Genocide justification does not deny the events that took place, but seeks to justify that the genocide was morally excusable or necessary. It is often claimed that the genocide victims presented a serious threat to the perpetrators, meaning that their killing was merely self-defense of a nation or state. According to modern international criminal law, there can be no excuse for genocide.
Genocide is often camouflaged as military activity against combatants, and the distinction between denial and justification is often blurred.
Examples of genocide justification include: Turkish nationalists in regard to the Armenian Genocide, Nazis justifying The Holocaust, the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, Serbian nationalists justifying the Srebrenica massacre and the Myanmar government justifying the Rohingya genocide.
Several laws against genocide denial also forbid the justification of genocide. In addition, some countries forbid genocide justification without criminalizing denial, as is the case in Spain since the part of the law criminalizing genocide denial was struck out as unconstitutional by the Spanish Supreme Court.
According to W. Michael Reisman, "in many of the most hideous international crimes, many of the individuals who are directly responsible operate within a cultural universe that inverts our morality and elevates their actions to the highest form of group, tribe, or national defense". Bettina Arnold observed, "It is one of the terrible ironies of the systematic extermination of one people by another that its justification is considered necessary." She also argued that archaeology and ancient history was sometimes used to justify genocide. Robert Zajonc wrote, "I was not able to find any accounts of massacres not viewed by their perpetrators as right and necessary." Rationalizing genocide helps perpetrators accept their actions and role in the genocide, preserving their self-image.
According to the Encyclopedia of Genocide, eugenics advocate Francis Galton bordered on the justification of genocide when he stated: "There exists a sentiment, for the most part quite unreasonable, against the gradual extinction of an inferior race."
1804 Haiti massacre
- The ideals of the French Revolution justified the massacre.
- Atrocities committed by French troops in Haiti permitted revenge.
- Radical measures were necessary to secure victory in the war and emancipate the slaves.
- Whites were not human.
- Black leaders hoped to take over plantations previously owned by whites.
Girard notes that after the massacre, the man who ordered it, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, stated, "We answered these cannibals’ war with war, crime with crime, outrage with outrage." For Dessalines, Girard writes, "genocide merely amounted to vengeance, even justice". Historian C. L. R. James wrote that massacre was only a tragedy for its perpetrators because of the brutal practices of slaveholding.
Adam Jones and Nicholas Robinson have classified this as a subaltern genocide, meaning a "genocide by the oppressed", and that it contains "morally plausible" elements of retribution or revenge. Jones points out that this type of genocide is less likely to be condemned and may even be welcomed.
Justification and rationalization are common with regard to the Armenian genocide, as Turks portrayed the killings as legitimate defense against Armenians, who were perceived as traitors and colluding with Russia during a time of war. Both at the time and later, it has been claimed that the deportation of Armenians was justified by military necessity. Historian Hans-Lukas Kieser states: "To justify genocide, Talaat framed a whole discourse and set of arguments, so that the self-righteous justification for murder and destruction remained entrenched in later memoirs, politics, and historiography." Interviewed by Berliner Tageblatt in May 1915, Talat stated: "We have been blamed for not making a distinction between guilty and innocent Armenians. [To do so] was impossible. Because of the nature of things, one who was still innocent today could be guilty tomorrow. The concern for the safety of Turkey simply had to silence all other concerns. Our actions were determined by national and historical necessity."
In 1919, Mustafa Kemal stated:
Whatever has befallen the non-Muslim elements living in our country, is the result of the policies of separatism they pursued in a savage manner, when they allowed themselves to be made tools of foreign intrigues and abused their privileges. There are probably many reasons and excuses for the undesired events that have taken place in Turkey. And I want definitely to say that these events are on a level far removed from the many forms of oppression which are committed in the states of Europe without any excuse.
Historian Erik Jan Zürcher comments, "All the classic elements in the defense of violent aggression are here: they asked for it, it was not really so bad and anyway, others have done the same and worse."
In 1920, parliamentarian Hasan Fehmi stated:
This deportation business, as you know, has put the whole world in an uproar, and has branded us all as murderers. We knew even before this was done that the Christian world would not stand for it, and that they would turn their fury and hatred on us because of it. But why should we call ourselves murderers? These things that were done were to secure the future of our homeland, which we hold more sacred and dear than our very lives.
In the interwar era, many Germans believed that the Armenian genocide was justified. Author Stefan Ihrig argues that, in the early 1920s, the Germans who had denied the Armenian genocide switched to justifying it after accepting the historicity of the events.
The Nazis preferred to justify the killing of Jews rather than deny it entirely. Hitler's prophecy was used to justify the Holocaust. Another example of Nazi justification is the 1943 Posen speeches, in which SS chief Heinrich Himmler argued that the systematic mass murder of Jews was necessary and justified, although an unpleasant task for individual SS men.
During the Einsatzgruppen trial, Otto Ohlendorf, responsible for the deaths of 90,000 Jews, did not deny that the crimes occurred or that he was responsible for them. Instead, he justified the systematic murder as anticipatory self-defense against the mortal threat supposedly posed by Jews, Romani people, Communists, and others. Ohlendorf argued that the killing of Jewish children was necessary because, knowing how their parents died, they would grow up to hate Germany. Ohlendorf's claims were not accepted by the court and he was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.
Since the end of World War II, cases of justifying the Holocaust have also been observed in Iran, the Arab world, and Eastern Europe, in which the alleged behavior of Jews is claimed to cause antisemitism and justify the killing of Jews. In 1946 Ahmad Shukeiri (who was fighting for Hitler) and Jamal Husseini have both justified the Holocaust, reiterating Goebbels' propaganda. Some Moldovan historians have claimed that the Holocaust in Romania was justified by the lack of loyalty shown by Jews to the interwar Romanian state. In El Salvador, ARENA leader Roberto D'Aubuisson defended the Holocaust, stating to West German journalists that "You Germans were very intelligent. You realized Jews were responsible for the spread of Communism and you began to kill them."
The Rwandan genocide was justified by its perpetrators as a legitimate response to the military campaign of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, including by its mastermind, Théoneste Bagosora, who repeated these arguments at the trial which resulted in his conviction for genocide.
The Srebrenica massacre is justified by Serbian nationalists who argue that it was necessary to defend against the "Muslim threat", or as a justified revenge for the 1993 Kravica attack. However, Serbian nationalists do not acknowledge that genocide occurred in Bosnia despite the ICTY verdict, and argue that the Bosnian death toll is substantially lower than historians and the ICTY have concluded. Conducting interviews with Serbs in Bosnia, Janine Natalya Clark found that many interviewees endorsed the idea "that those killed in Srebrenica were combatants and therefore legitimate military targets", alongside beliefs that the massacre was exaggerated.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended the military's actions during what has been described as the Rohingya genocide, however she denies that genocide has taken place in Myanmar. Already in 2017, The Intercept reported that she was "an apologist for genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape". Following her December 2019 remarks in the International Court of Justice, American political scientist William Felice writes that she uses "the same arguments that organizers of genocide and ethnic cleansing deployed throughout the 20th century to validate mass murder". Physicians for Human Rights states that Myanmar "continues to justify their mass extermination [of Rohingya] as a reasonable response to 'terrorist activities.'" Refugees International said that she was "defending the most indefensible of crimes"—genocide.
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- Jones, Adam (2006). "Is genocide ever justified?". Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge. pp. 28–30. ISBN 978-1-134-25981-6.
- Ihrig, Stefan (2016). Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismark to Hitler. Harvard University Press. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-674-91517-6.
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- Zajonc, R. B. (2002). "The Zoomorphism of Human Collective Violence". Understanding Genocide: The Social Psychology of the Holocaust. Oxford University Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-0-19-984795-2.
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- Charny, Israel W.; Adalian, Rouben Paul; Jacobs, Steven L.; Markusen, Eric; Sherman, Marc I. (1999). Encyclopedia of Genocide: A-H. ABC-CLIO. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-87436-928-1.
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- Hull, Isabel V. (2004). "The Armenian genocide". Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-4258-2.
- Kieser, Hans-Lukas (2018). Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide. Princeton University Press. p. 294. ISBN 978-1-4008-8963-1.
- Ihrig, Stefan (2016). Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler. Harvard University Press. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-0-674-50479-0.
- Zürcher, Erik Jan (2011). "Renewal and Silence: Postwar Unionist and Kemalist Rhetoric on the Armenian Genocide". In Suny, Ronald Grigor; Göçek, Fatma Müge; Naimark, Norman M. (eds.). A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire. Oxford University Press. pp. 306–316 . ISBN 978-0-19-979276-4.
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Ohlendorf stated, 'I believe that it is very simple to explain if one starts from the fact that [the Führer] order not only tried to achieve security, but permanent security, lest the children grow up and inevitably, being the children of parents who had been killed, they would constitute a danger no smaller than that of the parents.'
- Ferencz, Benjamin (24 October 2019). "Mass Murderers Seek to Justify Genocide". Benjamin B. Ferencz. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
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- Litvak, Meir; Webman, Esther (2011). From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust. Hurst. ISBN 978-1-84904-155-3.
- Lobont, Florin (2004). "Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial in Post-Communist Eastern Europe". The Historiography of the Holocaust. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 440–468. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-48866-0_9. ISBN 978-0-230-52450-7.
- Litvak, Meir; Webman, Esther (January 2004). "The Representation of the Holocaust in the Arab World". Journal of Israeli History. 23 (1): 100–115. doi:10.1080/1353104042000241947. S2CID 162351680.
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- Göran Larsson, "Fact Or Fraud?: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", (1994), p. 44. During the Second World War there were frequent contacts between the Nazis and several Arab leaders, the most notorious being the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hadj Amin Al-Husseini, well-known for his collaboration with Hitler and the Nazi leadership. After the war, Hitler's extermination of the Jews has often been justified in Arab countries, and some Nazi war criminals have found a safe haven there to continue their antisemitic activities. Not surprisingly, The Protocols have been translated into Arabic and have become a bestseller in the Arab world. Antisemitic organisations have often used Arab countries as the base for distribution of antisemitic material...
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- Bernard Lerner, "Behind Britain's Zion Conspiracy". The Detroit Jewish News July 12, 1946 Page 2 Out in Jerusalem, in an office situated ironically on Bethlehem Road, where, according to Jewish legend Mother Rachel weeps at midnight over the plight of her children, the people of Israel, I met Achmed Shukeiri, chief of the Arab Office, who reiterated in his conversation the words of Goebbels justified the murder of six million Jews of Europe "because Hitler could not have been all wrong," and warned that his side was ready to "play along with Moscow." They always play along, the Husseini-Shukeiri mob. Outside the Young Men's Christian Association building in Jerusalem, where the hearings of the Anglo-American Inquiry Committee were being held at the time, I met Jamal el Husseini; he issued the same warning as Shukeiri (he being Shukeiri's chief) of playing along with Moscow, and reiterated his justification of the mass murder of six million Jews "for Hitler couldn't be all wrong... you have got to see both sides of a question, my man, both sides of a question..." Jamal Husseini saw both sides so well that he joined in igniting, at a time most critical for the Allies, the Iraq coup d'etat to gauleiter the Middle East for Hitler.
- "Behind the British Actions in Palestine", B. Lerner, ‘’The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle’’, 12 July 1946, page 7
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The Serbs’ skepticism surrounding the Srebrenica genocide is not a denial that mass killings occurred: the dominant narrative among nationalist Serbs is that war crimes were justified to defend against the Muslims.
- Nettelfield, Lara J.; Wagner, Sarah E. (2013). "Pushing Back: Denial". Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139034968.
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