War and Politics

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines crimes against humanity as “particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. [These include] murder; massacres; dehumanization; extermination.”

In 1622, in the Virginia colony established in North America, relations between the recently established community and its Native American neighbors had grown increasingly unstable since the British had first established the colony in 1609. Loss of their hunting and farming lands, horrific epidemics brought by Europeans, and commercial exploitation by colonial traders convinced the Powhatan tribe that it faced the threat of extermination by Virginia colony settlers. So in 1622, the Powhatan launched a sustained series of bloody raids against the colony surrounding Jamestown, killing close to 350 people and destroying their farms and homes. Since the entire population of the colony was only around 1,300, these attacks were devastating.

In response, the Virginia colonists launched a furious reprisal, essentially amounting to the attempted genocide of the Powhatan tribe. Via any means necessary—mass attacks, false truces, poisoning crops and wells, booby traps, diseased blankets, burning forests and villages, etc.—the colonists killed and destroyed every trace of Powhatan life they found. This essentially depopulated the region. Of a population of approximately 40,000 Powhatans in 1622, there were only about 5,000 remaining three years later, and perhaps 500 still alive 10 years after that.* The Virginia Company gave the following justification for this reprisal:

Retribution for Powhatan attacks
Retribution for unfair seizure of colonists’ farms and property
The lands taken from the Powhatan tribe would be put to better use in agricultural and industrial production
The Powhatans had demonstrated that they can only be dealt with by removal and were incapable of living in peace with their neighbors

  • From The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian legacy by Kirkpatrick Sale.

Does this action fit the definition of a crime against humanity as described by The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court? Explain.
Does the Powhatan attack that provoked the colonists’ reprisal make this an act of military necessity (as defined by Cohen in your text)? Why or why not?
Regardless or any formal legal or philosophical principles, do you think that this was a morally justifiable response/reprisal by the colonists? Explain.
Please use these as reference and reading for this assignment
The Sheikh Who Got Away https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/07/06/the-sheikh-who-got-away-2/
War and Peace with Powhatan’s People http://www.ushistory.or