Gregory D. Smithers
This article explores the concept of genocide in North America. Colonial North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries constituted an ever growing number of racially and ethnically heterogeneous sites of trade, exploration, and settlement. As Europeans ventured westward into the North American wilderness, territorial expansion, changing land-use patterns, new economic networks, and different systems of coerced labour all motivated settlers to think and act with different colonial motives that contributed to a sense of instability and flux in settler communities. What bound Europeans together, and provided the ideological and political basis for ordering settler societies, was an increasingly explicit racialized anxiety and disgust for Native Americans. The settlers' sense of disgust was important to the genocidal intentions behind different forms of colonial violence.
This article explores the connection between the state and genocide. It argues that no form of mass violence, and least of all genocide, erupts spontaneously. It requires premeditation, usually by a government with a record of gross human rights violations. Indeed, the discussion contends that genocide is intricately linked to the idea of the modern state, despite a body of scholarship that questions that link. Non-state agents such as radical political parties or armed militias are usually incorporated into the governing structure and therefore rarely perform on their own. The state may deliberately use them as proxies to obscure the decision-making process and thus to shift responsibility for the crimes committed. Even though the ruling body may not always emphasize state interests in genocide, the painstaking reconstruction of the chain of command, where possible, inevitably points to the upper echelons of power as the original source of mass violence.