Aug 12, 2006

Clash of civility in East and West [LINK]

Second one today:

Responding to Cathy Young's column on Western military timidity, Arnaz Malhi says: "My history classes tell me that the biggest crimes against humanity (in the last 300 years) were committed by the British empire and Nazi Germany." This is an astonishing statement to begin with, made worse by the fact that he is addressing Ms. Young, who was one of the lucky few permitted to emigrate from the former Soviet Union. That regime was far more lethal than Hitler's Germany, and both were topped by Mao's China.. Mr. Malhi needs to further his study of history.
Malhi also fails to note that while India produced Gandhi, his countrymen utterly ignored him when it came time to partition Pakistan. In the ensuing fighting between Hindus and Muslims, about a million people died, many by matchete.


Arnaz said...

Hitler - 11 million people, including about 6 million Jews

Stalin - Russian writer Vadim Erlikman[12], has made the following estimations: Executions 1.5 million, Gulag 5 million, Deportations 1.7 million (out of 7.5 million deported), and POW's and German civilians 1 million, for a total of about 9 million victims of repression.

Irrespective of what the exact numbers are (who knows what they are anyway), it is inconcievable to me that someone would care to dispute the fact Nazi Germany has one of the worst humanitarian records ever! And nobody is saying that Stalin isn't up there. Russia isn't an Eastern country anyway. They have way more things in common with Eastern Europe than they do with Asia.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

A few points, working backwards: Whether Russia should be thought of as a Western or Eastern nation is a pointless distinction in this context. I am simply protesting Stalin's absense from your list of the "biggest crimes against humanity in the last 300 years." The case of China, also missing from your estimation, obviates your point that the biggest transgressors have been Western countries.

It is inconceivable to me that you, with a university education, can interpret my comments on your omissions as a denial that "Nazi Germany has one of the worst humanitarian records ever." That I found your statement so astonishing had more to do with the mention of Great Britain in the same breath as Nazi Germany.

The source you cite significantly underestimates Stalin's overall lethality. Indeed, when copying that paragraph from the Stalin wikipedia page (without link or attribution), you left out the sentence that immediately followed:
"These numbers are by no means the full story of deaths attributable to the regime however, since at least another 6 to 8 million victims of the 1932-33 famine must be added."

I hope you don't ever try to pull a stunt like that in an academic paper, or they'll throw you out on your ear.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the problem is semantic. As I understand it, "genocide" is organized mass killing of particular populations by a political entity. Hitler and Stalin are both responsible for genocide.

However, can't a particular population die in large numbers due to the lack of action from a political entity?

As an example I point to the Armenian genocide -- the controversy centers around whether or not the Turkish state organized the killing, or if the deaths were the result of displacements that were not caused by the action of the Turkish state. Should then the Turkish government be held responsible for not protecting the Armenians more?

So what is the word for a great number of deaths that are caused by a government's incompetence, willful blindness, or lack of interest?

Arnaz would not be alone in making a stronger claim that the British Empire was guilty of this unnamed category of genocide (as found in a recent book review of an account of the Irish famine):

The Great Hunger is arguably the most epochal event in Ireland’s history, second only perhaps to independence. But Behrens insists he had no political ax to grind. “I didn’t have an agenda,” he says. “It’s not true that the British caused the famine. Biology caused the famine.” He does see an interesting parallel, however. “Nature caused Hurricane Katrina last year. But the fact is that Katrina happened to a group of people that the current administration has no real interest in protecting or defending. So this natural phenomenon had disastrous consequences. Similarly, in Ireland, it’s not that [the English] caused the blight, but they had no real political agenda to pay much heed to those people.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Good point about the insufficiency of the word "genocide," which is why I prefer R.J. Rummel's "democide" as an alternative. Most of the people Stalin killed were not, strictly speaking, victims of "genocide" against a particular ethnic group, but rather of efforts to maximize terror and wipe out economic classes.

I get the impression the Irish famine was due more to outright neglect, an unwillingness to budge from the feudal institution of landbound peasantry, while the far larger Ukranian (1932-33) and Chinese (1958-61) famines were due to a more conscious and reckless disregard for the welfare of the people. Instead of getting people killed through undue adherence to custom, they overturned custom to even more lethal effect. If you tried to keep them from confiscating your produce, or if you tried to avoid being forced onto a collective farm, you'd be shot.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Re: "Katrina happened to a group of people that the current administration has no real interest in protecting or defending." As it turns out, the assumption underlying this statement is incorrect. Katrina victims were not disproportionately poor or black, but rather old and disabled.

Arnie! said...

If you are just protesting the exclusion of Stalin/Mao from the list, I welcome your input. I think I would have better served my original letter by saying “some of the biggest” instead of saying “the biggest”. The point that I was making in my original letter was the following –

Main topic - There is no such value as ‘civility in war’ which pervades over much of the Western world. There are some countries in the West which have excellent humanitarian records and there are others which have horrendous records. Similarly, there are many Eastern countries which have excellent records, while others do not. Notice that we are talking very specifically about ‘civility in war’ and not inaction during famine, earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes. This is about understanding that countries will have arguments over certain things, and occasionally they will go to war over them. But never in their existence should they forget to treat human beings with respect that they deserve irrespective of race, class, ethnicity or religion. When the Nazis invaded so many European countries without provocation and killed countless Jews, they treated the human race with disrespect. When the British Empire invaded and killed thousands in the name of the Queen, they treated the human race with disrespect. This does not require a dramatic reaction such as “how can you mention Great Britain in the same breath as…”. My point was to mention two examples of Western ‘uncivilities in war’, and by mentioning them in the same sentence, the motive was not to somehow claim that those two instances were comparable at some level (that was somehow your understanding), but just to remind the readers of the Globe that they should not forget these and other Western ‘uncivilities’ when evaluating the original article. And we haven’t even delved into the French, Spanish, Italian, Yugoslavian war crimes yet. If you go through my article in its entirety, you will see that I do say that there are many countries in the East that have been uncivil in war, and that civility in war is neither a uniquely Eastern nor Western value. In summary, I believe even if I were to call the Western excesses as “some of the biggest crimes against humanity” instead of “the biggest”, it still proves my original point. I’m not sure what logic you’re using to when you say the inclusion of China in that list would obviate my point.

If you disagree with the logic here, do let me know what exactly you disagree with. My motivation for writing that letter was the frustration that I feel as an Asian living in the US. The logic here seems to be - “if we say or write about Western civility enough, maybe it will become a real entity”. Also, some piggy-backing seems to be going on. Western nations with horrendous humanitarian records want to invent this so-called “Western” value, so that it can be attributed to some of those Western nations which have actually furthered the cause of humanity, and these other undeserving nations can then piggy-back just because they are, well, Western. Each nation, whether it is Western or Eastern, or from some other part of the World, is responsible for its own actions. Neither your original or subsequent post actually confronts the logic of my response to Ms. Young’s article, but culls just one sentence from it I would be very interested in finding out what you think about the above-mentioned logic per se.
At this point in the discussion, I would like to point out for the sake of clarity that the logic above is what I conveyed in my original email to the Globe. I will now go on to address some points that you brought up later on, some of which made sense in the context of the above logic, while others definitely led us tangentially away from it.

Peripheral topic 1- Stalin / Mao - Both Stalin and Mao are responsible for hideous excesses. But the Russian/Soviet and Chinese populace was the victim and not the perpetrator. In the case of the British Empire and the Nazis, they had significant public support for the excesses they perpetrated on people of other countries. I’m not sure if Stalin and Mao would be good exhibits to demonstrate ‘uncivility in war’, because they perpetrated excesses on their own people. I would argue it is an example of ‘uncivility’ itself, not of ‘uncivility in war’. In terms of their sheer moral bankruptcy, yes, I would put them up there with the British Empire and the Nazis. But it was not a case of Russians and Chinese people perpetrating excesses on people of other countries while going to war with them. These were cases of way too much power being wrested into the hands of some really sick individuals, who then used that power to commit excesses. Let me know what you think of that assessment.

Peripheral topic 2 – Academic standards in blogging – Your blog does not hold up to academic standards. Period. To bolster that claim, I present the following exhibits- “….former Soviet Union. That regime was far more lethal than Hitler's Germany, and both were topped by Mao's China”. OK, how did you reach that conclusion? You do not give the reader any facts, references, but just state it. An academic paper written in that style would be in the trash can before you could say Mao. Please make note I’m not disagreeing with the statement itself, but just pointing out the lack of same academic paper standards that you demand from me. If you label my post as a “stunt”, I would, as a logical extension, have to label your original post as “the mother of all stunts”. Also – “This is an astonishing statement to begin with…”. Now this is the sentence that started the whole confusion. From your statement it would seem obvious to any neutral reader that you disagree with the whole statement. While you later claim that you were just protesting the mention of British Empire in the same breath as the Nazis. Believe me that was not obvious at all. And then you call into question my university education. How is MY university education responsible for the lack of clarity in YOUR writing skills? And let me remind you that calling into question somebody else’s education just because you disagree with them is a technique not frequently employed in academic circles.

Peripheral topic 3 – British Empire – I’m not sure where you grew up, but if you happened to grow up in one of those countries affected by the excesses of the British Empire, you would not be questioning their inclusion in one of the worst human rights excesses in modern history. The British Empire has been unmatched in the sheer geographical and temporal reach of its human rights excesses, unmatched even by Nazi Germany, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini or arguably anyone else in the history of the world. Notice this is a very specific claim relating to the geographical and temporal reach of the British Empire. But that alone warrants their inclusion as one of the worst crimes against humanity. It is interesting to note that while the British were still in control of much of India during the years of World War II, and continued to commit excesses (just one example being the Bengal famine in 1943) against Indians, at the same time 80,000 Indian soldiers lost their lives fighting for the Allied forces. It seems obvious to me that they considered the British the lesser of two evils in comparison to the Nazis, and probably rightly so. Nevertheless, I would caution you against considering the British Empire far inferior to Nazi Germany in its transgressions. For about 400 years their empire disrespected the human race all over the globe and denied people their basic dignity. Thankfully the Nazis were limited to committing their crimes over a period of about 20 years. The only reason I would still have the Nazis at the top of my crime ladder is because it would typically take the British Empire many more years to kill the same number of people. But that’s not saying much. If you do not agree with this assessment, let me know, and I can point you to some very dependable references.

The point of writing a blog is to educate some people who might read it, and the reason for having the comments section is to learn from the responses you receive. Let’s keep it at that, and feel free to keep my university education, academic credentials, understanding of history etc. out of it. This topic deserves more logical discourse not slander.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

There are a few points with which I can agree. Foremost, I have no quarrel with saying "some of the biggest" crimes against humanity have been at the hands of Western regimes. Adding those two words would have obviated my own letter, but would also have changed the sense of your letter considerably; without them, it unduly maximizes the West's offenses. I won't belabor this point in detail, but I simply wasn't addressing your other points. (In similar fashion, you directed your ire mainly at the Globe's headline writer rather than the substance of the article itself, which does not even mention the "West.")

I do agree that to talk of the "West" and "East" in this regard is questionable language, but it is understandable: the word "Western" is typically used as a proxy to mean, roughly, liberal democracy, whose ideals found their greatest exposition in Europe. It would be a very good thing indeed if we stopped referring to "Western" values rather than "universal" values, but it doesn't seem we're at that point yet.

The word understood properly, your statement There is no such value as "civility in war" which pervades over much of the Western world doesn't hold. For example, in the recent war in southern Lebanon, why was special attention focused on civilian deaths at the hands of the Israelis, but not at the hands of Hezbollah, whose very goal was civilian deaths? Why was Israel being "disproportionate" in its response, when no similar restraint was expected of Hezbollah? It's because Israel is held to a higher standard of behavior.

Onto your peripheral points, starting with #1: your initial statement referred to "crimes against humanity," which is exactly how I understood it, and for which body counts offer a useful proxy. It's a bit too artful to distinguish war against an external foe from a war against your own people, otherwise the murder of Polish Jews counts for a good deal more than German Jews. It's similarly unwholesome to say the Russians and Chinese were simply victims; somebody perpetrated those crimes.

#2: This is not an academic blog, and I don't "demand" strict academic standards from commenters or even from myself. I do, however, expect a certain baseline of honesty, especially from someone familiar with such standards. Hence your "stunt": it's not the copying without attribution that bothered me the most, or even that the text was from a lowly wikipedia entry. It's that you selected only that set of information that supported your point (that Hitler's body count was greater than Stalin's), and ignored the very sentence after the passage you copied, which contradicted that very point. That tells me you are arguing in bad faith, for which there are stronger words than "stunt." Likewise, that I mentioned your university education had to do with your casual use of a straw-man argument: that in noting the omission of Stalin and Mao, I was supposedly denying Hitler was all that bad. Indeed, the very breeziness with which you ignore these criticisms has more than a whiff of dishonesty about it.

#3: Focusing on Britain's "geographical and temporal reach" rather than trying to measure what they actually did strikes me as misguided. That presumably makes Christianity even worse than it was when people simply killed in its name: the fact that it has extended its influence for almost 2,000 years! That the British "disrespected the human race all over the globe and denied people their basic dignity" only leads me to ask whether they herded people into gas chambers in large numbers, and ask how it is you're measuring such awfulness. It also leads me to ask if they're the same people who did so much to end the global slave trade.

BTW: Since you bring it up, the regime with the highest murder rate, by far, was Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge: roughly a fifth to a quarter of the population murdered in just under four years. For any given year, you were about 20 times more likely to be killed there than under the Soviets or Nazis. This estimation and more in R.J. Rummel's Death by Government. Since publication of that book, Rummel upgraded communist China's death count by ~30 million following revelations in a recent Mao bio that the famine associated with the Great Leap Forward had a strong deliberate component, hence my "Mao tops them both" statement. By contrast, a cursory glance at the history of the Bengal Famine leads me to conclude that, while British wartime stockpiling and botched response no doubt contributed to the disaster, it does not rise to the level of deliberate mass murder we require of "crimes against humanity."

Finally, may I suggest your use of the word "slander" is inappropriate?

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Forgot to link to the information upgrading Mao's body count, here.