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Post Genocide and Simple Hatred: Col. John Chivington (from Gary Moore)
Created by John Eipper on 08/12/20 4:41 AM

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Genocide and Simple Hatred: Col. John Chivington (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 08/12/20 4:41 am)

Gary Moore writes:

Timothy Ashby is right (August 11th) about the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of Cheyenne in Colorado by John Chivington's militia not being genocide, under the longstanding United Nations definition; and Henry Levin (also Aug. 11) is right about the overwhelming cause of Native American disappearance being disease. The word "genocide" has become such a handy ideological weapon that Guatemala used it to prosecute ex-president Rios Montt for the Dos Erres Massacre, though those killed were of the same ethnicity as those attacking, no Native languages involved, no nothing, except a horrible injustice that some activist prosecutors sought to publicize by hijacking the term.

However, I'll come at this a different way. "Colonel" John Chivington, who enthusiastically led mining-town rabble (Denver) to attack an unoffending camp of peaceful Cheyenne in 1864, was a complex piece of work, a hero of the little-remembered Far West theater in the Civil War. And even less remembered, in his signature victory then, Glorieta Pass, is the way he won it, by slaughtering hundreds of Confederate pack animals. Chivington always seemed to be slaughtering something or somebody. And yet he, a minister by tenuous vocation, had signed on to the Union army in the Civil War because he hated slavery. Hated it--with the same livid passions he lavished on Indians and even Confederate pack animals.

The whole idea of glorious crusade that's wrapped up in broad-brushing of "genocide" is debunked in the glorious hatreds of Chivington. It's not that hatred is glorious if only you fix on a fashionable enough target (like the US as Indian genocidaire); it's still an easy escapism from the complexities of the real world. And crusade tends to climb in bed with its targeted haters, by so much enjoyment of its own hate-simplified fantasy world.

JE comments:  With genocide, moral outrage gets in the way of semantics.  Given its status as the gold standard of crimes against humanity, many instances of "mere" slaughter or mass murder have been called genocidal.  Seen from the other angle, to say "X massacre was not genocide" tacitly lessens the severity of the incident.  So when we argue that a specific massacre was horrific but does not fit the definition of genocide, what are we really saying?  That the massacre wasn't so bad after all, or conversely, that it "cheapens" the real genocides (Shoah, Armenia, Rwanda) if we broaden the category too much?

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  • Was the US Treatment of Native Americans a Genocide? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/13/20 7:32 AM)
    Timothy Ashby wrote, "Genocide is when a collective source of power (usually a State) intentionally uses its power base to implement a process of destruction in order to destroy a group (as defined by the perpetrator), in whole or in substantial part, dependent upon relative group size. Numerous atrocities were committed against Amer-Indians (my preferred term, as I am a native-born American, although I think Indigenous tribes is better) by US military forces and Amer-European settlers. However, I do not believe that there was an official US government policy against the Amer-Indians that meets the definition of Genocide."

    Based on this, JE commented on Gary Moore's latest post: "Given its [genocide's] status as the gold standard of crimes against humanity, many instances of 'mere' slaughter or mass murder have been called genocidal. Seen from the other angle, to say 'X massacre was not genocide' tacitly lessens the severity of the incident."

    In my view, genocide is simply the act of killing people due to racial/ethnic hate perpetrated by individuals or groups against a group with the intention of completely eliminating it. How is that different from acts of war or atrocities committed against groups for reasons other than race/ethnicity? To me the litmus test is the willingness to kill innocent people: children and non-combatant women and seniors. I disagree with Timothy that because there was not "an official US government policy against the Amer-Indians" then there was no genocide. Only a very stupid government would make such declarations. It is much "smarter" to just send the military to pacify the natives, kill women and children when "necessary," put the fear of the Christian god into them, take their land, put them into reservations, and break treaties with them whenever convenient. Or put in a blunt way, burn them out of the wilderness so they can become good taxpayers.

    JE comments:  Tor, I often disagree with you, but not here.  The Anglo-American policy towards the Native Americans had many of the traits of genocide.  Not Wannsee Conference levels of blueprinted, mandated genocide, but genocide nonetheless.

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  • On the Overuse of the Term Genocide (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 08/14/20 3:53 AM)
    Gary Moore writes:

    Oh, come on. John E in his comment August 12th wrote that to disqualify some massacres as "genocide" "cheapens" the moral outrage they should evoke.

    Give me a break. Genocide is a legal word with a meaning. It means a programmatic attempt to wipe out a distinctive class of people--and as Tim Ashby pointed out (Aug. 9), it thus adheres to large institutional bodies that can fashion such attempts. The real "cheapening" here is in efforts to call any atrocity (like Sand Creek) "genocide." What's cheapened is the solemnity of the real thing.

    Imagine a trial judge saying we're just not upset enough about a manslaughter case, so we've got to scream that it's homicide. Do we prefer such exercises to civilization's tawdry old attempt to define laws?

    John's comment holds a deeper value, in that here, as we all know, is an interpreter phenomenally reasonable and informed, and yet in a certain vein of discourse, involving political power inequalities, decisive value seems to be placed on how emotionally uncontrolled one can become--either as confirmation of personal virtue, or as call to arms--instead of analyzing what an atrocity concretely was.

    And if even saying "analyze" in the context of such a call to empathy sounds like cold "cheapening," we meet the elusive new face of an emerging age--an age thrust by mushrooming technology into seeing in video detail a highly selected version of the world's horrors, while being physically insulated by new comforts and conveniences that dwarf our previous limitations. The evident result, which even a decade ago might have seemed impossible, has filled the streets with cries that, in essence, no screaming is enough. The urgency of defining what this new moment is, and how its pressures fit into rational discussion, outstrips the limited argument here today about a single word. If the verdict of a large segment of society is going to be that analysis really does cheapen what should, more nobly, be torrential outpouring from the heart's true compass, then our dawning age may not be on such an unfamiliar road after all--but only the ageless road that, say, China discovered in the 1950s, when the screaming about who gets to define the words is eventually moderated by the guy with the biggest stick.

    JE comments:  Gary, I was trying to make much the same point, but you do so with more eloquence.  I attempted to argue that the claim "X incident was not genocidal" affords two conflicting interpretations:  it's either a protest against the lessening ("cheapening") of true genocides such as the Holocaust, or else it suggests that massacres like Sand Creek were not so horrific after all.  I didn't mean to say that one cheapens an atrocity by denying it genocide status.

    Put in another way, I offered a reflection on "genocide inflation."  You hit the nail on the head at the end of your post:  like with everything else, the privilege of defining words goes to the powerful.  Look at the classic distinction between terrorist and freedom fighter.  The current unrest in the US is in part a contest for the power of discourse.

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