Process or End Goal: When to Begin Genocide Prevention

Jan 5, 2017

This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video clip "When to Begin Genocide Prevention," part of the event "What Does it Mean to Prevent Genocide?" It was first published on the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education website on December 19, 2016.

In the Carnegie Council video, "When to Begin Genocide Prevention," led by Tibi Galis from the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, Galis discusses the process and end goals of seeking to prevent genocide today, in relation to its origins in Nazi Germany. He begins by stating that "genocide is not only the moment when people are killed; it's also the moment, if we take, for example, the Holocaust, when people had to wear a star to identify them as being Jewish. That has already set in place the dynamics that were necessary for achieving the killing at a later stage." Galis expresses that both the process and end goal of understanding and achieving the prevention of genocide are equally important, and that if the end goal is to stop the mass killings, it will not simply come from preparing and taking action once the killings have begun. He emphasizes that preventative action must take place before the issue arises in order to prevent tragedies such as genocide from starting in the first place.

As Galis continues to discuss this notion, he brings into the bigger picture the comparison of the U.S. military to that of genocide prevention. He gives us the example of instances in which the military has been sent on missions to end violence in other parts of the world once killing has begun. He establishes that it is expected to make a difference in the long run in regard to the number of deaths occuring and reduction of violence, however it still does not prevent the genocide from ultimately happening. Galis also brings into focus another simpler example of alcoholism. He discusses a hypothetical situation in which an individual may be seeking to prevent alcoholism, and as a result he or she is "talking about going into the bars and knocking out people's drinks while they are there." Obviously this has the potential to make a possible impact, but overall it is an ineffective way of solving this problem. He continues that prevention is to be sought and acquired long before the actual spree of killing has commenced; that an intervention should be considered a last resort when all else has failed.

The real question is then, what is the true focus of this underlying objective: the process or end goal? In the studies of Deontology, most notably established by the philosopher Kant, and Teleology, established by philosophers Sandel, Aristotle, Hegel, and Marx, the studies take sides in exploring the differences between the importance of whether or not a society should focus on being more ends-orientated or process/fairness-centered. Galis stresses that in order to prevent genocide, action needs to take place before the genocide even begins. Galis states "just like in the case of an alcoholic where the actual solution has to come from that individual staying on track, similarly the long-term solutions to preventing genocide have to come from within the society where the risk is high" meaning that preventative action needs to come from within the society's understanding that the risk of such events is always a possibility and that the course of action should result in long-term prevention in the sense that it should be a goal revolved around solving the problem once and for all, not just in a specific instance.

From the sound of it, Galis is taking a more deontological standpoint in establishing that the end goal will only be met if the process is focused on prevention specifically, not simply solving the problem once it has begun. However, he continuously emphasizes that the process in which we take preventative measures before the killings begin is only fueled by the ultimate end goal: the end of genocide. The question then comes into play: What approach might be more effective in helping to relay the message to society in the hopes that more will join in together to make this prevention a reality? In order to get society to come together in agreement and willing to join forces for a common goal, the emphasis of an end goal is what is going to encourage the public to take these pre-preventative measures and focus on the categorical imperative.

A journal article that comes to mind in the context of discrimination and the possibility of a mass genocide is Douglas C. Haldeman's article, "Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy," in which he explores the history of sexual orientation conversion therapy and its "ethical" implications and provocative anti-homosexual prejudice, as explained by scientists, LGB theorists and activists, and religious officials. In this article, the author studies and discusses the act of conversion therapy on those of varying sexual identities in the hopes that they will convert back to heterosexual orientation. In Galis's discussion he brings to our attention that the genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany did not begin with a mass killing spree, but by labeling them with stars, to indicate their religious affiliation and to bring to the forefront those whom society considered to be the "ideal" people.

Throughout history, those of differentiating sexual orientations were considered to be a sin to God. Their sexual orientation was not considered to be a social norm, but rather a mental illness and as a result, they were expected to be "cured" of their disease or killed in the process. Many individuals underwent this kind of sexual orientation therapy for many reasons: Pressures from society, the church, their family, or simply the desire to be like everyone else. As a result of society's misperception that homosexuality was evil, many killings occurred. Although this is not necessarily the magnitude of a genocide like that of Nazi Germany, the underlying premise is still the same and the potential for unjust retaliation or killings remains.

When being labeled and exiled from society for being different, tensions and violence grow as a result because many people are afraid of what they don't understand. If prevention had begun, as Galis stated, before the killings occurred, such as helping society understand that homosexuality is not a choice and that conversion therapy is an ineffective strategy to change the sexual identity from the way people were born, then much of the violence and deaths could have been replaced by acceptance.

This discussion ultimately will help the public to understand that preventative actions need to take place if violence is to be thwarted. We can't wait until we are in the midst of a war to resolve conflict. Through conflict one group wins at the expense of another which does not resolve the issue but rather buries it, and perhaps the resolution is only temporarily. By communicating and taking initiative, society can come together as a more unified population in helping to cooperate and connect so an end goal will be reached without a genocide occurring in the first place.

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