War and Genocide, Organised Killing in Modern Society by Martin Shaw
The Spectre of Genocide. Mass Murder in Historical Perspective edited by Robert Gellately, Ben Kiernan
|Reviewed By:||Mark Levene|
|Reviewed in:||The Political Quarterly|
|Date accepted online:||24/03/2005|
|Published in print:||Volume 75, Issue 4, Pages 429-448|
Book Reviews: The grim distinction between 'legitimate war' and genocide
Books of contemporary political relevance can be strange creatures, not least when the gap between the writing and the publication can offer the benefit of hindsight to the reader at the possible expense of the writer. Or even knocks down flat his or her original argument. More than a year on from the invasion of Iraq Martin Shaw might be ruing his assertion that today, as compared with the past, Western 'State leaders simply don't allow wars to drag on, to cause large casualties to their own forces, or to inflict massive slaughter on enemy civilians.' By the same token, one wonders if Gellately and Kiernan's collection of essays largely devoted to twentieth century cases of genocide might not have wanted to consider the inclusion of one on Saddam's Anfal campaigns against the Iraqi Kurds, or a different one analysing the repeated charge of genocide levelled against the UN's coalition-led, anti-Iraq sanctions campaign of the 1990s.
This review itself was written in the wake of the first US assault on Fallujah, an almost textbook example of the way a military response to insurgency can degenerate into out-right atrocity. Scholars of genocide have for the last two decades been grappling with exactly how to define the relationship between what is defined as 'war' and the more specific phenomenon of their study. Others sometimes simply give up; the subtitle of our other book points to a certain lack of resolution on the matter. Paradoxically, Shaw's pre-Fallujah notion of degenerate war-that is of a sort of half-way station between 'legitimate' war and 'criminal' genocide-provides an interesting and welcome effort at tackling the conundrum. It also raises the question, however, whether there can ever be 'just' wars-for instance, against genocidal regimes. At its heart, this is really what Shaw-a repeated advocate in a number of works of what he calls 'historical pacifism'-is on about. Shaw optimistically forecasts the redundancy of great interstate war in an increasingly integrated, even US dominated world but quite rightly worries about those states that continue to launch annihilatory assaults on elements of their own populations. He cites a number of examples where the antidote appears to have been outside intervention: Vietnam in Pol Pot's Kampuchea, India in an Eastern Pakistan on the cusp of becoming Bangladesh, Tanzania against Idi Amin's Uganda. Whether humanitarian considerations were the real goad to these neighbourly invasions, any more than the Anglo-American assault on Iraq-more than a decade on from their supplying Saddam with much of the chemical arsenal used against the Kurds-is entirely another matter.
Shaw, at first impression, is on stronger ground in restating genocide as a form of asymmetrical warfare fought by states against social groups, as he is, too, in wishing to see those social groups as something other than one-dimensional 'victims'. Some cases of genocide certainly involve contested state secession where the nationalism of the oppressed contains within it the inherent subordination of other national groups and thus a further 'abstract genocidal potential'. Yet there is also a curious, even sometimes infuriating inconsistency in much of Shaw's position here. On the one hand, we have the recognition of the perpetrator: victim dichotomy as too simplistic; on the other, repeated reference to genocide as the deliberate mass killing of 'civilians'; almost as if he is signalling his own marked aversion to specific ethnic or religious groups being singled out as genocidal targets in any way. Shaw cites, for instance, that even in the case of the Holocaust, the logic of terror embraced a multiplication of 'enemies' which resulted in Jews being massacred by the
Gellately and Kiernan in their introduction do little to develop these more problematic interconnections, though in starting with a much less interrogative acceptance of the UN 1948 Genocide Convention as a definitional base, they do at least more obviously foreground some of the phenomenon's communal group specificity. That said, the volume contains a number of variations on the genocide theme: serial genocides (Gellately), politicide as distinct from genocide (Edward Kissi specifically comparing Ethiopia versus Kampuchea), and a really outstanding piece by Isabel Hull on colonial genocide in the form of the German 1904-5 destruction of the Herero. The fact that the collection covers many case studies including some hardly known ones makes it valuable. Similarly, some of the contributors' arguments do break new ground. Hull is especially good on exploring the 'autism' in the political and military culture of Wilhelmine Germany while confirming Shaw's point on how 'exotic' irregular insurgency, as pursued by native opponents, can rapidly precipitate the drive towards an exterminatory victory against an entire 'enemy' population, and this quite regardless of any supposed international legal restraints. Another nugget of gold is Dwyer and Santikarma's essay on the Indonesian massacres as played out in Bali in 1965, not least in suggesting that the agendas of military elites are not always sufficient to explaining the nature of mass participation in extreme violence. This, indeed, is the one article in this collection which genuinely-and utterly compellingly-engages with a deeper substratum of indigenous culture and mores in an attempt to understand why so many participated not just in the killing but in an extensive ritual atrocity directed against neighbours, members of kinship groups, and even close family.
Equally superb, Greg Grandin deals with another much ignored case-study, the Guatemalan military assault on the indigenous peoples of the Mayan Highlands in 1982-83. Again, at first sight, this also backs Shaw degenerative war thesis. Closer inspection, however, reveals much more deeply layered structural underpinnings to this genocide rooted in the breakdown of a traditional divide-and-rule but also heavily racialised system operated by the Ladino ruling elite against a background of a rapid, globalising but entirely monopolistic economic development. Certainly, genocide does not have to be racially grounded. The process by which particular ethnic, social or other communal groups find themselves labelled as collective enemies can be cumulative, that potential shift here being particularly well examined-again very much against the grain of conventional wisdom-by Nicholas Werth with regard to the 'national' component of the 1937-38 Soviet 'Great Terror.' All these different studies suggest that genocide can be approached from various angles which in part makes up for the lack of a central thesis to the volume, other perhaps than that genocide is a product of modernity, is closely linked to 'total war' and that international law, the UN ad hoc tribunals and the International Criminal Court (ICC) therefore must be good things.
Shaw, by contrast, certainly offers a more tightly argued case-but one which, as already suggested, is not entirely coherent or convincing. Some of the best of the analysis revolves around the 'new wars' of the 1990s. Whether, or not, the 'genocidal reorganisations of society' in the Balkans are new, as opposed to the culmination of a process going on for the last two centuries, Shaw is surely right to get exercised about the degree of popular mobilisation involved, making of genocide an ugly corollary to forms of democratic renewal, albeit at the behest of formerly authoritarian elites. If the notion of democracy thus neither automatically confers peace nor neutralises the vulnerability of minority groups in nationalising states, as most obviously illustrated in Kosovo, both before and after the events of 1999, it is Shaw's much more optimistic contentions about the near future which have least plausibility. The argument assumes that in a more interdependent if albeit Western-centred international framework the ideological concept of 'enemy' is breaking down. Put aside the whole post-9/11 'clash of civilisations' controversy, empirically speaking the assumption is entirely at variance with those regions of the world, notably in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where both the scope of conflict and the scale of violent death is not only intense but widening and accelerating. The problem here, though, is that it is these very conflicts which are at the margins of Shaw's interest or analysis. Indeed, he seems almost blithely to assume that the global gaze of the mass media will make such 'localised' conflicts more and more difficult to sustain. Any reference to a Chomskian analysis is notable by its absence.
Even, however, accepting Shaw's more limited Balkan and Middle Eastern focus, the very possibility that a Milosevic or a Saddam might have been attacked by the West not on account of their undoubted barbarism but for asserting an independent stance at odds with a US-dominated hegemony is never entertained. Again, one can only wonder how Shaw would have responded to the sudden media relaxation of Gaddafi's 'monster' image as the Libyan leader, weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding, found himself miraculously embraced within the fold. To conclude, then, for Shaw the real struggle for and against war and genocide at the beginning of the twenty-first century is between the reactionary violence of local authoritarian elites able to mobilise ethno-national electorates around their antediluvian causes and the emergent pacifism of a cosmopolitan politics. Hence, not only Shaw's distinct unwillingness to engage fully with the strongly ethnic nature of genocide but his only half-rhetorical question whether genuinely just war against genocidal regimes might be pursuable by a West which has supposedly abandoned 'its ideological defence of authoritarian regimes'.
Alas, Shaw profoundly misses the point. There is almost no evidence of the just war; with or without the CNN effect. It appeared fleetingly and actually far too belatedly over Bosnia in 1995, not Kosovo four years later where