[Paleopsych] Mark Levene: Why Is the Twentieth Century the Century of Genocide?

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Why Is the Twentieth Century the Century of Genocide?
Mark Levene
University of Warwick
Journal of World History 11.2 (2000) 305-336

It has become almost a platitude, a statistical one at that: 187 million
is the figure, the now more or less accepted wisdom for the number of
human beings killed as a result of political violence--Zbigniew
Brzezinski uses the unlovely term megadeaths--in this, our bloody
century. 1 More killing than at any other time in history. And yet at
the end of the twentieth century its relentlessness, as it passes across
the television screens of those of us seemingly blessed with immunity
from its catastrophic reality and consequences, continues to daze and

For the historian, him or herself inured to centuries if not millennia
of mass atrocity, this picture of a special era of death and destruction
invites, indeed demands further probing and analysis. Is "the Twentieth
Century Book of the Dead" really so very different in scope or scale
from previous ones? 2 It has been argued that the effects of the Taiping
and other rebellions in China reduced its population from 410 million in
1850 to 350 million in 1873. 3 In southern Africa a couple of decades
earlier, the emergence of Shaka's Zulu nation and the ensuing Mfecane or
"great crushing" produced equally horrendous results relative to the
population of the region. Go back a few centuries and [End Page 305] the
devastation that the Mongol conqueror Timur wrought to Central Asia, the
Near East, and Northern India impelled modern historian Arnold Toynbee
to note that this exterminatory span of twenty-four years (between 1379
and 1403) was comparable to the one hundred and twenty of the last five
Assyrian kings. 4

If this seems to be an argument, albeit a cynical one, for saying plus
ça change, plus c'est la même chose, the very use of the term genocide,
as if we have in our current self-centered time suddenly stumbled upon a
different order of things, is equally problematic. How do we find a
separate niche for this exterminatory modus operandi when we are already
familiar with the idea of massacre, civil war, revolution, man-made
famine, total war, and indeed the potentiality for nuclear obliteration?
The signposting of the scholars is, to say the least, contradictory. The
international jurist Raphael Lemkin, who both coined the term "genocide"
and was founding mover for its study, saw in it not so much modernity as
a reversion or regression to past "barbarisms." If he perceived a
difference in our century it was not in the destruction of peoples or
nations per se but in the ability of international society, with
international law as its right arm, to outlaw and ultimately prevent it.
In spite of the catastrophe which overwhelmed his own family in the
Holocaust, Lemkin was essentially optimistic about a modern global
civilization founded on western enlightenment principles. The 1948
United Nations Convention on Genocide is his great legacy. 5

Yet, Kosovo notwithstanding, the Genocide Convention has been more
honored in the breach than in the practice. A considerable stream of
current empirical thought, moreover, would challenge Lemkin's basic
premise. Zygmunt Bauman, for instance, has not only forcefully rejected
the notion that the Holocaust represented some "irrational outflow of
the not-yet-fully eradicated residues of pre-modern barbarity" but on
the contrary "arose out of a genuinely rational concern . . . generated
by a bureaucracy true to it form and purpose." For Bauman, this
quintessential genocide was a product of a planned, scientifically
informed, expert, efficiently managed, coordinated, and technically
resourced society like our own. Indeed, just in case anyone was in doubt
as to his meaning, he not only reiterated that the Holocaust was a
legitimate resident in the house of modernity and could not be "at [End
Page 306] home in any other house" but that there was an "elective
affinity" between it "and modern civilization." 6

If Bauman and Lemkin seem to offer very different perspectives on why
this century might be considered the century of genocide, this article
would submit that neither argument in itself offers a conclusive case.
Implicitly, both have the added danger of being reduced to discussions
about the form genocidal killing takes. The short hand for Bauman thus
might read: "gas chambers": systematized, routinized, industrialized
conveyer belt killings; albeit with a grand vision at its end "of a
better, and radically different, society." 7 There is something
compelling in this theme. If gas chambers suggest a 1940's
state-of-the-art technology for the accomplishment of a particular type
of mass murder, telegraphs and trains in the Ittihadist destruction of
the Armenians or the provision of index registers of the Rwandese
population as a basis for the selection of Tutsi and other victims in
1994 equally seem to point the finger at a type of social organization
in which victims can be characterized as depersonalized freight or
numbers and their perpetrators as pen pushers or technical operators who
conveniently find themselves physically or psychologically "distanced"
from the act of murder.

All well and good. Except that recent studies, such as Goldhagen on the
Holocaust, or Prunier on Rwanda, provocatively remind us that much of it
is not like that; that genocide, whether perpetrated by a
technologically advanced society like Germany or a relatively
undeveloped one like Rwanda, still requires the active mobilization of
hundreds of thousands of their "ordinary" citizens to pull triggers or
wield machetes; that this involves not a spatial removal but a direct
confrontation between perpetrators and victims; and that in consequence
genocide in action can be every bit as passionate, vicious, and messy as
the massacres of the Peloponnesian or Punic wars. 8 By a different
route, we seem to be back with Lemkin's barbarism. Except that neither
the Romans nor Greeks saw themselves as barbarians but rather as the
most advanced and sophisticated societies of their time. If then, as
Michael Freeman would assert, the argument cannot be about modernity per
se but only about civilization and if we were to pursue this train of
thought further by tracing in the classical and pre-modern [End Page
307] record the capability of societies--despite their usually
politically diffused and decentralized nature--to deport or exterminate
whole populations, where is our case for a particular relationship
between genocide and the twentieth century? 9

This article would contend in response that form is not the primary
issue whereas framework most definitely is. Or, to put it another way,
we cannot begin to understand genocide without grappling with history,
by which is implied not only the historical context of each individual
genocide which necessarily must tell us a special and unique story but
rather the macrohistorical record, the broad and moving canvas in which
we might chart and hopefully analyze the emergence and development of
the current international system. Indeed, its first proposition is that
the origins of something which we specifically call genocide, followed
by the persistence and prevalence of this phenomenon into the
contemporary world, is intrinsically bound up with that emerging system
and is indeed an intrinsic and crucial part of it. If this line of
argument is correct then genocide cannot be simply cordoned off as an
aberration which afflicts states which have become too ideological,
totalitarian, prone to revolution, to war, or internal conflicts which
are the result of ethnic division and stratification. These may be
significant features and important determinants of genocide. And they
may tell us also something about why certain countries--Germany, Russia,
China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Turkey, Rwanda, Burundi--have been
particularly genocide prone. But none of these examples can be
understood purely in domestic isolation. Nation states, notes Anthony
Giddens, "only exist in systemic relations with other nation-states." 10
Yet the global system of nation states which we now take for granted has
only come to full fruition in this last century. Genocide is thus not
only a by-product of particular national trajectories as they attempt
state building in order to operate within, circumvent, or possibly
confront that system, but a guide to and indeed cipher for its own
dysfunctional nature.

But why should this be? The answer, on one level, is closely enmeshed
with what Marxist or neo-Marxist analysis would call "the dynamics of
uneven historical development." 11 Thus, the international [End Page
308] system was not created all of a piece but was primed and taken
forward by a small coterie of western polities. Their economic and
political ascendancy determined the system's ground rules and ensured
that its expansion and development would be carried forward and
regulated primarily in their own hegemonic interests. As a result, not
only have "international relations been co-eval with the origins of the
nation-state" but this process from its eighteenth-century origins was
peculiarly dependent upon the fortunes of its leading players, most
notably Britain, France, and the United States. 12 We do not ourselves
have to be westernocentric to acknowledge this problematic reality or
the essential thrust of Immanuel Wallerstein's developmental thesis in
terms of a dominant western core surrounded by semi-peripheral and
peripheral zones. 13 Yet Wallerstein himself would be the first to
acknowledge that this development was not naturally preordained, nor did
it have to lead to the permanent ascendancy of specific states. Rather,
it was the outcome of a long series of inter-European power struggles
fought increasingly in a global arena, in which some proto-modern
states, such as Spain, fell by the wayside while others, notably Prussia
and Russia, came into frame as serious contenders for primacy. If all
this had and continues to have something of a social Darwinian quality
about it, nevertheless, "the intersection of capitalism, industrialism
and the nation-state," which were the primary ingredients enabling
western state supremacy in the first place, remain the enduring features
of the system as globalized, while also ensuring the continuing hegemony
of a somewhat broader but still relatively small group of states (with a
number of key western institutions and corporations also now involved),
even though the relative position of these may be quite different from
that of the late eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. 14

This relationship between genocide and an emerging international system
demands further scrutiny. Was it, for instance, the avant-garde states
who committed genocide in their drive for hegemony, or latter-day
contenders? And whichever it was, where do we locate our first modern
example? Aspects of the Iberian thrust to the Canaries, the Caribbean,
and then the New World mainland are horribly suggestive, as are, in the
Spanish and Portuguese domestic frames, the disgorging or forcible
integration of Jews and Moriscos. Similar early modern trends are
perhaps to be found in the destruction of Albigensians and [End Page
309] Anabaptists en route to the consolidation of French and German
state-religious unities and later still in the English or Anglo-Scottish
campaigns to "clear" Catholic Irish and Gaelic Highlanders from their
frontier hinterlands. The process could be said to have been carried
forward in a still wider global frame with the British onslaught on the
native peoples of Australasia, the American expulsions, subjugations,
and massacres of their remaining unsubdued Indian nations, closely
replicated in Latin American countries, notably Argentina, not to say in
the Russian anti-Circassian drive to consolidate the Caucasus firmly
within the Czarist empire.

Yet while the scale of these killings, particularly in the case of the
sixteenth-century Americas, not only equals but arguably surpasses
instances of twentieth-century mass murder, the specificity of
"genocide" cannot be confirmed or denied from this litany. If the
corelationship to the emerging system is the critical issue, a possibly
more authentic first contender might be the 1793-94 revolutionary
Jacobin onslaught on the Vendée region. Here we can observe a
premeditated, systematic, if albeit geographically limited attempt at
people-destruction closely linked to rapid nation-state building within
the context of a much broader crisis of interstate relations. But if the
Vendee is an important signpost for a type of mass murder which has
become particularly prevalent and persistent in the twentieth century,
its inclusion as a case study has to contend with objections that
Frenchmen killing other Frenchmen cannot be "genocide." 15
Interestingly, this contrasts with a contention from an entirely
different quarter which protests at any attempt to pick and choose
between which mass killings are genocides and which are not. 16 Even
were we to put aside this perfectly understandable, ethically grounded
restraint, the bewildering diversity of the situations that perpetrator
and victim groups outlined so far confronts this writer, no less than
others, with the obstinate question: what exactly is it that we are

"At the most fundamental level," it has been asserted, "we presently
lack even a coherent and viable description of the processes and
circumstances implied by the term genocide." 17 And this despite
enormous [End Page 310] and continuing efforts by sociologists and
jurists to provide taxonomies and etiologies of the phenomenon not to
say a legal framework for criminalizing it. Leo Kuper, doyen of its
study, sounds almost despairing. There is, he says, "no single genocidal
process" and, to boot, probably no basis for developing "a general
theory of genocide." 18 Similarly, Helen Fein warns that "comparisons
based on either the Holocaust or the Gulag Archipelago as a single
archetype which assume there is one mechanically recurring script are
bound to be misleading." 19 Fein is correct. Each genocide is different.
The problem is knowing what falls within the rubric in the first place,
her very reference to the Gulag being an interesting example of how
potentially we might obscure rather than clarify our focus. Fein's
example also highlights a general tendency to conflate the act of
"genocide" with "genocidal process," of which there is a great deal
more. The latter, involving all manner of draconian or coercive
measures, ranging from the forcible assimilation of a group at one end
of the spectrum through to physical murder at the other, does not have
to culminate necessarily in a program of systematic people-annihilation,
that is, "genocide." Even then it is rarely sustained to an attempted
completion. This is perhaps one reason why the Holocaust remains so
central to our vision of what constitutes genocide, as if in Weberian
terms we had found our "ideal" type. Nevertheless, this argument
contends, in contradistinction to Kuper, that with appropriate terms of
reference it is possible not only to discern a pattern of genocide which
in some way is relatable to the unfolding of contemporary history but
which also, at least in terms of academic study, can be viewed as having
a coherent identity.

My approach revolves around the two obviously interlinked questions:
"what is genocide" and "why does it occur"? The first might be answered
in a preliminary sense by proposing that genocide is, as in Lemkin's
formulation, a type of state-organized modern warfare. But this
statement requires elucidation. Though not all warfare in history has
been conducted by states, the ability of a state to wage war is both a
prime indicator of its power vis-à-vis other states and of its
relationship to its domestic populace. Additionally, a recourse to war
tells us much about the self-perception of a state leadership and of its
willingness, ideologically motivated or otherwise, to pursue what it
views as state's interests or agendas by these means. Yet war, by
definition, is a high-risk strategy, which, even where carefully
prepared, can be comprehensively [End Page 311] demolished by contingent
events. It also requires prodigious inputs of manpower, resources, and
capital. If the war fails these may be lost in part or entirety to the
great if not fatal detriment of the state. Alternatively, successful war
may result in great material and psychological benefits. This may sound
paradoxical with regard to genocide but is in fact as true for it as for
the two other main types of state-organized modern war. Indeed, genocide
often is conducted simultaneously or in parallel with them. Equally
importantly, all three types have a common relationship to the nation
state's place within the broader international system.

Type One warfare is between recognized and usually powerful sovereign
states within the system. In the twentieth century the "totalization" of
these interstate struggles, particularly in the way that, for instance
during the Second World War, adversaries have indiscriminately targeted
and murdered millions of the noncombatants of the opposing side, has led
some writers not only to describe this type of warfare as "genocidal"
but to discern similar psychological, technological, and political
processes at work as those which inform genocide. 20 This, however, is
to confuse the issue of moral repugnance with the observation of means
and ends. The bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima, or for that matter the
creation and active mobilization of nuclear arsenals capable of
producing global annihilation, are arguably, no less "crimes against
humanity" than Auschwitz or Treblinka. They also suggest the
obsolescence of either traditionally grounded or more recently
formulated codes of military conduct which are supposed to act as brakes
on unlimited warfare between combatants. Nevertheless, in this type of
war there remains, however residually, and even where one side demands
the unconditional surrender of the other, a Clausewitzian notion that
the struggle is fought between "legitimate" adversaries and that at the
end of the day negotiation rather than extermination will determine the
position of both victor and vanquished within the postwar world order.

The same is not true of the second type of warfare, however. This type
is particularly characterized by circumstances in which a sovereign
state, often a powerful one, acts against another state which it
perceives to be "illegitimate." Usually the second state is much less
powerful; one thinks of the British versus the Boer states at the turn
of [End Page 312] the century, Austria against Serbia in August 1914,
Nazi Germany in its onslaught on Poland a global war later, or two
decades later still, the United States versus North Vietnam. The
Japanese post-1937 invasion of China, or the Nazi post-1941 invasion of
the Soviet Union might also, arguably, be included in this list, even
though the perceived illegitimate states in question were relatively
powerful ones, or, at the other end of the "power" spectrum, the
Nigerians vis-à-vis a briefly secessionist Biafra. The diversity of
these examples warns us that too much can be made of their common
features. Nevertheless, the nature of the Type Two warfare is
characterized by the supposedly "legitimate" side dispensing in entirety
with Geneva Convention-informed restraints on the grounds that the
opposition are little more than "terrorists," "saboteurs," or "bandits"
incapable of fighting conventional, "civilized" war. Worse, they are
succored by a native population whose cultural and social level is
beneath contempt. Racism invariably confirms this judgmental verdict. In
the circumstances, all "necessary" measures for the liquidation of
resistance are allowable: mass aerial bombardment, scorched earth,
counterinsurgency, mass deportation, environmental devastation, as well
as repeated retributive or disciplinary massacre without regard to the
age or gender of victims. These features of indiscriminate warfare
inevitably bear close resemblance to warfare Type Three which often
(though not always) involves genocide. Interestingly, Type Two is also
much closer to Type Three in terms of its justification, the "enemy" in
its resistance and obdurate unwillingness to submit being perceived to
threaten the integrity of the agenda, or indeed existence, of the
"legitimate" state. It is, therefore, "they," the adversary populace, by
their misguided actions and belief systems, not to say their atrocities
against "us," who are accused of culpability and responsibility for the
perpetrator's "war of self-defense" which, as a result, has to be fought
à la outrance and without mercy.

Type Two warfare becomes Type Three warfare when the enemy is no longer
a perceived "illegitimate" state but a perceived "illegitimate"
community within the territorial definition or imperial framework of the
perpetrator state. Very unusually, as in the case of the Holocaust, this
can be extended to embrace population groups within allied, vassal, or
subject states. Strictly speaking, however, genocide is only a variant
of Type Three, given that in many cases where a sovereign state assaults
elements of its own subject population or citizenry it does so without
resorting to total warfare against them. For instance, the British
struggle against the Irish, while undoubtedly vicious and punctuated by
atrocity at its crisis stage in 1919-21, never spilled over into mass
people-killing. The French struggle against the Algerian independence
[End Page 313] movement, in the 1950s and early '60s, teetered on its
brink. The Nazi post-1939 occupation of Poland arguably went over it,
not only in its extermination of the country's Jews and Roma, but in its
response to Polish national resistance. At stake here is what Vahakn
Dadrian has referred to as the issue of "preponderant access to overall
resources of power." 21 Whitehall may never have contemplated genocide
against the Irish not only because of inherent institutional restraints
and humanitarian sensibilities but because it was ultimately unwilling
to commit major resources to the struggle. Having assessed that the
enemy could not be defeated, it opted to find another, diplomatic
strategy which would involve a degree of compromise and the avoidance of
catastrophe. In other instances where the state is weak but possibly
resistant to recognizing it, the ability to deliver genocide may be
limited by lack of military or manpower capabilities and/or by the
strength of the communal "enemy." The struggles in the southern Sudan,
Iraqi Kurdistan, the Karen and other hill tribe regions of Burma, or the
northern Tamil part of Sri Lanka, where the recognized government's
monopoly of violence has been for much of the period of conflict far
from absolute, and where in practice its administrative hold has been
limited to the major towns as opposed to countryside, all provide
contemporary illustration of this point.

Nevertheless, these examples are also highly relevant to the study of
genocide inasmuch as they point to a sequence of events in which the
states in question, increasingly frustrated by their inability to defeat
these insurgencies, have lurched towards more radical all-embracing
solutions culminating, as in some of these cases, in genocide. Thus I
argue that "genocide occurs where a state, perceiving the integrity of
its agenda to be threatened by an aggregate population--defined by the
state in collective or communal terms--seeks to remedy the situation by
the systematic, en masse physical elimination of that aggregate, in
toto, or until it is no longer perceived to represent a threat." 22 Yet
clearly there is something perplexing, not to say bewildering, in this
proposed state-communal equation. Genocide research is predicated on the
proposition that whatever genocide is, it cannot be considered warfare
in the normally understood sense between two armed combatants--however
unequally matched they may be--but an entirely one-sided affair in which
a group of absolute perpetrators [End Page 314] apply instruments of
terror, violence, and unremitting massacre against entirely defenseless,
not to say innocent men, women, and children. 23 Thus, to ascribe threat
from the people who are mass murdered appears not simply to define
genocide as a two-sided dynamic relationship between a state and an
element of its population but to potentially infer that the
perpetrator's actions are both legitimate and justifiable. Indeed, where
a state goes down this path it is invariably accompanied by the
claim--as witness recent Serbian behavior with regard to Kosovo--that it
is defending itself against an imminent danger to its national security,
territorial integrity, or even sovereignty, while at the same time it is
going to inordinate lengths not only to conceal the evidence for mass
murder but to deny that it has killed anyone.

This discrepancy between an actual threat--where it exists at all--and
what the perpetrator claims to be a threat is at the very heart of what
one might call the genocide conundrum. Yet, paradoxically, this is the
very reason that the perpetrator's claims cannot simply be dismissed out
of hand but requires very careful examination and evaluation not only in
the forensic sense of proving whether mass killing did or did not occur
but equally importantly in providing a necessary insight into the
perpetrator's mindset. The repeated tendency by perpetrators to conjure
up or imagine enemies, or to make of real ones something much more
terrifying and dangerous than they actually are, represents a clearly
cultural and/or psychological dimension to the genocide phenomenon and
one to which I will return later. But cracking the conundrum cannot be
achieved in isolation. Indeed it may be that it can only be found in the
intersection between this dark--and essentially unquantifiable--side of
the human condition and the level of state and interstate relations
where leaderships are assumed to behave rationally in the best interests
of their polities and societies.

Yet there is already a second conundrum here. Those who do not commit
genocide, or at least have not done so in a twentieth-century time
scale, do not necessarily look askance or in horror on those who have.
Take, for example, this statement by a British observer of the first
authentic twentieth-century example committed--in 1904-05--by the
Germans against the Herero and Nama people in South West Africa
(Namibia): "There can be no doubt, I think, that the war has been of an
almost unmixed benefit to the German colony. Two warlike races have been
exterminated, wells have been sunk, new water-holes discovered, the
country mapped and covered with telegraph [End Page 315] lines, and an
enormous amount of capital has been laid out." 24 The unmistakably
upbeat tenor of this comment stands in marked contrast to the language
of the United Nations Convention in which genocide is reviled as an
"odious scourge." In principle, of course, leading politicians stand
shoulder to shoulder alongside human rights activists and religious
leaders in their condemnation of what in the popular mind is considered
the most heinous of crimes. In practice, however, they tend to be much
more selective, not to say circumspect, before leveling the accusation.
Nor is this simply a case of narrow state interest. At the highest,
supposedly most moral level of international relations, Kuper asserts
"that for all practical purposes" the United Nations defends the right
of "the sovereign territorial state . . . as an integral part of its
sovereignty . . . to commit genocide." 25

There is, thus, clearly something quite schizophrenic about the
international community's response to genocide. On the one hand it
treats it with repugnance and has a Convention, signed by a majority of
its states, which seeks to outlaw it; pours opprobrium on those who
commit it; is in the process of creating a permanent international
tribunal to bring its perpetrators to book; and yet, at the same time,
has powerful members who either look the other way, or condone or even
actively support incidents of it. Time after time. Could it be then,
that states that have not committed genocide within the last one hundred
years nevertheless see in those that have too close a reflection of
their former selves?

Some scholars, notably R. J. Rummel and Irving Louis Horowitz, have
posited the argument that the avoidance of genocide in western societies
lies in the strength of their civic institutions, the separation of
their executive and legislative branches, and above all, in their
democratic, liberal traditions. 26 Thus, societies which are tolerant,
open, and democratic do not commit genocide. Yet these assumptions
involve a remarkable historical and more contemporary sleight of hand.
True, polities that before 1900 had already experienced prolonged
periods of nation and state building, that were well advanced in their
industrializing and infrastructural development, and that consequently
felt reasonably [End Page 316] secure of their position within a wider
geo-strategic context have been much less likely candidates, since then,
for committing it. But in order to arrive at this happy condition, the
leading modernizing states certainly did commit, at the very least,
proto-genocides as well as a number of other practices, which under
today's international rule book--created largely out of western
Enlightenment thought and practice--would be considered dubious if not
downright illegal. These included repeated recourse to war, conquest,
and above all slavery. These practices, however, were crucial in
providing these states with shortcuts to capital accumulation, which in
turn fueled their technological cutting edge and industrial revolutions
and which, by the mid- to late-nineteenth century, had assured for them
an entirely hegemonic position around the globe. Not only was this the
beginning of a new world order, but a "new world pecking order," in
which these states set the tune and everybody else was expected to dance
to it. 27

This would suggest that the twentieth century practice of genocide has
more in common with states which are new, or are heavily engaged in the
process of state and nation building, or are redefining or reformulating
themselves in order to operate more autonomously and effectively within
an international system of nation states. Thus, polities which were
latecomers to it, including potentially very powerful ones like Russia
and Germany, finding themselves at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the
frontrunners, had to consider how best they could make up lost ground.
Willingly or unwillingly taking on board much of the leaders'
administrative, military, and infrastructural aspects, superficially
seemed the only way forward. The ensuing cultural, social, and
institutional borrowings set in motion the most profound reformulation
of economies and societies. One of the key dilemmas for such late nation
states, however, was not simply the requirement to borrow from a
culturally alien template but, once acknowledged as players within the
system, how to keep up with it. Its regulators and supervisors--the
leader states--demanded of new candidates an implicit undertaking that
they would transform themselves into polities which would operate
effectively and coherently according to its rules. But being
fundamentally and dynamically fueled by capitalism--by its very nature a
cutthroat business--no new state could afford to stand still and had,
rather, to find ways and means of staying afloat within this dominant
political economy. True, some states were able to do so by finding for
[End Page 317] themselves a secondary position under the economic or
geo-political aegis of the leading nations, while a few, sometimes by
dint of their geographic position, found for themselves a relatively
comfortable niche by acting as trading intermediaries or entrepôts.
Still other later arrivals, particularly postcolonial newcomers, were
able to trade on their poverty and underdevelopment to become major
recipients of Western aid. These, interestingly, included a number of
states which were to commit genocide.

This deterministic explanatory framework clearly has its limits and
limitations. To restate a list of some of the main genocide perpetrators
of this century--Germany, Russia (the USSR), the Ottoman empire (later
Turkey), Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia,
Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi--is hardly an invitation to obvious
communality. The range of this group in terms of wealth and power, not
to say political and cultural background, represents a major
disincentive while any attempt to suggest ideological proclivities or
totalitarian systems as the connecting thread would either be stretching
the point to the ridiculous or demanding comparison with other
ideologically hard-line or authoritarian prone regimes who have not been
notable offenders.

Moreover, where do we find the distinction between those modernizing
states who have committed genocide and the generality of those who have
not? To argue that all such polities have the potentiality is all well
and good but would require us to offer explanation for specific
instances essentially on the basis of circumstance. Undoubtedly,
circumstance is a crucial factor. But is it sufficient? A final thrust
of the deterministic approach might posit that what all our genocidal
practitioner states share is a particularly acute anxiety about the wide
and ever-increasing gap between themselves and the global leaders within
the international system but in relationship to their special sense of a
historic, or even mythic, tradition of premodern coherence, authority,
or imperium, both in regard to their own societies and/or in a broader
regional or continental arena. Thus, genocide states/societies have been
the ones with the strongest and most persistent complexes about having
been blocked off from a position within the international system which
they believe, on past historic record, ought to be theirs; have been the
ones most prone to support leaderships who articulated this anger and
resentment; and, consequently, also have been the ones mostly likely to
radicalize their domestic arrangements as well as foreign policies in
ways that consciously contravened or challenged the system's "liberal,"
inclusivist ground rules.

This state of mind is perhaps best encapsulated in the poem, "Esnaf
Destani," written by the famous Turkish nationalist, Ziya Gokälp soon
[End Page 318] after a series of catastrophic Ottoman defeats in
Tripolitania and the Balkan wars:

 	We were defeated because we were so backward.
 	To take revenge, we shall adopt the enemy's science.
 	We shall learn his skill, steal his methods.
 	On progress we will set our heart.
 	We shall skip five hundred years
 	And not stand still.
 	Little time is left. 28

The genocidal mentality, in other words, is closely linked with agendas
aimed at accelerated or force-paced social and economic change in the
interests of "catching up" or alternatively avoiding, or circumventing,
the rules of the system leaders. If this gets us a little closer to the
wellsprings of the genocide phenomenon, it still falls somewhat short of
explaining why and how state/societal frustrations are unleashed on
specific domestic populations. After all, the enemy in Gokälp's message
appears to be the West. As a result, rapid infrastructural overhaul and
military industrialization should logically have geared Ottoman Turkey
only toward Type One warfare as the route to break out from the system's
perceived straightjacket. And we might at this juncture also note that
other states at various times have adopted this formula without obvious
recourse to genocide. Wilhelmine Germany in its 1914 bid for "Weltmacht
oder Niedergang"--world power or collapse--did not unleash its fury at
this point against the Jews. Nor in my understanding of the term did
Japan commit genocide a global war later when it attempted its own
dramatic breakout, despite its repeated Type Two mass atrocities against
the Chinese and other Asian peoples. Perhaps this is because since its
early-seventeenth-century near-extirpation of its Christians, Japan
contained no ethnic, religious, or social grouping who could fulfill an
obvious role as inside "enemy." Indeed, notwithstanding its now tiny and
isolated northern Ainu population--subdued in much earlier
times--Japan's rather unusual national homogeneity makes its
contemporary era perpetration of genocide unlikely.

The same, however, cannot be said of Ottoman Turkey at the time of
Gokälp's writing. Thus, if the specificity of genocide over and above a
drive to rapid nation building is also bound up with the social and
ethnic composition of a state's population, at what point does this
become toxic? The Ottoman Empire, for instance, was historically, on
[End Page 319] the whole, a rather successful multi-ethnic entity. Even
with the emergence of modernity and, thanks to the events of 1789, the
explosion of the French nation-state model onto the wider world, there
was no particular reason why the Sublime Porte should not have been able
to refashion its diverse ethnographic and religious elements along these
lines into good Ottoman citizens. After all, there were no given
blueprint or guidelines as to what constituted the nation. Even Gokälp's
"imagined" Turkish community presumably did not exclude his half-Kurdish
self. Indeed, the first eighteenth-century nation states, in France and
the United States--to which Gokälp and other nationalist theoreticians
would have looked for inspiration--were in principle both universalist
and highly assimilationist, embracing people of different religious and
ethnic origins under the rubric of citizenship. By a somewhat different
route, a hybrid British "nation" also followed these contours. Inclusive
citizenship thus became the recognized code for all nineteenth-century
aspirants to sovereignty, followed, for instance, by post-1871 Germany
with regard to its Jews (and Catholics), and for that matter--at least
on paper--by an Ottoman state desirous of international recognition of
its territorial integrity. Another late-nineteenth-century entrant into
the nation-state system, Japan, as we have seen, was fortunate in
starting out from a base line of people-homogeneity, while the post-1917
(countersystem) Soviet state proposed to circumvent the national issue,
at least in part, by founding itself on internationalist principles
which supposedly provided for a genuinely color-blind and all-embracing

The major weakness with the early liberal universalist French and
Anglo-Saxon models was that what they proclaimed and what they actually
did in practice were quite at variance with one another, most blatantly
when it came to their colonial black populations. When, thus, latter-day
ideologues of the Gokälp ilk sought to scrutinize the source of western
state advantage and to adapt the recipe for their own societies'
benefit, what they most readily latched onto was not the modernizing
impulses or technological innovation per se but the ability to mobilize
a supposedly distinct national people--the ethnos--into a coherent and
powerful unity. In retrospect, what is most interesting--and
alarming--in Gokälp's poem is his emphasis on a thoroughly exclusive
"we," that is, those "authentic" ethnic components of the Ottoman
population which had supposedly in the past made the empire great and
glorious and which consciously reassembled as a tool for national
regeneration would return it to greatness once again.

Gokälp was hardly alone in his search for national ur-man. Across
nineteenth-century Europe, leading scholars and academicians in the [End
Page 320] new disciplines of history, archaeology, philology, and
literature had already drawn the contours for the study of the remote
"national" past, not only for its own sake but as an instrument by which
to "mobilize change in the future." 29 Even that most forceful
nineteenth-century counterblast to the national thesis, namely Marxism,
claimed to be able to construct the genuinely universal modern man--the
prototype for homo sovieticus--on the basis of a scientific examination
of man's ascendance from his natural history. All these historical and
prehistorical reinventions were not only highly selective but often
utterly spurious. Nevertheless, this did not prevent them from becoming
received wisdoms which, adopted and adapted by the elites or would-be
elites of other "latecomer" states, would serve radical agendas. It is
perhaps no coincidence, moreover, that the primary frontrunner and
exemplar for these lines of enquiry should be that nineteenth-century
latecomer state par excellence, Germany. Nor that it should be Germany
again which would most strikingly appropriate new racial lines of
thought in this national quest.

The flip side to these national and indeed antinational constructions,
however, was that they all implicitly assumed the existence of
population groupings which not only would not fit the prescribed model
but which, in some critical sense, threatened to contaminate it. Again
the crystallization of this tendency can be located in European,
scientifically informed wisdoms from the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. In particular, medical science's "discovery" of
death-dealing bacteria and bacilli not only coincided with mass
epidemics in the new urban and metropolitan centers but also with new
and obsessive Social Darwinian discourses about the "survival of the
fittest." Fears of communal weakness and febrility thus became
associated with anxieties that "foreign bodies" operating from within
the body-politic might undermine or contaminate the physical and mental
health of the nation, leading in turn to further medically informed but
supposedly value-free prognostications on how to protect or improve the
national stock by eugenics or other programs of social engineering.

These fin-de-siècle anxieties were a common feature of the western or
western-orientated world at large. But they arguably played or were to
play more prominent roles among political elites in latecomer states who
perceived their national weakness keenly and who sought radical policies
to overcome or transcend their limitations. One tendency we have already
noted with regard to these elites is the extreme lengths to which they
have gone in order to achieve these goals. Another we [End Page 321]
should note is the tendency to blame supposedly corrupting internal
"foreign bodies" whenever these strategies go wrong. The two aspects,
indeed, are intimately connected in the sense that by their very effort
to attain what is usually unattainable such state strategies are likely
to come unstuck, leading not only to increased frustration but with it
the further rationalization that this must be the result of the insider
enemy or enemies' conscious sabotaging of the state's heroic not to say
Herculean efforts. Thus, genocide scenarios regularly crystallize in
crisis situations in which a regime's conscious effort at break out from
its perceived fetters encounters obstacles which recall some previous
failure, either of its own or that committed by a predecessor. The
classic example, the Holocaust, whose full-scale implementation began
during an early stage of the Nazis' life and death struggle with the
Soviet Union in 1941, makes no sense without reference back to the
previous major crisis of German state and society in 1918-19, in which
by popular consent, Jews qua Jews were held to be responsible. By the
same token, the Stalinist drive against the "kulaks," Ukrainian and
other "ethnic" peasantries, from 1929 to 1933, has to be set against the
crisis of revolution and civil war between 1917 and 1921; the Ittihadist
extermination of the Armenians in 1915-16, against the repeated crises
of Ottoman state from 1878 through the 1890s, culminating in the Balkan
wars of 1912-13; the Indonesian military's extermination of the
countrywide communist movement (the PKI) in 1965 against the attempted
PKI challenge to nationalist rule in 1948; the Rwandese "Hutu Power"
extermination of the Tutsi in 1994 against the backdrop of
counterrevolutionary efforts to destabilize and destroy the new
postcolonial regime in the period 1959-64. Indeed, the only major
example of genocide being perpetrated without notable prequel is the
Cambodian Khmer Rouge destruction of ethnic and political groupings from
1975 through 1979, an example which nevertheless points to a quite
extraordinary sequence of immediately preceding catastrophes as the
grist added to the Khmer Rouge mill. Even with this example, however,
what is here termed the perpetrators' "Never Again" syndrome applies:
the regime locating in some historic context a communal adversary, or
adversaries, supposedly intent on the disruption or sabotage of its
transformative-salvationist agenda. 30

An obvious conclusion one might wish to draw from this picture is that
perpetrators of genocide are stridently ideological or authoritarian
[End Page 322] regimes more often than not led by unhinged, psychopathic
dictators. Popular portrayals of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, or Pol
Pot only reinforce the sense that their actions against "imagined"
enemies are essentially symptoms of extreme paranoia, delusion, and
projection. The very fact that in some instances, as for example in the
case of the "kulaks," the construction of a coherent and identifiable
adversary took place in the heads of the Stalinist leadership and bore
no relationship to social realities, only adds to the view that our
subject is one primarily for clinical psychological investigation.
Indeed, Nazi ranting and raving about Jewish world conspiracy as just
cause for their actions would suggest that worst cases of genocidal
behavior are not simply deeply irrational but completely mad.

The problem with this line of reasoning, however, is threefold. First,
while the alleged "madness" of the above genocide instigators is not
easily verifiable one way or the other, an extended list which might,
for instance, include Atatürk, Mao, and Milosevic would be hardpressed
to support the generality of this assumption.

Second, even where genocidal states are totalitarian and heavily
policed, they are founded on a domestic support base--however limited or
narrow that may be--which must itself at least in part be mobilized as
accomplices in the perpetration of genocide. It must therefore follow
that either this support base is itself suffering from similar delusions
as its leaders, or alternatively believes that the leadership is acting
rationally in the best interests of polity and people. In fact, the two
positions are not necessarily irreconcilable. Norman Cohn provocatively
demonstrated some thirty years ago the manner in which fantasies
reminiscent of medieval times took strong hold of a significant
proportion of post-1918 German society, including, indeed especially,
amongst many highly educated and professional people, in the form of the
notion that worldwide Jewry, despite its dispersal, minority status and
history of persecution, was actually spearheading an international, even
cosmic conspiracy to emasculate and ultimately wipe out not only the
German people but all western civilization. 31 Fears of sexual,
cultural, and mental contamination, of the spread of disease, and the
consequent debilitation of a healthy, virile volk by races of Jewish or
gypsy antimen, it could be argued, [End Page 323] did not so much have
to be manufactured by the Nazis but simply echoed and then amplified as
the visceral instincts of a vox populi. In this way, it could be further
argued, state organized genocide is actually constructed not from the
top down, but bottom-up from hate models provided by grass-roots
societal phobias.

This is, of course, the well-known Goldhagen position in which genocide
is plausible because it is deeply embedded within the cultural
archetypes of a society. But Goldhagen does not conclude from his study
of ordinary German participants in the Holocaust that they were anything
other than normal, simply that they were impelled toward often sadistic
killing of Jews by an eliminationist anti-Semitism. Undoubtedly,
Goldhagen's thesis is important for the issue of comparative research in
its implicit demand for further consideration of the genocidal
interconnections as well as stepping stones between popular culture and
state-building agendas. What is missing from Goldhagen is the context.
Traditional anti-Semitism within large sections of the German population
crystallized into something utterly toxic only during 1918-19, in other
words in quite extraordinary circumstances of mass trauma and
disorientation. This provides a third reason why blaming "mad" or "evil"
regimes alone for genocide will not suffice if this fails to take heed
of the circumstances in which those regimes arise.

It is surely no accident that the first great wave of contemporary
genocides comes out of the actuality and aftermath of that great
twentieth-century catastrophe and watershed, the First World War, in
which particular states--the ones which collapsed, or were defeated, or
were most obviously embittered by the war and postwar outcome--and not
least by the post-1929 economic aftershock--were also the ones which
increasingly discarded the received wisdoms of the liberal-capitalist
system in favor of alternative "second" or "third" ways to progress and
ultimate triumph. Ordinary people did not initiate the genocides which
were sometimes consequent. But the manner of their response to these
domestic convulsions, either in their enabling, or possibly in their
inability to resist or put the brakes on new masters with their programs
for a radical reshaping of society, were critical to these outcomes.

What thus emerges from the period 1914 to 1945 is a pattern of genocide,
which is closely linked to the supercession or overthrow of discredited
or bankrupt traditional regimes and their replacement by at least in
part popularly legitimized radical ones with maximalist agendas for
social and/or national regeneration. All these regimes were
"revisionist" in the sense that they sought to challenge, circumvent, or
transcend the terms of either the pre- or post-Versailles world order.
And all, in their efforts to socially engineer a streamlined
people-coherence, both for its own sake and also for this wider purpose,
were [End Page 324] to greater or lesser degrees ready to reject or
abandon former policies aimed at integrating or assimilating ethnic,
religious, or social groupings which did not easily or obviously "fit"
into the state's organic conception of itself.

Bauman sees in these strivings, and most particularly in Nazism and
Stalinism, "the most consistent, uninhibited expressions of the spirit
of modernity." 32 In other words, a highly rational project. Yet when we
look at the Nazi onslaught on the Roma, or, again under Nazi aegis,
Romania's extermination of its Bessarabian and Bukovinan Jewry, or
Stalin's genocidal deportations of Tatar, Chechen, and other minority
peoples, or lesser known examples such as the Iraqi "Assyrian affair" of
1933, or almost coincidentally, Mussolini's extirpation of the hill
peoples of Cyrenaica, one cannot but be struck by their perpetrators'
irrationality. Their victims did not ultimately suffer genocide simply
because they did not "fit" a regime's perception of people-homogeneity.
They suffered it because the finger was pointed at them as the group or
groups accused of actively disrupting or polluting the state's drive to
transcend its limitations.

We are back with the massive or hyperinflated imaginings of the state,
which another acute observer, Ron Aronson, has described as a "rupture
with reality." 33 However, Aronson does not propose that this has no
relationship to modernity. On the contrary, what he argues is that in
situations where modernity is harnessed as an instrument for the
realization of impossible goals what you end up with is a dialectical
set of tensions between power and impotence, reason and madness. In a
critical sense the gargantuan nature of a regime's agenda may indicate
in advance the degree to which it has already lost touch with reality.
But the actual attempt at implementation, "the realization of the
unrealizable" as he calls it, is likely to result in a crisis in which,
having boxed itself into a corner from which it is unable to retreat,
the regime finds that its only recourse is in "reshaping what resists,"
that is, massive violence. 34 Interestingly, Aronson suggests that it is
not only in instances of genocide that this extreme and seemingly
irrational behavior can occur. The United States, for instance, in its
attempts to obliterate first much of North Korea in the early 1950s, and
then North Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, not to say the rest of
Indochina, speaks volumes about the contradictions between an apparently
all-powerful hegemon and the actuality of its inability to reorder the
world in its own assured image. The discrepancy between [End Page 325]
hubris and humiliation does not have to be the prerogative of a
recognized genocide state, nor necessarily taken out on a communal
scapegoat. Attempted crisis resolution could as easily be in the form of
an aggressive Type One warfare; Germany's 1914 attempted breakout from
perceived encirclement, for instance, or Iraq's Type Two 1990 invasion
of Kuwait or, as a latter day extension of either of these trajectories,
the unleashing of nuclear weapons, a scenario--bar the somewhat
different culminating sequence of World War Two--narrowly avoided to

What all these scenarios share in common is the state leaderships'
conviction of the malevolence of forces "out there" that have conspired
not only to frustrate the realization of their agenda but to harm and
even possibly physically eradicate their own people. This does not rule
out instances where these anxieties have some grain of truth in them.
However, the most extraordinary examples of genocide are those notable
for the complete absence of any concrete evidence to suggest that a
communal group qua group has the intention, let alone ability, to carry
through such a maleficence. The Nazi assertion that "the Jew is the
German people's most dangerous enemy" perhaps represents the most
thoroughgoing example confirming Aronson's rupture thesis. 35 But the
statement made in the Serbian parliament in 1991 that "the truth is (my
italics) that all non-Serb ethnic groups, especially the Croats, are at
this very minute preparing the genocide of all Serbs" suggests that such
projections are hardly exclusive to the era of Stalinism and fascism. 36

Indeed, the persistence and prevalence of genocide since the destruction
of Nazism--running to an average of almost one case a year since
1945--must lead one to further ponder what motor continues to drive this
seemingly irresistible lunacy? 37 The immediate aftermath of the Second
World War, with its trials of German and Japanese war criminals at
Nuremberg and Tokyo, the inauguration of the United Nations, and with it
both its Charter on Human Rights and Genocide Convention, should have
been crystal-clear signals from the international system leaders that
its perpetration by newcomer states [End Page 326] would not be
tolerated. Yet, paradoxically, it was the willingness of these very same
leaders at this very same time to acquiesce or condone, or even
officially sponsor, former wartime allies such as the Czechs or the
Poles in their sub-genocidal ethnic cleansings of millions of Germans
and other unwanted peoples from their territories, not to say of the
Soviet Union's continuance of its prewar reordering of communal
populations primarily by mass deportation, which seemed to offer a quite
different and hardly subliminal countermessage. It was as if human
rights were being put on a frozen pedestal of abstract principle for the
foreseeable future in order to enable states created or recreated in a
postwar context to get on with the creation of social conditions
appropriate to their rapid modernization and consolidation. Indeed, the
message seemed to be that it was expected that the practical achievement
of these goals would involve ethnic standardization, the removal or
dissipation of troublesome or difficult population groups, or those who,
perhaps because of their "primitive" and "backward" cultures, were
deemed obstacles in the path of progress.

These imperatives would suggest, à la Bauman, that genocide would be
committed by new state leaderships for perfectly rational reasons,
associated with their developmental blueprints to operate and compete
within an increasingly integrated international political economy. The
very fact that genocide, which in the interwar years was most associated
with new or newly remodeled states in Europe and the Near East, became a
global phenomenon in the post-1945 ebb of the European imperial or
neo-imperial tide must give some credence to this line of thought.
Superficially, for instance, the genocidal behavior of a number of South
American and South Asian countries against tribal peoples, in their
efforts to reach out, connect, and integrate rich forest and other
extractive resources of geographically peripheral hinterlands for the
benefit of their already advancing metropolitan economies, would suggest
a wholly developmental logic. But even in these largely "off the map"
instances of contemporary genocide, such logic has been rarely quite so
one dimensional.

The name of the game in these instances has been that of former
Bangladeshi President Zia's "develop or perish," in other words, the
pursuit of crash courses in rapid modernization, whatever the
consequences. 38 The fear of being left behind in the global race for
position, or much worse, being forced back into a perpetual dependency,
thus [End Page 327] has always had in the contemporary era something of
an air of desperation about it. That native peoples have particularly
been the casualties in this process, however, has not been a case simply
of their inhabiting territories designated for roads, mines, or
hydroelectric dams. Rather, in the eyes of notably Brazilian,
Indonesian, or Bangladeshi technocrats, it has been their failure to
behave to some preconceived primitive, barbarous, and preferably passive
type who, recognizing their allotted station in the great scheme of
things, would consequently and conveniently fade away into oblivion as
soon as the first bulldozers or transmigratory settlers appeared. On the
contrary, the refusal of, for instance, the jumma in Bangladesh or
Papuans in Irian Jaya (West Papua) to lie down and die quietly but
instead organize and fashion themselves into modern "fourth world"
identities in order to more effectively resist state encroachment,
provides a potent clue both as to the intensification of the genocidal
onslaughts upon them and the perpetrators' repeated justification that
behind them must be some other more organized outside force directing
their sabotage of the state developmental agenda.

This notion that the targeted victim group are really the proxies,
stooges, or agents of a much more malevolent but dissembled or hidden
power intent on denying the state its own, self-directed mission towards
unfettered independence and genuine integrity seemingly gravitates us
back yet again toward an explanation for genocide in the much murkier
waters of psychological mindsets where the perpetrator sees
international conspiracies in everything. In the post-1945 world of Cold
War-dominated international politics, such accusations have flown thick
and fast with devastating results. Tagging whole populations as
"communist" in the Indonesia of 1965, East Timor a decade later, or the
Guatemala of the early 1980s provided state justification for genocide.
But so too, in the Soviet Union, China, and Cambodia, did diverse
branding as "cosmopolitan," "Soviet revisionist," or "stooge of US
imperialism." In the most extreme of these examples, the Khmer Rouge
regime in Cambodia, not only were specific ethnic minority populations
of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Muslim Chams particularly vulnerable to such
charges, but literally anyone who had the misfortune to have been living
or seeking refuge in the US-backed government zone around Phnom Penh
when it fell to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. The ensuing division of
society, into "true" Khmer who would enjoy the fruits of the country's
projected "super great leap forward" and "new" people slated for
perpetual hard labor and probable death, was founded on the assumption
that the latter, however fleetingly, were tainted by their association
with western [End Page 328] imperialism. Even then, as the regime's
closed utopian experiment ground to a halt and began disintegrating
under the weight of the impossible tasks it had set itself, the list of
"enemies" shifted and expanded further still to embrace anyone that the
regime deemed foreign or inauthentic. Here, however, we come face to
face with anxieties which go much deeper than any set in motion simply
by Cold War ideologies. The historic enemy perceived to have denied the
Khmer their rightful greatness were the neighboring Vietnamese.
Communist Vietnam in 1978, of course, was supposed to be a fraternal
ally. Yet in that year the genocidal trajectory of the Khmer Rouge
reached both its apogee and nemesis when practically the whole
population of its Eastern Zone were provided with blue scarves for their
deportation and then extermination on the collective indictment that
their Khmer bodies were occupied by "Vietnamese minds." 39

The episode of the blue scarves ought to throw doubt on arguments which
treat genocidal victim groups as fixed entities as in some Linnaean
system of plant and animal classification, instead of as the
products--often entirely imaginary ones--of the perpetrators' assemblage
of social reality. Lemkin's formulation of genocide based on genos
(race) in this sense is a disservice to our well-rounded comprehension
of the phenomenon. Certainly, Lemkin's focus on the destruction of the
"biological structure" of a communal group was correct and appropriate
inasmuch as a distinctiveness of genocide lies in the mass murder of
women of all ages equally and without discrimination from the men who
are their blood relatives and with the purpose of denying or seeking to
deny their biological as well as social reproduction. 40 But how this
group of people identifies itself, or whether it does so at all, in
ethnic, religious, or political terms is immaterial to either a
"genocidal process" of human rights abuse and persecution or the
actuality of systematic liquidation. When it came to legalizing
discrimination against Jews the Nazis' conceptualization of them as a
"race" proved to have no empirical or juridical foundation. By the same
token, Himmler's engagement of academics and special institutes to
isolate the authentic Roma achieved nothing but contradictory messages.
In the end, state perpetrators exterminate groups of people because they
perceive them as a threat and find racial, ethnic, or social tags for
them as convenient for this purpose. [End Page 329]

This, however, does not mean that a group need necessarily be a tabula
rasa waiting to be victimized. What is important to know is what it is
about "the group" that challenges or appears in the perpetrator state's
mind to challenge its authority, legitimacy, or integrity. The jumma in
Bangladesh, Karen in Burma, Dinka and Nuer in southern Sudan, Kurds in
Iraq, or Tutsi in Rwanda may not have objectively represented mortal
dangers to their respective states, but the fact that significant elites
of each have sought a more pluralistic framework of state, or an
autonomy within it against the grain of centralist-minded agendas, may
have been enough for them to be viewed as such. Add to this a historic
association of these groups with former imperial rulers and one can
begin to itemize common ingredients which might provide for a genocidal
recipe. Of the Kurds in Saddam's Iraq, Kanan Makiya specifically notes
that they "suffered more than others not because they were Kurds, but
because they resisted and fought back hard." 41 Not all Kurds, though.
Some were considered "loyal" and fought on the Ba'athist side. In
another significant case, that of the Tibetans in the Chinese onslaught
of 1959, it was perhaps not only their bid to reassert their autonomy
which represented a territorial challenge to the People's Republic but a
cultural one to its hegemonic and monolithic wisdom. In other words, the
threat of a bad example. One can note many similar cases where a people
have become a thorn in the side of a regime not so much for their
"ethnic" or "national" characteristics but for what they socially or
even morally represented, the idea, for instance, that power and
resources might be shared between different communal groups or political
tendencies; that society need not be homogenous but diverse and
multicultural; or perhaps simply that there are other ways of looking at
the world. George Steiner has spoken of the Jews in the context of
Christianity and European civilization as the incarnation, "albeit
wayward and unaware--of its own best hopes." When Europe, in the shape
of the Nazis, attempted to extirpate them, it was thus not only a form
of "self-mutilation" but a "lunatic retribution" against the
"inextinguishable carriers of the ideal." 42

All this surely brings us back less to the victim groups and more to the
nature of the driven regimes which commit genocide, what it is that
impels them and, as a necessary corollary to that, what most frightens
or haunts them. Our argument has rested on the proposition [End Page
330] that the drive to genocide is a function of states with a
particularly marked or latent tendency to dispute the discrepancy
between the way the world is and the way they think that it ought to be.
The era of Cold War and of bipolar, including potentially nuclear-armed,
struggle undoubtedly gave an added edge and intensity to the toxic
potential inherent in this condition. "Enemies within" or "enemies of
the people" were regularly conjured up by both hard-pressed communist
regimes and their most vehement or geographically sensitive opponents in
the "free world" camp as justification for the extirpation of ethnic or
other elements in the population perceived to stand as obstacles to
their monodirectional paths to progress. Competition between the
superpowers, in their support or opposition to given states, also
directly affected some of these outcomes. Supporting ethnic
insurgencies, for instance, as the United States covertly did with
regard to the Mimang Tsogdu in Tibet in the 1950s, or the Kurdish pesh
merga in the 1970s, not only seemed to make tangible Chinese or Iraqi
state fears that there really were international plots aimed at
undermining them, but in so doing vastly increased the vulnerability of
ordinary Tibetans and Kurds to genocide. Likewise, US geo-strategic
obsessions as to the imminence of South East Asia's collapse to
communism, in the wake of Phnom Penh's fall in 1975, provided one of the
most stark examples of a state--Indonesia--being given the green light
the following year to extirpate the marxisant-led and newly liberated
Portuguese colony of East Timor to the tune of one-third of its
million-strong inhabitants.

Western backing for Indonesia's advantage, of course, stands in marked
contrast to the simultaneous, self-willed and utterly autarkic drive by
the Khmer Rouge to overcome the limitations of Cambodia's perceived
febrility. Of all twentieth-century genocidal scenarios, that of
late-1970s Cambodia in many respects demonstrates its nature in extreme
crystallization. By clearing away everything deemed to be non-Cambodian
debris the Khmer Rouge aimed to begin again, as it were, from scratch.
In so doing they assumed that this would provide the necessary
springboard from which Cambodia's innate power would be dramatically
unleashed, returning the country to its twelfth-century glory days in a
matter of years. Yet if on one level this marks out the Khmer Rouge's
agenda as both peculiarly salvationist, not to say utopian, as well as
unusually dependent on a narrow and unwavering set of ideological
assumptions in order to arrive at this transcendent destination, there
is a danger in reading too much into this perspective. Ideological Pol
Pot and his followers certainly were. And good communists--in their own
eyes--too. But ultimately what so desperately [End Page 331] impelled
them was an intense Khmer patriotism which demanded their revitalization
of an ancient not to say mythic Khmer state against the grain of an
unjust, hostile, and bloody world. One might go further and say that
what mattered most to the Khmer Rouge was less the ideology which would
get them there and more a simple, brazen reassertion of Wille zu Macht.

We have seen something of the same functional pragmatism in more recent
genocides. While Serbia's Milosevic and Croatia's Tudjman happily
changed spots from communist to arch-nationalist on their roads to war
and subgenocide in Bosnia and beyond, Rwandese Hutu leaders sought to
defy regional pressure and international accords for power sharing with
former Tutsi exiles by attempting to eliminate all perceived opponents.
That this latter great end-of-the-century genocide came after the
collapse of the Cold War and in an era in which, according to American
guru Francis Fukuyama, the ideological alternatives to liberal
capitalism had been comprehensively trashed on the slag heap of history,
must surely give us pause. 43

Events in Kosovo surely confirm that contrary to Fukuyama there does
remain one great ideological underpinning for genocide as strong now, at
the onset of the twenty-first century as it was at the end of the
nineteenth: nationalism. Indeed, one might posit that the emergence of
new nation states out of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia in the wake of
communist demise both there and more generally, represents the most
marked reassertion of toxic tendencies in world historical development
from the pre-1914 record. Kosovo should remind us that these tendencies
never truly went away. Their continuity can perhaps be illustrated best
by brief reference to a Serbian opinion-former and policymaker who had
much to say on the Kosovo issue. Vaso Cubrilovic was one of the group of
young terrorists, alongside Gavrilo Princip, who had planned the
assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Unlike
Princip, however, Cubrilovic survived the Great War to become a
respected historian at the University of Belgrade, where he wrote policy
papers for the Yugoslav government advocating, in effect, state
terrorism to get rid of the country's Muslims and in particular,
Kosovo's ethnic Albanians. He also regularly attended, in the 1930s, the
Serbian Cultural Club in Belgrade, where quasi-scientific discussions,
initiated by the government and the general staff office, reiterated
this extirpatory theme. In one such paper for the Club, Cubrilovic
regretted that there had not been a more systematic [End Page 332]
removal of the "foreign element" as had been practiced in pre-1914
Serbian state building and concluded that the only solution to the
Arnaut (Albanian) problem was to make them leave the country. "When it
is possible for Germany to force tens of thousands of the Jews to
emigrate, for Russia to transfer millions of people from one part of the
continent to another, a world war will not break out just because of
some hundreds of thousands of displaced Arnauts." 44 At the end of the
Second World War Cubrilovic reappeared as adviser to the Yugoslav
communist regime, advocating in essence the same "Albanian" policy.

Of course one riposte to this illustration might be to argue that, in
the light of the contemporary realities extolled by Fukuyama, today's
Cubrilovices are actually yesterday's men peddling nationalisms that are
a redundant irrelevance. Of the hundred most important economic units
currently in the global political economy, only half of them are nation
states; the others are transnational corporations (TNCs). Or to put it
another way, of some 180 nation states in the world, 130 of them have
smaller economies than the fifty largest TNCs. 45 Yet it is exactly in
this rapid globalizing trajectory that we should be able to discern why
the Cubrilovices and Milosevices of the world, rather than disappearing,
will continue to have a following and why, consequently, genocide will
in fact be more prevalent in the near future than it was fifty or a
hundred years ago.

Nation states will not readily give up their power or their promise to
the forces which drive the global economy, however inexorable those
forces may appear to be. One might add that this may well continue to be
particularly true for state regimes which because they are economically
faltering may attempt to compensate by amplifying the national
self-esteem message and conversely, the malevolence of the international
system towards them. We forget at our peril that Rwanda (and Burundi)
had a political coherence and sense of cohesive identity which long
preceded the colonial era, perpetuated since then, albeit in fiercely
competing Tutsi and Hutu narratives. Or that Milosevic's bid to create a
greater Serbia out of the carcass of Yugoslavia was predicated not only
on a Serb self-perception of a special mission [End Page 333] dating
back to the nineteenth century but even further back to some supposedly
mythic Serb civilization from medieval times.

In both Rwandan and Serbian instances, war and genocide represented the
crisis-response of state regimes to their inability to achieve their
national agendas by other accepted means. They tore up the apparent
rules of the international system and instead gambled on radical,
high-risk shortcuts to a solution. Yet the great irony is that until 24
March 1999--the day of the opening of the Kosovo air campaign --so long
as such efforts were contained within the territorial confines of the
state's own sovereignty or had no noticeable impact beyond it,
international anxiety about human rights violations or even genocide
hardly translated into international censure, let alone action. In this
sense, Cubrilovic's 1930's assessment of international inertia has
remained accurate until almost the present day. And there is a simple
reason for this: the nation state has remained sacrosanct, which is
hardly surprising given that it is the basic building block of the
global system. 46

As a result, nobody censured Democratic Kampuchea for its genocides
despite the fact that by the late 1970s these were already quite well
known and documented. Instead, the Western-led international community
became incandescent with anger when it was invaded by its Vietnamese
neighbor. Nor, while followers of Pol Pot continued to hold the
Cambodian seat at the United Nations long after they had been ousted,
did the international community complain when another genocidal state,
Saddam's Iraq, attempted in 1988 in increasingly full public view, to
liquidate its most troublesome Kurds in the notorious Anfal campaigns.
However, it did respond when Saddam made the mistake of invading
oil-rich Kuwait. It could thus be argued that the New World Order, which
the US-led military campaign against Iraq supposedly heralded, is very
much like the old when it comes to genocide. True, the Western allies
set up a "safe haven" in Northern Iraq for millions of fleeing Kurds but
only primarily because they more greatly feared the consequences for
their NATO ally Turkey--with its own "troublesome" Kurdish
population--should it have had to admit [End Page 334] the refugees.
Fears of the impact of millions of displaced persons also played some
role in the very belated postgenocide decisions of the "powers" to act
with regard to Rwanda and Bosnia. In the latter case, Bosnia's initially
uncertain status as a sovereign state certainly did not help its plight
anymore than the earlier case of East Timor, whose continued subjugation
by Indonesia remained--until very recently--largely a subject of
international acquiescence. The Kurdish safe haven withers on the vine;
Tibet remains off the international agenda; the international community
upholds Tudjman and Milosevic's ethnic carve-up of Bosnia through the
Dayton Accords. The message, it might appear, is rather clear. Despite
international tribunals on Rwanda and Bosnia and the prospect of a
permanent court to try crimes against humanity, including genocide, the
leading states who constructed the international system and continue to
be its prime movers have demonstrated not only an ability to live with
states who commit genocide but even to applaud its successful

Is Western action over Kosovo, therefore, the herald of a new beginning?
Or, even of a new era in which genocide will be finally expurgated from
the human experience? Undoubtedly, the willingness of the international
system leaders, through their military arm NATO, to respond specifically
to gross human rights violations in another sovereign state does
represent a remarkable and possibly quite unprecedented departure. But
the fact that this happened under the auspices of today's Great Powers
rather than at the behest of the UN also recalls a more familiar pattern
of self-interested international action in the past which, very far from
being universally benign, was actually highly selective. If this pattern
reasserts itself, the Western system leaders may act in the future to
prevent or halt genocidal threats where they are sure of being able to
do so with minimal military, political, or economic consequence to
themselves--in other words against very weak states --but not against,
for instance, Russia, China, or Turkey--all states with significant
potential for genocide--where Western self-interest would dictate a
strictly hands-off policy. Thus with the UN and other genuinely
international institutions marginal to the real conduct of international
affairs, Western powers will be able to pick and choose where they wish
to intervene against actual or would-be genocidal perpetrators.

Yet even this sobering prediction in the light of post-Kosovo analysis
and assessment may be too optimistic. Despite the euphoria in early June
1999, when Milosevic agreed to the new peace deal and removed his forces
from Kosovo, the fact that this had been achieved less by [End Page 335]
seventy-plus days of constant NATO bombing and more by a deal heavily
reliant on the Russians suggests the strict limits upon Western
willingness to pursue, let alone punish, those who commit genocide.

A final, ominous historical example. Back in 1923, at the treaty of
Lausanne, Turkey, having smashed its way to modern nation-statehood out
of the imperial hulk of the Ottoman Empire, was duly recognized and
welcomed into the concert of nations by the great Western powers. En
route to this goal, the Ittihadist and subsequent Kemalist regimes
deported, massacred, or ethnically cleansed many more than two million
Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, and Assyrians. There had been much Western
outrage in earlier years, particularly about the genocidal fate of the
Armenians, and even plans to try the perpetrators before an
international court. But as Richard Hovannisian has noted of the
Lausanne protocol: "The absolute Turkish triumph was reflected in the
fact that in the final version . . . neither the word Armenia, nor the
word Armenian, was to be found. It was as if the Armenian Question or
the Armenian people themselves had ceased to exist." 47 In other words,
Turkey's blatant repudiation of the "official" rules of the game in
favor of a series of accelerated shortcuts--including genocide--toward
statehood were ultimately conveniently ignored and even condoned by the
treatymakers of Lausanne. On the contrary, they reciprocated by entering
into a series of long-term diplomatic, commercial, and ultimately
military relations with Turkey. Talaat Pasha, prime mover in the 1915
destruction of the Armenians, said at the time: "I have the conviction
that as long as a nation does the best for its own interests, and
succeeds, the world admires it and thinks it moral." 48 Translated into
the present the message might be to Saddam, Milosevic, and other
would-be emulators: be bloody minded, batten down the hatches, and let
Western self-interest do the rest.


1. Eric Hobsbawn, Age of Extremes, The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991
(London, 1994), p. 12.

2. The title of the path-breaking work by Gil Eliot, Twentieth Century
Book of the Dead (London, 1972).

3. John King Fairbank, The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985 (New York,
1986), p. 81.

4. Quoted in Leo Kuper, Genocide: Its Political Use in the 20th Century
(New Haven, 1981), p. 12.

5. For more on Lemkin's seminal role, see Kuper's introductory chapter
to Genocide; Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (Washington,
DC, 1944). For the text of the UN Convention, see Frank Chalk and Kurt
Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide (New Haven and London,
1990), pp. 44-49.

6. Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Oxford, 1989), pp. 17,
89, 88.

7. Ibid., p. 91.

8. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners, Ordinary
Germans and the Holocaust (London, 1996); Gerard Prunier, The Rwanda
Crisis, History of a Genocide 1959-1994 (London, 1995).

9. Michael Freeman, "Genocide, civilization and modernity," The British
Journal of Sociology 46 (1995): 207-23.

10. Anthony Giddens, The Nation-State and Violence (Cambridge, 1985), p.

11. Ron Aronson, "Societal madness: Impotence, power and genocide," in
Toward the Understanding and Prevention of Genocide: Proceedings of the
International Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide, ed. Israel W.
Charny (Boulder and London, 1984), p. 136.

12. Giddens, Nation-State, p. 4.

13. Immanuel Wallerstein, The Capitalist World-Economy (Cambridge, 1979)
and The Modern World System, 3 vols. (New York, 1974-88).

14. Giddens, Nation-State, p. 5.

15. Reynauld Secher, Le genocide franco-français, La Vendée-Venge
(Paris, 1986) for the main source of this controversy.

16. See, for instance, Israel Charny's ultra-inclusivist definition of
genocide: "Unless clear-cut self-defense can be reasonably proven,
whenever a large number of people are put to death by other people, it
constitutes genocide," in Israel W. Charny, ed., Genocide, A Critical
Bibliographical Review (London, 1988), vol. 1, p. xiii.

17. Ward Churchill, "Genocide: Toward a functional definition,"
Alternatives 11 (1986): 403.

18. Leo Kuper, Genocide: Its Political Use in the 20th Century (New
Haven, 1981).

19. Helen Fein, "Genocide, A Sociological Perspective," Current
Sociology 38 (1990): 56.

20. See, for example, Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Markusen, The Genocidal
Mentality: Nazi Holocaust and Nuclear Threat (New York, 1990); Eric
Markusen and David Kopf, The Holocaust and Strategic Bombing, Genocide
and Total War in the 20th Century (Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford 1995).

21 Vahakn N. Dadrian, "The structural-functional components of genocide"
in Victimology: A New Focus, eds. Israel Drapkin and Emilio Viano
(Lexington, MA, 1975), 4: 123.

22. Mark Levene, "Is the Holocaust simply another example of Genocide?"
Patterns of Prejudice 28 (1994): 10.

23. See Chalk and Jonassohn's definition, in History, p. 23.

24 Quoted in Tilman Dedering, "A Certain Rigorous Treatment of all Parts
of the Nation: The Annihilation of the Herero in German South West
Africa, 1904," in The Massacre in History, eds. Mark Levene and Penny
Roberts (Oxford, 1999), p. 217.

25. Kuper, Genocide, p. 161.

26. Irving Louis Horowitz, Taking Lives, Genocide and State Power
(Brunswick, NJ, 1980); R. J. Rummel, "Democide in Totalitarian States:
Mortacracies and Megamurders," in The Widening Circle of Genocide, ed.
I. Charny, vol. 3 of Genocide, A Critical Bibliographical Review (New
Brunswick and London, 1994), pp. 3-39.

27. The term is borrowed from Misha Glenny's BBC broadcast, "All Fall
Down," Radio 4, 31 March 1995.

28. Uriel Heyd, Foundations of Turkish Nationalism, The Life and
Teachings of Ziya Gokälp (London, 1950), p. 79.

29. Giddens, Nation-State, p. 12.

30. For more on this argument, see Mark Levene, "Connecting Threads:
Rwanda, The Holocaust and The Pattern of Contemporary Genocide," in
Genocide: Essays Towards Understanding, Early Warning and Prevention,
ed. Roger W. Smith (Williamsburg, 1999), pp. 27-64.

31. See Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide, The Myth of the Jewish World
Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (London, 1967); The
Pursuit of the Millenium: Revolutionary milleniarians and mystical
anarchists of the Middle Ages (London, 1970); Europe's Inner Demons: An
Inquiry Inspired by the Great Witch-Hunt (New York, 1975).

32. Bauman, Modernity, p. 93.

33. Ronald Aronson, The Dialectics of Disaster, A Preface to Hope
(London, 1983), p. 169.

34. Ibid. p. 136.

35. Quoted in Uriel Tal, "On the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide,"
Yad Vashem Studies 13 (1979): 7-52.

36. Quoted in Paul Parin, "Open Wounds, Ethnopsychoanalytical
Reflections on the Wars in Former Yugoslavia," in Mass Rape, The War
against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina, ed. Alexandra Stiglmayer (Lincoln
and London, 1994), p. 50.

37. See Barbara Harff and Ted Robert Gurr, "Toward Empirical Theory of
Genocides and Politicides: Identification and Measurement of Cases since
1945," International Studies Quarterly 32 (1988): 359-71, and more
recently their "Victims of the State: Genocides, Politicides and Group
Repression from 1945 to 1995," in Contemporary Genocides: Causes, Cases,
Consequences, ed. Albert J. Jongman (The Hague, 1996), pp. 33-58.

38. The rallying cry of President Zia of Bangladesh, in the late 1970s,
coinciding with the onset of the genocidal onslaught on the Chittagong
Hill Tracts. See Veena Kukreja, Civil-Military Relations in South Asia,
Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, (New Delhi and London, 1991), p. 164.

39. Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, Race, Power and Genocide (New Haven
and London, 1996), p. 408.

40. Lemkin, Axis Rule, p. 79. See Fein's definition in "Genocide, A
Sociological Perspective," p. 24.

41. Kanan Makiya, Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the
Arab World (London, 1993), p. 219.

42. George Steiner, In Bluebird's Castle (London, 1971), pp. 41-42.

43. Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London,

44. Quote from H. T. Norris, "Kosova and the Kosovans: Past, present and
future as seen through Serb, Albanian and Muslim eyes," in The Changing
Shape of the Balkans, eds. F. W. Carter and H. T. Norris (Boulder and
London, 1996), p. 15. For more on Cubrilovic, see also Noel Malcolm,
Kosovo, A Short History (London and Basingstoke, 1998), pp. 284-85,

45. Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas (London, 1996), p. 158.

46. Thus, at the thirty-fourth session of the General Assembly of the
UN, in September 1979, Western and ASEAN delegates were successful in
pointing out "that the United Nations charter is based on the principle
of non-interference and that UN membership has never been granted or
withheld on the basis of respect for human rights. If it were, a large
proportion of the governments presently there would have to leave."
Quoted in William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy, Cambodia, Holocaust
and Modern Conscience (London, 1984), p. 138.

47. Richard G. Hovannisian, "Historical Dimensions of the Armenian
Question, 1878-1923," in Armenian Genocide in Perspective, ed. R. G.
Hovannisian (New Brunswick, NJ and London, 1986), p. 37.

48. Quoted in Vahakn N. Dadrian, The History of the Armenian Genocide:
Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus (Providence
and Oxford, 1995), p. 383.

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