Some people aspire to greatness. Some have greatness thrust upon them. Having had it thrust upon him without his leave, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has carried greatness with the grace of a Nelson Mandela. My admiration for the man knows no bounds. And as a fellow citizen of the world, I would cut him whatever slack he might need. But as a professional philosopher I have to do my job. And that’s to call out bad reasoning whenever and wherever I find it, regardless of its author.
It would be genocide if being Ukrainian were a sufficient condition for the Russians killing someone. But it’s not. If it were they’d have been killing every Ukrainian in sight. It might be that were she not Ukrainian they’d be less inclined to kill her. So being Ukrainian might be a necessary condition. But it’s more likely the Russians have been killing Ukrainians because a) they’re Ukrainians and b) they’re in some sense in the way. As evidenced by the millions who’ve escaped the country, Ukrainians who take pains not to be in the way are unlikely to be noticed, let alone killed.
So what’s been happening in Bucha and Mariupol and elsewhere in Ukraine are warcrimes, to be sure. Perhaps crimes against humanity. But Selenskyy’s claim notwithstanding, it’s not genocide. And he squanders his credibility when he says it is.
As I tell my students, when making an argument, remember that less is more. The Russians have more than enough blood on their hands to warrant the most draconian reprisals an outraged world can inflict. There’s no need to up that outrage by conflating Bucha or Mariupol with Rwanda or the Shoah.