Friday, March 4, 2011

Genocide and Morality

I would like to consider ethical ramifications of genocide. Let us take genocide to mean forceful action taken to rid a target group of people from a certain area. First, let us consider the notion of property. European countries historically make clear distinctions between state boundaries, these boundaries having been established through much real conflict. Prior to western exposure, African tribes interacted and battled, but land was not clearly distributed. Native American tribes “sold” land to Europeans, oblivious to any notions of owning the land. My point is, owning land seems to be a civil right, requiring an ordered civilization, and not a human right inherent to people. Realistically, no factor entitles one person to the land more-so than anyone else. Ancestry, history, the price you paid for it, etc, give you no claims to land outside of the society these factors pertain to. Did Europeans have the right to expel Native Americans from their established settlements? —No. Did that stop them? –Of course not. We even celebrate Christopher Columbus Day.
Is genocide bad? God says thou shall not kill. What’s that, you wiped out a nation? For shame! The smite be of God upon you! Or, just your conscious. Sure, German’s faces are red now, but had they conquered the world and successfully instituted eugenics, the world would be a much different place. Sour as it may seem now, one cannot dispute that, had the Nazi’s won, the victorious super breed would have looked upon the horrific past as a necessary and justified sacrifice for the good of humanity. Psycho, right? Plato would have said the same thing about democracy, and—what with Tea Party politics—he makes a point.
Genocide is always wrong. So is killing, lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, homosexuality, drugs, terrorism, science, Muslims, slavery, and birth control. All these things are considered wrong according to different people and for various reasons. They are sins, they form contradictions, you name it; they are never permissible. While I do not disagree that killing things is immoral, I do not think this excludes the possibility of genocide having any real positive consequences. Clearly target victims suffer, and while a people should not be reduced to a single identity or defining attribute, this is not to say that I cannot conceive of a group of people engulfed in a dangerous, threatening, and completely irrational mindset that, after exhausting all other options, might deserve or permit genocide. If all the Muslims in America suddenly took up arms as terrorists against the country as Muslims, the government would be forced to squash this. If a group such as the one just postulated continued to do so, inciting deeply ingrained hatred against its country, then my question is: might there ever be a case in which the state’s best interest would be to entirely wipe out an opposing faction? Does such a group still have a right to exist? What would be the real cost of morality here?


  1. At the end of your post you question whether we can justify the elimination of a certain group that is seen as subversive or disruptive of the order of the state. Let me show you what this type logic causes great human disaster. This is a brief summation of the Argentine Dirty War.

    "During Argentina's Dirty War and Operation Condor, political dissidents were heavily drugged and then thrown alive out of airplanes far out over the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no trace of their passing. Without any dead bodies, the government could easily deny that they had been killed. People murdered in this way (and in others) are today referred to as "the disappeared" (los desaparecidos), and this is where the modern usage of the term derives."

  2. One of the questions that you ask is whether or not a violent group of Muslims have the right to exist. I think the answer to that question is that these groups will always have the right to exist, but they do not have a right to carry out certain actions which is where the problem lies. While I realize that this is a hypothetical, I feel that it is a little to unrealistic in so far as there is no ethnic group so uniform as to become violent or peaceful on a whole in a way that would justify our taking specific action against every member of the group without exception.

    On a somewhat less important note, I would like to point out that the United States is not as different from Germany as we like to think. As you allude to in your discussion of the Native Americans, we have our own shady history that is simply swept under the table due to the fact that we came out on top. In fact, there was a time when eugenics was a fairly common practice in the U.S. There was also a time when we used frontal lobotomies as out-patient procedures to correct personality problems. I bring these things up to point out that there is no guarantee that the world would be different today in the ways that we often like to think when considering the possibility of Germany having won the war. It is quite possible that they would have eventually changed in the same way that the U.S has changed over the years. The only definite difference that we would see is that Germany would have been at the top of the food chain for at least a while and the atrocities of their country would be downplayed in the same way that our own are downplayed now.


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