Norma Sherry: Genocide
By Norma Sherry
As a people who praise humanity; as a human race we have a despicable history. Since the beginning of time we, as a people, have abolished those with whom we didn’t like or agree with, or those who had what we wanted: like land or rich resources. We haven’t changed much. It appears we haven’t learned from our past and as the acts of genocide pile high, clearly, we’re doomed to keep repeating these atrocious acts.
Throughout history cultural genocide has occurred throughout the world with little or no punishment. What does that say about us? Before our ancestors embarked on the shores of what was to become the Americas in 1492, it was inhabited by indigenous people known to all today as the American Indian.
Conservative estimates the population of the United States prior to European contact was greater than 12-million. Four centuries later, the population was reduced by 95% or 237-thousand.
In 1493, when Columbus returned to the Hispaniola, he implemented policies of slavery and mass extermination of the Taino population of the Caribbean. Within three years, five-million were dead. Bartolomé de Las Casas, priest, scholar, historian and 16th century human rights advocate was the primary historian of the Columbian era. He wrote of many accounts of the horrors that the Spanish colonists inflicted upon the indigenous population: hanging them en mass, hacking their children into pieces to be used as dog feed, and other horrific cruelties.
The Removal Act of 1830 set into motion a series of events which led to the "Trail of Tears" in 1838, a forced march of the Cherokees, resulting in the destruction of most of the Cherokee population. As appalling as it is, we now also know that the Indians were intentionally exposed to smallpox by Europeans.
In California and Texas there was blatant genocide of Indians. In California, the decrease from about a quarter of a million Indians to less than 20,000 is primarily due to the cruelties and wholesale massacres perpetrated by the gold miners and early settlers who were assured their land by the Homestead Act of 1862.
We have a rich history of killing; of annihilating those who are deemed inferior. Not just in America, but in the world.
We have a bad track record.
In Canada, the aboriginal natives, the Beothuk people are completely extinct as a result of loss of habitat and importation of European diseases. As the European settlements grew, the Beothuk’s withdrew into the interior of the island and subsequently starved.
Between 1880 and 1920, under the rule of King Leopold II, the Congo Free State, (before it was taken over by Belgium and became the Belgium Congo), suffered great loss of life due to criminal indifference to its native inhabitants in the pursuit of increased rubber production. Over 10-million natives were the victims of murder, starvation, exhaustion induced by over-work, and disease.
The Ustashe regime of Croatia committed genocide against Serbs, Jews and Gypsies during World War II. They also mass murdered other political opponents. Mile Budak, the Minister for Education & Culture, said in July 1941 that “The basis for the Ustashe movement is religion. For minorities such as the Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, we have three million bullets. We will kill a part of the Serbs. Others we will deport, and the rest we will force to accept the Roman Catholic Religion. Thus the new Croatia will be rid of all Serbs in its midst in order to be 100% Catholic within 10 years.”
In Hitler’s Nazi Germany, 11-million people were systematically starved, tortured, shot and gassed. Six-million were Jews, including 1.5 million children in the Nazi’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question. The plan was to rid the world of all Jews, all disabled, all Gypsies, Slavs, Poles, and Communists.
The world knew it was happening and yet it sat silent while millions were gassed in Hitler’s ovens. As the world came face to face with the horrors of Hitler’s Holocaust, we vowed that it would never happen again. And yet, genocide around the globe continues.
In 1985, German General Lothar von Trotha attempted to exterminate the Herero and Namaqua peoples of Southwest Africa. Sixty-five thousand Herero (80 percent of the total Herero population), and 10,000 Nama (50 percent of the total Nama population) were killed or perished. Characteristic of this genocide was death by starvation and the poisoning of wells for the Herero and Nama populations that were trapped in the Namib Desert.
Between 1920 and 1945 the Japanese massacred hundreds of thousands of its citizens. Some authorities claimed 300,000 people killed during the three months following the fall of Nanjing to the Japanese. Reportedly, Unit 731 conducted biological and chemical warfare experiments on living humans.
When British Malaya fell to the Japanese Imperial Forces in February 1942, ethnic Chinese in Singapore were systematically exterminated on the pretext of eliminating "anti-Japanese" elements. The death toll ranged upwards of 100,000. Smaller scale Genocide was also targeted at Koreans, Filipinos, Dutch, Vietnamese, Indonesians and Burmese.
In the Philippines, at least one-million civilians perished from outright slaughter, disease, and famine between 1899 and 1908. A largely forgotten genocide of at least three-million Roman Catholics and over a half a million Jews took place in the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania by Orthodox, Protestants and Muslims. One-third of its population was slaughtered between 1648 and 1662.
Nearly two-million Armenians were killed during the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923. During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, in 267-days 1 to 3 million ethnic Bengalis were killed by the Pakistan Army and 200,000 women were raped. Between 1975 and 1979, 1.7-million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge.
After Kashmiri uprising began in late 1989 over 100,000 Kashmiri Muslim and Hindu civilians have been killed and over 500,000 people have been driven away from their homes. Other atrocities including rape, torture and massacre are attributed to the Indian Army personnel in the region.
The Sri Lanka authorities have been committing systematic genocide against the Tamil people since 1958. Murder, rape, arson, maiming and pillage are all acts perpetrated upon the Tamils.
In 1992-1995 there was an organized killing of thousands of Bosnians and displacing of a million more. A hundred days in 1994 took almost a million lives in Rwanda. Hutus with machetes in hand slaughtered their Tutsis neighbors in their effort to annihilate all Tutsis from Rwanda. The Belgian police left, the U.N. ran for cover and the blood ran down the streets and no country came to their protection.
In 2002, Sudan was accused of the genocide of more than two-million lives and the displacement of more than four-million people since the Sudanese War started in 1983. In 2004 it became widely known that there was an organized campaign by Janjaweed militias (nomadic Arab shepherds with the support of Sudanese government and troops) to get rid of 80 black African groups from the Darfur region of western Sudan. These peoples include the Fur, Zaghawa and Massalit.
Knowing that the atrocities are taking place the Western world is still unwilling to take action. The death toll rises every day. The inhumanity of man upon man, woman and child is so appalling, so horrible that the words are inexplicably inadequate.
The Western world is not innocent. In fact, there are more instances of intrusion, escalation and insertion than this article can include. But, there is one issue that must be stated and that is Depleted Uranium: The dream child of Dick Cheney. In 1991 he was responsible for the wholesale use of radioactive munitions back in the Bush I administration. It is the genocide that keeps on giving, disabling and killing all that come into contact with it and leaving its devastating effects on generations contaminating the air, water and earth and every aspect of living free of contaminates. It is a price our enlisted men and women know all too well as they are sick and dying of a myriad of immobilizing diseases.
If, as 1776 author, David C. McCullough wrote, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are” is true, we’re in trouble. Our history does not speak well for us. George Bernard Shaw said, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history”. How sad and how true is that statement?
If this partial list – and yes, folks, this horrific accounting is only a partial list of carnage isn’t enough to cause one to rethink our place in this world and what we owe to one another then we are doomed to keep repeating our shocking history. Is this acceptable? Is this what we want for us, for our children, for our history?
Why is it that as a human race we think killing, raping, mayhem, mutilation and butchery is an acceptable means for change? For years we’ve watched as religious disagreements waged on as wars destroying entire nations. Some of our ancestors have witnessed first hand the inhumanity of man and gasped at the horror. After Hitler’s expansive Holocaust the world swore never to allow it again, and yet, here we are in the twenty-first century and everywhere in this world someone is being killed, beaten, imprisoned, raped, and pillaged because someone else thought them inferior.
On a smaller scale murder, rape and arson are crimes of every community. Local police departments deploy officers to school yards with Tasers in hand to disrupt volatile youngsters. Parents’ abuse their children in unspeakable ways and spouses beat one another in numbers too many to count. Are these symptoms of our greater ill? What is our remedy? Are we destined to destroy ourselves with hatred?
We can no longer ignore the pain of others whether in our community or our country or the world with which we all live. Silence is not an option.
As Edmund Burke so eloquently stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Norma Sherry is an
award-winning writer/producer. She is the host of The Norma
Sherry Show on WQXT-TV. She is also co-founder of Together
Forever Changing, an organization designed to enlighten and
encourage citizens to fight for our