Genocide Or Not?

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Er, I don’t quite get Matt Yglesias’ argument about Darfur in the American Prospect. He argues that what’s going on in Sudan isn’t an “unambiguous” genocide—which would mean, according to him, an “ethnic genocide.” Instead, what’s going on is “counter-guerilla mass slaughter,” which supposedly makes intervention more difficult:

[I]t remains the case that the leaders in Khartoum didn’t wake up one morning and just decide to exterminate Darfur’s inhabitants. The mass killing was adopted as a strategy in the midst of a war, and at the intersection of counter-guerilla mass killing and ethnic warfare lies the ambiguous genocide.

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. Faced with counter-guerilla mass slaughter, you can’t just stop the killing, any intervention necessarily entails taking a side on the basic question of the war. Advocates of intervening have a duty to explain what it is they intend to do — create an independent Darfur? Controlled by whom? They also have a duty to answer, rather than simply dismiss, questions about the big picture of American foreign policy. How would attacking another Arab country affect America’s larger security concerns? Would circumventing the UN merely provoke protests from China and like-minded human rights averse dictators, or will developing world democracies like India, South Africa, and Brazil see it as imperialism run amok?

Okay, all fair questions, but we’d have to think about all of this regardless of what “type” of mass killing was going on. Even if Darfur was facing an “unambiguous” genocide, whatever that means, it’s not like stopping that would somehow be a simpler matter than stopping “counter-guerilla mass slaughter.”

In both cases, we’d have to think about what comes after intervention, what sort of settlement would resolve the conflict, how to enforce the peace, and what the effects of intervening would be. Now perhaps the answers would be different, depending on what was motivating the conflict—mass slaughter fuelled by “pure” ethnic hatred, for instance, might even be harder to resolve than, say, mass slaughter fuelled by a political conflict—but you still ask the same questions. Both situations require “common sense.” So unless we’re suggesting that the wholesale killing of Darfuris is somehow semi-justifiable because it’s part of a counterinsurgency campaign—and no one seems to be saying that—then this seems like a lot of meaningless hair-splitting.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate