Lessons Unlearned: Genocide Since the Holocaust

Lessons Unlearned: Genocide Since the Holocaust


The human race is a forgetful and foolish race. If the summit of wisdom is to know how little one knows, the human race is the direct opposite in the most repugnant sense. Arrogance, egotism, insolence and hubris riddle throughout human history, and the human score can be boiled down to mistake after repeated mistake. Quite a bleak take on humanity dismissive of our greater achievements, isn’t it? Though it may seem intense and extreme, it is not an unrealistic take, and one where our successes are not mutually exclusive to our cumulous errors and downfalls. Genocide is prevalent in almost any human epoch and century. As hard and painstaking as the reality may be, we find ourselves amidst genocide even in the modern day of this writing, and likely its reading as well. The Holocaust is the caustic product of hate, deliberate ignorance, and wavering ethics of humanity that laid waste and devastation to over six million Jews. The Holocaust was major symbol of the dangers that exist when we as a whole species fail to learn from prior mistakes spanning back many a milenia. The obscenities and barbarisms by which humans destroy entire populations are crucial events to learn from, to understand, and to never repeat. Sadly, time proves to be unkind upon humanity as a whole, but there remain many examples to learn from in the hopes of doing right.



The Great Leap Forward begins the list of eight examples of major genocides to have happened since The Final Solution. Perhaps the most abhorrent monstrosities to happen in the last century, if one can even rank evil and despair, is Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward. 


A plan to mechanize human beings into being the ultimate industrial force independent of industrialized machinery proved that anything is possible in the worst ways fathomable. In order to catch up to the world powers of the time, Mao Zedong had an excursion and extermination of human life by which he had scores of millions work under his rule with the goal of being able to afford buying machinery and taking china to a competitive world power, rivaling the USSR and the United States. While not like the systematic extermination of a race or ethnicity independently, this genocide would prove to be self-cannibalizing for China. Chinese workers were overworked, starved, tortured, raped, and executed as China’s image turned over the span of four infernal years.


 The lesson unlearned was the reverence for human life. Gone were any semblances of importance for life, when once again an ideal took precedence over the very beings capable of conceptualizing what an idea is. The very plan was to create a world where China proved to be the most efficient and sustainable lifestyle for continuing human life. In theory its plan was to efficiently sustain life without capitalism or greed and the evils and hardship it could bring. The Great Leap Forward dismissed itself in the process, becoming the greatest paradox and oxymoron of the historical/political time. By killing over 45 million people in the span of four years, Mao Zedong’s plan would finally be carried into fruition, effectively transitioning the Chinese economy away from agrarian roots. The tragedy exists in that the plan worked the way desired, there was no lesson learned or no lesson unlearned, this event is the carnage and abomination of complete disregard for life.

Following the genocidal timeline, Pakistan comes next. The Bangladesh Genocide took place in Pakistan in 1971. From March to December, 1971, an estimated  300,000 to 3 million Bengali citizens were murdered and exterminated. 


The genocide was a result of power struggles between West Pakistan and East Pakistan. The West contained most of the power and wealth, while the east produced most of the goods and exports while retaining the least amount of profits from their work. Seeking better representation and more autonomy or gubernatorial involvement, the West launched a flurry of attacks in the hopes of sedating the eastern Bengalis. General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan declared martial law and began “Operation Searchlight” which aimed to regain control of major cities and eliminate any existing opponents. Journalists and foreigners were escorted out prior to the operation, and beginning Operation Searchlight resulted in the killing of scores of thousands of Bengalis within a short span of days and weeks. Genocide was the deliberate goal and means by which to terrorize Bengalis into conforming with the government. Yahya Khan’s goal was to kill 3 million of them, so that the rest would be forced to ‘eat off our hands.’ 


The lesson unlearned consists of complete disregard for human life as a means for instilling fear and control over a population. The atrocities of the Bangladesh Genocide are parallel to the Holocaust becasue of the deliberate extermination of a population out of hate. Pakistan had only contempt for the Bengali population and wanted to see it crushed and disheartened, if not ideally wiped out altogether. Unfortunately, history repeated itself and up to 3 million bengalis may have been killed, and all for the trivial reasons of greed and contempt.


Cambodia repeated history much like Pakistan and China before it. On April 17th, 1975, The Cambodian Genocide began. The Cambodian Genocide was led by the Khmer Rogue leader Pol Pot in order to organize and unite Cambodia, following a plan similar to the one used in China (The Great Leap Forward). The killings and loss of life due to the genocide amounted to an astounding quarter of the population. 


The French occupation for roughly a hundred years in southeast Asia really tampered with the stability of the countries when France suddenly left. During the Vietnam war, Cambodian Prince Sihanouk found himself aiding Vietnam and the United States by allowing them to conduct bombings and smugglings throuhgout. When a coup ousted him, the communist party Khmer Rouge quickly took over. Pol Pot was an admirer of Maoist principles and beliefs. This inspired many of Pol Pot’s actions, including the Cambodian Genocide that would follow. Following the strict and unforgiving and unrelenting techniques established by Mao, Pol Pot decided the only way to achieve a collectivised Cambodia would be through the complete extermination of opposing factions and everyone with a tainted foreign influence. 


The actual genocide itself consisted of being sent to camps, and those unable to make it to the camps being executed on the spot. Churches and temples were burned, and any religious officials were promptly executed. Being placed inside barrack-style labor camps, those who were not capable of working due to the extreme conditions were executed as waste to the state. Finally, the genocide did not stop until Cambodia’s goal had been obtained.


How does Cambodia relate to the Holocaust? Cambodia exterminated hundreds of thousands of civilians for being on a different social faction. Much like the Jewish population, many “westernized” Cambodians were exterminated as a means to reach the fulfilled and manifested ideation of a unified people and country. 


The Guatemalan Genocide took place in 1980. The Guatemalan Genocide was the extermination of over 200,000 Mayans in Guatemala, and the displacement of over 1.5 million more.


During the 1970s, Guatemala had many protesting Mayans, and feared they were supporters of a guerilla movement aiming to overthrow the government of the time. The Guatemalan army destroyed over 600 villages and killed or “disappeared” over 200,000 Mayans. Much of the disappearing consisted of secret arrests and executions, followed by unmarked graves to hide evidence of the events taking place. The government also ensured to completely destroy and burn any resources and shelter available to the Mayans. Burning houses, killing livestock and poisoning water sources were all tactics to ensure that Mayans suffered and/or died. The United States Aided the Guatemalan government during the genocide in an effort to dismantle any communist parties from coming into power.


The targeting of Mayans and their settlements was more than just the Guatemalan government surmising Mayan involvement with Guerilla forces; the targeting of the native peoples spans back to many arguments over their treatment and representation and exploitation, with the communist presumptions being the excuse to terminate an ethnicity for their inconveniences to the government.


The Al-Anfal Genocide occured from February, 1988, to September, 1988. It is brutal to see how much murder can happen within a few short months, as is always the case in a planned mass extermination. The extermination of the Kurds is no different. Saddam Hussein had become fed up with the Kurds safely residing in Northern Iraq and concluded that their extermination was necessary, should they eventually rise up and develop a desire for autonomy. What ensued were bobmings and gas attacks, prison camps, and mass executions in order to rid roughly 100,000 Kurds in the region. Close to about only ten percent of the original Kurdish villages remained, and the attacks stopped after having been successful in wiping out the Kudish presence in Iraq.


Quite the same as the Jewish populations or the Mayans, the Kurds were exterminated by their presence and existence as an ethnicity not desired in a region where those in power wanted them eliminated.


In 1994, there would occur two main events of genocide in Bosnia. Yugoslavia was composed of many friendly ethnic groups that had gotten along well during the state of Yugoslavia, but during its division, many wars followed.


 Serbia was the main proponent of warring, and for Bosnia, Serbia wanted to ensure “protection” of Christians in the country. Bosnian Muslims, better known as Bosniaks, were the main target of Serbia’s ethnic cleansing.  Serbians used military equipment belonging to the former Yugoslavia to invade and capture the capital, Sarajevo. Bosniaks were transported to concentration camps, and were raped, tortured, starved, and executed under Serbian command. The United Nations stepped in and declared Sarajevo, Goradze, and Srebrenica to be designated safe areas. Women, children, and the elderly were transported from Srebrenica to Muslim controlled territories. The men were executed promptly. Over 8,000 were murdered from the designated safe space of Srebrenica alone. The United Nations did not intervene.


It is a somber and disheartening notion that the United Nations had stepped in to prevent or oversee that no genocide or atrocites continued, only to have turned a blind eye to the event. The lessons learned from the Holocaust heavily influenced the United Nations, but much like the silent populations of Germany, nothing was done despite the awareness of the evils and dangers present.


Genocide happened as recently as 1994, in Rwanda. Facing ethnic tensions and supremacy movements, the military, congress, and the civilians of Rwanda took part in the mass expulsion of the ethnic Tutsi. The genocide took place in a matter of only one hundred days.


Earlier it was mentioned how quickly Genocide occurs, and how brutal the planned events end up being–the jarring nature of genocide is that it is meant to be a prompt and swift deletion of an entire people. The Rwandan genocide was the result of a movement by the majority ethnicty, the Hutu, where their supiority over the Tutsi resulted in the mass removal and death of the Tusi ethnicity. The Tutsi had controlled the government for a long time, despite only being less than twenty percent of the overall population. The Hutu had had enough and began falling for the ideas of “Hutu Power.” The Tutsi were then labeled as cockroaches and vermin that plagued Rwanda, militias were ordered to find the Tutsi and any political opponents, and to swiftly be executed. In the hundred days of execution, rape, and pillaging, roughly 800,000 Tutsi and moderate political Hutu were slaughtered. 


This is the Genocide that is very near to modern times, with the highest resemblance to the attempted extinction of the Jews. The Germans believed a eugenic fallacy, where they reigned supreme, and the Jewish ethnicity was subhuman and a vermin to the superior race’s goals. Similarly, the Hutu believed that they were superior and intended to wipe out all Tutsi, without remorse, until they had nothing but a homogeneous ethnic identity.


The most jarring case of modern Genocide is occuring in 2020, with the Uighur population in Xinjiang, China. The Chinese government has been systematically organizing and rounding up the Muslim Uighur population in the west, and placing them into fortified “re-education” camps. The camps are very secluded and secretive, with only limited information being released. The Chinese government claims that the Uighurs, although not particularly criminal, pose a threat to China and should homogenize and assimilate to the national identity. 


The claims against China include the systematic sterilization of over a million Uighurs distributed across 85 camps. There have been reports of sexual abuses, forced labor, torture, and murder occuring in the camps. The Genocide Convention has listed defnitions for what a genocide is, and China has met the requirements for Genocide, but denies any genocide occuring. Sterilization is fungible to ethnic murder alone becasue they are killing the opportunity for the ethnicity to grow and continue. The urder is intolerable, and the rounding up of any race is alarming and requires action be taken.


Genocide is as present today as it was in the 1930s with the Jewish Holocaust. There have been many instances and events regarding genocide in the last ninety years, and time and again the lessons have been learned, unlearned, or ignored in entirety. What can be said about the actions? What can be done? Are we doomed to repeat history? The overwhelming truth is that history often repeats itself, and it readily appears as though the time for action has arisen again. What are the common themes? The lessons present are the lessons of darkness we must hold close–life is precious. There is much hate, and there is little understanding. In almost all cases, the result of genocide has been a clear and evident disregard for the value of a human life. When one’s own life begins to mean more than another’s, there is a likelihood that the desensitization will facilitate the murder of those we don’t value.  


The lesson that we as humans must remember to never unlearn is the ability to persevere. It might seem odd, and as though avoiding murder should be the takeaway, but there is a greater theme. In all of the genocides, there was a goal. Everyone has a goal, every human alive is aspiring to something. Every human will face hardship, that is a fundamental universal truth. In every case a goal came at the expense of a life, whether by blame, or by burden to a goal, there was a justification for the grizzly abominations. The great lesson is that if we learn to persevere and take on adversity, we avoid justification of great evils. Likewise our determination for good must come at stopping those who use evil and scapegoat our fellow brothers and sisters.



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