When Genocide Was Wrong

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Once upon a time, in the capitols of the West, there appeared to be widespread agreement on at least one thing: genocide was immoral.

Christians and Jews, agnostics and atheists, and Republicans and Democrats, for that matter, seemed in agreement on one thing: genocide was immoral.

There was outrage in the West over the "ethnic cleansing" of the former Yugoslavia. Western European nations, as well as the always-spoiling-for-an-invasion Americans rushed to intervene in Bosnia and Herzegovina to prevent genocide. Moreover, the victims of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina were Muslims.

Rwanda? The West eventually decided it had to intervene to stop tribal warfare.

Tribal warfare, ethnic cleansing, and genocide were viewed as immoral. The blowhard politicians declared that such killing had to be stopped by nations with no national interests at stake.

In other words, the recent interventions in places such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda were justified on purely humanitarian grounds. (Query, of course, whether such justifications were truthful. Consider the Western acquiescence in the Russian slaughters in Chechnya). International law scholars argued that humanitarian intervention would trump national sovereignty.

That was when ethnic cleansing "was" immoral.

Where Iraq is concerned, genocide is now de rigeur. The very notion of "humanitarianism" has apparently gone out the window.

Ah, well, the politicians and power elites of contemporary America and Western Europe are nothing if not moral relativists. Genocide, it would seem, is immoral only when a protected class is threatened with extermination.

Consider the following statement by James S. Robbins from that bastion of "limited government" and "Western values" (well, post-Enlightenment "Western" values), National Review Online: "In 695 B.C. the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, diverted the Euphrates to flood the vanquished city of Babylon. Food for thought."

What, exactly, is food for thought about the idea of murdering millions via a flood?

It’s not genocide if you harness forces of nature?

It would seem that genocide is now encouraged, so long as the genocide is committed outside of barbed wire fences and against Iraqis. Bombing and flooding is perfectly fine, thank you. But please no camps or poison gas: bad connotations.

It would also seem that Americans and Europeans must surrender the unsupportable and foolish notion that there is something uniquely and genetically German that is prone to genocide.

It would seem that Americans can catch the genocide bug as well. But, of course, this is already established fact: let one not forget the treatment of Native Americans, Filipinos, and the women, children, and old men of the Confederacy.

It is high time for the citizens of the West to look themselves in the mirror. The unexamined life is not worth living.

Where Western culture once professed its superiority to other cultures, before the relativist days of "multiculturalism," genocide was wrong.

Memo to the politicians and power elites of the West: genocide is wrong, as a matter of unchanging, objective morality.

The slaughter of Iraqi civilians to avenge September 11, like the slaughter of American civilians on September 11, can never be justified.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2002 David Dieteman

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