Ben Kiernan speaks on genocide at Cleveland State

By Alexa Fees

There is no particular motive behind committing genocide, and the purpose of crime is not required to determine guilt.

Award winning author and historian, Ben Kiernan, delivered a powerful and historical presentation on genocide in the Student Center Glasscock Ballroom on Nov. 5. As he explained, the intent of the genocide matters, and the desire of the destruction of the group must be present. Not all cases are the same regarding genocide, and some cases may deal with ethnic cleansing, while some may not.

In an interview after the event, Kiernan explained why students should know about genocide.

“Genocide is the most serious crime human beings can commit,” Kiernan said. “Students may want to become active in preventing future genocides and there are a few ideas of what to look for in the early stages of genocidal crimes.”

There are essentially four ideologies behind why genocide happens, and those are because of territorial expansion, ideological agrarianism, cult of antiquity and racial/religious hatred. This is why Kiernan wants people to be more aware of these factors so that perhaps we can stop it before a mass killing takes place.

Genocide conventions act against racial, ethnic and national groups. Hitler’s mass genocide is well known to many people as the Holocaust, but there are other genocides we do not hear about frequently or that have not been presented as common knowledge to the public.

The genocide of Jews was partly due to cult of antiquity and agrarianism, while territorial expansionism may play a role as well. Germany’s future depended on the well-being and survival of their peasants who were farmers and contributed to society.

This information contributed to the attendance of students like Alex Paul, who not only came for extra credit, but because he had Jewish heritage.

“I learned that not only was there the genocide for the Jews, but other genocides as well,” Paul said.

Different groups that were talked about within the presentation suffering from the result of genocide were Carthage losing against the Romans, biblical genocides that included David’s war with the Ammonites, the Armenians and the Spanish conquering the Native Americans.

Kiernan continued to talk about genocide in even more cultures, such as Japan invading Korea — which could have had agrarianism behind it as a factor.

“They killed the Koreans one by one until they executed the county,” Kiernan explained.

The extermination of Tasmania was preceded by white people arguing that the Tasmanians didn’t cultivate properly, thus war broke out.

Most scholars think genocide is a 20th century phenomenon, but it actually has a lot more history than we think it does.

Even more examples of genocides that have occured are the Khmer Rouge communist group invading Cambodia. When the Vietnam war moved into Cambodia, the United States were part of the bombers that caused catastrophe to homelands, in addition to the communist group, which helped to further the event of genocide.

In 1994 Rwanda, the Hutu invaded Tutsi land and wanted to reestablish their power over the land through extermination. All these groups that are mentioned previously were groups of  different genocides that have taken place. Kiernan explained these instances in detail to show students that genocide is not a new idea that has occured within the past century.

In an interview with the speaker later on, he mentioned the effects seen and the awareness that should be present regarding human nature across cultures.

“One effect may be that we are rejecting what is part of our human nature in these situations,” Kiernan said. “It is not supposed to be part of human nature, but plenty do resist genocide.”

As a result, more people need to become activists for genocide and stand on the opposing side, according to Kiernan.

Characteristics that are associated with genocide could be race, antiquity,  agriculture, expansion and thoughts of perpetrators. If there is recognition of the perpetrators thoughts, perhaps there could be a way to stop them from mass killing before they even start.

Shelby Smith, secretary of the  Sociology and Criminology Club explained why the club wanted to host this event.

“It needs to be recognized. Ben Kiernan is able to introduce the topic and show that genocide still happens in modern times,” Smith said.

Other members of the club, such as the organization’s president Ernest Oleksy, explained that the event wasn’t just for sociology majors.

“Kiernan is a longtime speaker on genocide,” Oleksy said. “While there was sociological jargon, the story telling from historical views helped the student to understand, but that the academic could appreciate.”

He also shared that there was a great deal of effort put into this event which included many communication efforts between Oleksy, the Sociology and Criminology Club faculty advisor Michael Skladany, and the organization’s outreach chair. There was a great deal of effort put into making sure that there was proper safety protocol, advertising and monetary funds that were secured in the process to set and put on the event.

On a final note, this event not only shared connections between genocide and the presiding factors that could have forewarned specific genocides, but also how we can use these ideologies to help predict signs and prevent future genocide of different cultures.