Killing The Neighbors: 101 Years Of Genocide In Conflict

Monday, March 14, 2016
Image credit: 
Poster Collection, US 03442, Hoover Institution Archives.

Image credit: 
Poster Collection, US 03442, Hoover Institution Archives.

The genocide against Middle-Eastern Christians approaches its endgame, while Western leaders look away as resolutely as they ignored the Holocaust when it was happening. In time, there will be crocodile tears and, perhaps, a museum designed by an in-demand architect. For now, though, the presidents and prime ministers who romanticize Islam and explain away its excesses all but condone the extermination of a 2,000-year-old religious civilization.

It’s nothing new. Although genocides stretch back into history’s mists, the industrial-strength exterminations that began with the Young Turks’ butchery of Armenians in 1915 and reached their apogee (thus far) with the Holocaust have established a comfortable precedent for those who lead democracies: Temporize at length and regret at leisure.

But what about the perpetrators? Why do militarized societies struggling desperately for their survival choose to divert resources for the murder of their own docile minorities? While it’s an historical truth that men may hate a distant foe in theory but kill their neighbors in practice, it’s nonetheless striking that embattled authoritarian, nationalist or fanatical religious regimes commit cultural and even practical suicide by turning on a proclaimed enemy within.

In the Great War, the Young Turks turned on the Christian Armenians on the premise that they would, inevitably, rally to their Russian fellow Christians (despite confessional differences). The evidence was flimsy, but the temptation to crush a defenseless “enemy” was irresistible to a regime hard-pressed on the battlefield. And—yet another aspect of the pattern—the Young Turks turned on the most-productive element in Ottoman society (never underestimate the primal force of envy). They even willingly undercut their military, executing thousands of Armenians serving loyally in uniform (notably as much-needed engineers). Arguably, the new Turkish state that emerged from the Ottoman wreckage did not recover from the loss of the Armenians until the first decade of the twenty-first century (and now threatens to regress).

By the early twentieth century, Jews had become the most productive sub-population per capita in the German-speaking world. In music, art, philosophy, science, banking, and industry, Jews helped Germany become the center of Europe and the envy of the world. But, like the Armenians, Jews proved too successful, opening the door for demagoguery and, at last, the Holocaust. The jealousy and hatred ran so deep that the Nazi regime spent vast resources on rounding up, concentrating, and killing Jews by the millions at a point in the war when the homeland itself was besieged. And the cost of the loss of the Jews to the German lands? Since 1945, a society once revered for its creativity has produced nothing much beyond autos and Gummi Bears.

In the 1990s, in the multi-layered Balkan conflicts, the Serbs revived the hoary tradition of the male-only genocide, despite the damage to their cause internationally. Srebrenica wasn’t only local genocide, it was diplomatic suicide. But historical hatred and the lust for revenge for mythologized wrongs—motivations American presidents dismiss—proved stronger than long-term self-interest. Killing unarmed Bosnians was delightful and addictive. Like the Nazis, the Serbs never lacked volunteers for their execution squads.

Now, in the Middle East, the al-Qaeda Gog has given place to the Islamic State Magog, and the (temporal) end times have come for the region’s Christians. As with the Serbs, the Islamists’ genocidal actions can only incite global hostility to and disgust with their cause, inviting intervention. But the temptation to butcher the defenseless and put paid to confabulated grievances against their faith is irresistible to the jihadis. And, as in every genocide, it’s fun for the unleashed thugs (though we piously insist that “All men want peace!”). Just as Hitler intensified his slaughter of the Jews as the Allies closed in, expect Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State, to intensify his own “final solution” as his legions are pressed.

The future of the Middle East? With its Jews confined largely to Israel and its remaining Christians enduring persecutions worthy of the first martyrs, this decayed civilization will never recover. It will be a problem for humankind well past our meager lifetimes.

For dying regimes, genocide is the last ecstasy. For apocalyptic terrorists, it’s sanctioned bliss. For us? It’s an embarrassment after the fact, the family scandal never discussed over dinner.

In the wake of the Holocaust, well-meaning Westerners declared “Never again!” But the real issue is “Who’s next?”