Dr. Dabbs – Genocide: The Etymology of Mass Murder

The media uses the term “genocide” quite frequently

Mass media frequently uses terms such as ‘genocide’ with considerable liberty. Admittedly, words have power, and incendiary terms like genocide, war crimes, and violations of international law pack a certain viscerally compelling gravitas. Recently, ‘genocide’ has been used to describe the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Genesis of Conflict and Genocide

The argument could be made that the current sordid state of affairs in the Middle East all started back in the 18th century BC. Abraham is considered the patriarch for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There were some fairly egregious domestic disagreements between Abe’s wife Sarah and his handmaiden Hagar over the respective half siblings Isaac and Ishmael that never really got fully resolved.

That admittedly oversimplifies the situation. However, fast forward 3,800 years and the fire that sparked so long ago still burns brightly even today. In case you haven’t noticed, Jews and Muslims don’t get along terribly well. For the most part, we Christians, at least after the Crusades ended in 1291, just seem to be along for the ride. It’s obviously more complicated than Abraham’s tawdry marital squabbles, but that really is kind of where it all began.

Roots and Ramifications

The Romans occupied the Levant for more than 600 years.

The Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD 70 and subsequently dispersed the Jews. Isaac’s progeny lived as a diaspora around the globe for nearly two millennia. Then Adolf Hitler murdered six million of them during World War 2, and the whole world seemed to collectively gasp. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, a great many Jews returned to the Holy Land and won a vicious war for independence in 1948. They have been fighting on and off ever since.

There have been countless examples of war carving up national borders in the past two centuries. Several such conflicts are simmering today. Generally, once the bullets stop flying things eventually kind of find their level. But not here.

The Lay of the Land

Today, the Palestinians are cooped up in Gaza and the West Bank (Obviously so named because this piece of land occupies the west bank of the Jordan River. The nation of Jordan is on the other side.) The Israelis hold some really prime real estate in between. The Palestinians are none too happy about that. Everyone and their grandmother has tried to broker a lasting peace deal over the past half-century to no avail. The place is still just a mess.

Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei serves as Iran’s supreme religious leader. This furry homicidal nutjob actively promotes terrorism around the globe. If you struggle to tell the good guys from the bad in this place I’m afraid I just can’t help you.

Everybody hates everybody. Whenever they are not actively fighting, the combatant factions are stockpiling weapons in anticipation of the next inevitable opportunity to go all kinetic on each other. Throughout it all, the United States has traditionally backed Israel, while the religious fanatic psychopaths in Iran bankroll terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These days Joe Biden’s mob seems a bit conflicted.

Current Affairs

The bloodthirsty maniacs who murdered more than 1,200 Israelis on Black Sabbath just aren’t wired the same way we are.

The Israelis call 7 October 2023, Black Sabbath. That’s when Hamas terrorists launched a coordinated attack against Israeli military and civilian targets around Gaza. The final toll included some 1,200 Israelis and unfortunate foreigners dead, with around 240 taken hostage.

Not satisfied to just machinegun unarmed civilians at a peace concert, Hamas operatives raped, pillaged, and tortured like it was the freaking Dark Ages. I’d give you some details, but I’d sooner not be responsible for putting those images into your mind. You can find all that ghastly stuff easily enough online. Suffice it to say, lots of bad people have been compared to Hitler. On 7 October, Hamas did things that would give the alpha Nazi Reinhard Heydrich pause.

Day of Terror

In the immediate aftermath, the Israel Defense Forces launched a coordinated air and ground assault against Hamas targets in Gaza. The rub is that Gaza is only twice the size of Washington DC. Packed into this tiny little space are more than two million Palestinians. Hamas themselves claim to have honeycombed this particularly congested real estate with some 311 miles of subterranean tunnels filled with weapons as well as extensive logistics and command and control facilities. The resulting fight has been untidy to say the least.

In taking the fight to Hamas, the Israelis have leveled large swaths of the Gaza Strip. Tragically, that happens when bloodthirsty terrorists intentionally hide among a large civilian population.

No sooner had the screaming stopped on 7 October did the Palestinians begin protesting the Israeli counterattack. Their political demonstrations have been well-organized and liberally distributed around the globe. They often involve burning stuff and destroying things.

Israel, not unreasonably, alleges a pro-Palestinian bias in such hallowed spaces as the United Nations and liberal American college campuses. A common refrain is that the Israelis are committing genocide in Gaza. I thought it might be a healthy exercise to explore what that word really means.

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword

Words can indeed be quite powerful. Deftly wielded, they can precipitate some of the most egregious behavior.

Etymology, as defined by Wikipedia, is the scientific study of a word’s origin and the evolution of its meaning over time. Distilled to its essence, etymologists trace the foundational basis of words in the pursuit of pure, uncorrupted meaning. The time-tested definition of genocide is the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the purpose of exterminating that nation or group.

The war in Gaza is not genocide. The war in Gaza is just good old-fashioned war, albeit in a very congested space. That’s not meant to minimize the suffering. The normal sort is still plenty horrible, but we really need not embellish things with superfluous literary theater in an effort to make them seem worse than they already are.

There is just no way to make war in a heavily populated city easy, comfortable, or nice. Whether it is Nanking, Dresden, Hue, Mogadishu, Mosul, or Gaza, urban warfare is invariably horrible.

Still Not Genocide

War in a built-up area like Gaza is the targeted destruction of both military facilities and supporting infrastructure along with, according to Hamas, some thirty thousand dead Palestinians as of this writing. How many of those were civilians and how many were Hamas fighters is innately unfathomable, but everyone agrees that this astronomical figure includes an absolutely sickening number of children. However, this still does not meet the threshold of genocide.

Genocide in this case would be carpet bombing refugee camps and machinegunning the survivors. It would be poisoning the water and salting the fields. It would be sealing the borders with the intent of watching the inhabitants cannibalize each other and then starve. That’s not what is happening in Gaza, but we do have some relatively recent examples of the real deal.

The Rwandan Genocide: A Case Study

The Rwandan Genocide was unimaginably horrible.

A lyrically bloody subset of the protracted Rwandan Civil War unfolded for 100 days between 7 April and 15 July 1994. A Tutsi rebel group called the Rwandan Patriotic Front invaded northern Rwanda from bases in Uganda in 1990. Majority Hutus ran the government. The minority Tutsis didn’t care for that.

The Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana subsequently died in a plane crash under suspicious circumstances, and his followers went absolutely berserk. Over the next three months, Hutu militias systematically murdered at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. That simply breathtaking bloodletting actually met the textbook definition of genocide.

In Perspective

Let’s put this in perspective. My thriving little community of Oxford, Mississippi, has a population of around 26,000 people. The Rwandan genocide would be like murdering every man, woman, and child in Oxford thirty times over…in 100 days. That’s some 8,000 fresh corpses per day. A further 200,000 Hutus died when the surviving Tutsis finally gained the upper hand and chased them into Zaire and the Congo.

To make this event even more incomprehensible, a shocking lot of the killing was done with machetes. It has also been estimated that as many as half a million women were raped. I would characterize the event as inhuman, but, sadly, it was actually quite very human. It is just that we humans suck, like a lot.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject, and I can’t find anything separating the Rwandan Hutus from the Tutsis that might justify any serious acrimony, much less unfettered slaughter.

This is Really And Truly Genocide

Here’s the truly heartrending part. Tutsis and Hutus are all drawn from essentially the same stock. They speak the same language. They attend the same churches. Historically, Tutsis have been herders, while Hutus have raised crops. However, there is more money to be made in livestock, so the minority Tutsis are typically the more affluent of the two groups. The Hutus are generally poorer, but there are more of them. Their society, politicians, and media inflamed passions between the two groups right up until somebody grabbed a machete. Methinks there might be a cautionary tale buried in there someplace for modern-day Americans as well.

The slaughter in Rwanda was indeed genocide. Six million Jews rounded up and gassed before being burned in crematoria, that’s genocide. What is happening in Gaza is just run-of-the-mill war. It is uniformly horrible, but it really isn’t all that special when viewed through the blood-sotted lens of human history.

Ruminations on Conflict and Killing

This is German-Israeli tattoo artist Shani Louk. Hamas terrorists murdered her on October 7th and then drove around Gaza with her naked corpse in the back of a pickup truck like some kind of deer.
As near as I could tell, nobody ran out to try to help this poor woman as Hamas paraded her naked body through the streets of Gaza.

Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to make the distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people. He rightly states that their war is with the terrorists, not the Gazans as a whole. However, the animals who perpetrated Black Sabbath filmed most everything. One of the more compelling images was that of a naked German-Israeli woman named Shani Louk paraded through the Gazan streets in the back of an open pickup truck. Rank and file Palestinians did not rush to her aid or try to stop the macabre spectacle. They chased after the truck by the hundreds spitting on the poor woman’s cooling corpse. Shani Louk wasn’t a soldier or a politician. She was just some kid at a rock concert.

Folks have been fighting over this hallowed piece of dirt since the dawn of time.

Concluding Thoughts

It really all turns on your particular perspective. The Israelis state they are avenging mass murder. The Palestinians claim Black Sabbath was little more than a prison break. Right, wrong, or otherwise, both groups assert a claim on the land that spans millennia.

A substantial fraction of the planet is currently verklempt over the death and destruction the Israelis have wrought in Gaza. However, It seems to me that every one of those dead Palestinian civilians would still be alive today had Hamas not stormed across the border on October 7 and murdered 1,200 Israelis. It also seems like releasing the remaining hostages might be a great place to start putting a bow on this thing. Amidst all the hand-wringing in the mass media about the legitimate horror in Gaza I hear precious little about that.

There is a spiritual and moral rot in that place that now spans generations. I am at a loss as to how to remedy that. The hatred runs so deep and has reigned supreme for so long that it would now take literal generations to mitigate. Peace could still break out in that wounded part of the world, but that would take a legitimate miracle.

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