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Chapter 3 Genocide, Harm of Harms Each year on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in a grassy area between the Humanities and Social Sciences building and the main library, activists against abortion mount an outdoor installation of large vivid photos allegedly depicting fetuses removed from women’s wombs. Signs leading up to the installation read “Warning: Genocide Pictures Ahead.” Several of my colleagues have taken issue with the activists’ equating abortion with genocide. They reason that genocide—the purposive elimination of a people—is nothing like abortion, the purposive elimination of a fetus.1 I suspect that the activists, not much concerned with accuracy, want to designate abortion as the worst kind of harm imaginable, and that harm is genocide. Genocide has been called “the crime of crimes” (Schabas 2000). It strikes us as the worst possible harm because its eliminationist intent is absolute and explicit, because large numbers of people are harmed or meant to be harmed, and because it is often associated with unthinkable atrocities. And so I begin my exposition of a theory of harm with the worst possible harm, genocide, of which history regrettably offers many examples. I limit my empirical reference points to two twentieth-century genocides—that of Nazi Germany (1933–1945) and that of Rwanda (1994), the first being the paradigmatic genocide of living memory, the second infamous for its face-to-face brutality . Whereas this book highlights the role of discourse and 31 specifically stories in all harm, that role is especially vivid in the case of genocide. The Genocidal Target First, we should entertain how genocide perpetrators represent their victims. Victims and would-be victims are central to only a few theories of crime. They are fragmented communities in social disorganization theory (Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earls 1997). Residents of such communities lack “collective efficacy,” which theorists use to explain their communities’ higher crime rates. Crime victims are attractive, unguarded targets in routine activities theory (Cohen and Felson 1979). According to that theory, the place, object, or person that is unprotected, accessible, and desirable to the motivated offender is at relatively high risk of being victimized. The aforementioned observations reflect realist conceptions of factors that affect victimization risk.2 On the matter of how offenders construct victims—what victims are made to signify— only one criminological approach is explicitly attentive: Gresham Sykes and David Matza’s (1957) neutralization theory. Targets of delinquent action figure into denial of injury and denial of victim, two of the five “techniques of neutralization” that Sykes and Matza identify. It makes sense that neutralization theory, rooted as it is in social constructionism, has been applied to genocide (Alvarez 1997) because the true characteristics and conduct of genocide’s victims are irrelevant to genocide. The target as conjured is what matters. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen makes this argument, providing as evidence the surreal and flexible nature of constructions of the Jews in Europe, even in those historical periods and sites when and where actual contact with Jews was lacking. Various types of anti-Semitism are seen throughout history, characterizing Jews in different ways. Anti-Semitism becomes genocidal only when Jews are constructed as “beings whose very existence constitutes a violation W h y W e H a r m 32 of the moral fabric of society” (1996, 38). During the Nazi period, “the Jew, der Jude, was both a metaphysical and an existential threat, as real to Germans as that of a powerful enemy army poised on Germany’s borders for the attack” (88). The threat of the Jews was not well founded, but that fact did not prevent the harm. In the previous chapter I explored whether social distance, or constructing the Other as different, promotes harm. I concluded that social distance bears no straightforward relation to harmful action, but reduction of the Other does. The concept of reduction stretches to accommodate reduction to threat and reduction to nonhuman. The latter warrants particular attention , given how regularly it appears in the genocide literature. Dehumanization If we are to render the Other as distinct, it seems that we can do so no more effectively than by casting them out of the species. Culturally, despite evidence of certain strong crossspecies similarities, species is treated as an essential boundary—a marker of radical difference. Jody Roy offers, “When we dehumanize another person, we strip ‘them’ of any connection they might possibly have to ‘us’” (2002, 17). Dehumanization appears prominently in discussions of mass harm.3 Herbert Kelman observes...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813562605
Related ISBN
9780813562599
MARC Record
OCLC
864749917
Pages
180
Launched on MUSE
2013-12-12
Language
English
Open Access
No
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