• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Dokkio Sidebar (from the makers of PBworks) is a Chrome extension that eliminates the need for endless browser tabs. You can search all your online stuff without any extra effort. And Sidebar was #1 on Product Hunt! Check out what people are saying by clicking here.


Why do we study genocide

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years ago

What's the point of studying genocide in a history class?

"The question of what should be done, whether in Bosnia or Rwanda or Sudan, is much more difficult than whether something should be done."

-- Jerry Fowler, "Out of that Darkness: Responding to Genocide in the 21st Century"


"Never Again." These words are enshrined in Holocaust Memorials in Washington, D.C. and in Concentration Camps such as Dachou. These words have been uttered by politicians, humanitarians, and average citizens. Yet history has shown that "never again" is false; genocide has occured multiple times since the Holocaust of WWII. Our knowledge of genocide has increased in the 20th century, but genocide continues to occur. While this seems discouraging, without studying the failure of collective security to identify, prevent, or stop genocide, the likelihood of a global community formulating a feasible action plan in the future is little beyond wishful thinking. Clearly the "memory of the Holocaust doesn't necessarily lead to a clear case for a specific policy" (Fowler) in future genocides. However, the study of genocides and previous failures is a necessary precursor to eventually formulating a clear and coherent action plan for currently occuring or future genocides. Sadly, merely studying past genocides is not enough; action must be taken to make "never again" more than an idealistic phrase.


To understand the patterns of the past


We study genocide for the same reason that we study war. Studying these topics doesn't mean they will never happen again in the future, because if that were our rationale we would have failed miserably in both cases. However, we study these topics because they are very important issues that affect all of the world, and they teach important lessons and demonstrate patterns that can be applicable to dealing with future dangerous situations. By studying genocide we are developing a complex understanding of the how, the who, the where, the when and the why of mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and other cruel forms of eradication of groups. This knowledge can then be applied to dealing with current and possible future situations, although world and local politics have shown that while condemnation of the act is common, action to stop it is still rare. Studying genocides helps us not only understand the roles held by the victimizers as well as the victims but also of the seemingly innocent bystanders and the international community at large.


Despite this lack of action, knowledge enables the spread of awareness of situations, which is the first step toward action in the future. In fact, awareness of genocide has come a long way in the last 50 years; before then it did not even have a word that defined it. While we have not yet reached the point where nations and the international community are acting to prevent every possible genocide and end every on-going genocide through force, we are very aware and involved. Individual nations and international organizations are involved in aiding victims and negotiating peace agreements to help end genocide. There is certainly a lot more that needs to be and should be done in the future, but at least nations and groups are aware of the problem and are taking some action. The next step, which is a large step, is for these national and international actors to develop and implement a plan for military action to prevent and end genocide. Diplomacy only works to a certain point with genocide, as history has taught us, especially with the current situation in Sudan, and when military interference is the only option left. This step probably will not happen in the immediate future, but in general the spread of awareness of genocide is leading us to it eventually.


In order to stop genocide, we must become aware of what is happening and what has happened. By our learning, we can inform others to take a stand againts genocide. Like any other issue, the "right answer" isn't always clear. By learning the basics of the information and reading first-hand accounts, we can all form our own opinions about what should be done; and we can think about what can be done. Knowledge is the most important part of this issue.


It is important to study genocide because genocide is much more than what is reported in the newspaper. Some genocides aren't even reported and remain unknown to people who do not study them on their own time. Studying genocide is a reality, genocide do occur and by not studying them and learning about them is being ignorant in a way. Studying genocide, on some level, sadly, is learning about current events. It is also important to learn about the policies and the specifics on what is classified as genocide and what is not classified as genocide; by doing this, it becomes easier to see how there is such a thick gray area that countries (such as the United States) find themselves in when dealing with what role they will play in helping to stop the genocide - if any role at all.


The fact is that we are studying genocide in a history class therefore the main objective should be to understand the patterns of the past. Through these patterns general understandings of how genocides begin can be extrapolated; and perhaps through this knowledge of the past as a society we can begin to counteract actions that have previously lead to genocidal situations. As said several times further down the page, education is essential and the tools needed for educating can only be achieved through understanding (therefore studying) past genocides. In fact when Elie Wiesel came to Elon in spring 2004 I still remember when he spoke about how education must be a major component to dealing with the atrocities in the world. Therefore in studying genocide for what it was in the past we are better educated for what it could be in the future.


To prevent future genocide


It is easy to learn about the effects of genocide on the world, and to realize acts of genocide are terrible and horrific. The tough part, and the reason we study genocide in a history class, is to find or develop ways in which to prevent such acts from happening again. Knowledge of genocide is a small stepping stone towards prevention of it. As Fowler says, "knowledge of the darkness of genocide forces us to see the misery it brings." After learning about previous and on-going cases of genocide, it is tough to NOT feel compelled to be proactive. By studying genocide we can also study the ways in which it can be prevented, exposed and stopped.


For us especially we live in a society where topics such as genocide can easily be ignored. In order to be aware and find ways of prevention of genocide, we have to make a strong effort to do so. Think of how painstakingly it took for individuals such as Lemkin and others who cried out in despair of the killings that were taking place. Yet, no one took it to heart for the longest time. When we study about genocide, both past and present, we are taking steps towards awareness and perhaps find ways we can do to prevent genocide in the future. If awareness is raised, then the conscious effort to prevent genocide will gain momentum. The most important part of raising awareness is creating a conscious effort to stop, prevent, or otherwise impede actions of genocide. Consciousness of genocide may prevent future actions because nations will be openly discussing the problems and issues. If people are truly passionate about finding a way to prevent future genocides and help those who are suffering right now, they will fight for the unheard voice of these genocide victims and push for ways to prevent it in the future.


I have always felt that education is the key to social change. If we do not take the time to learn about the challenges facing our world today then how can we take the steps to change them? I think that by studing past and present genocides we can hopefully figure out a way to prevent or stop them in the future. While now at times it seems hopeless when we look at all of the reasons why goverments don't want to get involved in stopping genocide I believe that if we continue to study genocide and try to come up with new ways to solve the issue then some day we might succeed. There have been a few dedicated people during the 20th century who worked endlessly to try to get laws passed to stop genocide. I am sure that we will have to work for many more decades to continue to develop effective laws to deal with genocide. In the past and I'm sure in the future we will come up with new plans that will fail. I believe that it is better to study genocides in an attempt to prevent them in the future even if it takes decades or even centuries to come up with something that works because if we don't then millions of people will have died in vain. We as a people would have taken the easy way out by saying that there is nothing that we can do and look the other way.


I believe a necessary component of studying genocide is as mentioned above to remember the victims which have fallen to such brutality. As those who are left behind and more fortunate, we not only have the ability but the responsibilty to act in their absence. Education is always the first step to change which is why I believe genocide must be studied in todays society. I feel one of the largest obstacles to such education however is the staggered stances taken by different countries on the issue of genocide. A necessary component of prevention is to develop a common plane from which everyone is able to view this brutality. In order to prevent genocide every group needs to begin viewing it as a global concern. The stigma associated with genocide leads many to believe that is a problem for a specific group of people rather than an international issue. I believe that the only way to truly defeat this stigma is to provide education in a global effort leading to prevention.


Genocide did not stop with the Holocaust. It is still a very real threat to innocent people all over the world. In today's modern world of global communication and surveillance, awareness of genocide is no longer an issue, but rather the apathy that is felt by the bystanders around the world. As American generations are becoming more progressive, it is time that the young generation on the rise begin to hold everyone accountable for preventing further genocides. The answer however is not more violence. Education is the key weapon in this battle. As serious as genocide is, it is something that most of us know little about. In order to understand this current issue, it is imperative that we study genocides of the past. With a compartive approach to common patterns and themes, we can ultimately predict future genocides and hopefully prevent them.

If not us, then who?


Our generation has the power to make the changes that we want see. Genocide is an atrocity that has gotten worse in the twentieth century. In order for us to figure out ways to stop such crimes, we must study them to comprehend the entire problem so we can eventually figure out the best way to solve it. Ignoring what is going on and how it has progressed has obviously not, and will not, solve the problem.


The Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Right's states well the reason why we must study genocide: "The roots of genocide must be studied. With this knowledge, we can work collaboratively to develop models and policies towards early warning, prevention, peaceful conflict resolution, reconciliation and reconstruction." We must study genocide because through education comes understanding. Understanding leads to better methods of resolution and hopefully, one day, prevention.



Although it is easy for people to push the responsibility of preventing future genocide on anyone but themselves, the fact of the matter remains that someone, somewhere, needs to take on this massive task of spearheading the effort. No one country or political party should be expected to be the moral compass of the world. Rather, efforts must be made to force the entire world to pay attention to this crisis. That is why the Genocide Convention was such a tremendous step in the effort. The Convention was not enough, however, and today's students need to be educated about the tragedies that, for various reasons, have been allowed to happen in the past. If no one pays attention to the past instances of genocide, then similar tragedies can and will happen again. There will always be hate in the world, and there will always be people who live their lives to oppress and ruin the lives of others. As has been demonstrated by recent genocides like that in Rwanda, genocide is still very much possible. The monsters who would inflict such suffering on other people have not gone extinct. The only way to make any difference in this issue is to be constantly vigilant, and make sure that history is not allowed to repeat itself.


When looking at genocide, our generation should take into account what exactly it is and what are examples of genocide from the United States past as well as in the world's past. We should pay attention to these matters of inhumane killings and suffering because if we do not, then who will? Some of us will become our nation's next leaders within the next 15 to 20 years. So if we do not stop and take a look at what our nation and others have done in the past, then we will make the same mistakes. The world studies history to prevent events from happening again. What makes genocide any different from other forms of history? Nothing. We look at economic trends, what starts a war, how do people become allies and enemies, ect... Genocide is a part of the world's history, and to hinder the attempts of making a certain population of people suffer, the ideologies must be studied in the classroom.


Along with studying the individual genocides it is also important that we learn why countries, mainly the United States, has not stepped in when genocides are happening. How can our generation make an impact if we are unaware of the reasons behind the lack of action taken in countries where genocide is prevalent?


My reason for studying genocide is so I have the knowledge to defend my argument that the Europeans are to blame for the attrocities and border disputes throughout Africa. The US should not be forced to act as the world's police force, and should not be ridiculed when they choose to not involve themself in these conflicts. Independent European nations, or the EU as a whole, are clearly capable of dealing with any acts of genocide that occur in Africa. Clearly they 'dropped the ball' in the Rwanda situation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the United States received no colonies in the Berlin Conference in the late 19th century, yet the dominate European countries all did. In regards to posting under the "If not us, then who?" category, my reasoning is for Americans to defend ourselves against the rest of the world who expects us to fix their problems. The Holocaust, Armenian, Rwandan, Sudanese and East Timor genocide are all connected - European influence.


As a necessary precursor to activism


Studying genocide provides us the possibility to learn as much as we can of past genocides so that we can make a difference in the future. As idealistic as that may seem, we are in a privileged position. Education and awareness are two qualities of transformation that are underrated and underutilized. I firmly believe that if enough people in the US realized the atrocities being committed around the world, our communities would try to reach out and provide aid. Up until this point, we have not been able to transform the world's intervention strategies when it comes to genocide. However, that can change with us--we are the generation that has the possibility to impact the world and create the possibility for transformation. Activism is extremely underrated and underutilized--education and awareness provide the sparks for activism, which in turn affects and influences international policy.


Knowing what genocide is and learning from past genocides is so very important for our generation. It's important not only to know what genocide is so that we can recognize it if we have to; but also so we will be able to help prevent genocide. If we can give a voice to those who have no voice and help save those who need saving we have done something remarkable. Just by taking the step to learn about genocide is something special... we aren't ignoring genocide or just pretending we don't see it.


Unlike the study of many other subjects, the study of genocide almost always implies a moral sphere in which we are to operate and think. Other social sciences aim to describe and explain how and why something happened or happens. These aims are also encompassed within the historical approach to the study of genocide. What is different are the assumptions about the nature of man and his nature that are discussed in this topic. Across the board Western and liberal thinkers abhor the thought of genocide. There is an underlying assumption that people are not meant to be killed wholesale and that there is a certain dignity to life. If those that study genocide insist that it is a scourge to this earth and that it should be abolished wherever it raises its head then the study of genocide must answer not only the questions concerning its origins and patterns, but also whether the scholars and activists have a right to their determination to see its elimination. The study of genocide has a realtime relevance to world politics and also has relevance in our development of our worldview concerning the ideas of good and evil and the purpose of man. Without genocide scholars addressing these philosophical concerns then there is no room for genocide scholarship outside of sociological and statistical inquiry.


I would like to think that to some extent our study of genocide will help deter those in other nations from undertaing such horrendous actions. Although we have not proven particularly successful at curtailing genocide, or at becoming active participants in stopping it when it does occur, there is a possibility that the mere fact that we are beginning to acknowlege its existance will send a message to others. Our acknowledgement of what is happening in the Sudan is a huge step-- the previous policy of denial and disbelief only allowed others to further their actions. A dictator who was aware the that the US would not intervene, would not even take a moment's notice of what he was doing, would be much more likely to commit artocities against his people. However, the fact that we now are making a movement to talk about and plan how to deal with genocide would possibly (in my idealistic world), at least start to deter others. At least now crazed rulers see that we are willing to discuss their actions and maybe think about doing something-- we have to start somewhere, and hopefully getting the converstaion on genocide in motion will prove to be a positive step towards action.


I feel as though we study genocide, in part, because we feel that although we study in an academic sense, we might be able to change the world we live in. By understanding the atrocities that have happened to our fellow man, and still happen on a daily basis, we, as the future of our country, can hopefully make more informed decisions. It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to stop what is happening in Darfur today, but by understanding the nature of genocide, in the future, when we, either individually or as a group, have more power we can stop what the rest of the world chooses to ignore.



We study the atrocities of genocide so that we can devise a way to prevent it. Like anything in life that one studies it is to futher one's understanding of the subject matter. In order to prevent further genocide we must study all cases and evaluate them so that we can succesfully develop an effective policy to deal with genocide. People study the past so that it can influence the outcome of the future. Like the article "Out of the Darkness" says it is not so much about exposing the fact that genocide is occuring but rather finding a solution to it. This can only be accomplished by further study of the past. Learning about genocide in a classroom evironment allows us to educate new generations at a young age and hopefully increase our chances at discovering the proper course of action to prevent genocide.

Jerry Fowler stated that, "...the fact that we are now confronting the failure to live up to the principle that we cannot remain indifferent to genocide is cause for hope." I think this quote helps to show the significance that being aware of genocide has today in the world, especially in the United States. Part of the reason we have become more aware of genocide is because we have seen from history that genocide happens again and again. Thus, we study the history of genocide to understand how and why it may have happened. Once we have a better understanding from studying it, we can make the public more aware and recognize if it is happening or if it may happen again. In addition, knowing the tragedies that genocide causes from studying previous incidents, we can make ourselves aware that we need to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.