A Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts

By Samuel Totten; William S. Parsons et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

Genocide of the Hereros

JON BRIDGMAN AND LESLIE J. WORLEY

In January 1904, a revolt broke out in German South West Africa. The Hereros, who inhabited most of the best grazing land in the colony, rose against the Germans. Two years later, when the German army finally succeeded in stamping out the last embers of the revolt, the Hereros all but ceased to exist as a cultural entity. Of the original 80,000 Hereros, only 20,000 remained alive and the survivors were so shaken by the catastrophe that they lapsed into a terrible lethargy that lasted for decades. 1

On the face of it, the destruction of the Hereros might appear a paradigm of genocide, but there are some complications. By definition, genocide usually refers to the deliberate policy of a government as opposed to a random massacre by a local commander. To a large extent, the destruction of the Hereros was not the deliberate policy of the German government in Berlin, but rather the decision of the local commander.

This is not to say that the German actions during the revolt were not morally repulsive, but whether they should be subsumed under the rubric of "genocide" is another matter. When the Nazi regime and its collaborators set out to annihilate the Jews of Europe, the whole administrative structure of the government was pressed into service to carry out this diabolical policy, and the few voices of protest that were heard were in vain. When the Germans began the annihilation of the Hereros, loud and insistent protests were raised in Germany, and many agencies of the German government refused to be involved in what they considered an immoral act.

These protests were not totally in vain. Eventually, the German forces in South West Africa were forced to halt the overt slaughter of the Hereros

-15-

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