The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective

By Robert Gellately; Ben Kieman | Go to book overview

4
Seeking the Roots of Modern Genocide
On the Macro- and Microhistory of Mass Murder
OMER BARTOV

I

The idea and practice of genocide are most probably as ancient as the idea and practice of war. Indeed, war and genocide have always been closely related, just as both are predicated on the existence of a certain level of human culture and civilization. The biblical concept of a war of annihilation (

) or the destruction of Carthage by the Romans, are two familiar instances of the manner in which the eradication of another culture in war or in its immediate aftermath serves as an important instrument in the assertion of group or national identity. Indicatively, in both cases–as in many others–destruction is not only justified but also lauded as a noble act sanctioned by God (for the Jews) or glorifying the republic (for the Romans). In some instances, the intention to perpetrate genocide may not be implemented, or may be implemented only in part; conversely, genocide can also be the unintended consequence of a policy or a set of actions whose initial goal was different. The mass death of Native Americans can probably serve as an example for both models: on the one hand, the intention to destroy the indigenous populations of the Americas did not wholly succeed, especially in Latin America, where most states still contain large numbers of Indians or people of mixed race (with the notable exception of Argentina); on the other hand, more Native Americans probably died from exposure to European diseases than from intentional killing.1 What seems to be indisputable is that because it is both the product of civilization and the instrument of asserting identity, the wholesale murder of entire categories of human beings can be found in numerous cultures at some point of their history.

____________________
1
David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (New York, 1992).

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