There is within us some hidden power, mysterious and secret, which keeps us going, keeps us alive, despite the natural law. If we cannot live on what is permitted, we live on what is forbidden. That is no disgrace for us. What is permitted is no more than an agreement, and what is forbidden derives from the same agreement. If we do not accept the agreement, it is not binding on us. And particularly where this forbidden and permitted comes from a barbarous conqueror, who limits life to one made in his image, his murderous and larcenous views.
— from the Warsaw Ghetto diary of Chaim Kaplan
Because this is a blog about North Korea, I expend many words here on the subject of genocide: what the word means and who defined it, what can be done to stop it, who is trying, who has done and is doing nearly nothing about it, who is perpetuating it, and who is joining in it.
The most consistently astonishing thing about genocide in our time is how little those who write and speak movingly about the genocides of the past often seem to say and do about genocides that can still be stopped. Jules Crittenden inspires me to think more about this today, when he looks at the popularization of feel-good responses to genocide.
These feel-good responses have several common points. First, all are the stuff of drum circles — concerts, solemn words, and toothless sanctions, all apparently based on the presumption that the Janjaweed are gravely concerned about George Clooney’s disapproval. Second, they cease to be feel-good and are abandoned when any cost is attached to them. Third, the sanctimony almost always comes too late to save anyone. I can think of no better example than Kofi Annan’s apology for a genocide in Rwanda that he could have prevented, but didn’t, even as he continued to fail to take effective action against genocides in Darfur and North Korea, and just as the depth of Saddam Hussein’s corruption of Annan’s U.N. was revealed. You wouldn’t think that the phrase “never again” was meant to be posthumous, but it became the epitaph of the last century. So far, this one doesn’t seem to be going any differently. A thousand mass graves could have been marked with “never again” before they were filled.
[Jewish resistance fighter, Warsaw Ghetto, 1943]
I’ll add a fourth common point about the feel-gooders: their condemnation of genocide is seldom directed at oppressors who successfully cast themselves as enemies of America. Hating America has become a license to commit genocide, because when a tyrant acts as ventriloquist for his nation’s hatred of America, it must be our fault for failing to “understand” and “engage” with the murderers. That may be why you will seldom hear any Hollywood actor, liberal politician, or anchorman breathe the words, “Camp 22.” If you’re new to this site, you’ve probably never heard of the place, although in its cruelty and scale it’s easily comparable to Tuol Sleng or Mauthausen. Fifty years from now, schoolchildren will make solemn visits to memorials at Camp 22, and grad students will write theses about it. Yet today, while Camp 22’s next victims can still be saved, it’s another unpleasant topic we choose not to bring up for the sake of a diplomatic dance whose end result is mournfully predictable. The angst of those who should be talking about Camp 22 is wasted instead on places that aren’t remotely comparable to Tuol Sleng or Mauthausen, though too many would squander their credibility and betray their true motives by suggesting otherwise.
It’s also why you’ll never hear feel-good featherweights like George Clooney, Barack Obama, or Nancy Pelosi advocate any remotely plausible plan to prevent an undeniably likely genocide in Iraq. There is no feel-good, cost-free, plausible way to prevent that genocide or the other wars that will emerge from it, which puts the question beyond their competence and compassion. What they don’t realize is that it’s just as true of Darfur. We’ve been talking about Darfur for years now, and no nation or international body has yet taken a single effective step to stop the genocide there. This isn’t because we don’t know how. It’s because the things we could do to deter and mitigate this genocide quickly wouldn’t make enough of us feel good about ourselves. Yes, recruiting public support is often a prequisite to effective action, but if feel-good activism isn’t leading us toward effective action, it’s an exceedingly selfish form of compassion.
What would quickly slow and eventually stop the Genocide in Darfur would be to arm the surviving victims so that they can defend themselves and their families. What all of the great genocides of this century have in common is that the victims were unarmed. With the exception of international armed conflicts between mechanized armies, war is almost always less costly in human life than genocide, and once the forces on the field reach stalemate, wars are also easier to negotiate to a conclusion. Genocidal tyrants don’t negotiate when they’re getting their way through other means.
[Jewish partisans in a Polish forest, 1943]
Today, the law gives the President the authority to declare groups “terrorist,” and certain states to be “sponsors” of terrorism. Those declarations have legally significant effects on things that really affect the capacity of groups and states to terrorize: trade, banking, finance, technology transfers, diplomacy, immigration, and travel. Similarly, there should be a law by which Congress can make a legally significant declaration of “genocide” and certify classes of aggressors and victims. The class of aggressors should be denied the same benefits that are denied to terrorists, but we have learned that sanctions work too slowly to save lives in the short term. They may even encourage aggressors to speed up work that they doubt they can sustain over the long term.
That’s why the certification of classes of victims is also necessary (needless to say, terrorist groups and their supporters must be excluded). Victims of genocide should have access to small arms at low or no cost, and should receive training in their use. The small arms — assault rifles, antiaircraft guns up to 23 milimeters, and antitank rockets as needed — should be just enough to drive the aggressors from the victims’ midst and restore the military balance. The law should include a termination provision by which the President may declare the military balance restored and reduce the supply of arms and ammunition to a maintenance level. If and when a peace agreement is executed, or in the exceedingly unlikely event that there is some effective international intervention, the President may declare the genocide conditions to be over and stop the supply of arms.
This isn’t a recipe for nonviolence, of course. A transition from genocide to nonviolence is almost never possible. It is not a way to end bloodshed and suffering, but it is a way to greatly reduce it, and to reduce the share of the burden borne by noncombatants. If there is any right more fundamental than the right to self-defense against crime, I do not know what it is. It is a right we have reserved to our own selves, it is enshrined in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, and it has nothing to do with the criminal’s status in the General Assembly:
[T]hey are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Finally, it should be noted that many genocides have a regional, religious, or ethnic character. Genocides are almost always waged by states against restive ethnic or religious groups concentrated in specific regions. (North Korea is a more complex case of mass murder-by-deprivation. A disproportionately high percentage of the victims are members of hereditary political classes classified as “hostile” and concentrated in the northern and eastern provinces.) Thus, the law should recognize that states have a duty to protect their populations and elevate this principle to a concrete disincentive against genocide. Clearly, when a state sanctions or commits genocide against its population, its capacity to protect that population is called into question. The people are best qualified to judge whether the greater state should continue to govern them.
Thus, when a state commits genocide against people concentrated in a particular region — Bosnia, Kosovo, Darfur, East Timor, the Ukraine — it should be the policy of the United States that the affected region has the right to a plebiscite of independence.
Update: Welcome, Gateway Pundit and DPRKS readers.
Update 2: Linked by Claudia Rosett — a supreme honor.
* Not new, but relevant to this post, is this chronology of resistance against the North Korean regime.
* Most Suggestive Headline of the Week goes to the Russian news service Novosti: China Gives the Korean Stalemate a Happy Ending.
* Fox News is reporting that President Bush and President Karzai are meeting at Camp David, and that the unconfirmed rumors (or trial balloon) is that they’re talking about paying ransom for the South Korean hostages.
* Two senior al-Qaeda commanders are killed in three days, both in key areas where they thought they’d find safe haven from our Baqubah offensive. First, it was the “emir” of Mosul on Friday; today, it’s the “emir” of Samarra, the architect of the mosque bombing last year that caused us such trouble. They will be replaced, but as Michael Yon puts it, the stupid ones are already dead. These were two of AQ’s more cunning murderers, and their replacements will likely be less clever, less experienced, and less effective. It’s by small steps like these that fewer decisions are made to pay the insurgents or join them, and that more decisions are made to report their whereabouts or oppose them.
* Not Ready, Part III: The latest Obama blunder is pretty much self-fisking:
“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” Obama said, with a pause, “involving civilians.” Then he quickly added, “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”
Just what we need — a jittery finger on the button.