4 keys to Genocide according to Ben Kiernan

The history of genocide is grim reading. Yet it can shed light on current conflicts, either due to the history I'm ignorant of or the factors that I never considered. Ben Kiernan boils it down to four things. From the title, Blood and Soil, we can anticipate two, racism and agrarianism (see previous entry on this book). The other two factors he points to are expansionism and antiquity. Just this body count from a single paragraph in the introduction leaves one sick in the gut.
Central to this book are four recurring ideological preoccupations of the perpetrators of genocide, extermination, and genocidal massacres: racism, expansionism, agrarianism, and antiquity. The presence of these four obsessions often seems sufficient for genocidal violence, though not all four are necessary conditions. For space reasons, this study cannot be comprehensive. It excludes some cases of mass murder that deserve more attention, from the Mongols’ slaughter of the inhabitants of Baghdad in 1258 to the conquistador destruction of the Inca civilization in sixteenth-century Peru to the Congo Free State of Belgium’s King Leopold, who took a personal interest in the conquistador precedent and set up and extractive regime that presided over possibly 10 million Congolese deaths from murder, overwork, and disease between 1880 and 1910. Also excluded are catastrophes lacking more than one of the four major features of genocide I have identified. When a million Irish people died under British rule in the 1845-51 Great Famine, the prime cause was a potato blight, and though the British authorities’ refusal to supply aid after October 1847 of stop food exports from Ireland betrayed both ethnic animus and ideological rigidity, that was not a case of mass murder, not was it inspired by agrarian thinking or ancient models. Much the same applies to the even larger famine that ravaged Persian under British occupation after World War I, when possibly 10 million people perished. Yet some of the cases examined in this book are also exceptional. Stalin’s mass killings included ethnic purges, yet the lacked and agrarian rationale – unlike Mao’s Great Leap Forward regime, which caused millions more deaths. For its part, Mao’s Great Leap Forward famine in China in 1958-61 involved neither mass murder, ethnic targeting, nor a cult of antiquity, but it is include here with Mao’s campaigns of political murder because of the famine’s toll of possibly 30 millions dead. (38-9)

I’ve written previously about Mao, the Mongols, and Stalin (1,2,3,4,5), but I had never heard of the body count in the Congo or the Persian famine after WW1. I'm 1/3rd of the way through the book and I don't believe the thesis yet, but the examples are abundant. See other posts at book reports, atrocities, human rights, genocide, and history.


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