A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation

A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation

A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation

A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation

Synopsis

Through the 20th century genocides have come to stand at the centre of a contemporary cultural crisis, argues this book. The author examines Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Cambodia & Yugoslavia, to reveal the common features of modern mass murder & place these events in their cultural contexts.

Excerpt

Genocides have occurred since the earliest recorded history, from the Israelite destruction of numerous communities in Canaan, depicted in the Book of Joshua, to the Roman annihilation of Carthage and its population. But beginning with the Armenians, genocides have become more extensive, more systematic, and more thorough. They represent a lethal, depressing culmination of the large-scale violence that so marked the twentieth century. Genocides stand at the center of our contemporary cultural crisis. They challenge our hopes for peaceful, tolerant coexistence among diverse peoples; they raise the deepest fears that the modern world we inhabit is not a site of continual improvement in the human condition but the very cause of more intense, seemingly unstoppable violence against civilian populations. In this book I try to provide a historical account for the escalation of genocides in the twentieth century by examining in detail four cases: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, especially the ethnic and national purges initiated by Stalin, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and the former Yugoslavia. Each of the cases has its particularities, but together they also display some notably common features, especially in relation to the historical origins and the practices of genocide.

The word “genocide” is a much contested and overused term. Sometimes it is uttered with thoughtless abandon, and I hope, through the study of these four cases, to bring clarity to a word and a history heavily laden with the emotions of memory and politics. The word was invented in the 1940s by the international jurist Raphael Lemkin, who struggled to find a way to define the novelty of Nazi atrocities against Jews. But Lemkin also knew that there were precedents, notably in the late Ottoman Empire's genocide of Armenians. He hit on the Greek word genos, meaning a people or nation, and the Latin suffix of -cide, for murder. The United Nations codified the meaning of the term by . . .

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