Genocide did not begin with or end with the Holocaust in Germany. The human race is well-known for repeating mass murderous acts of violence. So we must speak out against the dehumanization of humans. We must speak about the unspeakable—lest history be repeated. We must keep speaking.
The Horrors of Genocide
In 1948, the United Nations approved its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defined genocide as any of a number of acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
In 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) had committed genocide against Yezidi, Christian, and Shia Muslim populations in areas under its control across Syria and Iraq.
Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur is a 2009 book by Ben Kiernan. He is involved in the study of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist’s Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo by Clea Koff (2005, Random House) is a book that etched the realities of mass atrocities into my brain. Koff investigated some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century.
In 1975, 2 million Cambodians died in the Khmer Rouge’s “Killing Fields.”
Genocide in Rwanda
Where were you in the spring of 1994? Like me, you were probably taking care of your family, working at a job, paying your mortgage, and living daily life. I don’t remember watching the national news or hearing about the mass execution of innocent people.
I agree that a steady regimen of negative news can overwhelm the human heart and soul. But, we must remember history to change, protect, and save our future.
The burning of books could destroy historical facts and findings on parchment. The melting of the internet could obliterate accounts on the technology grid. The shredding of documents could eliminate archives of records. Future generations would walk in knowledge shadows; unsure of what is true or what is false. Hence, we must speak about the unspeakable.
Fifteen years ago, the Rwandan government called on everyone in the Hutu majority to exterminate (murder)—everyone in the Tutsi minority.
Hotel Rwanda is the title of the movie based on the Rwandan genocide. This is how many of us learned more. The story depicts a hotel manager who saved the lives of 1,200 Tutsi people.
“In spring 1994, an estimated 1 million Tutsis and Tutsi sympathizers were swiftly and systematically murdered in 90 days. The Hutu militia, the Interahamwe, wore green uniforms and blocked the tiny country’s borders with AK-47s issued by the government.
The others—teachers, shopkeepers, mechanics, school boys—dressed mostly in jeans and t-shirts, and followed orders broadcast over the radio. It’s time to work. Do your work. They carried broken bottles, kitchen knives, hoes and rakes, machetes, wooden clubs studded with nails. They murdered their neighbors. They did their work.” Jennifer Haupt wrote a 2018 article for Psychology Today.
In 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda established the precedent that rape warfare is in fact a crime of genocide, according to a 2008 article in TIME.
Bystanders to Genocide, is a 2001 article by Samantha Power featured in The Atlantic.
A three-year investigation involving sixty interviews puts the puzzle pieces together.
She asked disturbing questions: Why did the United States not do more for the Rwandans at the time of the killings? Why did countries withdraw troops? Why didn’t other countries send help? www.theatlantic.com/.
Can Genocide Happen in the United States?
Haupt’s 2018 novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, reviews the turbulence of Atlanta (USA) during the Civil Rights Movement through the struggle for reconciliation and forgiveness in post-genocide Rwanda.
James Waller, professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, NH, wrote a 2017 article, It Can Happen Here: Assessing the Risk of Genocide in the US.
He asks, “Could a long, slow attrition of civil and human rights bring our country again to the point where genocide – at home or abroad – stands justified as sound political, social, national, and economic strategy?”…We cannot let the false comfort of believing it cannot happen here stop us from raising those same alarms for our country.”
Genocide Literature in Middle and Secondary Classrooms: Rhetoric, Witnessing, and Social Action in a Time of Standards and Accountability, a 2016 book by Sarah Donovan. “Many English classes in middles and high schools across America read Holocaust literature. However, in the last decade legislative mandates in nearly twenty states now require the study of genocide and its implications.”
In my comfy U.S. country, it’s easy to dismiss the horrors of humanity; genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. Why must people in American remember the unspeakable acts of genocide? Because the adage, “History repeats itself” rings true.
Forgetting the atrocity of genocide negates the future of peace for all human beings. The forgiveness of unforgivable acts for the sake of healing and peace does not mean we forget. We must speak about the unspeakable, lest it happens again.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in the U.S.