World War II was one of the largest and bloodiest conflicts in history. Significant battles, personalities, massacres and everything that fueled it changed the world forever. Many acts of violence took place that have not made a historical text or a memorial of some sort. These horrors inspired the formation of the United Nations. Specifically one of the many tasks of this organization was determining crimes can be considered those against human dignity.
The war saw the Holocaust, Rape of Nanking and other war crimes. The Holocaust, under Nazi policy, did not only target Jews but also Slavs, Communists, Gypsy/Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others. It was done so not to only eliminate those considered inferior to the Aryans but for the Nazi expansion plan lebensraum. Racial superiority during WWII was not exclusive to the Nazis but the Japanese empire. Especially when used to justify its expansion into neighboring countries during the early 1930s.
In the postwar period, Raphael Lemkin was given the daunting task of providing a legal definition of genocide. Lemkin, of Polish Jewish heritage, fled to the United States in 1940 from Nazi persecution. The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide was held in 1948. The Genocide Convention determined the legal definition of genocide as ‘…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious groups as such’. This legal definition of genocide, like Norman M. Naimark argues in his book Stalin’s Genocides, ommitted political and social groups. These victims of such crimes in the international criminal court of law would have been difficult to prove whether or not there was as an intention of committing genocide.
The exclusion of political and social groups from the legal definition of genocide were deliberate. Both the American and Soviet government officials lobbied in meeting places of statesmen when the building blocks for the United Nations were being formed. These two superpowers had to ensure that those groups were not included so they would not face charges of commiting crimes against humanity during World War II.
Joseph Stalin governed the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1953. He is responsible for killing ethnic minorities in the Soviet controlled Ukrainians, Poles, Slavs, Koreans, NKVD and others. Anyone Stalin considered an enemy of his or the state was eliminated. The U.S. government could be charged with the often deemed unjustified fire bombing of Dresden, Germany. Also the bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are many crimes committed by these governments during World War II but these are some to name.
Lemkin’s definition of genocide was influenced by his need of highlighting Nazi violence. So perhaps it could have been argued that the lobbying by the American and Soviet officials was in vain. He sought to change the definition by adding those two groups after the Nuremberg trials but did not. The legal definition of genocide according to the UN has and continues to not bring justice to members of political and social groups.