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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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Etiologies of Modern Killing

Genocide and the Modern Age: Etiology, and

Case Studies of Mass Death and The Deadly Ethnic Riot
"Genocide" Isidor Wallimann and Michael Dobkowski "Deadly" Donald L. Horowitz

"Genocide" New York: Syracuse University Press, 2000

"Deadly" Berkeley and London: The University of California Press, 2001
"Genocide" 352pp. Biblio. Index. Pb.: $24.95; ISBN 0-8156-2828-5

"Deadly" 605pp. Index. Hb.: $35.00/22.00; ISBN 0-520-22


The advent of the twenty-first century has produced a large number of scholarly and popular works committed to exploring the magnificent and terrible achievements of humankind during the last millennium of its history. In this long perspective, the last one hundred years present a particular paradox and a sharp challenge to western notions of civilisation and progress. How are we to explain the defining phenomenon of twentieth-century modernity: the shocking amalgam of technological and material advance with moral collapse which across the globe produced concerted, collective and directed mass killing on an unprecedented scale? How are we to reconcile this history with our ideas of morality, or with religious faith? Harder still, how can we act to ensure that in subsequent centuries humanity does perpetrate and suffer similar brutality.

Some works have described instances of this phenomenon historically, others have sought to identify the commonalities of events discrete in space and time and to derive general models of human and social action. Still other writers have considered mass killing as an expression of the cultural or psychological discontents of modern civilisation or approached it as a problem of moral philosophy. The two books under review both seek to combine historical description of particular events with attempts to identify patterns and infer generalities. The two books are otherwise very different treatments of related topics, and achieve very different levels of success in their descriptive and definitional aims. One seeks breadth of vision but achieves only incoherence; the other aims at specific and narrow insight and manages to open the widest vistas on human nature, society and the forces which structure human perceptions and practice.

The Wallimann and Dobkowski volume is an assembly of thirteen essays representing different disciplinary approaches to various historical or thematic topics related to defining and describing ?genocide.? The scope and aims of this undertaking are without doubt ambitious. In the preface to this new paperback edition (the original hardback appeared in 1987), the editors pose a series of crucial questions for the understanding of mass killing: ?does the crime of genocide,? they ask, ?inhabit a moral category all its own? Is the guilt attached to the intention to destroy a whole people ? different in kind from the intention to kill an equal number of individuals? What is the importance of intention to this discussion? ? And can we conceptualise and ?understand? genocide so that we may be in a position to possibly prevent it in the future?? (pp. ix-x). Further, in their introduction, they ask whether genocide should include the destruction of collectivities other than racial groups (?ethnic, religious, economic or political?); what percentage of a group must be destroyed for an event to be genocidal; and what is the relationship between war and genocide (p. xviii). In the hope of elucidating these problems, the editors offer the reader a variety of ?theories, definitions and typologies of genocide, as well as case studies,? which they deem ?helpful in understanding certain recent events? (p. x). However, the volume?s deliberate methodological eclecticism serves, in the opinion of the reviewer, to confuse rather than clarify.

The editors themselves do little to set an example of clarity, coherence or consistency in answering their own initial questions. In the preface, they offer a definition of genocide as ?the deliberate, organised destruction, in whole or in large part, of racial or ethnic groups by a government or its agents.? Destruction, in their view, includes not only mass killing, but also ?ethnic cleansing,? ?systematic rape? and ?economic and biological subjugation.? (p. x). It is not clear how they arrived at this definition, nor whether it is intended to be descriptive or hypothetical. It surely raises more questions than it resolves. Is genocide an appropriate concept to encompass such a wide range of phenomena? Does genocide have to be state-directed? Should scholars not problematise the concept of a ?racial or ethnic group,? or are we to accept the definition of victims? collective identity propagated by the perpetrators?

The editors? introductory discussion of recent events only serves to muddy the waters further. After a brief survey of the Bosnian and Kosovan conflicts, remarkable in its uncritical acceptance of the official western account of events (according to which, for example, Serbian forces ethnically cleansed ?hundreds of thousands of Kosavars,? and ?murdered, maimed, raped, and despoiled as many of them as they wished?), they remain at a loss whether to describe Serbian actions as ?genocide? or ?mass killing.? Having noted that violence against Tutsis in Rwanda was ?for the most part orchestrated by the Hutu majority? (a formulation which begs significant questions of accountability, concerning who specifically planned and organised the killings, the degree of political manipulation and the extent of popular participation), they identify the assassination of the Hutu president in 1994 as the catalyst which ?unleashed simmering ethnic tensions and vengeful tendencies from earlier atrocities.? Even disregarding the factual accuracy of this account, it is not clear whether they are adducing these hideous events as a ?deliberate? and ?organised? genocide according to their earlier definition, or whether they are suggesting that the violence resulted from the final boiling over of long ?simmering? group resentments and memories (and if so, whether this disqualifies events in their eyes as a genocide). The problem of spontaneity versus strategy in collectively perpetrated violence is at the centre of Horowitz?s work, and, as we shall see, he addresses it in a far more subtle, conscientious and convincing manner without tangling himself up in definitional conundrums.

Although the editors? introductions and the multiplicity of subsequent perspectives in the volume leave the reader befuddled, individually some of the essays are engaging works of historical synthesis, social scientific abstraction or theological and philosophical reflection. The papers in part one of the volume tend more to the theoretical; those in the second part offer more empirical case studies. The opening essay by Kurt Jonassohn and Frank Chalk proposes a classification of four types of genocide (defined in a similarly sweeping way as ?the deliberate physical extermination of a defenceless group, in whole or in part?) according to the motives of the perpetrator: (1) to eradicate the threat of a rival; (2) to acquire economic wealth; (3) to create terror; and (4) to implement an ideology. The first type, they assert, was limited to antiquity; the second and third types originated in the ancient world, but have persisted into the modern age; while the fourth type originated in the middle ages and has become the predominant modern type of genocide. Roger Smith in the second contribution argues instead for five types of genocide: retributive, institutional, utilitarian, monopolistic and ideological. He associates historical genocides with extra-territorial expansion and exploitation, and identifies modern genocides as primarily ?ideological,? and taking place primarily within a state?s borders. Barbara Harff differentiates genocides according to a third scheme, which is equally valid and equally abstract: as post-imperial (the Jewish, Gypsy and Armenian genocides), post-colonial (Biafra, Bangladesh, Burundi, East Timor and Southern Sudan), post-coup or post-revolutionary (Kampuchea, Uganda and Indonesia) and as concomitants of conquest (the destruction of the Hereros in South-West Africa, or the Ache Indians in Paraguay). She believes all these events are unified conceptually in that they all followed the transformation or attempted transformation of existing power structures. In the next essay, Irving Horowitz focuses on the Jewish Holocaust, which he denies was unique on the basis of identifying commonalities between this event and other types and instances of genocide. In the next contribution, John Roth reviews Richard Rubinstein?s ideas about the relationship of mass killing to states? perceptions of surplus population and strategies of ?triage?. In the penultimate essay of part one, Eric Markusen compares genocide and total war, and notes that both are state-directed, bureaucratically organised strategies of mass killing, undertaken in the name of national security, and aiming to ?dehumanise? the victims before effecting their destruction. As an example of such actions, he cites the strategic bombing of civilians in World War Two, and proposes that the nuclear bomb represents the ultimate fusion of total war and genocide. Finally, Raymond Aronson discusses genocide as a manifestation of ?social madness,? wherein perpetrators collectively undergo a ?rupture of reality? which generates deranged ideas about the target group of population, and not only facilitates but justifies recourse to that group?s elimination.

The second part of the volume is more satisfactory, in that it offers a series of case studies, or discussions of specific aspects of historical events, which on the whole refrain from the excessive, contradictory and often unconvincing abstractions and generalisations of part one. Alan Rosenberg?s essay returns to the question of the Holocaust?s uniqueness. In opposition to Irving Horowitz, he supports the claim to exclusivity on the basis of the demographic size and geographical scope of the killing; the close integration of administration and technology; and the intensity of the dehumanising propaganda against the victims. Robert Waite and Gunter Remmling both also discuss the Holocaust in the two subsequent papers: the first focuses on historical factors (especially traditions of anti-Semitism) which created the preconditions for its implementation; the second surveys the progressive ?corruption? of the German rule of law by Nazi ideology. The last three contributions to the volume consider other genocidal events. Gerard Libaridian offers an extended, detailed and engaging history of the Ottoman Empire in its final decades, focusing on its relationship with the Armenian minority and the sources of the genocide. In one of the most provocative essays in this volume, Tony Barta next discusses the European colonisation of Australia and the dispossession and gradual destruction of the Aborigines. He argues this should be seen as an instance of genocide, even though there was no premeditated intent to eliminate the indigenous population, no systematic strategy or plan, no state direction and little mass killing. He challenges the reader to think not in terms of the ?genocidal state? but of a ?genocidal society,? whose discourse of racial difference and dominance implies ? although rarely articulates - an eliminationist logic. In the final essay, Walter Zenner explores the historical relationship between middleman minorities and genocide.

As a whole, this volume offers the reader merely a miscellany of definitions, concepts and conclusions. There is little coherence among the contributions, and the multiplicity of perspectives does little to promote any cumulative insight. This is not comparative social science, since each author defines and approaches the phenomenon to be studied in a different way. Nor is the selection of papers sufficiently systematic or representative of the field for the book to be usefully employed as a sampler of key ideas for teaching purposes. Although several of the essays could certainly be recommended as thoughtful and stimulating pieces in their own right, the final effect of the volume was to convince this reviewer of the futility, and danger, of seeking to establish highly abstract definitions or classifications for overdetermined events of infinite historical variation and high moral and political sensitivity.

Horowitz?s The Deadly Ethnic Riot, in complete contrast, is the work of a single author, an law and political science professor at Duke University, USA, who focuses in painstaking detail on a specific and, at first glance, narrow phenomenon of mass killing ? ?the murder of strangers by crowds,? as he terms it (p. xii). His study of the deadly ethnic riot is concerned to elucidate its morphology and dynamics: it is ?a study of the who, when, where, how and why of ethnic riot behaviour: of the participants and organisation, targets, timing and precipitants, supporting conditions, locations, methods, and effects of violent episodes? (p. xii). By refusing to impose restrictive definitions on this phenomenon at the outset of the work (he accepts that the event he calls the ethnic riot can at times elide with or be subsumed under other forms of violence, including genocide), the author succeeds in giving the reader insights into the differences and commonalities among a huge number of specific historical episodes and into his process of abstraction which lends each case study general significance and amply justifies the work?s exhaustive empirical analysis.

This volume is distinguished not only by its astonishing breadth of documentary coverage ? the author?s dataset includes 150 riots from 50 countries, with another 50 control cases, widely distributed in time and space ? but also by its profound knowledge, sensitive deployment and persuasive synthesis of the theoretical literature. Drawing not only on political science, sociology and law, but also on experimental social psychology and related fields of enquiry, the author in particular tackles two crucial and interrelated problems: first, the constitution of ethnicity; secondly, the source of collective violence.

Developing ideas first presented in his earlier work Ethnic Groups in Conflict (1985), Horowitz seeks a synthesis between the ?primordialist? account of ethnicity, which sees ethnic groups as ascriptive, firmly bounded entities, with conflict behaviour motivated by passion, and ?social constructivism?, which considers group solidarity to be derived from perceptions of self-interest and material reward, vulnerable to manipulation by ?ethnic entrepreneurs?, and whose apparently affective behaviour can be reduced to strategic calculation. The author argues convincingly that these two positions are reconcilable. Ethnic groups are grounded in a strong sense of common identity and of difference from others, intensified by the fact that individuals are socialised into a perception of exclusive ?ethnicity? from birth. Ethnically-defined collectivities, pre-existing though not pre-ordained in any genetic or ?mystical? way, naturally ?look out for their own,? and may be exploited as vehicles by leaders who wish to mobilise a constituency for their own ends, and who within limits are able to manipulate group boundaries or re-invent group identities to suit changing circumstances. Ethnic identity is thus simultaneously a site of affective loyalty and of strategic reasoning. It follows from this synthesis that ethnic conflict is more than the sum of individual calculations, having a fury of its own rooted in the emotive power of group affiliation and ?ethnicity?, yet it may well be fomented, directed or executed by rational actors pursuing self-interested objectives. The deadly ethnic riot, when disaggregated into its component elements, can accordingly be seen to be both impulsive and instrumental, spontaneous and organised.

Horowitz?s systematic, comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the ethnic riot in both temporal sequence and thematic cross-section is conceptually imaginative and empirically impressive. First, he considers the ?rhythm? of the riot itself, the role of rumour in the preparatory stages, the ?lull? as participants assess the balance of risk and reward and steel themselves against fear, and the ?atrocity-killing? which may catalyse the full-scale assault. Next he discusses the rioters? selection of individual targets; the characteristics of the target group; the relationships between victim selection and the precipitant, leadership and location of the attack; and the nature and extent of riot organisation. Drawing back from the immediate event, Horowitz then explores the environmental preconditions for the outbreak of collective violence and for its reproduction or diffusion, and tests his inferences against a control set of non-violent cases. Horowitz concludes that ethnic riots erupt when four conditions are present: first, the co-existence of two mutually hostile groups; secondly, an event which provokes outrage and anger among one group; thirdly, a sense among that group that a violent response is justified, as self-defence, as a pre-emptive attack or as just punishment; and fourthly, an assessment by participants that the potential benefits of engaging in violence outweigh its dangers.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Horowitz?s achievement is that he analyses this wide panorama of human passions and calculations not only with impeccable logic and scrupulous method, but in a manner which is at times exciting, often shocking, always intellectually engaging, and which boasts an elegance, deftness and fluency of style even in the midst of the most complex theoretical exposition.

Whereas Wallimann and Dobrowski commence their work with a checklist of sophisticated moral, epistemological and ontological problems and fail to make much progress beyond this starting point, Horowitz self-consciously opens with what he terms ?deceptively simple? factual and counter-factual questions (?Why now and not then? Why here and not there?? p. xiv). Taking ?nothing as given,? he ultimately succeeds in illuminating a great number of complex issues, going far beyond the phenomenon of the ethnic riot into the well-springs of human motivation and social action. His ?aggressive encounter with the facts? explicates many of the philosophical as well as empirical problems which elude the editors and contributors of the collected volume. His work offers readers invaluable and lucid insights into the origins and manifestation of group conflict in all its forms, and will permit policy-makers to formulate more appropriate and effective strategies to preclude or pre-empt future violence.


Dr. Nick Baron, University of Manchester



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