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Est. April 5, 2002
May 30, 2019 - Issue 791

Herero Genocide
Why do these Crimes
Continue to be Committed?


"As populations of rich countries, capitalist countries,
grow and their land is played out for the production
of food, both governments and their global corporations
are roaming the world and grabbing land
and resources at an ever-increasing pace."

The Herero Genocide is a little-known crime that is considered to be the first genocide of the 20th Century and the question is why do little genocides continue to be committed in the 21st Century without their being reported as such?

The German colonial power in southwestern Africa committed the genocide between 1904 and 1907, in what is now Namibia and, ultimately, it involved the killing by various methods of about 75 percent of the Herero people, leaving about 15,000 that they weren’t able to kill. The Nama, a smaller tribe, also were reduced by half, to about 9,000 after the Germans hunted them down.

As is often the case, the hostilities started when the indigenous peoples of the region resisted being colonized, as they did in various parts of the world, during the monstrous colonial period of the great powers at the time, mostly European nations. After the Herero attacked a German fort and killed about 100 Germans, with orders to spare women and children, the Germans retaliated, eventually attacking the Hereros head-on and driving thousands into the Kalahari Desert where untold numbers died of thirst, starvation, and dehydration. They poisoned the few wells, which was a war crime, even at that time.

Those who survived were placed in concentration camps and labor camps and some of the women were used as sex slaves. The German-Herero children were considered inferior to the white settlers. Many of these were subjected to human “medical” experiments testing inferiority theories of the mixed races, and died in that horrific manner. The Herero Genocide seemed to open the way for many genocides during the past century, although the one that is foremost in the minds of the world is the Holocaust, in which some 12 million died, including six million Jews, at the hands of the Nazis.

There has been much written about the Herero Genocide through the past century, but it was not until a recent decade that any Germans referred to those colonial crimes as genocide. It has been speculated that the reluctance to do so, at least in part, was because such an admission might open the door to a process of reparations, which Germany didn’t want to have happen. Nevertheless, the crimes of the Kaiser and his troops in southwestern Africa are coming to light slowly and, to an extent, other genocides are becoming somewhat more in the minds of the people of the former colonial powers. The colonized and brutalized do not need any reminders.

And what about the little genocides that happen every day, to this day, around the world? These are not considered genocides, yet. How big does the population have to be before the destruction of a people is called genocide?

As populations of rich countries, capitalist countries, grow and their land is played out for the production of food, both governments and their global corporations are roaming the world and grabbing land and resources at an ever-increasing pace. All of this is to the detriment and destruction of the people who are already occupying the land, for there is virtually no resource that corporations and their governments don’t lust after: mineral mining, oil, timber, water, and land for growing crops. Already, these predators have extirpated tribes, if they haven’t outright killed them because they have stood in the way of “progress and development.” This is happening in Africa, Central and South America, and vast parts of Asia and nothing seems to be able to stop the destruction.

When a forest is clear cut or when regions of rainforest are broken up, their timber hauled away, and the place left in environmental chaos, the lives of small groups, many of them, uncontacted by white financial enterprises, are destroyed. They lose their livelihoods, which come directly from the forests, rivers, and lakes and, therefore, lose their culture and way of life. Lost are not only the people as a population, but their cultures, their languages, their songs, their diets, and all of the things that set a people apart as an entity among the peoples of the world. Are they not civilizations, small as they are, and do they not warrant and deserve the respect that are given to other, larger, civilizations? And, when they are destroyed or extirpated and absorbed into the consumer culture of the rich nations, also lost are untold species of wildlife, much of which these small groups need to survive. It’s all of a piece.

How does this happen, when the “civilized” nations, Europe, the U.S., and Japan, for example, see themselves as upright and just nations and peoples, living by “civilized” standards, use of the Golden Rule and other philosophies of human intercourse? In The Genocidal Mentality, a book published in 1990, Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Markusen, although their subject was nuclear war and the production of nuclear weapons, another form of genocide, they returned often to the Nazi genocide and examined how that could have been planned and perpetrated by a “civilized” people. Here’s an excerpt:

...Both Nazi and nuclear narratives are crucially sustained by certain psychological mechanisms that protect individual people from inwardly experiencing the harmful effects, immediate or potential, of their own actions on others. These mechanisms, all of which blunt human feelings, include dissociation or splitting, psychic numbing, brutalization, and doubling. “Dissociation,” or “splitting,” is the separation of a portion of the mind from the whole, so that each portion may act in some degree separately from the other. “Psychic numbing” is a form of dissociation characterized by the diminished capacity or inclination to feel, and usually includes separation of thought from feeling. “Doubling” carries the dissociative process still further with the formation of a functional second self, related to but more or less autonomous from the prior self. When numbing or doubling enables one, with relatively little psychological cost, to engage in sustained actions that cause harm to others, we may speak of brutalization...

In more recent times, this splitting sometimes has been called compartmentalization, but the effects are very similar. One can act in a vicious manner “on the job,” even one that involved mass killing or the preparation of killing, but act in some way as a loving parent at the dinner table on the same evening. There are descriptions of Nazis acting in this manner, even on the same grounds as the gas chambers and concentration camps. The same principle has been discussed relative to the World War II air war, when planes dropped untold tons of bombs on industrial, then civilian, populations, and how the air crews did not see the mangled bodies amid the destruction. They were too far above it to catch a whiff of the death they had just perpetrated. To them, it was unreal.

Today, regions of the world are being devastated and nation-sized areas of rainforests are being clear cut, to make way for the planting of palm oil plantations. But first, the people, if there are any, must be removed and that usually is accomplished with ease. All it takes is cooperative corrupt government officials and a lack of communication with the outside, in other words, silence, about the atrocities being committed. Is that genocide, if there are only 500 members of a tribe in the area?

Palm oil is ubiquitous in the food systems of the rich countries and so there is more and more pressure being brought to bear on other peoples’ land. Everyone seems to use it and consume it, whether one eats an organic or conventional diet or a vegetarian or vegan diet. Same is true for other products that are increasingly grown on other peoples’ land. The rich countries engage in this kind of psychic numbing to be able to eat these products. After all, they can’t see the killing of peoples and cultures and fail to see that such cleansing affects individual humans, not just unnamed tribes and cultures. Again, they can separate the product from the people displaced or killed, because they can’t see them.

The same is true in the quest for oil in the far reaches of rainforests around the world; also with the rampant desire to dam free-flowing rivers to produce electricity to “modernize” parts of the world that do not want the modernization that comes from expending billions of dollars on construction of dams and the inundation of land that is vital to peoples’ lives. Indigenous environmentalists are routinely killed because of their opposition to such ravages of their land. Is this genocide?

An expanded view of such “little genocides” shows that, ultimately, the rich countries and their corporations are engaged in ecocide, the inexorable death of the planet, itself, and most sentient life on it. For the most part, people are indifferent to the danger of such endless plundering of peoples and environments of every kind and descriptions. They can’t see and they won’t see, because it would interrupt the easy life that most of them enjoy, even as they ignore the poverty and hunger that is right around them.

It’s the same old story today as it was in the beginning of the 20th Century and the Herero Genocide: A rich country wanted the land and the produce of that land and the original people did not want to be colonized and fought back, until they had to be wiped out. The end of the colonial period came to an end on the Earth only after a long, hard and bloody resistance, only to be replaced by a new kind of colonialism, one that does not require the occupying of the land, but the coercing of corrupt officials and leaders who turn a blind eye toward the little genocides to which they are a party. And there seemingly is no end to the money and power, military and economic, from the rich countries to accomplish those goals. It’s a new form of colonialism and genocide whose name is not spoken. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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