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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 17, 2001

Communication, Conflict, and Reconciliation

Joseph Betz
Pages 9-19

The Definition of Massacre

Examining the reasons for the conventional application of the term 'massacre' to some sorts of killings but not others, I arrive at this definition of the term. A massacre is the mass murder and mutilation of innocent victims by an assailant or assailants immediately present at the scene. This is a conventional and not a stipulative definition. Many standard definitions are imprecise for several reasons. They might say the killing is unnecessary or indiscriminate or at a distance or they might confuse it with terrorism. lmprecise definitions do not grasp the etymological connection to the slaughterhouse, the limited space at the scene, or the cruelty required of the assailants. The difference between weak and strong, descriptive and evaluative uses of the term 'massacre' allows for dishonesty and propagandistic uses of the term.

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