The Modernity of Genocides
War, Race, and Revolution in the Twentieth Century
ERIC D. WEITZ
The twentieth century was a period of the most intense and widespread violence. Two world wars and literally hundreds of smaller-scale armed conflicts pervade any accounting of this recent past. But the violence of the twentieth century is reflected not only in the number and intensity of wars. Woven through and wrapped around wars both large and small were radical and violent population politics–the categorization and then the internments, deportations, killings, and, ultimately, genocides of defined population groups.
For some contemporary observers, the violence of the first total war of the twentieth century and of the fascist regimes that soon followed seemed like a throwback to “medieval barbarism, ” the breakdown of civilization constructed with such determined effort since the Enlightenment. More recently, some observers have explained the violent conflicts in the Balkans as the resurfacing of age-old hatreds, timeless tribal conflicts that had been only artificially suppressed in the communist era.1 But more insightful commentators, both in earlier decades and in the contemporary period, have seen in the violence of the twentieth century, both its vast wars and its devastations of defined population groups, the scourge of modernity, the nefarious
The research and writing of this chapter was generously supported by a Faculty Summer Research Fellowship and a McKnight Summer Research Fellowship from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota, and by the Center for German and European Studies, a consortium of the Universities of Minnesota and WisconsinMadison that is funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
For their very helpful critical readings of earlier drafts, I would like to thank my fellow participants in the Comparative Genocide Conference; Sheila Fitzpatrick and Ron Suny and the members of their Modern Europe Workshop at the University of Chicago; and Tom Wolfe and other participants in the Anthropology Department Colloquium at the University of Minnesota.
This chapter is drawn from my book, For Race and Nation: Genocides in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, forthcoming).