Does Genocide Matter?
Matt Yglesias has an interesting piece in The American Prospect arguing that the brutal killings in Darfur are not technically “genocide” but merely “counter-guerilla mass slaughter.” He believes this should be cause for reflection.
Does it matter? On one level, no. War crimes are war crimes, brutality is brutality, slaughter is slaughter, and we all have a duty to reduce its incidence. But once ambiguity re-enters the picture, so should common sense.
Megan McArdle retorts that genocide/not genocide is a meaningless distinction and wonders why “genocide is somehow so much worse than normal killing.”
It’s an interesting philosophical question. As a practical matter, however, despite our professed revulsion at genocide and the “never again” pledge taken so solemnly after the Holocaust, the international community has more-or-less ignored genocide or near-genocide at will. Granted, most of them have been in the context of at least a nominal civil war and none have been quite so systematic as Adolf Hitler’s.
Further, I would dispute the notion that we have a “duty” with regard to mass slaughter elsewhere, regardless of whether it rises to the level of genocide. Humanitarian intervention in the case of famine, drought, and natural disasters is arguably a “duty” and regardless something I tend to support. Stopping other cultures from butchering one another in civil wars, however, falls outside the realm of reasonableness. Stopping the slaughter in Burundi, Zaire/Congo, or Rwanda in the 1990s would have been great but were not vital national interests worth the sacrifice of substantial American blood and treasure. Ditto Sudan now.
Coupling humanitarian motives with national security objectives also makes sense. Would it be worth the commitment of tens of thousands of American troops to establish democracy in a random country in the world that is currently led by a bad guy? Nope. If the bad guy has been a repeated nuisance, is funding international terrorists, and threatening to destabilize a key strategic region? Yep.