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“[…] Extirpate or remove that vermine”: genocide, biological warfare, and settler imperialism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century

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Finzsch suggests four hypotheses, which are intrinsically connected and which form the basis for a theory labelled “Settler Imperialism”. First, he proposes a new definition of genocide, which is grounded in a different interpretation of the concept of the event. Secondly, he argues in favour of a sliding continuum of genocide that ranges from everyday practices to organized mass murder. Thirdly he indicates that phenomena which are commonly called genocide rest upon invisible everyday practices that do not appear on the radar of transgressions, forming different plateaus of a rhizomatic expansion, called settler imperialism. Lastly, Finzsch makes a case for the reality of a merciless, albeit low-intensity war against the indigenous populations preceding organized modern wars like the ones led in the 150 years of our epoch, but already using biological methods to drive away, decimate or annihilate indigenous populations. Two historical examples are used for this line of reasoning: the use of pathogens derived from the smallpox against Native Americans in North America during the French and Indian Wars in the eighteenth century and the probable employ of these pathogens in the destruction of the Dharug and Kurringgai in Sydney 1789. Although in the latter case irrefutable evidence for the application of the smallpox virus is missing, circumstantial evidence suggesting such appliance is very high. Colonial wars, like all wars, are aimed at the subjugation of the opponents under the will of the victorious party. In the case of colonial wars the vanquished is generally the indigenous population. As the alien in the 1996 Sci-Fi movie Independence Day wanted humans simply to die, settlers in the Anglosphere wished the Indigenous to simply disappear. It was totally acceptable that this goal was achieved through seemingly natural causes like loss of lands and diminishing ecospheres. Under certain conditions, however, the exterminalist discourse changed its register and the consequence was either low intensity warfare or biological warfare. Only when this turned out to be insufficient, settler imperialists increased the intensity of the exterminalist agenda and resorted to mass killings that surmounted the threshold of visibility.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-06-01

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