The Weaponization of Eliminationism

28 March 2011


Yesterday in A Definition of Genocide I reviewed Daniel Goldhagen’s conception of human eliminationism, which he described in his book Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity. Goldhagen defines five strategies of eliminationism, as follows:

transformation: “the destruction of a group’s essential and defining political, social, or cultural identities, in order to neuter its members’ alleged noxious qualities.” (this is very similar to what I have called The Stalin Doctrine)
oppression: “keeping the hated, deprecated, or feared people within territorial reach and reducing, with violent domination, their ability to inflict real or imagined harm upon others.”
expulsion: “Expulsion, often called deportation… removes unwanted people more thoroughly, by driving them beyond a country’s borders, or from one region of a country to another, or compelling them en masse into camps.” (I wrote about this in The Threshold of Atrocity)
prevention of reproduction: “those wishing to eliminate a group in whole or in part can seek to diminish its numbers by interrupting normal biological reproduction.”
extermination: for Goldhagen, extermination seems to be equivalent to genocide simpliciter, in the narrow and strict sense: “killing often logically follows beliefs deeming others to be a great, even mortal threat. It promises not an interim, not a piecemeal, not only a probable, but a ‘final solution’.”

Goldhagen goes on to say that these methods are “functionally equivalent” and are part of a “continuum of increasing violence” (p. 20):

“Because mass killing is but one act in the repertoire of functionally equivalent eliminationist acts, and because whenever people have perpetrated genocide, they have simultaneously used other eliminationist policies, it is misleading to isolate genocide as a discrete phenomenon.” (p. 28)

Thinking of this again, I realized that what in Genocide: Proof of Concept I called the weaponization of genocide — the strategic use of genocide in the attainment of war aims — could better be called the weaponization of eliminationism.

The weaponization of eliminationism involves the explicit development of eliminationism as a social technology that can be consciously employed in the attainment of aims. The first step in the process is the explicit development of eliminationism itself.

Previously in Genocide: Proof of Concept I wrote:

“Once the Nazis had shown what was possible, others could follow with refinements that would make genocide far simpler and easier to implement. This is, in a sense, the weaponization of genocide. And I think that this is a fair way to describe many of the conflicts of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century: as genocide weaponized.”

“Genocide has now become a recognized institution of human society, and is rapidly becoming a method of warfighting at its most brutal. No one is surprised today when genocidal means are employed to attain war aims, and thus we can extend Clausewitz’s famous aphorism defining war as the pursuit of policy by other means and assert that genocide has become one form of violence that is the pursuit of politics by other means.”

A better (and more accurate) formulation of the above two paragraphs would simply substitute “eliminationism” for “genocide.”

In The Moral Status of Non-Atrocities I wrote that:

“I think that throughout the coming century we will see more non-atrocities, more widely spread, and influencing the lives of more people. The tyrants have learned some lessons from the twentieth century. Unfortunately, instead of learning the lessons of good government, they have learned that brutality kept within limits will be ignored and unpunished. Non-atrocities will proliferate even as genuine and undisputed atrocities will decrease. This will not mean that the world is, overall, a better place, but that the tyrants who perpetrate near atrocities will be more calculating and cunning in their use of force, constrained only by the threshold of atrocity.”

And in The Threshold of Atrocity I further developed the theme and concluded:

“Precisely because mass, low-level suffering can come to seem the norm, one’s perspective can become distorted and evil no longer appears as evil, but just as the typical way of the world.”

Nefarious forces in the world today might well consciously study the record of human eliminationism with an eye toward systematically exploiting eliminationism on both a strategic and tactical level, with a strategic policy of eliminiationism put into practice by the functionally equivalent tactics of transformation, oppression, expulsion, prevention of reproduction, and extermination.

Just as “mass, low-level suffering” has become the norm in much of the world, so too undeclared war — including undeclared civil war — has become the norm in much of the world. The way to keep one’s declared war (on one’s enemies or one’s own people) “below the radar” of international intervention is to maintain one’s depredations below the threshold of atrocity, and one way to maintain one’s depredations below the threshold of atrocity is to limit escalation of the continuum of increasing violence that is eliminationism.

The ultimate development of the weaponization of eliminationism would be to transform this social technology into a weapons system, and history has already shown us, and is now showing us, the first steps in this direction.

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