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War and Violent Crime - War Crimes Mala In Se

ethnic violence nation german

As noted earlier, in the West the rules of war traditionally precluded attacks on nonparticipants in the enemy population. It was viewed as dishonorable to wage war on women, children, the elderly, and the helpless, even if they were the enemy. However, by World War II conditions had changed. Many nation-states were in fact multination states, often containing and sometimes restraining more than one tribal, ethnic, religious, or racial group. Even in the best of times the coexistence of different groups within the political boundaries of one state is not without some conflict, and war can exacerbate ethnic hatred and xenophobia. When states are at war, civil liberties are often suspended or greatly curtailed in the interests of national security. Fear can produce paranoia, and innocent citizens can be deprived of their land and liberty solely on the basis of shared ethnicity with the enemy. One need look no farther for an example than the U.S. government's treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. However, in other instances, attacks by governments on their own citizens have been based more on interethnic antagonism than on real or imagined fears about state security.

Historically, conquest has placed the power of the state at the disposal of one cultural or racial category while denying access to another. This has often been problematic. For example, in the case of the British conquest of French territory in eastern North America, it led to the 1755 expulsion from their homeland of Acadians who refused to swear allegiance to England. Although their descendants flourished as the Cajuns of Louisiana, this eighteenth-century version of "ethnic cleansing" by England was decried almost a century later by Longfellow in his epic poem Evangeline. At the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles ceded what had been German territory to other nation-states. From the German standpoint, this was tantamount to having part of the nation occupied, a bitter pill for any nation to swallow, made worse by the cultural and status differences between victor and vanquished. Twenty years later, World War II was triggered by Germany's invasions of Czech Sudetenland and Poland, actions justified by Adolf Hitler as rescue missions to protect ethnic Germans from their non-German compatriots.

Although it is pertinent, the German invasions were not the source of the war crimes tried at Nuremberg. The Nazi version of pan-Germanism was based on race and ethnicity rather than citizenship. As a consequence, the problem impairing the campaign for German unification was the presence of non-Aryans within the boundaries of the nation-state. The result of this drive for ethnic purification was the expulsion, incarceration, and destruction of its own citizens by the state and the ensuing horror of the Holocaust. This was the basis of the Nuremberg trials and has become the root of most charges for contemporary war crimes as well.

The East-West alliance dissolved after Nuremberg, replaced by a Cold War between the Communist East and the capitalist West. Although wars continued, and East and West accused each other of crimes against humanity, each side blocked any effective United Nations action, and war crimes prosecutions ceased. All this changed with the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989, and war criminals are once again pursued by the United Nations (see Chandler).

In contemporary Rwanda, centuries of intertribal hostility erupted into wholesale genocide in 1994, with the state in the hands of one tribe bent on slaughtering another. The collapse of highly centralized states in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union unleashed centrifugal forces of separatism and interethnic violence. For example, in Yugoslavia, the unraveling of the state ended the precarious peace between Croatians, Serbs, Slovenians, and Albanian Moslems fashioned by that nation's Serbian founder Josip Broz (Marshal Tito), and ethnic cleansing began in Bosnia and Kosovo. As of early 2001, the U.N.'s International War Crimes Tribunal in the Netherlands was trying to bring the offenders to trial. Another U.N. tribunal may soon be set up in Asia to try officials from Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge government who decimated the urban professional population of Cambodia in death camps during the 1970s (Chandler).

In the end, those in power may use the state to embark on genocidal violence or commit other crimes against humanity, as did the Nazis in Germany. On the other hand, strong, centralized, Communist governments may use the state to prevent sub-populations from committing ethnic violence, as in Tito's Yugoslavia. Like most social inventions, the state can be used either to provoke or prevent violence, including crimes against humanity.

At present, the most publicized war crimes are extreme forms of collective ethnic or class violence, committed by high-ranking officers of the state. These offenses have not been extensively studied by criminologists. However, there are signs that this is beginning to change, especially since the actions taken by the U.N. International War Crimes Tribunal concerning Rwanda and Bosnia (see Hagan). The scope of social scientific interest is also expanding to include crimes against humanity committed by states whether they are at war or not, as in Pol Pot's Cambodia (see Robertson). Even specific acts of violence such as aggressive policing, unwarranted incarceration, or capital punishment committed by states against citizens are increasingly decried as uncivilized. This is somewhat ironic inasmuch as those who were found guilty at Nuremberg were sentenced to hang, a particularly barbaric method of execution. (Göring committed suicide when his request for a firing squad was denied.)

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