The year is 1500. The continent smells of death. The majority of the population is kept enslaved, though that term is used for only some of the victims. The common people, that ragged mass, work for nobles who either stole the land or had it granted to them from another thief. Food is not abundant. The average diet produces a form of walking starvation, allowing these “children of God” enough energy to labor in the farms and the mines, if not enough to reproduce. Indeed, somewhere around 80% of this population will leave no trace in our world, their genetic material snuffed out through violence, disease, pestilence, or the absence of conditions that would have allowed them to give birth to children who do not die in infancy.
In short, Europe sucked. The rest of the world did, too.
Of course, our goal is to prevent this from happening again. Mass death and work-based starvation are not appropriate fates for humans, whether Europeans or Amerinidans, whether in the 15th century or the 20th. What must be done, therefore, to prevent such genocides?
One tool, blunt but effective, is this: destroy genocidal cultures.
One objection, which must be dealt with straightaway, is to ask whether such self defense is itself genocide. After all, the definition of genocide presented by Moshman (2007) would appear to encompass cultural destruction, or at least transformation, as readily as biological death. This is true. But there can be no debate that the genocide that involves death is infinitely worse than one that does not.
At a first approximation, some form of social organization appear to be inherently genocidal. Take the Lakota Sioux, for instance. Lakota Sioux society was centered around the buffalo, an animal that existed in vast herds as a result to the Amerind die-off centuries earlier. Ignorant of either industry or agriculture, Lakota society forced tribes to follow buffalo herds that were otherwise impeded. Towns, farms, and other tribes that provided resource competition were exterminated or relocated, because no other organization of the means of production was possible as long as Lakota society relied on such wandering.
Following the end of the Sioux Wars, American forces recognized they had captured a Lakoa population in which every able body male was not just potentially a warrior, but actually a warrior. Every family was thus not just capable of harboring a potential genocidier, but actually was providing psycho-scoio-economic support to a warrior whose methods were inherently genocidal. Correctly distinguishing cultural continuity from democide, US forces set up a series of Indian schools with the explicit goal of killing the potential genocider within the child while providing the child a range of life-options, none of which included mass murder.
Off course, merely being settled does not make one peaceful. The examples of genocidal Germany, and merely shockingly inhumane Japan, provide proof of this. Once again, following victory, American forces were faced with thoroughly militarized populations. While the Germans and Japans had transcended the need for talking buffalo, their nightmare was all the more modern, including political institutions, religious organizations (including the National Reich Church and State Shinto), and civil societies focused on external wars of aggression. Once again, the US distinguished between cultural discontinuity and death. Membership in the NSDAP was outlawed, the National Reich Church and State Shinto faiths were persecuted more thoroughly than even the Romans might have dreamed, and core elements of social life (the national anthem in Germany, compulsory education in Japan) were banished.
Technologies advance, of course, and the prevention of genocide is now less kinetically intense, if no less thorough. Cultural folkways are often transmitted from mother to child, attempts to disrupt such transmission. To the extent that we wish to fundamentally alter these societies to reduce their militancy against us and their neighbors, both mother-son transmission and more fundamentally mother-daughter cultural transmission must be disrupted. That is, these cultures will continue to exist so long as mothers are able to train their daughters how to raise families. So, of course, we attack this weak link. Female literacy programs have the direct effect of ending an age-old method of matrilineal acculturation, replacing it with whatever current techniques such girls are introduced to in their texts. The details of those texts of course do not matter: it is not necessary that they become us: it is only critical that they cease being them.
Now, I am aware that the preceding anecdotes are narratives, not statistics. It’s possible that the Germans really would have â€œchilled ,â€ and there was no need for a two-strikes-and-your-out policy. Likewise, perhaps the Japanese were forced into war for structural reasons unrelated to State Shinto, and it may be that the nightmarish Ghost Dace Religion, a messianic cult looking forward to the death-by-fire of black and other foreigners in North America, was just another way of saying “I love you.” Maybe the conditions in all of the Islamic world are already above those that would require outside assistance in building female literacy.
Ultimately, the question of when to employ cultural discontinuity as a genocide prevention tool is part technical and part political. But it is an option, a human rights tool. And that is why definitions of genocide similar to “” are not necessarily incorrect but most definitely wrong: lumping the prevention with the disease merely hastens death.
Moshman, D. (2007). Us and them: Identity and genocide. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 7(2), 115-135.