond. Just something as simple as talking to your friends and neighbors is a small act, but with hard work it can grow into a movement that could change the world. 

“Having heard all this, you may choose to look the other way…but you can never again say that you do not know.”
-William Wilberforce

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June 2009


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