Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Two [22]


Johnstone never ceases to amaze me; just when I think she's set the bar as low as possible, she manages to stoop just a little bit lower. Previously I detailed her attempts subtly shift the meaning of the term 'genocide,' In this section, she goes further than that: She is not merely trying to change the meaning of the word, she tries to claim it never held it's original meaning in the first place. This section opens with this bombshell:

"The term "genocide" tends to be used increasingly for crimes that fall far short of the literal meaning: the annihilation of a people."

This takes her pseudo-scientific parsing of the literal to new heights--a word which self-consciously coined by known individuals is now to be held hostage to its semantic roots. This is taking the old cliche of "playing semantic games" to a new height--the established, agreed-upon definition is to be held hostage to its Greek and Latin roots.

Don't think she doesn't know exactly what she's doing? Here in the next sentence:

"Already, the definition of the term in the 1948 Convention on Genocide was extremely broad and included "causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of [a] group," if committed "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, racial or religious group." "

There you have it--she is literally arguing that the term 'genocide' does not really mean what the originator of the phrase and the body that established the full definiation said it meant. The absurdity of this argument is so staggering, one almost forgets to ponder this: You get the strange sensation that Johnstone is upset that the Convention on Genocide cast such a wide net. Does she want states and armies to have a wider latitude when it comes to killing people? I honestly don't know.

Unbelievably, she manages to ratchet up the level of absurdity yet another notch, in the very next sentences:

"There is a marked tendency in war to harm or kill people along lines of "national," ethnic, or religious identity. This was clearly the case in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Therefore, technically, all sides might be charged with "genocide." "

Is she seriously suggesting that there is no difference between the Bosnian war and, say, the Franco-Prussian War on the other? Does she not understand what the issue is?

Well, apparantly not; it sure seems to come as a surprise to her:

"The key word seems to be "intent." "

Seems to be? Is she playing stupid? Is she really this ignorant? The motivation for writing such drivel would be baffling, if it weren't for the sentence that follows:

"It has simply been assumed from the start that the intention of the Serbs was more "genocidal" than the intentions of the others."

I don't have a measured, thoughtful response to this statement. Frankly, I don't think it deserves one. Ms. Johnstone; all I can say is: "DUH."


That covers the first paragraph of this two-paragraph section. The second paragraph tries to dismiss the "genocidal intentions" of "the Serbs" by quoting the testimony of John Hunter Ralston, who testified as the the political program of the SDS. As Johnstone notes, it's stated goals don't "sound much like "genocide." " Johnstone, apparantly, is asking "Where was the Bosnian Serb Mein Kampf? Any student of the breakup of Bosnia knows the political and social context that statements like the SDS party platform were made in, but Johnstone seems to require a literal statement of intent worthy of a B-movie villan just before the hero breaks the handcuffs and disarms the Doomsday Machine. She not only discounts eyewitness testimony, she discounts any capacity empathetic observers have to interpret, infer, and understand.


Shaina said...

I really wish Lemkin was alive right now. I'm sure he'd have a very interesting debate over the meaning of the genocide convention-considering that he was the main voice behind it.

Owen said...

She's read the Genocide Convention. Which defined and the crime of genocide and established it as an offence under international law.

She then proceeds to say that the definition is incorrect, so that apparently a crime should be considered to have been committed only when it fits her understanding of what constitues the offence and the Convention's definition should be disregarded.

She goes on to suggest that because war by its nature involves the death of members of the groups in conflict, an intent to destroy the group should not be a significant consideration in deciding whether the crime has been committed.

And eminent persons tell us that this is a serious work?

Owen said...

Kirk, it must be desperately frustrating dealing with all this. It's infuriating that she's so incompetent in deploying her arguments that there's no real chance to get to grips with the serious issues that she briefly touches on. But all the same she has this spurious authority conferred on her by people like Chomsky. That's the reason why this rubbish needs to have your time wasted on it. Thanks for taking on the job of dragging these slippery little offspring of her imagination under the light of scrutiny.

Kirk Johnson said...

Thanks for your comments, Shaina and Owen. If nothing else, at least I managed to kick over a rock and shine a little light on her bizarre arguments.

I can't shake the nagging feeling that I didn't do a very good job analyzing this part of the book, but Owen has a good point--it's hard to get a handle on what she's saying. It's damn near impossible to engage someone who insists on redefining terms to her own liking.

Katja R. said...

@ Kirk, when people write to deliberately obfuscate, then it is difficult to do much at all with their work. If she was just writing unclearly out of an inability to use the English language it would be different.