Genocide: A Concept Gone Wild?
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It is generally assumed that both the content and meaning of the Holocaust and that of genocide are known and well defined. There is a certain truth behind the assumption, as the colloquial meaning of both terms are well known in most societies. However, in the scholarly world, fierce debates about these concepts have raged on. As stated before, the Holocaust’s colloquial content is that of the attempted total extermination of the Jews, whereas the colloquial content of genocide is somewhat less well-defined, but generally comes down to state-sponsored mass killings. So even though both concepts’ common use is more or less clear, their scholarly meaning is not quite as clear. We accept that Jews were victims of the Nazis, but what about the other victim groups of Nazi persecution? Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally retarded people, Slav elites, and other groups were also specifically targeted. Do we talk about them when we talk about the victims of the Holocaust? Besides this vagueness in the exact definition of the Holocaust, the content of the scholarly conception of genocide also remains somewhat undetermined. Of course, there exists an international legal definition contained within the Genocide Convention of 1948, but even this accepted legal definition leaves room for interpretation. While the definition contained within the Convention is often used as a starting point from where authors try to explain their conception of genocide, there still is no common definition. Without such a commonly used definition, debates about the concept of genocide will remain in place and each author will have to specify what they exactly mean when talking about genocide. Much could be gained if we could find a commonly accepted scholarly definition of the concept of genocide, for it would reduce misunderstandings and would facilitate substantive research into genocide as opposed to more theoretical research into the concept itself.