The Political Uses of Death-as-Finality in Genocide Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Holocaust
University of Technology, Sydney
Examining the concept of death can provide a new perspective on the question of why prominent sections of the Australian political and media establishment have resisted recognising the Stolen Generations as a genocide. This paper examines the role of death understood as definitional in genocide, and finality as the defining aspect of ‘death’ employed in this way. Genocide, in the popular imagination, is based on the Holocaust as paradigmatic case and invokes death as central symbol. Since mass death as a consequence of the state's actions toward its civilian subjects is posited as illegitimate, the legitimacy of a state which has committed genocide is in question. In the context of Australia's 'history wars,' the arguments of denialists are premised upon the position that if death did not occur then genocide did not occur, and if genocide did not occur, then the state is legitimate and national identity is secure. This argument relies on an implicit use of the metaphor of a collectivity as a human individual (subject to death). The argument that death (due to its finality) is necessary for genocide is itself used to ‘assassinate memory’ (Vidal-Naquet), to finalise the genocide that indigenous Australians have suffered. An emphatic response has and continues to be made by Aboriginal Australians’ assertion of survival.
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