Eliott Hull
About Eliott Hull

Eliott Hull is an early career scholar in genocide studies and research assistant at the University of Sydney

BOOK REVIEW
Genocide Perspectives V: A Global Crime, Australian Voices (Edited by Nikki Marczak and Kirril Shields)

THIS VOLUME IS  a gentle ode to the work of Colin Tatz, a scholar whose work on racism ultimately led him to genocide studies as both researcher and teacher. It is an interesting and diverse collection of essays from a broad spectrum of Australian voices, both established and emerging.

The editors, Nikki Marczak and Kirril Shields, have done well to include essays which provide new perspectives on subjects which otherwise might feel somewhat dry. Another achievement is in the organisation of the book; well thought out, with complementary if not entirely similar chapters following one another.

The volume is bookended by two chapters about Tatz himself, Douglas Booth’s Colin Tatz: Compelled to Repair a Flawed World and Tatz’s own contribution, Teaching about Genocide.

Booth’s chapter is a glowing review of Tatz’s life and career so far: as a person, a teacher, a scholar and an activist. It is the ideal start to a book that aims to consider the impact that Tatz has had on genocide studies in Australia and in general. However, readers may find that it lacks teeth and that they are left wondering if anyone in the academic establishment has a critique of Tatz’s work.

One of the marks of a great scholar is how they react to criticism, and this chapter doesn’t allow for that part of Tatz’s work to shine through. Tatz’s own chapter might have been meant as a pedagogical contribution, interesting enough in a collection more focused on case studies, but could quite easily have been titled ‘Learning about Genocide’.

Finishing the chapter gave this reviewer, early in their career, so many new ideas for studying the subject that Tatz is obviously passionate about. Tatz’s enthusiasm  for teaching especially shines through in Booth’s chapter, particularly through quotes from other scholars, many of whom have made further contributions to the volume. Tatz’s final sentence here says it all; his contribution to preventing future genocide is ”to teach and to talk, even to preach”.

The first substantive section of this book is ‘Australia’. This part consists of three essays: Anna Haebich’s Reflections on the Bringing Them Home Report, John Maynard’s Genocide by Any Other Name and Jennifer Balint’s Too Near and Too Far: Australia’s Reluctance to Name and Prosecute Genocide. These essays are organised around a central theme, that of remembering and conversely, of forgetting.

 Tatz’s contribution to preventing future genocide is ‘to teach and to talk, even to preach’.

READ: Colin Tatz honoured for contribution to genocide and race studies

Haebich looks at the progress that Australia has made in the two decades since the publishing of the Bringing Them Home Report, the report of the government enquiry into the Stolen Generations. She depicts the struggle as being between non-Indigenous Australians in a settler colony who either want to forget or refuse to remember, and the Indigenous Australians who are left with memories to “carry alone”.

While many of the subjects of Haebich’s essay would like to claim that they were unaware of child removals, John Maynard’s chapter is a convincing argument against the idea that early settlers were not aware of what they were doing wrong, with a good use of the source material available. He also uses it to highlight the efforts of early Aboriginal activists, including his own grandfather.

Jumping back to the present, Balint’s chapter looks at why Australia has been named by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre as ‘the only major Western country of refuge’ for war criminals and genocidaires, something highly topical as the Australian government continues to imprison refugees searching for safe haven in offshore detention centres. All of them are fascinating and unfortunately relevant in Australia today, as debates around Indigenous rights still rage.

The next section on case studies looks to examine a broad range of themes across various cases: the role of medicine in genocide, the way women are specifically affected by genocide, and genocide recognition.

The two chapters on medicine deal with the Holocaust. The first is Michael Robertson, Edwina Light, Wendy Lipworth and Garry Walter’s exploration into the role of psychiatry in Nazi Germany. Its examination of the way which the psychiatric profession was able to work towards a greater national health project, and how this led to the euthanasia program directed against the disabled and mentally ill, is compelling and feels as though it could be expanded upon further.

Konrad Kwiet and George Weisz’s chapter on the career of Nazi doctor, Freidrich Meythaler, including experiments he performed on Australian POWs, allows the reader to follow the journey of a war criminal back into normal society after the war. Individual stories like this one allow for a better understanding of the processes by which a huge number of Nazi professionals returned to their jobs after the fall of the Third Reich.

The experiences of women during genocide are often considered “peripheral to the ‘main event”’, as Nikki Marczak comments in her essay The Early Days: Illuminating Armenian Women’s Experiences. Along with Annie Pohlman’s Finding a Way: Women’s Stories of Daily Survival after the 1965 Killings in Indonesia, this volume has allowed for an exploration into how genocide can affect women specifically in ways rarely written about before.

Both subject broaden the investigation into women’s experiences beyond sexual violence, which has been researched widely, to explore at how genocide affected them socially and materially as well. The contribution to the field is increased further by the timeframes they examine, with Marczak looking at the emergence of the genocide in Armenia and Pohlman looking at the situation facing women in Indonesia.

The issues surrounding the recognition of genocide are explored through two very different cases: Armenia and North Korea. Geoffrey Robertson’s examination of the diverse modern-day reactions to the Armenian Genocide recognises that for many governments, the truth that genocide was committed is “too inconvenient” to discuss because of both Turkey’s denial and their important strategic and geographical location in the fight against ISIS.

He concludes “it was not a tragedy. It was a crime,” placing judgement on those who refuse to recognise the killings as genocide under international law. Conversely, Michael Kirby finds that there has not been genocide committed by the Kim family and their subordinates in North Korea under the laws set out in the UN Convention, due to the fact that their victims have been persecuted on political grounds.

To Kirby, the distinction is important; it is “dangerous” to overuse the term genocide in a legal sense, lest we delegitimise it. It would be interesting to have a genocide scholar tackle this question as well – theoretical definitions of genocide are often much broader than their legal counterpart and as Cambodia shows, it is not unheard of to use the word ‘genocide’ to describe politically motivated killings.

The final section of the book, titled Culture and Memory, is less well organised and more fragmented than the previous sections. The thematic organisation of the other sections is easier to read and comprehend than this final section, although this does not necessarily detract from the content.

Tony Barta’s chapter is the only real theoretical contribution to this volume, looking at the different realities or “surrealities” that we each inhabit and how those affect our reactions to genocide. He links this to the danger of using “common sense” to understand why people did something in the past – we cannot use our own mindset to imagine that of someone else.

A collective Australian surreality is that genocide as people recognise it in the Holocaust was not committed here and thus, the actions of past Australians were not genocide. Barta wants to believe that this mindset is changing, bit by bit, and that eventually the recognition that Aboriginal Australians were victims of genocide will be real to non-Aboriginal Australians.

The use of photography as source material is always controversial in genocide studies, and Kirril Shields’ chapter on amateur photography is a nuanced discussion on the ways in which it can be used to renegotiate memory of the Holocaust and why it can be valuable to historians and the like.

He argues, quite rightly, that even images with the gaze of a perpetrator have academic merit and never lose the sense of the victim – there cannot be perpetrator without one.

Amazingly for a collection of this size, there is no contribution that feels like filler material. While each piece is short, they all present interesting and important arguments which feel like they expand the facets of the field which they explore. 

Deborah Meyersen’s chapter on using graphic novels to examine faith after genocide is a standout chapter in this volume. Genocide studies by its very nature is an interdisciplinary field and while other forms of media such as film and literature have been well accounted for in the literature, the study of graphic novels is just starting to emerge.

She concludes that the medium works very well for the subject in all three of the cases examined; the fractious nature of comics as opposed to the linear structure of a novel, for instance, allows for some of the conflict in the characters’ lives to be depicted with greater intensity.

The title of Winton Higgin’s chapter, Can the American Alliance Stop Colluding in Genocide? sounds like a rhetorical question, but his chapter answers it resoundingly in the negative. His investigation of the ways in which the USA (as well as Australia and the United Kingdom) has not only colluded with genocidal regimes, but has in fact been the cause of a great many of the situations in which we see genocidal potential today is fascinating and important.

A criticism is the focus on the USA; in a book about Australian voices, it would have been interesting to see if Australia, in particular, has contributed and is contributing to genocide in the wider world in similar ways to the United States.

Amazingly for a collection of this size, there is no contribution that feels like filler material. While each piece is short, they all present interesting and important arguments which feel like they expand the facets of the field which they explore.

This volume is a work of which the editors should be rightly proud and one that I hope Colin Tatz is proud to have dedicated to him.

Main photo: Berlin Holocaust Museum

Eliott Hull
Posted by Eliott Hull 4 weeks ago