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On genocide deniers: Challenging Herman and Peterson

Adam Jones

2010-07-15, Issue 490

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Following Edward Herman and David Peterson’s challenge to Gerald Caplan's critique of their book 'The Politics of Genocide', Adam Jones provides a powerful riposte to their arguments, emphasising what actually occurred in Rwanda in 1994. 'Herman and Peterson’s attempts to disguise and deny it constitute,' writes Jones, 'the nadir of their respective careers.'

Edward Herman and David Peterson’s response to Gerald Caplan’s review of their book, 'The Politics of Genocide' (8 July), merits a lengthy riposte. I will limit myself to a few comments, pending a closer engagement to follow.

(1) Herman and Peterson contend that mainstream scholarship on Rwanda in 1994, such as Caplan’s, “turns perpetrator and victim upside-down.” In fact, they allege, Hutus were the principal victims of the bloodbath, and the RPF/Tutsis – “the ‘only well-organized killing force within Rwanda in 1994’” – were “both the initiators and the main perpetrators of 1994's mass blood-letting.”

The crucial source they cite in support of this argument is research by Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, notably their October 2009 article, “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” Curiously, though, Herman and Peterson never mention Davenport and Stam’s core finding: that “the vast majority of the 1994 killing had been conducted by the FAR [Rwandan army], the Interahamwe [militia] and their associates.” All three of these Hutu-controlled bodies were apparently quite “well-organized killing force[s],” if they were responsible for “the vast majority” of up to a million murders in a few months. With regard to the RPF, Davenport and Stam claim that it played a “not insignificant role” in the carnage. Certainly, the RPF’s probable tens of thousands of killings in Rwanda in 1994 are significant. But they are hardly justification for flipping the Rwandan genocide on its head, and depicting the RPF/Tutsis as “the main perpetrators” of the killing, as Herman and Peterson do. Indeed, Davenport and Stam’s finding was precisely the opposite.

(Note in passing, however, the fundamental illogic which characterises both Davenport and Stam’s article, and Herman and Peterson’s mendaciously selective use of it. If the Hutu-controlled 'FAR, the Interahamwe and their associates' were responsible for the 'vast majority' of the 1994 murders, and if – as Davenport and Stam also allege, and Herman and Peterson repeat – the majority of those killed were likely Hutus, why on earth would Hutus have been killing other Hutus on such a massive scale, and in such a seemingly systematic fashion? We know that many oppositionist and other Hutus did perish in the genocide. But where is the evidence for such a gargantuan Hutu-on-Hutu bloodbath, with Tutsi victims pushed to the periphery?)

(2) Perhaps the most disturbing passage in Herman and Peterson’s response to Caplan is this: “Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one? Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’ at the same time.”

Of course, no mainstream authority has ever claimed that the Tutsi “victims of genocide” in Rwanda in 1994 were drawn from “Kagame’s Tutsi forces.” The latter were invading from Uganda, as Herman and Peterson themselves emphasize. They were outsiders with no connection to, and apparently no particular sympathy for, the Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda. It was the Rwandan Tutsi population which, by all serious accounts, bore the overwhelming brunt of the Hutu Power genocide.

So Herman and Peterson’s mocking reference to the “minority Tutsi” population supposedly bearing the brunt of the massacres, then assuming “complete control” of Rwanda, is pure sleight-of-hand. To repeat the indisputable: it was the foreign-based RPF that took “complete control” in July 1994 and “wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’” – not the “minority Tutsi” population of Rwanda, which had been mostly exterminated by that point. By insinuating otherwise – by conflating Rwanda’s civilian Tutsis with “Kagame’s Tutsi forces” – Herman and Peterson none-too-subtly adopt Hutu Power’s justification for slaughtering Tutsi civilians: that they constituted a “fifth column,” indistinguishable from the invading RPF. This casual parroting of the most virulent Hutu-extremist propaganda effectively blames Rwanda’s Tutsis for their own extermination. It is a disgraceful ploy, and by itself it casts Herman and Peterson’s “analysis” into utter disrepute.

(3) Herman and Peterson quote approvingly Allan Stam’s claim that the RPF’s military maneuvers were “staggeringly like the United States invasion of Iraq in 1991.” This is advanced to buttress their (painfully thin) argument that the RPF acted as a US proxy throughout 1994, and after. But if RPF military actions were indeed “staggeringly like” those of the US and its allies in the 1991 Gulf conflict, we must assume that the RPF mustered over half a million troops for its offensive; dropped tens of thousands of tons of bombs on enemy positions and population centers; mounted massed armoured thrusts to overwhelm its opponent; and routed the foe in a mere 100 hours of land warfare. Since none of these remotely obtained in the RPF’s 1994 campaign, an objective observer might rather conclude that in all central respects, that campaign was staggeringly unlike the 1991 invasion of Iraq.

(4) At various points, Herman and Peterson make much of the supposed lightning speed of the RPF victory (“incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days,” etc.). One hundred days, in fact, can be a very long time in war and genocide. In the 1991 Gulf War, as noted, the Allies crushed Iraqi forces in 100 hours. Many other examples could be cited, from the 1967 Six-Day War in which Israel nearly obliterated the forces of three Arab states, to the six-week blitzkrieg in which the Nazis conquered France in 1940. For Hutu Power to have supervised the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people in three-and-a-half months is surely “incredible” in a moral sense – not that we can expect such an acknowledgment from Herman and Peterson. But it is perfectly credible in a logistical sense, with the target populations utterly defenseless, and prone to be rounded up and slaughtered by the thousands or tens of thousands at a time. That, in any case, is what actually occurred in Rwanda in 1994. Herman and Peterson’s attempts to disguise and deny it constitute the nadir of their respective careers.

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
July 14, 2010


* Adam Jones is associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

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