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Genocide and War

Difference Between Genocide and War

Genocide and war go hand in hand although the two are not synonymous. War can occur without genocide, although it’s rare that genocide will occur without war. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide, viewed genocide as a type of warfare. Mark Levene, a historian, defines three types of warfare and views genocide differently from Lemkin.

Type 1: State war against other sovereign states

Type 2: State war against other sovereign states or nations who are perceived to be ‘illegitimate’

Type 3: State war within the boundaries or other territories controlled by the sovereign state against national or other groups perceived to be illegitimate

Levene says the three types of warfare have distinct characteristics, but it’s not typical that war leads to genocide. The characteristics of warfare are similar to characteristics of genocide, and genocide does represent warfare at it's most extreme manifestation, but still genocide is different. One of the differences he draws between the two is the intent. In examples of war the intent is not oppression or extermination, but to win the war. 


Levene, Mark. Genocide in the Age of the Nation State, Volume 1: The Meaning of Genocide.  I.B. Taurus & Co. Ltd, 2005.

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Analysis of Genocide and War

Technically both Lemkin and Levene were correct in their analysis of the relationship between genocide and war given the time period and their reflection of the past.

Lemkin introduced the word genocide in 1944 in reference to the present time mass killing of Jews in World War II and the past time mass killing of Armenians during World War I. He used those two specific instances of violence that occurred within general wars to come up with his definition of genocide, giving the view that genocide was a type of warfare. Levene’s analysis in 2005 was years after genocide was legally defined in the UN Genocide Convention, which is much more specific than Lemkin’s original definition There were also many more instances of genocide since Lemkin’s introduction of the word as well as historically. Levene's research touched lightly on the psychological aspect of the genocidal mentality that allows mass killings to take place, but does not put enough emphasis on the mind of the perpetrator. 

Both Lemkin and Levene use good starting points for their analysis, but more should be included. We have to break it down and look at the underlying issues. On a basic level, genocide is an extreme form of discrimination in which one group of people deliberately intends to destroy another group of people. On a basic level, war is armed conflict between states or nations. We also need to consider whether intent truly matters if we end up with the same results.

Although the Armenian genocide happened during WWI and the Holocaust happened during WWII, the reasons for the mass killing of Armenians and Jews were discriminatory. The Turks resented the Armenians and the Nazis believed they were superior to the Jews, which led to armed conflict. Majority of the instances of genocide in the past century or so have led to war. Genocide is a man-made issue that starts in the mind of the perpetrator based on psychological motives that influence behavior.

History of Genocide and War
History is the study of past events primarily concerning human life.  We typically look at history from a fact-based perspective, which is good because we need to look at the truth whether it was good or bad, right or wrong. It’s really easy to call out bad behavior and say, “That’s wrong! Why would anyone do that?” We point fingers, place blame, and look down on others without considering their circumstances. So we also need to look at history from a psychological standpoint. We need to understand the motives behind behavior, but that can be hard without the full story. A philosophical approach to history is beneficial too because we can see how our behavior has affected the world around us. 
Genocide and war have been happening for centuries, long before the word genocide was even invented. We’re not going to have the full story but we can take a look back in time and see how it’s been passed down through generations and what events have done more harm than good.