Some terms, regarding violence, lack punch, lack pop. They don’t hit you, or move you. Collateral damage is one such term. We all know what it means, sure, but it doesn’t conjure images of dead non-combatants strewn on the ground, often in pieces, often young: a leg here, an arm there, half a head behind a tree, a child crucified against a telephone pole. Bad aim and civilians die. What would a better term be for “collateral damage”? Innocents eviscerated maybe, or unintended slaughter. Who knows.
As Russian troops recently pulled out of certain towns and villages in Ukraine, videos emerged of Ukrainians who were shot in the street – it seems, the killed were not fighters, or perhaps had been fighters, but were not fighting at the time of their death. Some had their hands or legs tied and were executed – point blank. Germany, the other day, intercepted radio transmissions of the Russians speaking of snuffing out innocent life.
In short, it appears, the Russians as they retreated, decided to commit a bit of, what we might call, petit genocide.
Genocide is one of those words I also feel lacks the right “zing” for what it describes. It sounds technical, scientific, cold – genocide sounds too near to the rather mundane violence, in comparison anyway, we see on the nightly news: i.e. “homicide.”
I think we did have a better term for this ilk of evil at one point in time. I had a professor mention this and I never have forgotten it, and it appears Christopher Hitchens also pointed this out. Before the term genocide was coined, it was called Race Murder by a man named Morgenthau. Morgenthau was speaking of the Armenian genocide and that is how he described the killing of Armenians: Race Murder.
That term, Race Murder, will stop you where you are, and activate the centers of the brain that produce imagery of mass slaughter. It really makes one pause and think about what it means.
Now, whatever is happening in Ukraine, it may be (or may not be) becoming something like a Race Murder. But you can feel, as if it were in the air, the desire from Putin for the annihilation of Ukrainians, perhaps en masse.
The images we are seeing of the bodies laying dead on the roads of small towns in Ukraine like Bucha, are echoes of dead bodies on the roads of other small towns in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, and throughout Germany in the 1940s.
The word race in Race Murder would have to be employed somewhat malleably of course, if we used it to describe all extermination events. “Race” would be used as society understands the word race (black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.), or it would applied even when the slaughter wasn’t directed at a particular race, but rather, an ethnicity, a national group, or a people of a certain a socio-economic status. I’d be willing to sacrifice verbal specificity for the impact the term Race Murder has. (One might think the lowercased version would be a good stand-in for any racially motivated homicide.)
But if we had to improve upon Race Murder’s accuracy, what would that look like?
Herd Murder? No, because herd makes the people slaughtered sound bovine.
People Killing or People Murder, that is the etymology of genocide, that’s what it means (geno = people, cide = killing), but that doesn’t quite do it – people isn’t a loaded enough word.
Group Slaughter – too imprecise, and bland.
I don’t know, what else could it be? Affinity Annihilation? No, that’s sounds like a superhero movie, or a title to a James Bond or Jason Bourne novel.
Maybe Kindred Killings would work – killing of the those who are of a kindred spirit, whether racial, ethnic, economic, or other wise. Kith Murder? Folk Slaughter?
No, no, and no again to these as well.
That’s it, I’ve made up my mind. You can use genocide, but I’ll mostly use Race Murder whenever I see anything that looks like the obliteration of a group of souls. It seems the best term for the nasty job of explicating this mass liquidation of humans.