University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Lessons of Genocide

    Lessons of Genocide

    lessons of genocide

    TheĀ  wholesale slaughter of populations is as old as history itself; the holy wars of the Old Testament, the destruction of all traces of Carthage by Rome, the pyramids of heads erected by Mongols, the atrocities of Crusaders in the Holy Land, and countless other exam ples. Although morally indefensible, all these atrocities took place against foreigners - often enemy populations in wartime.

    Genocide, in contrast, is a 20th century development, and is the systematic extermination by a state of its own population. Part of its own population is perceived as the "enemy" and then methodically destroyed. "Classic" genocides of the 20th century include the Armenian Genocide by the Young Turks, the Holocaust by the Nazis, and the destruction of the Cambodian "intelligentsia" by the Khmer Rouge. These meet all legal definitions, but are only a small portion of the deaths in genocide-like campaigns. By 1985 the war casualties in the 20th century totaled 34 million while the victims of genocides and genocide-like campaigns were 119 million!

    Perpetrators often manipulate data. They try to reduce the death total or point out legal loopholes indicating that the atrocity was not a "true" genocide. These tactics ignore basic moral issues. Is a genocide permissible if the death total is 100,000 rather than 200,000? If a legal definition is ambiguous, are these deaths less valid?

    Genocide in the 20th century is a "fact of life" and occurs every day. Current headlines include Rwanda, Bosnia, Kurdistan and others. The extermination of the Armenians and Turkey's continuing denial prove that genocide IS a viable option. One CAN get away with murder, if one kills enough people.

    We CAN learn from genocide. If Turkey had been held accountable for its crimes, Hitler might have had more reservations about launching his own genocide. As long as Turkey and its emulators continue to profit from genocide, it will continue to act as a viable model.

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