April 15, 2008


The Genocide Loophole (Jonah Goldberg, April 9, 2008, Townhall)

Last week, Russia's lower house of parliament passed a resolution insisting that Josef Stalin's man-made 1932-33 famine - called the Holodomor in Ukrainian - wasn't genocide.

Not even the Russians dispute that the Soviet government deliberately starved millions. But the Russian resolution indignantly states: "There is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines." It notes that victims included "different peoples and nationalities living largely in agricultural areas of the country."

Translation: We didn't kill millions of farmers because they were Ukrainians; we killed millions of Ukrainians because they were farmers. [...]

Political scientist Gerard Alexander decries that type of absurdity as "Enlightenment bias." Reviewing Samantha Power's moving 2003 book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," Alexander observed that this bias leaves the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century - self-described Marxist-Leninists - somewhat off the hook.

In Power's book, the most influential writing on genocide in a generation, she scolds - often justly - the U.S. for not doing more to stop systematized slaughter. But by focusing so narrowly on the U.N.-style definition of genocide, she implicitly upholds a moral hierarchy of evil, which in effect renders mass murder a second-tier crime if it's done in the name of social progress, modernization or other Enlightenment ideals.

This is dangerous thinking; people perceived to be blocking progress - farmers, aristocrats, reactionaries - can be more forgivably slaughtered than ethnic groups because they're allegedly part of the problem, not the solution. After all, you've got to break some eggs to make an omelet.

For many, the Soviets and the Red Chinese elude the genocide charge because Communists were omelet-makers. Ukrainian kulaks, or independent farmers, opposed Stalin's plan for collectivization, so they were murdered for that "greater good."

Today, Mao and Stalin aren't in Hitler's class of evil because Hitler wasn't a "modernizer," he was a racist. Note how the Russians have no problem copping to the charge of mass murder but recoil at suggestions it was racially motivated.

It's a wrongheaded distinction. Murder is murder, whether the motive is bigotry or the pursuit of allegedly enlightened social planning.

In fairness to Hitler, his genocide was perfectly consistent with the Age of Enlightenment as well. It was just Applied Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 15, 2008 12:21 PM

People like Samantha Power can't bring themselves to accuse goons like Castro and Mugabe of genocide because they would be branded in academic circles. Even Hafez Assad's slaughter of 10,000 to 20,000 in Hama gets ignored because he was such a 'stable' leader.

But it is laughable (and lamentable) that the Russians can't even condemn Stalin of genocide now, 75 years later. Perhaps Putin is afraid of where that might lead. Perhaps he doesn't want to galvanize the Ukranians any further (although they already tried to kill Yuschenko).

The professional Left here cannot truly condemn genocide because it almost always backs the totalitarians. I'll bet all those on Billionaire's Row who attended Obama's party 2 weeks ago wouldn't condemn Stalin, Mugabe, Mao, Pol Pot, or Castro either. But they would be the first to be shot, no?

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 15, 2008 1:52 PM