Sunday, March 14, 2010

The genocide and the trial - NBIH

Before I direct you to the two recent issues of New Books in History that touched on the issue of genocide and the trial of the perpetrators, I would want to advise you to listen to an old episode of Philosophy Bites. In this interview Chandran Kukathas of the London School of Economics analyzes the concept of genocide, its history and its legal meaning. He also formulates a proposal for improvement of the term. The points that stick out are that in a wide definition, genocide could imply acts that are not mass murder or destruction, but that are still aimed at eradicating a certain group, such as the burning of libraries, forced assimilation and measures to stop breeding. Yet Kukathas wants to refocus on the methods and make sure genocide will cover especially the murderous aspects of the crime. And then he wants to add more groupings to the definition and not reserve genocide only for the mass murder of ethnic and religious groups.

His expose of definitory problems are relevant in both issues of New Books In History, that I would like to recommend here, but especially for the interview Marshall Poe conducted with Ben Kiernan who witnessed the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer regime in Cambodia (both he and Kukathas define this as genocide even if it might be problematic definition-wise). He wrote a book about genocides (Blood and Soil) and even though he seems to engage in an entirely different kind of definitions than Kukathas (More historic and less legal) he comes up with the same examples and Poe takes him through those after having extensively touched upon Kiernan's experiences in Cambodia.

The next issue of NBIH to high-light goes into the details of one example of the genocide par excellence, the holocaust. Marshall Poe had a fascinating conversation with Hilary Earl about the history of the SS-Einsatzgruppen and their trials in Nuremberg. Apart from grazing the problems of definition (and of trial) again, Earl's research also gives a little bit more insight in how ordinary people, even educated, upper-middle-class people can be turned into murderers. And once a whole nation has been turned into a nation of murderers, how can trials be conducted, is a large additional part of the story.

A lot more about the subject of genocide can be had from the podcasts of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (which is also on iTunes). Another interesting addition is to follow Berkeley's History course that delves into the history and practice of Human Rights. Last but not least the LSE Podcast had several relevant issues, among others about the genocide in Rwanda and about the ICC.

More Philosophy Bites:
Dirty Hands,
Understanding decisions,
Nietzsche repossessed,
What can you do with philosophy?,
Morality without God.

More NBIH:
Nation and Culture,
Three New Books In History,
The fourth part of the world,
How the Soviet system imploded,
Vietnam War perspectives.