Validating the Road to Genocide

Finally, the role of validation must be considered. We saw that failures to adequately punish the perpetrators of earlier massacres either of Armenians in 1894–96, Jews in Ukraine in 1918–20, or Tutsi in Rwanda beginning in 1959 likely contributed to the perceived vulnerability of these groups.

With the rise of contemporary mass communications, perhaps even resulting in a global village in the half-century since the Holocaust, validation does not have to be confined to the earlier unpunished murder of the potential victims themselves. If the ongoing process of massacre is not addressed, then victimizers anywhere in the world may conclude that mass killing will not be interrupted or punished, even if in a different location and with different victims. A process of this type likely occurred prior to the Rwandan genocide, and specifically in the early stages of the Bosnian conflict two years earlier. At this time, it had all the appearances of genocide, at least to many observers. The fact that the apparent mass murder of tens if not hundreds of thousands in Bosnia went unopposed, at least militarily in the opening, most influential stages of the conflict, made it appear that genocidal activities could be accomplished without serious external constraint in the post-Cold War climate of the 1990s. In other words, “if they can get away with it, so can we.”

Regarding another African conflict, “I call it the copycat syndrome,” said Dame Margaret Anstee, who was the UN secretary general’s special envoy in Angola in the early 1990s. She said that, in 1992, when the rebel leader Jonas Savimbi “chose bullets over ballots,” he had been watching the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [still at large!] “getting away with murder.” This interpretation accords with the finding of Stuart Hill and Donald Rothschild that receptivity to outside political violence is conditional upon a recent history of domestic strife, amply found in both Angola and Rwanda. The fighting between Hutu and Tutsi in 1959–64, the sporadic persecutions after independence (especially in 1973), and the ongoing strife after the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] invasion of 1990 amply satisfy this condition.

Widespread massacres anywhere in the world, particularly in regions with powerful states such as Europe, have the potential to be extremely influential, especially if these states do nothing to stop the massacres. If power disparities between potential interveners and victimizers are substantial, again as in Europe in the early 1990s, and no intervention occurs, then validation of massacre, if not genocide itself, can be even more pronounced. Thus, prevention of genocide in one location is dependent on prior occurrences not only in that location, but in almost any place in the world in which successful intervention to prevent mass murder could have occurred, but did not. As in understanding the etiology of genocide, prevention is a complex matter requiring vigilance and awareness of the appropriate antecedent variables.

SOURCE: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, by Manus I. Midlarsky (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), pp. 394-395

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