Academic journal article The Historian

Theatres of Violence: Massacre, Mass Killing and Atrocity throughout History

Academic journal article The Historian

Theatres of Violence: Massacre, Mass Killing and Atrocity throughout History

Article excerpt

Theatres of Violence: Massacre, Mass Killing and Atrocity throughout History. Edited by Philip G. Dwyer and Lyndall Ryan. (New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 2015. Pp. xi, 323. $35.95.)

Massacres are not a new phenomenon but rather "have occurred throughout recorded history and are even known to have existed in pre-recorded times" (xi). This book begins with an introduction by the two coeditors that frames the discussion of the literature on massacres as distinct from the scholarship on genocide. They assert that though massacres are part and parcel of genocide, "massacres do occur without genocidal intent" (xiii). The introduction further presents the common features of massacres in terms of circumstances, perpetrators and victims, and "massacre and atrocity as performance" (xviii). The authors demonstrate that the patterns of violence that define massacres are neither culturally specific nor time-bound. In other words, massacres occur in many cultures and in different time periods. Moreover, though studying individual cases of massacres is important for understanding this phenomenon, it is also necessary to understand the processes of massacres, including an understanding of the perpetrators in terms of their motivations. Identifying both the cultural and social contexts enables a better understanding of why people engage in acts of violence (xxi). Fundamentally, the research question focuses on "the conjunction of how rationalized society and violent passions erupt at particular points in time to produce massacres and mass killings" (xxii).

Following the introduction, the volume is divided into four parts, with twenty chapters that examine case studies of massacres and mass killings. Presented chronologically, the chapters range from the ancient and premodern periods to the contemporary period (the last chapter examines massacres by the US military in Afghanistan). …

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