06 April 2017

3628) Discourse Control In Genocide Studies And The Imagined Raphael Lemkin by Tal Buenos

Discourse Control In Genocide Studies And The Imagined Raphael Lemkin

Tal BUENOS
University of Utah

“We know that when Raphael Lemkin (Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, 1944) coined the term genocide, he had the massacres and deportations of 1915 in mind.” This was stated by the majority judges in the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Perinçek v. Switzerland. Their ruling was in favor of Perinçek, and yet there is something quite troubling about the confidence with which the judges thought they knew something that is not known to be true.

If careful attention is given to what kind of “knowledge” about 1915 is produced and consumed, there is plenty of room for concern that no state but Turkey would oppose the introduction of legal components to the genocide accusation regarding 1915. These judges displayed that they are informed by the controlled discourse on genocide; that history is drowned out by the genocide scholar’s ability to disseminate misleading information. This was even more the case in Switzerland. The existence of a biased and dominant field of study – genocide field of study – has demonstrably affected the perspective of these judges to the point where they think that they know something that actually is not known to be true. . .


There are certain sources of information on genocide, and these sources of information are controlled and promoted by the greatest power on earth. It is impossible to compete with this great power, and historical findings that are in conflict with the current genocide-discourse will be dismissed and unable to reach a wide enough audience.

A major part of the framing of this discourse by genocide scholars is done through an imagined Raphael Lemkin. Being that the European judges were convinced that they knew something about Lemkin, when that something is not really known to be true, the dangerous effect of bogus genocide-studies on authoritative courts of law becomes more apparent. This means that the problem of genocide-scholarship is not limited to academic content, to a failure to represent Ottoman history in an accurate manner, but that the genocide scholarship has a way of affecting minds regardless of the historical debate, if there even is one. It is not enough to show how these genocide scholars are failing to represent history accurately or how they are decontextualizing history to package pieces of history as genocide. It is not enough because they will reach the minds of judges and average Joes regardless of whether this or that Turkish study shows that there are historical aspects that were not taken into consideration. They do not care. Genocide scholars do not have a commitment to the accurate study of Ottoman history, but to a genocide-labeling.

The conflict over history is only half the battle; the other is to identify that the driving force of this genocide accusation is not simply a misreading of history by the genocide scholarship, but a deliberate application of political power so that history can be rewritten and controlled. Political power is used to control the discourse on histo-ry through the genocide scholarship. The success of this endeavor is not measured by historical accuracy, but by the effect on people’s minds. The measure of success by the genocide scholarship is not in the question: are we helping people to get history right? Rather, it is in the question: are we getting people to think what we want them to think about history? It is a propaganda aim that is not seen as such because it lives off the credibility that is normally associated with academic work. Regardless of whether it is recognized as propaganda, its effect is the effect of propaganda. This effect appears to be by design if one studies how it is consistently beneficial to the US government.

Briefly put, the genocide scholarship has been beneficial to the US government in the following main ways: 1) it has obliterated the memory of the genocide accusation against the US over the atrocities in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s; 2) it has marginalized the cases of Anglo-American colonial mass-killings in the nineteenth cen-tury in America, Africa, Asia and Oceania (all over); 3) it has made forgettable the US government’s responsibility for the destruction of the societal structure in Cambodia and the killing of hundreds of thousands there (it has done this through the orchestra-tion of a legal charge of genocide against local Cambodian leaders of the Khmer Rouge government, thereby accusing China of complicity as part of the American competition with China over public opinion in East Asia, and this tribunal was bought by the US and its dependents: between 2006 and 2013, Japan alone covered 42% of the budget for the Cambodia Tribunal); 4) as in Libya, it has provided pretext for observable US intervention in the internal affairs of other states (non-observable intervention does not need pretext because it does not pass through public opinion); and 5) it has em-powered the US even more in its dealings with Turkey, for it has given the US a stick to use for political leverage (the threat of the genocide accusation becoming legal or even more popular is affecting Turkey’s behavior).

The discourse that is generated by the American-influenced genocide scholarship is designed to produce a predetermined type of reasoning; it is closed to nuanced descriptions of historical events, and it even blocks their view. This discourse is not merely a flawed set of communication, but a controlled one. It is a testament of power: American soft power. As defined by American political scientist Joseph Nye, “soft power is the ability to affect others through the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuading, and eliciting positive attraction in order to obtain outcomes.” It is a strategy that is based on the ability to control information. By dominating international organizations, and telling stories to the entire world through its academic and media platforms, the US government can reach public opinion and affect in ways that are unrivaled. To maintain effectiveness, the information has to appear as if it does not come from the government, but from independent experts. As Nye qualifies: “Soft power depends upon credibility, and when governments are manipulative and information is seen as propaganda, credibility is destroyed.” Being that state propaganda on history might be discredited and even proven to be counterproductive because the bias is obvious, the much less obvious route is to have American interests be served by academic literature that does not even present itself as American but as international and non-partisan, such as the literature produced by the International Association of Genocide Scholars. Whatever the US government wanted to have done on genocide, it had to achieve it through its academia and media.

The discourse itself, which is produced by the genocide scholarship, has two general commitments: one, to take a particular historical direction that is favorable to the US government; two, to maintain an appearance of distance between the US government and the control of the term genocide. Hence, the centrality of an imagined Lemkin. The focus on Lemkin facilitates a particular focus on history, without making it seem like a biased selection. The creation of an imagined Lemkin helps depoliticize and moralize the discourse. Both of these services to the genocide discourse by the centrality of an imagined Lemkin are crucial for credibility and appeal.

Lemkin’s centrality in the genocide discourse means a particular historical time-frame: the two world wars. In these wars the US is not portrayed as a dominant aggressor, but as a force for good; the common perception regarding these wars is that the US should have acted sooner. This idea that the US should have acted sooner is an American favorite; if only world opinion about everything would always be that that the US should have acted sooner, should have used its force sooner, then US interference would always be seen as legitimate. That is publicity-heaven for the US. By his very profile, Lemkin places the attention of the genocide discourse on these two world wars that teach the world just that: the US should have acted sooner. This time-frame also allows for a focus on two cases of mass-killings, one is the prototypical case of genocide, the Holocaust, which inspired the term genocide but did not generate any requirement to be called genocide, and the other is the Armenian tragedy, which has become the main feature of the genocide scholarship, not because of any evidence or an interest in a discussion about evidence, but because of the political interest to create a discourse that would ensure the association of the term genocide with an event that is not the American war in Vietnam. The Turks were not systematically accused of genocide in American academia and media outlets until the US was accused of committing genocide in Vietnam. Lemkin was born into the twentieth century after the bulk of the massacres committed by Anglo-Saxon colonialism, and passed away just before the unprecedented American bombardment of villagers in Indochina. The choice of, or the design of, a Lemkin-centered narrative, made it seem as if it is natural to leave the Vietnam experience out of the genocide discourse. The millions of tons of bombs that the US dropped on villages in Indochina, would not fall within the academic interests of the future discourse on genocide. Because there were major accusations by intellectuals around the world and even an International Tribunal was set up by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, which found the US guilty of genocide after the term had already been made legal by the UN Genocide Convention, the genocide scholarship has chosen for itself a different focus.

The Armenian narrative was, and is, perfect for that different focus. First, it came with an existing literature. Granted, the literature is anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim propaganda, but if the discourse is controlled, then nobody would be able to challenge the authenticity of this information. Second, and likely why in this instance even propaganda is accepted as credible, it tells a story in which the villains are Muslims. Regardless of the extent to which Turkey is associated with Islam today, the Ottoman rule, and certainly when depicted as persecuting Christians, is and was an Islamic entity, and it used to symbolize Islamic governance. This Armenian narrative is compel-ling in the West because it confirms people’s prejudicial suspicions about Muslims; it corresponds with Orientalism. This narrative was destined to be seen as convincing in Western liberal states – the US and its dependents – and would easily be believed as a case of genocide. The defiance of the Turkish government on the subject, described by genocide scholars as denial is as anticipated, and only serves to enhance the focus on the Armenian tragedy as the one publicized polemic about genocide. Even without the legal component, the polemic alone has been enough to divert attention away from the public ever considering the bombardment of Vietnam as genocide.

The crossing paths of the Armenian narrative and the Lemkin time-frame were too good to be passed up by the US, but the discourse on both had to be controlled. Control was necessary, not only to ensure the lending of credibility to the propaganda that informs the Armenian narrative, but also to advance a narrative of an imagined Lemkin as credible. It is an imagined Lemkin because, in order for the genocide dis-course to have its desired effect on public opinion, the produced Lemkin narrative had to negate two realities: 1) the significance of his employment by the US government; and 2) the insignificance of the Armenian tragedy in the origination of the term gen -ocide.

The genocide scholarship deemphasizes that Lemkin was employed by the US government when the term genocide was made public for the first time in the book Axis Rule. According to Lemkin’s own resume, found among the Lemkin papers in the New York Public Library, in 1942-44 he was the US government’s “Chief Consultant” for the Board of Economic Warfare and Foreign Economic Administration in Washington D.C., earning “$25 a day”; in 1945-47, he worked as “Adviser on Foreign Affairs, USA War Department (including assignment to the Nuremberg Trials) for a salary of “$7,500 a year.” Despite this information being undeniable and significant, it is minimized or completely ignored by genocide scholars.

The genocide scholarship deemphasizes that Lemkin was recruited by the US government. Was Florence J. Harriman, whom Lemkin acknowledges in the preface to Axis Rule, involved in his recruitment? Harriman was the US ambassador to Norway. To keep away from the Germans, Harriman had to relocate to Sweden, just when Lemkin was there in 1940.

The genocide scholarship deemphasizes the role of the book’s publisher, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (the Endowment), in unison with the US government. Robert R. Wilson, who is also acknowledged in the preface to Axis Rule, earned his PhD at Harvard University while enjoying a Carnegie fellowship. He became the first chairman of the Department of Political Science at Duke University, where Lemkin had been invited to take his first position in the US before becoming an official employee of the US government. Wilson was elected to the executive councils of the American Society of International Law and the American Political Science Association, as well as serving on the board of editors of the American Journal of International Law, which was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation. He had previously worked for the Treaty Division of the US Department of State, and was highly regarded within the Carnegie circle. His literature prepared the ground for the term genocide, and reflects the US plans for post-war Germany long before Axis Rule came out. Wilson’s articles had the following titles: “Gradations of Citizenship and International Reclamations” (1939); “Standards of Humanitarianism in War” (1940); “Some Aspects of the Jurisprudence of National Claims Commissions” (1942); and “Treatment of Civilian Alien Enemies” (1943). All of these articles came out in a Carnegie affiliated publication. As evident, the original purpose of the term genocide, to extract compensation from Germany post-war, was already articulated by this Harvard educated, Carnegie connected, professor. Yet, his role in the production of Axis Rule and the invention of genocide is disregarded. So is the involvement of Eleanor Lansing Dulles, who was related to some of the most influential people in the US government over the decades, and had started a long career in the Department of State, first as an Economic Officer in the Division of Postwar Planning. She is also thanked in the preface to Axis Rule. What was her role in the book’s authorship? It seems like the genocide scholar-ship does not seek to generate knowledge on the actual production of the book.

The genocide scholarship deemphasizes questions about Lemkin’s competence. What about the billing of Lemkin as an expert in international law? Lemkin’s resume, which is available among the Lemkin papers at the New York Public Library, shows that between 1929 and 1939 he was a “Professor of Family Law at Tachkomi College, Warsaw, Poland;” His other positions include: “General Practice of Law, Warsaw, Poland,” (1934-1939); “Deputy Public Prosecutor, Warsaw, Poland,” (1929-1934); and “Secretary of the Committee for the Codification of Laws of the Republic of Poland” (1930-1932). There is no mention of work experience in international law while in Poland, yet the genocide scholars who write about Lemkin present him as an expert in international law, that’s how they describe him, and they highlight one conference on international law in Madrid in 1933. One conference paper is all it takes to call him an expert, and discard interest in all the American experts who were working on inter-national law before, during, and after World War II, and close to the center of power in Washington.

Another aspect of competence that goes unquestioned in genocide scholarship is Lemkin’s ability to write in English. His autobiography Totally Unofficial did not get published, and the publishers in their letters of rejection in 1958 commented on his poor grammar (also, the autobiography is suspected of having a mythic style to it, and genocide scholars, though at times recognize this, still use the autobiography to create their narrative, and they even had the autobiography published recently). If Lemkin had poor grammar in 1958, then should it not be considered that his grammar was likely poorer in 1944, or even before that, when Axis Rule was written? Lemkin set-tled in the US in 1941. It is highly unlikely that within 2-3 years he was able to master the English language and write over 600 pages of perfect English grammar in Axis Rule. Was it translated or perhaps even ghost-written? The book is a publication of the Endowment, in continuation of its efforts toward establishing international law and an international order since before World War I. According to the preface in Axis Rule, the editing of the book was supervised by Alan T. Hurd who after his service in the US army in the war started a career for the US Department of State. A person by the name of Mary Emily King is thanked for transcribing the text. What material exactly did she transcribe into English? Is it believable that one person of unknown credentials transcribed the entire text? There is no manuscript of Axis Rule available among the Lemkin papers, yet genocide scholars say that his entire life was one big preparation for this book. In consideration of the uncertainty surrounding the book’s authorship, and the certainty regarding it being a product of an established American political elite, the common narrative that is presented by genocide scholars about Lemkin and the origin of the term appears to be dubious.

The term genocide is as American as the Big Mac. It is an American product. The centers and institutes of Holocaust and genocide – genocide and Holocaust – are spread in the US and the West just like McDonald’s restaurants, and all are producing similar products. The discourse is so controlled that it looks the same wherever it is produced and consumed, just like the Big Mac. However, unlike the Big Mac, the genocide discourse is dissociated from its Americanness so that it would have soft power impact. To keep the term genocide from being seen as American-controlled propaganda, it is related to Lemkin, not as a US-government employee, but as a Polish-Jewish expert on international law. Instead of openly discussing how Lemkin was hooked to American power, he is shown strictly as a member of a victim group, to give the term genocide the semblance of a moral origin, as if the term genocide came from a genuine place, from a genuine experience of suffering. The discourse turns away from considering that term genocide was invented in Washington DC by the greatest minds of the greatest power on earth, the US government, which used Lemkin’s Jewish identity to legitimize, popularize and internationalize a term that would help it control a defeated Germany after the war. Genocide was created to accomplish a political goal, but the genocide scholarship holds on to an imagined Lemkin so that genocide would appear less American and more international; less political and more moral.

For the genocide discourse to be effective, the Armenian narrative was inject-ed into the Lemkin narrative. The first and foremost undeniable fact that is ignored by the genocide scholarship regarding the forced blending of the Armenian narrative and the Lemkin narrative is a simple one: the Armenian victim-hood is not mentioned at all in Axis Rule. Why would it be mentioned? Axis Rule was written and published in Washington DC to meet a particular US interest, and there was no reason for the US to put any reference to Armenians in that book, nor would anyone think to equate Nazi Germany’s appetite for expansion with the Ottoman Empire’s fight for survival.

By the end of the 1940s Lemkin was no longer officially employed by the US government, and acted as a private promoter of the term genocide that was associat-ed with him personally. At that time, his main benefactors were American Christian organizations who thought that accusations of genocide committed against Christians would generate excitement toward sustaining and cultivating Christian populations around the world. In this context, in 1949 Lemkin made his appearance on an inter-view for CBS in which he said awkwardly and in limited English that he became interested in genocide because it happened so many times, and mentioned that it happened to the Armenians before Hitler took action. It is important to note that when asked the same question in Italy some time before that, in an answer that is shown in writing in one of the Lemkin papers available at the New York Public Library, he did not mention the Armenians at all. It is also important to note that when formulating his view on the Armenians, Lemkin was informed by the same wartime propaganda that is currently informing the genocide scholars.

Genocide scholars try to present Lemkin also as a historian, aside from being an international law expert, and they dedicated a whole book to this endeavor, titled The Origins of Genocide: Raphael Lemkin as a Historian of Mass Violence , edited by two Germans who are associated with the International Network of Genocide Scholars (INGS). The INGS is the other genocide-scholarship organization that pretends to be non-partisan and international while owing its existence to an American origin. INGS is as American as a McDonald’s branch in Berlin. This INGS book promotes the idea of Lemkin as a historian, even though it is easily recognized that the research presented in the papers for Lemkin’s project titled “The History of Genocide” was shoddy, hurried, superficial, and biased toward genocide-labeling. Furthermore, the bulk of the work that is found in the Lemkin papers, if not all of it, seems to have been produced by Lemkin’s research assistant. Within this particular project, 41 cases of mass-killings in modern times were considered genocide, and an overall number of 63 genocides throughout history. Meaning, it was open season for genocide-labeling, the research was lacking seriousness and full of bias, and not even Lemkin’s own research; Lemkin, it appears, was the recipient of the actual research, which only needed his approval. All of this, however, did not stop leading genocide scholars from coming out with a book in celebration of Lemkin’s credentials as a historian, nor has it stopped them from sin-gling out the Armenian case.

The imagined Lemkin is the central figure around which the genocide scholar -ship has framed its discourse. The discourse is an example of American soft power, and when exposed as being just that, it will be seen as an absolute disgrace to academia. In the American-based genocide studies, there is no separation of academia and state.

The academic discourse on genocide is controlled by the state that is hiding behind a mythic version of a man called Lemkin.

A careful study of who raises the Armenian question and where, would lead one to conclude that the Armenian issue is in actuality an American issue. It is not about Armenian historical claims as much as it is about the American control of public opinion. Recognizing that there is an American policy behind the genocide accusation against Turks begs for reconsideration, reevaluation, and perhaps a formulation of a policy in Turkey. Regarding this issue, Turkey has reacted time and time again but has yet to respond in full. It might be time for Turkey to have a real and active policy of its own in this issue.

International Conference on Armenian Question: Myths an Realities 22 - 23 May 2015

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