How is genocide defined, with an emphasis on cultural genocide?

I created this in the Pit because genocide denial is a hot button issue.

In a thread in ATMB, DrDeth posts that in another thread, there was no genocide denial because there was no genocide.

What Exit?, in a Pit thread, questioned how to define genocide.

There’s more discussion here

and here

How is genocide defined, particularly cultural genocide?

It’s actually pretty simple. If an attempt is made at destroying a people, that is genocide.

You may have different levels of genocide, some involving millions, some involving “mere” thousands, but it is the intent of those trying to eradicate the targeted people that matters.

I don’t know much about the subject, but numbers do seem to matter, based just on what is described in the news. For example, if a group of Aryan Nation people kills one African American, that’s not usually called a genocide. I haven’t heard the term attempted genocide, although maybe it exists. The intent is there. If that’s the case, then most hate crimes are also genocides.

I’ll paste What_Exit?'s question here.

I wish we could put this thread in Great Debates, but I’ve got to admit that it’s likely either to wind up in the Pit anyway, or to wind up with some replies and some entire voices choked off. So maybe it’s better here.

I had a longish post written in reply to What Exit?, and just before I hit post I saw the link to this thread. So I’ll put it here instead.


I am also not an expert. But I don’t think it works to try to assign numbers; not only because that’s only bound to lead to arguments both about what the number should be and about exactly how many people got killed in any given case, but because I think it obscures the overall problem. And the overall problem is people being so certain that there’s only One Right Way to be human that they’re going to try to enforce it by any means they deem necessary; whether that’s killing everyone who disagrees with them and/or torturing them into submission and/or forcibly removing them from any land they can live on and then teaching that they’re despicable for being poor and/or stealing their children and indoctrinating those children by means up to and including torture and death.

I also don’t think it’s either possible or wise to try to draw precise lines between the specific acts that lead to the total destruction of some cultures in what’s now called the Americas, to the considerably more than decimation of others, and to the serious damage done and often still being done to the remainder. Chop every incident apart into fine enough bits, and many of them will be tiny. But the total impact was and is huge. And again the overall attitude behind it was the same.

And suppose there’s a group left somewhere with 17 or 23 people left alive who know the language and traditions; and somebody decides that there should be no chance for that language and traditions to be passed on, so they kill those 17 or 23 people. They would have intentionally killed a culture. (True even if they only killed a few of the group in the process of terrifying and beating the others into never again speaking that language or teaching those traditions.) Shouldn’t there be a word for it? Maybe that culture was dying anyway. But maybe before it died it could have taught the rest of us something important. And I suspect that at least some cultures started, somewhere in what’s now the distant past, with 17 or 23 people or one really determined character with charisma; so we can’t be sure what the dividing line is to viability, either.

“Defined,” to me, carries a connotation of “fencing off” (or “fencing in,” if you prefer) the term, so that a motivated rhetorician can more easily disqualify an event or policy from inclusion. As such, I’m not that interested in crafting or reaching consensus on a definition for genocide. I’m not a prosecutor, and the Dope is not a tribunal.

I’m satisfied that cultural genocide IS genocide, full stop.

I do hope that my post doesn’t cross the line into threadshitting territory.

I have only heard the term “cultural genocide” used by white supremacists, where it alleges that accepting diversity will destroy “white culture.” It’s not about killing anyone or any actual attempts to destroy a culture, but is framed as such to justify xenophobia and nationalism.

Genocide, without any extra qualifiers, does seem to be about extinguishing cultures. Sure, that culture may also be an ethnicity, a race, or some other type of group. But, ultimately, the goal of genocide is to wipe that culture off the earth. As such, I don’t see any need for a modifier like “cultural.”

In the particular case being described, it does seem to have been a genocide attempt. The idea was to extinguish the various Native cultures by forced assimilation. I find the following quote on Wikipedia:

Because of laws and policies that encouraged or required Indigenous peoples to assimilate into a Eurocentric society, Canada violated the United Nations Genocide Convention that Canada signed in 1949 and passed through Parliament in 1952.[1] A legal case resulted in settlement of CA$2 billion in 2006 and the 2008 establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission which confirmed the injurious effect on children of this system and turmoil created between Aboriginal Canadians and Canadian society.[2]

The sources for those statements are given as

  1. Restoule, Jean-Paul (2002). “Seeing Ourselves. John Macionis and Nijole v. Benokraitis and Bruce Ravelli”. Aboriginal Identity: The Need for Historical and Contextual Perspectives . 24 . Toronto, ON: Pearson/Prentice Hall. pp. 102–12. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  2. “Canada commission issues details abuse of native children”. BBC. Retrieved February 25, 2012.

Nothing about these seem to indicate the need of a qualifier like “cultural.” It just was (an attempted) genocide.

That wasn’t my intention. I did have a bit of trouble with the title because I didn’t know how to describe the topic. Maybe if I had said, “What is genocide?” Would that have helped? I didn’t want it to be too vague either.

Then what is cultural genocide? What_Exit? brought up the example of the natives of North America by the Europeans. Was that cultural genocide?

Another example is when laborers were brought to Hawaii from Asian countries, they created a culture that was different than their original heritage. Was this cultural genocide?

As I noted in the MPSIMS thread, cultural genocide – or “ethnocide” if you prefer – was identified as a component of genocide by the Nazis way back in 1944. The Wikipedia article does not mention Nazis in regards to 1944 but the reference for that statement does.

Cultures change all the time; when they change from within (whether or not with additions of new information from other cultures), that is no more genocide than a natural death is murder.

And people from different cultures who come together very commonly create new cultures. The creation of additional new cultures doesn’t require the death of the previous one; it can just add to the options. Because some people take up a new culture doesn’t mean that others can’t continue on with the old.

If the laborers were brought by force and forbidden to practice their original cultures, that’s a different matter. But even in that case, the culture they created themselves wouldn’t be a genocide; the genocide would have been in forbidding them to keep their previous cultures.

I don’t know how cultural genocide is defined but I can give a living example going backwards in time.

I’m 50ish. I learned a few Anishinaabe words and ate a few “ethnic” foods.

My mom grew up on the Rez. She was born at home near Lake Lena in a tin roof shack. The tin roof was from tinned cans of food.

She went to a Catholic school as did her siblings. They learned English. She got knocked up at age 15. One of her sisters ran off and didn’t show up until 30 years later.

Mom was an alcoholic. Dad (German American) was, too. They had a tempestuous marriage. 6 kids. After their divorce … a bare 2 years later… he died from brain/throat cancer. He was a welder on the pipe lines from Canada to Texas before there was an OSHA. 1976

Her mom died from gangrene on a leg that had already had a foot chopped off. Diabetes sucks. But when you are poor and are living off of government rations (lard, sugar, flour) what can you do? Not like in 1920 a colored woman let alone a woman could just get a job. Grandmother passed when I was ~9. So 1979.

There’s a picture of Mom, her mom, her grandmother in buckskin with my oldest sister as a babe in arm.

I wish I would be having my kids in the last decade vs the 20 years ago: my Band has built schools that teach our language, myths and history.

I missed out on learning stuff until the internet exploded. I just got to enjoy being “othered” in Iowa. Where most people are unaware there are Natives living in a Settlement (not a reservation). (I have/had an aunt who divorced my uncle who was/is from the tribe who lives there. Meskwaki Settlement, Iowa - Wikipedia) Most people just assumed I was “Mexican” or (in the winter when I turned sallow) “Asian”.

So, a generation and I was denied my culture. My kids know more than I did simply because I read up on it and shared it with them.

My understanding is that the Amerindians were subjected to programs of both extermination and forced assimilation (which included physical displacement from their traditional territories and/or “education” designed to suppress the use of their languages and customs). The extermination programs I’d call bog-standard genocide. The forced assimilation programs I’d call cultural genocide.

I’d say not, since it doesn’t appear to be part of a program to end the existence of the cultures of the people who stayed in Asia.

I’ll repeat what I said in the other thread:

A failed genocide is still a genocide. We don’t call it the Rwandan Attempt, or the Almost-Shoah, or the Kampuchean No-Cigar-Fields.

I’ve bolded the bit that answers your own question. Immigrant assimilating into the local culture (or evolving their own distinct local variety) is not genocide in any form

Personally I don’t find distinguishing between cultural and other forms of genocide helpful in a discussion like the unmarked graves one - it leaves the door open for the fallacy of relative deprivation to be wielded like a club by White Supremacy (or its Sonderkommandos) to silence minority voices.

As I tried to point out somewhere else, it also allows folks to say Hitler’s goal of eliminating the world of Jews wasn’t genocide only his means were.

To me, physical and cultural genocide.are both horrible crimes against humanity, but they are not the SAME crime, and I don’t find it particularly helpful to discuss them as if they were.

Those who have been stripped of their language and culture still have stories to write with their lives. Those will be different stories, and quite possibly darker and more grim, but there will be stories, and there is at least the hope, however faint, that they may someday be able to reclaim at least some part of that which was lost (as @mistymage writes about her [?] personal and familial experience).

Those who ended as a pile of ash in the ovens of Sobibor or were washed out to sea from Shark Island, though–their stories are over. Finis. The End. There is no possibility that they will ever be able to read up on and share the culture taken from them, because they’re dead. That’s a pretty major distinction.

Trying to convert somebody from what you perceive as a wrong path is not inherently evil (when your perceptions are based on racist nonsense, it usually ends in evil, but doesn’t necessarily start that way). Trying to kill somebody for no other reason than their background is however inherently evil from the get-go.

In the case of the Canadian residential school system, many, possibly most, of the people responsible for the system seemed to have genuinely believed that they were improving the children’s lives by inculcating them with “superior” Euro-Canadian values and culture. They were wrong, horrifically so, and because their underlying premises were faulty they created an environment ripe for abuse, but understanding the how and why of what happened helps inform how to prevent similar events in future.

No Nazi ever believed the Final Solution would improve the lives of the Jews. The death camps were born of an entirely different motivation, and preventing another Auschwitz requires an entirely different approach than preventing another Kamloops.

Sometimes, of course, the lines get blurry about what the motivations really were; there isn’t always a sharp distinction between eliminating a culture and eliminating a people. Sometimes there is, though. I firmly believe that trying to understand the psychology, why people did what they did, is useful. That is a lot harder when disparate events are lumped together.

Naah. “Understanding the psychology” of monsters is invariably just a back-door way of encouraging sympathy for them and downplaying the suffering of their victims.

We already know what makes these monsters the monsters they are. We’ve known for a while now. There’s nothing to gain by trying to understand them any further.

In the language and culture of their oppressors. Fuck. That. Noise.

Yes, if only some Jews had remained, somewhere, to tell us their tale… :roll_eyes:

No. “Understanding the psychology” is for example how criminal profilers try to catch the bad guys, and how those working with youth at risk try to prevent their charges from becoming (or continuing as) criminals, and how law enforcement looks for early warning signs of those who might turn into mass shooters. Understanding the monsters we’ve seen before gives us hope of finding the monsters we haven’t met yet before they become monsters.

Do we? The history of the last couple of centuries is ample proof that we haven’t figured out how to stop future genocides (cultural or otherwise) yet, and that ought to be the goal.

Those who survived, or who lived in other parts of the world and weren’t part of Hitler’s plans, can tell us about Jewish culture generally. However, are you attempting to assert that every Jew is interchangeable with every other Jew? For many of those who died in the Shoah, everyone who ever knew them died with them, as entire villages and communities were wiped out. There are no memories of those people, those stories, those individuals.

Genociders aren’t mere criminals, nor is there isn’t some kind of genocide gene you can do your stupid precrime mentalism bullshit on. Genociders are often ordinary, “law-abiding” citizens who are given licence for an evil part of humanity we all share.

I’m not saying anyone can become a genocidaire, some people are just not that willing to give in to their inner evil, but I am saying it’s not something some (highly over-exaggerated) FBI profiler bullshit is going to work on. Genocidaires aren’t all school shooters and slavering murderous psychopaths. They’re petty bureaucrats, people “only following orders”, broken child soldiers, neighbours and colleagues.

Yes. “We” know, and most of “us” don’t care. That much is screamingly obvious.

No more than you are asserting every dead First Nations person is interchangeable with your pathetic argumentum ad passiones. “Pile of ash in the ovens”, what a transparent attempt at an emotional appeal.

As I mentioned in the other thread, the concept of cultural genocide goes back to around the same time we were codifying international agreements on genocide. It was originally in the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, but was scrapped in the final draft. Whether a cultural genocide meets the UN definition of genocide, I think it is fair to say that most people view cultural genocide as a type of genocide, even if it may not hold up precisely to the UN definition. The forced homing of native american children in the U.S. and Canada in boarding schools to “anglicize” them after 1880 or so, would definitely meet the definition of cultural genocide set out by Raphael Lemkin who was one of the influential legal theorists who developed international thinking on genocide. Lemkin wrote a book called Axis Rule that specifically mentions “non-physical” forms of genocide. This was specifically meant to convey that while for example Turkish mass killing of Armenians and Nazi mass killing of Jews were clear physical genocides, genocide can take other forms as well even if there is not a systemized and deliberate killing machine involved.

I did mention however in the original thread that whether the Indian Boarding Schools would meet the UN definition of genocide, is more questionable. I do not know for sure if they would or would not, but I think the “contra” argument, that a defense attorney would raise if you tried to put those (now dead) people on trial in an international tribunal, would be fairly well crafted and have at least a decent chance of success in some cases, but probably less so in others–this is because the nature of the transfers to the boarding schools varied over time, as did the practices of those schools.

For example the Office of the U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) has detailed its legal opinion that the transfer of children must include some element of direct force. This was not always present. For a number of years in the United States, the authorities could not outright transfer children by force against the wishes of their parents, but instead would use carrot and stick diplomacy where they would offer more or less food subsidies to Indian reservations based on the tribe agreeing to transfer children. In 1891 when the U.S. Government passed its compulsory attendance law, which fully empowered government agents to remove Indian children to boarding schools by force, this defense would not likely be upheld.

Another wrinkle is some of these schools, perhaps even all of them, would not meet the definition of “transfer” of children. Some of the schools were day schools, and the children were sent home at the end of the day. Such schools would not meet the definition of a forced transfer of children, but would instead be viewed as a form of compulsory education, which isn’t covered by the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Even the residential schools, at least in my research, ordinarily included breaks from the school in which the children were sent home. This would make it problematic to get a ruling that these schools represented the idea of a forcible transfer of children under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The transfer concept was envisioned more to cover scenarios in which a government took children away from a targeted ethnic group and never returned them, giving them as adoptees to other people in society and etc, to deny the targeted ethnic group the ability to have a future generation of itself.

A residential boarding school in which children were returned for holiday breaks, while a harsh form of compulsory education, likely would not be viewed as a forcible transfer under the 1948 Convention.

All that being said–mind that no one is talking of having an international tribunal for these instances. The strict legal definition in the 1948 UN Convention was not seen as the holistic definition of genocide, even by individuals like Lemkin who were instrumental in defining genocide and getting it codified. When something is codified into statute, it must have very specific meaning. That’s why there are things like the “colloquial” term “murder” but then there is the very specific statutory crime of murder, these two conceptions do not always overlap fully, but instead overlap some of the time and do not overlap other times. In any ordinary sense the cultural destruction of a people is viewed as a form of genocide.

In the case of the Native America of North America another issue also looms large–namely that even if you can quibble about the legal definition of genocide vis-a-vis the boarding schools, there are innumerable and likely many forgotten to history cases of clear, deliberate and physical genocide by white settlers and their governments of Native Americans. In that context it really matters very little how a UN tribunal would rule on this specific thing, if you were actually to constitute a retroactive, historical tribunal then much like the war crimes tribunals constituted against the Nazis, you wouldn’t waste time with the smaller stuff when you have endless proof of more unequivocal and easier to fit the law acts of genocide.

I don’t think anyone on the “this was genocide” camp is saying the residential schools were just by themselves all of a genocide. Are any of us? They were part of a larger genocide*. A big part, but not the entirety. Like - gas chambers weren’t all of the Holocaust, and rape camps weren’t all of the Bosnian genocide. But denying either one is still genocide denial.

* Or a set of genocides, even - depends on if you consider a broad campaign of erasure one or several - the Shoah and the Porajmos, one genocide, or two happening at the same time?