Thrusting the Stake into Lemkin's Bleeding Heart
Reviewed by Samuel E. Konkin III
Until a historical revisionist conference of three years ago, I had never heard of Raphael Lemkin. It did not surprise me that no one else I knew had heard of him either. What significance could this unbelievably obscure academic lounge-lizard of decades ago have for us in the middle 1980s?
James J. Martin, commonly saddled with the title "Dean of the Revisionist Historians," kicks open the tomb of this long-dead neologist to explore the vampiric bite he put on this world's languages. Lemkin's corpse turns out to be little able to withstand the strong light.
In 1943, as an act of pro-Allied academic war propaganda, this long-term floating statist spliced together a Greek prefix and a Latin suffix to coin the word which would be incanted on behalf of hyperstatism for the next 40 years. The term was the Aladdin's Lamp which held together a cloud of fog oft-confused for a powerful djinn and so worshipped in the halls of the United Nations, half the world's parliaments, and a near majority of the United States Senate.
Raphael Lemkin minted the word "genocide."
There is something of a shock of heightened awareness in the discovery that this political household word was tossed off to encode a wartime propaganda charge by a free-lance civil servant on behalf of a doomed government-in-exile and on the payroll of a power-elite think tank. There was no word for race-killing before Lemkin and 1943. However did we manage without it? Think -- try! -- of a major international intervention or call for intervention since 1945 which did not involve a charge of genocide.
Raphael Lemkin himself was a stupefyingly uninteresting person, nowhere near a Master of Evil, and that unavoidable fact gives Martin's book its only real problem in readability. After the introduction, Martin spends the opening chapter on Raphael Lemkin, the man. The most incorruptible of historians, Martin refuses to liven up this bureaucrat's biography. Indeed, when our curiosity may threaten to be aroused by hints that Lemkin may have been a Czarist draft dodger or a Polish partisan, Martin dampens such unwarranted stimulation with assurances of probable banality.
What is known of Raphael Lemkin, the man? He received doctorates in philosophy from the Universities of Heidelberg and Lvov; we draw a blank on his earlier education or activities during World War I. He went to work at the Court of Appeals in Warsaw as a secretary, becoming public prosecutor in 1925. He was remarkably unaffected by the political and antisemitic clashes in the new Polish state. He moved up to Secretary to the Commission of the Laws of the Polish Republic in 1929.
Lemkin avoided the antisemitic pogroms and riots in Poland in 1931 -- well before the National Socialist victory in Germany -- and in 1933 represented Poland at the League of Nations' Fifth International Conference for the Unification of Criminal Law. Dropping out of overt statism in 1935, Lemkin spent the years prior to World War II writing legal books, including a collaboration on the Polish Penal Code of 1932 with an American lawyer and Duke University Law professor.
After the German-Soviet invasion of September 1939, Lemkin claimed he was a civilian guerrilla in the Polish forests for six months. He claimed that his large family was killed by the Germans. Later he changed that to the Russians -- a more probable claim given the territorial division.
Lemkin then managed to traverse Lithuania (occupied by the USSR), the Soviet Union, and cross the Baltic Sea patrolled by German and Russian navies, ending up in Sweden where he lectured at Stockholm University on foreign exchange and international banking laws.
In 1941 he travelled through the USSR, Japan, and Canada to North Carolina to meet with his Duke University collaborator. After floating around American wartime bureaucracies, as "advisor" and "consultant," he lectured at the School of Military Government in Charlottesville. On November 15, 1943, Lemkin completed his major tome, which received a foreword from George A. Finch of the Carnegie Foundation, and was published by Columbia University Press in November 1944.
The book was Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress. It received rave reviews in the New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, The New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and London's Times Literary Supplement. "Genocide" entered the English language with the massed support of the Allied Establishment
When James Martin slips off to supply "Some Missing Historical Background" (Chapter Two -- a third of the book), The Man Who Invented 'Genocide' takes off. For this chapter is nothing less than a summary of Martin's libertarian-revisionist views of the Second World War -- its causes, covert acts and concealed counter-acts, hidden responsibilities, and unbelievable levels of macro-hypocrisy.
For the libertarian and the hard-core revisionist, this chapter is the highlight of the book and a valuable booklet on its own. To give just a partial list of what Martin covers in passing or in detail:
The cumulative effect of this condensed war history is to confirm that the definitive revisionist history of the Second World War has yet to be written. Whoever does it will have an excellent outline in Martin's second chapter. One can only hope Martin himself can finally be enticed, cajoled, bribed, dragooned, or otherwise encouraged to write the revisionist history of World War II.
The Book and its Effect
James Martin returns to Raphael Lemkin with a brief chapter criticizing the organization and writing of Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. He points out that it appears to have been stitched together by a committee, and then builds a case for this assertion. Martin not only blows away Lemkin's weak case for putting Germany on trial under International Law but, in fact, turns the table: the case seems firm against the partisans and guerrillas as violators of the Hague Conventions of 1899 (first article), and even Vice Department of the Army Field Manual FM27-18, Chapter 3. Section 1.
Perhaps the only departure from fulsome praise for Martin's masterwork must arise, for a libertarian, in considering his long discussion of the guerrilla struggle against German control to make his case that the Allies practiced blatant hypocrisy. What the libertarian longs for is some acceptance or endorsement of the anti-statist struggle of maquis-types. True, Martin sticks firmly to the topic of German war and "war crimes" guilt and relative lack thereof, but it would not be amiss for an anarchist to slip in a pat on the back for rebels free of statism; one thinks of Murray Rothbard's deft manipulation, in that regard, in his works.
As the account stands, alas, Dr. Martin sounds as if he finds uniformed, flag-waving statist belligerence preferable to ad hoc civilian resistance, a most unlikely position for an individualist anarchist of Stirnerite leanings.
Although "genocide" is a relatively small topic in Lemkin's Axis Rule and, as Martin observes, appears to have been patched in late, it is what makes the book significant and what gave Raphael Lemkin his Warhollian 15 minutes of fame. For those of us who have taken the word "genocide" for granted since birth, only astonishment can be registered at how confused and imprecise the concept is and always was.
Martin spends Chapter Four, the center of his book, on his analysis of the origin and evolution of the term. Surely the modern reader would be surprised to find out that genocide-qua-crime is in opposition to violation-of-Human-Rights? That only groups can commit it against groups and individuals are not held responsible? That the originator was so desperate for historical examples that he focused on the massacre of 600 Assyrian Christians by Iraq in 1933 -- a dubious event that the indefatigable Dr. Martin revises for good measure?
Lemkin's problem -- writing during World War II -- was obvious. The best examples of acts of "genocide" happened to have been committed by the Allies. Martin points out how the British treatment of the Irish and the American treatment of North American Indians fit Lemkin's strict definition best; also the Soviet movement of Volga Germans and the American forced-dispossesion of American Japanese.
The "genocide" man, Raphael Lemkin, was in fact only incidentally interested in massacre. Genocide was and is the destruction of a collective entity of people -- including by peaceful assimilation. No libertarian needs further stimulation to imagine the irrationality of grouping enticements for voluntary cultural change with "gas chambers," "ovens," and firing squads. Raphael Lemkin lived up to such libertarian imaginings immediately, accusing the German occupiers of imposing pornography, alcohol and gambling on Poles as acts of genocide (p. 156).
Those needing exhaustive treatment of the built-in abuse in this muddled term are welcome to dwell in this section; the reviewer moves on.
The Selling of Genocide
In spite of the considerable difficulty it faced in just defining the collectivist pseudo-concept of genocide, the new United Nations drew up a Convention (treaty) on this crime for its member nations to sign. Raphael Lemkin hung around the lounges, corridors, meeting rooms and press section of the UN from it first General Assembly of January 1946, and drafted the resolution for the Convention which passed in December. It took two years of debate and Lemkin was appointed to a committee of three to draft the final Convention. On December 9, 1948, the Assembly unanimously accepted the Convention; five Soviet-proposed amendments were defeated.
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials popularized the use of the term "genocide," but, as Martin shows through the rest of the book, there was never to be another trial quite like that, nor any attempt at enforcement of the Convention. From 1949 onward the Genocide Convention, the confused concept it criminalized, and the career of Raphael Lemkin all declined.
The sixth chapter of The Man Who Invented 'Genocide' chronicles the ratifications of the treaty by member nations and the battle in the United States leading to its ultimate defeat. It begins with a treat for total-revisionists, particularly libertarians: Martin's view of the world ruling class and its foreign policy (p. 195). It is tempting to quote it entirely here in order to blow away the lingering anti-Communist crusader hangovers among libertarians, but let this suffice as an appetizer:
Raphael Lemkin joined the Cold War to accuse the USSR, now the major target with the Axis demise, of genocide. President Harry S. Truman submitted the Genocide Convention to the U.S. Senate for ratification on June 16, 1949. The usual lobbies lined up on the usual sides. On July 5, Norway and Ethiopia fought over who was the first to ratify.
But in America one non-political group turned out to be the nemesis of genocide ratification: the American Bar Association. Try as it might, it could not reconcile the words of the treaty with any rational conception of law nor, in particular, harmonize it with the Constitutional protection of U.S. citizens. On September 8, the ABA condemned "the mass killing of innocent people" but rejected the treaty.
Martin details blow-by-blow the fight over U.S. ratification, particularly in the Senate Subcommittee hearings. The Korean War interrupted the Administration's attempt to ratify it as a weapon against the Reds, but the treaty continued to get delayed to death. Meanwhile, by January 12, 1951, the minimum 20 countries had ratified it and it went into "effect." As mentioned, no indictment has yet occurred under the Convention. The four nations to put the Convention over the top were France, Haiti, Costa Rica -- and South Korea. On July 20, 1951, Nationalist China ratified and it and South Korea promptly charged the People's Republic of China.
While the Cold War liberals championed the Genocide Convention as a weapon in the anti-Communist arsenal, the American Old Right, in its last gasp, offered the Bricker Amendment requiring validating legislation from state legislatures before Executive Agreements could become binding on a state's citizens. The internationalist Eisenhower Administration, as a trade-off with the Bricker isolationists, tabled the Genocide Convention indefinitely.
On May 3, 1954, with the Korean War safely over and U.S. ratification unlikely, the USSR ratified in a no-press-allowed ceremony at the UN. Ratified, that is, with some reservations. American ethnics from seven countries under Soviet domination promptly charged the USSR with the new crime. The UN acted not.
Raphael Lemkin died on August 28, 1959; Great Britain had not yet ratified his Genocide Convention nor, to this day, has the United States of America.
Martin's seventh chapter adds a "postscript": a blow-by-blow account of the 1970 U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee hearings. Britain had at long last ratified the Convention on January 30, of that year and President Richard Nixon renewed the request for ratification on February 19. Interestingly enough. another U.S. war was then being fought -- in Vietnam. (Today there is another move on to ratify the treaty, just as yet another Imperial war cranks up in Central America.)
Martin Nails the Coffin
James J. Martin concludes perceptively: "... over 40 years after Raphael Lemkin invented the word 'genocide,' most people who have heard it think they know what it means. The overwhelming majority of them are mistaken; they do not."
Summing up the mass of condensed -- but well-presented -- data in The Man Who Invented 'Genocide' is a monumental task in itself -- as this reviewer has sorely learned -- but Martin carries it off deftly. Reading his Conclusion chapter provides a precis of the book's contents. Libertarian and Revisionist anthologists to come should consider this section worth including. The appendices add to the overwhelming feeling of a complete treatment of the topic, though it would surely be a crime greater than any well-defined genocide to demand that the reader wade through the reproductions of the UN publication "The Crime of Genocide," Senator Sam Ervin's Statement to the 1970 Senate hearings (Ervin, the hero of Watergate, torpedoed that floating of ratification), and Senate Bill S.3155.
The book deserves far more outreach than it will likely receive -- with an obscure title and a small and mostly-reviled publisher. Martin has anyway driven the stake through the heart of Lemkin's corpse. That a toothpick would have sufficed to keep this pseudomoralistic/pseudolegalistic vampire down forever can only increase our admiration for Martin's achievement.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1984 (Vol. 5, No. 2, 3, 4), pp. 388 ff.
About the Author
Samuel E. Konkin III (1947-2004) was an influential libertarian writer, publisher and activist. Also known as SEK3, Konkin was the author of "The New Libertarian Manifesto," and for some years was editor and publisher of the New Libertarian magazine. In keeping with his outlook, he fervently opposed US military interventionism in foreign countries, and all forms of state collectivism. He was an ardent defender of free speech and free intellectual inquiry. He was a good friend of the Institute for Historical Review. He addressed the Third IHR conference (1981), contributed to the IHR's Journal of Historical Review, and for years was a member of the IHR Journal's Editorial Advisory Committee.