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  • Editor's Introduction
  • Roger W. Smith

In many ways "genocide" is a concept with "blurred edges," hard to define, an atrocity that can take different forms, be committed by a variety of means, one that raises legal issues centering around interpretation and adequacy of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, and the limitations of legal institutions to either punish or prevent genocide. While in the abstract genocide can be distinguished from war, massacre, and ethnic cleansing, in practice these are often part and parcel of it. And if denial is the last stage of genocide, as many scholars maintain, the process of genocide continues long after the last death inflicted by direct violence. There are also major issues about "responsibility" for the crime and how to assess it. One of the articles included here takes up the question of American responsibility for the "Dirty War" in Argentina and concludes that there was "no direct responsibility." The evidence presented, however, indicates significant ways in which other forms of responsibility were involved, ranging from permission, indoctrination of military officers in National Security Doctrine, emphasis on containment of Communism over human rights, and passivity in the face of atrocities being committed by the military regime. What is needed is a more nuanced and inclusive way of describing guilt and responsibility, especially where, as in this case, many parties contributed in different ways to the destruction of the victims.

And how does one deal with the denial and justification that all perpetrators put forth, now more often than not under the guise of "counterinsurgency," of the "war against terrorism," and the like? Two of the articles presented here, those by Cheng Xu and Hazel Cameron, bring out the use of these terms (which the media seldom questions) to condemn the victims and to convert genocide into self-defense. Cameron's article also calls our attention to what might be called the "recycling of evil," in which those who were perpetrators in an earlier genocide guide the killing yet again in another genocide, and in the case of Zimbabwe that she writes about, becomes the new President, whose campaign rhetoric is filled with talk about "democracy, human rights, and the rule of law." Many others, who have been deeply involved in mass killing but may not have had the opportunity to do so again, have been rewarded with high positions by successor governments or regimes: notably in the Turkish Republic in its early years and Germany after 1945. Readers will be able to identify many other examples.

There are other issues raised by the studies included here, with special emphasis on the status of "cultural genocide," its legal and moral significance, and the kinds of actions that are required to repair the damage done to an entire group, in this case the Native Peoples of Canada, and its continuing effects over many generations. In this connection, there is also the dispute over the retention or destruction of records of individuals in the group who have been harmed in specific ways, questions over privacy [End Page 1] versus the possible destruction of the cumulative record of policies bordering on genocide.

The essays also show the variety of ways in which the issues of genocide can be raised and how one can approach them. There is the approach that combines path-breaking theoretical considerations with case studies to illustrate and confirm the theory. Then there are studies that focus on a single case, but in doing so are also able to illuminate issues that go beyond the case at hand, whether Zimbabwe, Argentina, the Native Peoples of Canada, or the Khmer Rouge. Some of the studies seem timeless in that the theory involved may apply to any case of, say, counterinsurgency; others focus on the immediate past, without delving into the long history preceding the genocide analyzed; and yet others, notably Anthony Hall's work, place the genocide in question within a framework that goes back hundreds of years and that is spread over vast geographical areas, such as North and South America. Here the emphasis is on a process of genocide that has a past, present, and future.

The study that...


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