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Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

by William H. Benson

April 7, 2016

     On August 22, 1939, Nazi Germany’s troops, tanks, and aircraft stood poised and prepared to attack Poland, its neighbor to the east, and on that day the Nazi’s dictator, Adolf Hitler, spoke.

     “Our strength,” he said, “consists in our speed and in our brutality.” Already he had instructed his generals “to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language.” And the reason for his assault upon the Polish people? “Only then,” he said, “shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need.”

     Tyrants will excuse their brutality because of their citizen’s supposed need for more territory. There is some truth in that excuse, but then there is the tyrant’s overpowering internal drive to vanquish and crush other people, those whom he considers weak and inferior, who stand in his way, who dare to oppose him, or who refuse to follow his lead. In a word, his “victims.”

     Hitler ended his Obersalzberg speech with an oft-quoted remark, actually a rhetorical question. He asked, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

     On April 24, 1915, 101 years ago, leaders of the failing Ottoman Empire launched a vicious attack upon the Armenian people, mainly Christian people who lived within the Empire’s borders, in the eastern third of modern-day Turkey. In the National Geographic this month, the reporter Paul Salopek described the awful events.

     “Some Ottoman leaders decide to resolve this ‘Armenian problem’ through extermination and deportation. Soldiers and local Kurdish militias shoot Armenian men. There are mass rapes of women. Armenian villages and city neighborhoods are looted, appropriated. The dead clog the rivers and wells. Cities stink of rot.”

     The result: the Armenian population drops from two million to 500,000, and now, “Today just three million Armenians live in Armenia; eight to ten million are scattered in a diaspora.” Historians now call this “the modern world’s first true genocide.”

     Henry Morgenthau, Sr., the U.S. Ambassador to Constantinople at the time, said, “The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”

     The pattern was set early in the twentieth century, and the world’s tyrants since then have copied it. After the Nazi war machine crossed into Poland on September 10,1939, World War II began, and it was then that Hitler turned upon Europe’s Jewish population. The Nazis murdered six million innocent people, an incredible statistic that dwarfs even the Armenian genocide.

      Then, there was the Soviet Union’s tyrant Joseph Stalin, and also Cambodia’s Pol Pot, and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, and the genocide in Rwanda twenty-two years ago, when the Hutus decided upon “a final solution to the Tutsi problem.” Beginning on April 6, 1994, they set up road blocks and barricades and then with machetes, they began to exterminate the Tutsis.

     Many fled to neighboring countries, some hid in homes and waited for the frenzy to pass, and by July it did, but by then an estimated 800,000 people lay in their graves.

     It is a fact of human behavior that certain people, when pushed and prodded, will sign up for a campaign to rid the world of other people. William Shakespeare recognized this phenomenon in his play, Julius Caesar. His character Marc Anthony shouts, “Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.”

     Often, it is one demented person who incites the attacks, but then it is thousands of servile minions who complete his ghastly deeds, because the tyrant compels and bullies.

     On April 27, 1945, American soldiers liberated a Nazi prison camp near Dachau, and Viktor Frankl experienced sudden freedom. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl described the scene.

     “With tired steps we prisoners dragged ourselves to the camp gates. We looked around and glanced at each other. Then we ventured a few steps out of camp. This time no orders were shouted at us, nor was there any need to duck to avoid a blow or kick. Oh no! This time the guards offered us cigarettes! We hardly recognized them at first; they had changed into civilian clothes.”

     From oppressor to friend the guards transformed themselves in an instant. They took off their uniforms. The frenzy subsided. Peace and order and sanity returned. The dogs of war were restrained. Prisoners walked through the prison gates, free at last.

     Genocide, ethnic cleansing, or mass murder. No matter the name, it is an ugly and horrific business, a blot upon the human species. Let each of us find and swallow that pill that would restrain within us forever those snarling dogs of war.