We tend to categorize genocide as having two defining traits. First, in order to protect our faith in mankind we look at those who conduct genocide as less than human. We think of those people as monsters/lunatics/radicals/inhuman. They aren’t one of us. Next, we also think that it happens in far away places, in communities that just aren’t as civilized as our own. This distinction allows us to maintain trust in our own community. It also allows us to not be as concerned as it is not seen as a proximate danger.
What if I told you that these qualifiers aren’t necessarily true? Genocide is a strategic plan that has been executed universally by humans. Scholars have begun to identify the stages of genocide. These stages are seen as warning signs as creating an environment that is conducive for genocide. As I was reading through these different stages, I could not help but note moments in the United States history that matched these descriptions. My intention with this post is not to suggest that the United States is about to conduct a genocide of its own people- but rather to note that if this climate is accepted by one of the most powerful and developed nations in this world, how are we so quick to judge others as crazy who initiate similar behavior? This is not a justification for this behavior to be excused, but rather a realization that this is a human issue and improvements in acceptance of others are required universally. Below are some of the stages scholars note as leading to genocide, and cases of U.S. behavior that coincide with these categories.
Repression: Reducing by violent methods the hated group’s ability to harm others in the nation
In 1942 President Roosevelt signed an Executive Order that relocated Japanese-Americans to internment camps. Approximately 120,000 people were forced to leave their homes and work to live in camps with barrack housing and mess hall dining. This relocation was due to the fear that engulfed the country following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It didn’t matter to the administration that the majority of these individuals were actually born in the United States and had not been to Japan.
Expulsion: The deportation of the hated group from the nation or territory
Following the Great Depression there was a mass expulsion of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans from the United States. It is estimated that about half of these individuals were American citizens, but this did not seem to matter in the eyes of the government. Raids were held in work and public places, and 2 million individuals were deported to Mexico.
Prevention of reproduction through systematic rapes of women or sterilization
In the first half of the 20th century there was a large cultural acceptance of sterilization of individuals with disabilities. Doctors, scientists, lawmakers, and most importantly the courts supported this idea. In the 1927 Buck v. Bell case the judge upheld the involuntary sterilization and stated, “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” Alexandra Stern, a professor at the University of Michigan estimates that from the early 1900’s to about 1970, 60,000 individuals were sterilized. Although the climate has changed, and legal proceedings are now against this behavior there are current day documentations of forced sterilizations.