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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .


The Massacre in History
Mark Levene & Penny Roberts (eds.)

(Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999)
296pp. Index. Hb.: 45.00; ISBN 1-5718-1943-7. Pb.: 16.50; ISBN 1-5718-1935-5.



It is very difficult to get traction of intractable conflicts, especially ones that involve massacre. However it is exactly this that The Massacre in History attempts at. This collection of essays assaults the multifarious nature of the massacre phenomenon probing it from a multitude of aspects endeavoring to find its definition and sources.

The book offers a step by step case study of massacre starting from the times of Herod and coming to the present day with the final chapters on Indonesia and Yugoslavia. It touches upon sectarian revolts in medieval Spain; traces religious violence in 16th c. France; looks at England, Scotland, and Ireland during the Civil Wars; discusses perceptions of the slaughter of animals; looks at the late 19th c. brutality in Brazil; evinces German colonial policy in Africa; and reviews the Japanese approach to China in the late 1930s. Presented with this variety of examples, backgrounds, and opinions the reader is given ample opportunity to find a personal definition of massacre - a phenomenon both horrifying as well as fascinating. Its dual nature facilitates massacre's presence in human memory.

It is this argument of The Massacre in History, which is most interesting to the ethnic studies pundit. The "legacy of massacre" (p.263) prompts it as a source of ethnic identity. Violence permeates ethnic consciousness and grows into a rallying myth in the memory of a particular community. Thus the importance is no longer on the veracity of a tragedy, but on its interpretation for a certain political agenda.

Nevertheless, after reading the entire collection of essays the reader cannot help noticing the main statement of the editors: that the nation state, as we know it, is passing into the oblivion of history like a cold wind in the winter of somebody's mind. The main asset of The Massacre in History is in elucidating this point and its attempt to go off the beaten track of modernity and trod a path into the "uncharted waters"(p.32) of the civil societies of the future.


Emilian Kavalski



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