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SOME GENOCIDES, 19501990

The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee

Deaths / Victims / Killers / Place / Date

1.XX / Indians / Brazilians / Brazil / 1957-68

2.X / Ache Indians / Paraguayans / Paraguay / 1970s

3.XX / Argentine civilians / Argentine army / Argentina / 1976-83

4.XX / Moslems, Christians / Moslems, Christians /Lebanon/ 1975-90

5.X / Ibos / North Nigerians / Nigeria / 1966

6.XX / opponents / dictator / Equatorial Guinea / 1977-79

7.X / opponents / Emperor Bokassa / Central African Republic / 1978-79

8.XXX / South Sudanese / North Sudanese / Sudan / 1955-72

9.XXX / Ugandans / Idi Amin / Uganda / 1971-79

10.XX / Tutsi / Hutu / Rwanda / 1962-63

11.XXX / Hutu / Tutsi / Burundi / 1972-73

12.X / Arabs / Blacks / Zanzibar / 1964

13.X / Tamils, Sinhalese / Sinhalese, Tamils / Sri Lanka / 1985

14.xxxx / Bengalis / Pakistan army / Bangladesh / 1971

15.xxxx / Cambodians / Khmer Rouge / Cambodia / 1975-79

16.XXX / communists & Chinese / Indonesians / Indonesia/ 1965-67

17.XX / Timorese / Indonesians / East Timor / 1975-76


x = less than 10,000; xx = 10,000 or more; xxx = 100,000 or more; xxxx = 1,000,000 or more

Some mass killings, such as those of Jews and gypsies by Nazis, were unprovoked; the slaughter was not in retaliation for previous murders committed by the slaughtered. In many other cases, however, a mass killing culminates a series of murders and countermurders. When a provocation is followed by massive retaliation out of all proportion to the provocation, how do we decide when 'mere' retaliation becomes genocide? At the Algerian town of Setif in May 1945, celebrations of the end of the Second World War developed into a race riot in which Algerians killed 103 French. The savage French response consisted of planes destroying forty-four villages, a cruiser bombarding coastal towns, civilian commandos organizing reprisal massacres, and troops killing indiscriminately. The Algerian dead numbered 1,500 according to the French, 50,000 according to the Algerians. The interpretations of this event differ as do the estimates of the dead: to the French, it was suppression of a revolt; to the Algerians, it was a genocidal massacre.

Instances of genocide prove as hard to pigeonhole in their motivation as in their definition. While several motives may operate simultaneously, it is convenient to divide them into four types. In the first two types there is a real conflict of interest over land or power, whether or not the conflict is also disguised in ideology. In the other two types such conflict is minimal, and the motivation is more purely ideological or psychological. Perhaps the commonest motive for genocide arises when a militarily stronger people attempt to occupy the land of a weaker people, who resist. Among the innumerable straightforward cases of this sort are not nly the killing of Tasmanians and Australian Aborigines by white Australians, but also the killings of American Indians by white Americans, of Araucanian Indians by Argentinians, and of Bushmen and Hottentots by the Boer settlers of South Africa.

Another common motive involves a lengthy power struggle within a pluralistic society, leading to one group seeking a final solution by killing the other. Cases involving two different ethnic groups are the killing of Tutsi in Rwanda by Hutu in 196263, of Hutu in Burundi by Tutsi in 1972-73, of Serbs by Croats in Yugoslavia during the Second World War, of Croats by Serbs at the end of that war, and of Arabs in Zanzibar by blacks in 1964. However, the killer and killed may belong to the same ethnic group and may differ only in political views. Such was the case in history's largest known genocide, claiming an estimated twenty million victims in the decade 192939 and sixty-six million between 1917 and 1959that committed by the Russian government against its political opponents, many of whom were ethnic Russians. Political killings lagging far behind this record are the Khmer Rouge purge of several million fellow Cambodians during the 1970s, and Indonesia's killing of hundreds of thousands of communists in 1965-67. In these two motives for genocide, the victims could be viewed as a significant obstacle to the killers' control of land or power. At the opposite extreme are scapegoat killings of a helpless minority blamed for frustrations of their killers. Jews were killed by fourteenth-century Christians as scapegoats for the bubonic plague, by early twentieth-century Russians as scapegoats for Russia's political problems, by Ukrainians after the First World War as scapegoats for the Bolshevist threat, and by the Nazis during the Second World War as scapegoats for Germany's defeat in the First World War. When the US Seventh Cavalry machine-gunned several hundred Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in 1890, the soldiers were taking belated revenge for the Sioux's annihilating counterattack on Custer's Seventh Cavalry force at the Battle of the Little Big Horn fourteen years previously. In 1943-44, at the height of Russia's suffering from the Nazi invasion, Stalin ordered the killing or deportation of six ethnic minorities who served as scapegoats: the Balkars, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Ingush, Kalmyks, and Karachai. Racial and religious persecutions have served as the remaining class of motives. While I do not claim to understand the Nazi mentality, the Nazis' extermination of Gypsies may have stemmed from relatively 'pure' racial motivation, while scapegoating joined religious and racial motives in the extermination of Jews. The list of religious massacres is almost infinitely long. It includes the First Crusaders' massacre of all Moslems and Jews in Jerusalem when that city was finally captured in 1099, and the St Bartholomew's Day massacre of French Protestants by Catholics in 1572. Of course, racial and religious motives have contributed heavily to genocide provoked by land struggles, power struggles, and scapegoating.

Even if one allows for these disagreements over definitions and motives, plenty of c^ses of genocide remain. Let us now see how far back in and before our history as a species the record of genocide extends.

Is it true, as often claimed, that man is unique among animals in killing members of his own species? For example, the distinguished biologist Konrad Lorenz, in his book On Aggression, argued that animals' aggressive instincts are held in check by instinctive inhibitions against murder. But in human history this equilibrium supposedly became upset by the invention of weapons, and our inherited inhibitions were no longer strong enough to restrain our newly acquired powers of killing. This view of man as the unique killer and evolutionary misfit has been accepted by Arthur Koestler and many other popular writers.

Actually, studies in recent decades have documented murder in many, though certainly not all, animal species. Massacre of a neighbouring individual or troop may be beneficial to an animal, if it can thereby take over the neighbour's territory, food, or females. But attacks also involve some risk to the attacker. Many animal species lack the means to kill their fellows, and of those species with the means, some refrain from using them. It may sound utterly repugnant to do a cost and benefit analysis of murder, but such analyses nevertheless help one understand why murder appears to characterize only some animal species.

In non-social species, murders are necessarily just of one individual by another. However, in social carnivorous species, like lions, wolves, hyenas, and ants, murder may take the form of coordinated attacks by members of one troop on members of a neighbouring troopthat is, mass killings or 'wars'. The form of war varies among species.1 Males may spare and mate with neighbouring females, kill the infants, and drive off (langur monkeys) or even kill (lions) neighbouring males; or both males and females may be killed (wolves). As one example, here is

Hans Kruuk's account of a battle between two hyena clans in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater: About a dozen of the Scratching Rock hyenas, though, grabbed one of the Mungi males and bit him wherever they couldespecially in the belly, the feet, and the ears. The victim was completely covered by his attackers, who proceeded to maul him for about ten minutes. . The Mungi male was literally pulled apart, and when I later studied the injuries more closely, it appeared that his ears were bitten off and so were his feet and testicles, he was paralyzed by a spinal injury, had arge gashes in the hind legs and belly, and subcutaneous haemorrhages all over.

Of particular interest in understanding our genocidal origins is the behaviour of two of our three closest relatives, gorillas and common chimpanzees. Two decades ago, any biologist would have assumed that our ability to wield tools and to lay concerted group plans made us far more murderous than apesif indeed apes were murderous at all. Recent discoveries about apes suggest, however, that a gorilla or common chimp stands at least as good a chance of being murdered as the average human. Among gorillas, for instance, males fight each other for ownership of harems of females, and the victor may kill the loser's infants as well as the loser himself. Such fighting is a major cause of death for infant and adult male gorillas. The typical gorilla mother loses at least one infant to infanticidal males in the course of her life. Conversely, thirty-eight per cent of infant gorilla deaths are due to infanticide.

Especially instructive, because it could be documented in detail, was the extermination of one of the common chimpanzee bands that Jane Goodall studied, carried out between 1974 and 1977 by another band. At the end of 1973 the two bands were fairly evenly matched: the Kasakela band to the north, with eight mature males and occupying fifteen square kilometers; and the Kahama band to the south, with six mature males and occupying ten square kilometers. The first fatal incident occurred in January 1974, when six of the Kasakela adult males, one adolescent male, and one adult female left behind the young Kasakela chimps, travelled south, then moved silently and more quickly south when they heard chimp calls from that direction, until they surprised a Kahama male referred to as Godi. One Kasakela male pulled the fleeing Godi to the ground, sat on his head, and pinned out his legs while the others spent ten minutes hitting and biting him. Finally, one attacker threw a large rock at Godi, and the attackers then left. Although able to stand up, Godi was badly wounded, bleeding, and had puncture marks. He was never seen again and presumably died of his injuries.

The next month, three Kasakela males and one female again travelled south and attacked the Kahama male De, who was already weak from a previous attack or illness. The attackers pulled De out of a tree, stamped on him, bit and hit him, and tore off pieces of his skin. A Kahama oestrus female with De was forced to return northwards with the attackers. Two months later De was seen still alive but emaciated, with his spine and pelvis protruding, some fingernails and part of a toe torn off, and his scrotum shrunk to one-fifth of normal size. He was not seen thereafter. In February 1975 five adult and one adolescent Kasakela males tracked down and attacked Goliath, an old Kahama male. For eighteen minutes they hit, bit, and kicked him, stamped on him, lifted and dropped him, dragged him over the ground, and twisted his leg. At the end of the attack Goliath was unable to sit up and was not seen again.

While the above attacks were aimed at Kahama males, in September 1975 the Kahama female Madam Bee was fatally injured after at least four non-fatal attacks over the course of the preceding year. The attack was carried out by four Kasakela adult males, while one adolescent male and four Kasakela females (including Madam Bee's kidnapped daughter) watched. The attackers hit, slapped, and dragged Madam Bee, stamped and pounded on her, threw her to the ground, picked her up and slammed her down, and rolled her downhill. She died five days later. In May 1977 five Kasakela males killed the Kahama male Charlie, but details of the fight were not observed. In November 1977 six Kasakela males caught the Kahama male Sniff and hit, bit, and pulled him, dragged him by the legs, and broke his left leg. He was still alive the next day but was not seen again.

Of the remaining Kahama chimps, two adult males and two adult females disappeared from unknown causes, while two young females transferred to the Kasakela band, which proceeded to occupy the former Kahama territory. However, in 1979 the next band to the south, the larger Kalande band with at least nine adult males, began to encroach on Kasakela territory and may have accounted for several vanished or wounded Kasakela chimps. Similar intergroup assaults have been observed in the sole other long-term field study of common chimps, but not in long-term studies of pygmy chimps.

If one judges these murderous common chimps by the standards of human killers, it is hard not to be struck by their inefficiency. Even though groups of three to six attackers assaulted a single victim, quickly rendered him or her defenceless, and continued the assault for ten to twenty minutes or more, the victim was always still alive at the end of that time. However, the attackers did succeed in immobilizing the victim and often causing eventual death. The pattern was that the victim initially crouched and may have tried to protect his head but then gave up any attempt at defence, and the attack continued beyond the point where the victim ceased moving. In this respect the inter-band attacks differ from the milder fights that often occur within a band. Chimps' inefficiency as killers reflects their lack of weapons, but it remains surprising that they have not learned to kill by strangling, although that would be within their capabilities. Not only is each individual killing inefficient by our standards, but so is the whole course of chimp genocide. It took three years and ten months from the first killing of a Kahama chimp to the band's end, and all killings were of individuals, never of several Kahama chimps at once. In contrast, Australia's settlers often succeeded in eliminating a band of Aborigines in a single dawn attack. Partly, this inefficiency again reflects chimps' lack of weapons. Since all chimps are equally unarmed, killings can succeed only by several attackers overpowering a single victim, whereas Australia's settlers had the advantage of guns over unarmed Aborigines and could shoot many at once. Partly, too, genocidal chimps are much inferior to humans in brainpower and hence in strategic planning. Chimps apparently cannot plan a night attack or a coordinated ambush by a split assault team.

However genocidal chimps do seem to evince intent and unsophisticated planning. The Kahama killings resulted from Kasakela groups proceeding directly, quickly, silently, and nervously towards or into Kahama territory, sitting in trees and listening for nearly an hour, and finally running to Kahama chimps that they detected. Chimps also share xenophobia with us; they clearly recognize members of other bands as different from, and treat them very differently from, members of their own band.

In short, of all our human hallmarksart, spoken language, drugs, and the othersthe one that has been derived most straightforwardly from animal precursors is genocide. Common chimps already carried out planned killings, extermination of neighbouring bands, wars of territorial conquest, and abduction of young nubile females. If chimps were given spears and some instruction in their use, their killings would undoubtedly begin to approach ours in efficiency. Chimpanzee behaviour suggests that a major reason for our human hallmark of group living was defence against other human groups, especially once we acquired weapons and a large enough brain to plan ambushes. If this reasoning is correct, then anthropologists' traditional emphasis on 'man the hunter' as a driving force of human evolution might be valid after all-with the difference that we ourselves, not mammoths, were our own prey and the predator that forced us into group living.

Of the two patterns of genocide commonest among humans, both have animal precedents: killing both men and women fits the common chimpanzee and wolf pattern, while killing men and sparing women fits the gorilla and lion pattern. Unprecedented even among animals, however, is a procedure adopted from 1976 to 1983 by the Argentine military, in the course of killing over 10,000 political opponents and their families, the desaparecidos. Victims included the usual men, non-pregnant women, and children down to the age of three or four years, who were often tortured before being killed. But Argentina's soldiers made a unique contribution to animal behaviour by specializing in killing pregnant women, who were arrested, kept alive until they delivered, and then shot in the head, so that the newborn infant could be adopted by childless military parents. If we are not unique among animals in our own propensity for murder, might our propensities nevertheless be a pathological fruit of modern civilization? Modern writers, disgusted by destruction of 'primitive' societies by 'advanced' societies, tend to idealize the former as noble savages who supposedly are peace-loving, or who commit only isolated murders rather than massacres. Erich Fromm believed the warfare of hunter-gatherer societies to be 'characteristically unbloody'. Certainly some pre-literate peoples (Pygmies, Eskimos) seem less warlike than some others (New Guineans, Great Plains and Amazonian Indians). Even the warlike peoplesso it is claimedpractise war in a ritualized fashion and stop when only a few adversaries have been killed. But this idealization does not match my experience of the New Guinea high-landers, who are often cited as practising limited or ritualized war. While most fighting in New Guinea consisted of skirmishes leaving no or few dead, groups sometimes did succeed in massacring their neighbours. Like other peoples, New Guineans tried to drive off or kill their neighbours on occasions when they found it advantageous, safe, or a matter of survival to do so. When we consider early literate civilizations, written records testify to the frequency of genocide. The wars of the Greeks and Trojans, of Rome and Carthage, and of the Assyrians and Babylonians and Persians proceeded to a common end: the slaughter of the defeated irrespective of sex, or else the killing of the men and enslavement of the women. We all know the biblical account of how the walls of Jericho came tumbling down at the sound of Joshua's trumpets. Less often quoted is the sequel. Joshua obeyed the Lord's command to slaughter the inhabitants of Jericho as well as of Ai, Makkedeh, Libnah, Hebron, Debir, and many other cities. This was considered so ordinary that the Book of Joshua devotes only a phrase to each slaughter, as if to say, of course he killed all the inhabitants, what else would you expect? The sole account requiring elaboration is of the slaughter at Jericho itself, where Joshua did something really unusual; he spared the lives of one family (because they had helped his messengers).

We find similar episodes in accounts of the wars of the Crusaders, Pacific islanders, and many other groups. Obviously, I am not saying that slaughter of the defeated irrespective of sex has always followed crushing defeat in war. Yet either that outcome, or else milder versions hke the killing of men and enslavement of women, happened often enough that they must be considered more than a rare aberration in our view of human nature. Since 1950 there have been nearly twenty episodes of genocide, including two claiming over a million victims each (Bangladesh in 1971, Cambodia in the late 1970s) and four more with over a hundred thousand victims each (the Sudan and Indonesia in the 1960s, Burundi and Uganda in the 1970s) (see map on page 258).

Thus, genocide has been part of our human and prehuman heritage for millions of years. In light of this long history, what about our impression that twentieth-century genocide is unique? There is little doubt that Stalin and Hitler set new records for number of victims, because they enjoyed three advantages over killers of earlier centuriesdenser populations of victims, improved communications for rounding up victims, and improved technology for mass killing. As another example of how technology can expedite genocide, the Solomon Islanders of Roviana Lagoon in the Southwest Pacific were famous for their headhunting raids that depopulated neighbouring islands. However, as my Roviana friends explained to me, these raids did not blossom until steel axes reached the Solomon Islands in the Nineteenth Century. Beheading a man with a stone axe is difficult, and the axe blade quickly loses its sharp edge and is tedious to resharpen. A much more controversial question is whether technology also makes genocide psychologically easier today, as Konrad Lorenz has argued. His reasoning goes as follows. As humans evolved from apes, we depended increasingly for our food on killing animals. However, we also lived in societies of more and more individuals, between whom cooperation was essential. Such societies could not maintain themselves unless we developed strong inhibitions about killing fellow humans. Throughout most of our evolutionary history, our weapons operated only at close quarters, so it was enough that we be inhibited from looking another person in the face and killing him/her. Modern push-button weapons bypassed these inhibitions by enabling us to kill without even seeing our victims' faces. Technology thus created the psychological prerequisites for the white-collar genocides of Auschwitz and Treblinka, of Hiroshima and Dresden. I am uncertain whether this psychological argument really contributed significantly to the modern ease of genocide. The past frequency of genocide seems to have been at least as high as today's, though practical considerations limited the number of victims. To understand genocide further, we must leave dates and numbers and inquire about the ethics of killing.

That our urge to kill is restrained by our ethics almost all the time is obvious. The puzzle is: what unleashes it?

Today, while we may divide the world's people into 'us' and 'them', we know that there are thousands of types of 'them', all differing from each other as well as from us in language, appearance, and habits. To waste words on pointing this out seems silly: we all know it from books and television, and most of us also know it from first-hand experience of travel. It is hard to transfer ourselves back into the frame of mind prevailing throughout much of human history, described in Chapter Thirteen. Like chimpanzees, gorillas, and social carnivores, we lived in band territories. The known world was much smaller and simpler than it is today; there were only a few known types of'them', one's immediate neighbours.

For example, in New Guinea until recently, each tribe maintained a shifting pattern of warfare and alliance with each of its neighbours. A person might enter the next valley on a friendly visit (never quite without danger) or on a war raid, but the chances of being able to traverse a sequence of several valleys in friendship were negligible. The powerful rules about treatment of one's fellow 'us' did not apply to 'them', those dimly understood, neighbouring enemies. As I walked between New Guinea valleys, people who themselves practised cannibalism and were only a decade out of the Stone Age routinely warned me about the unspeakably primitive, vile, and cannibalistic habits of the people whom I would encounter in the next valley. Even Al Capone's gangs in twentieth-century Chicago made a policy of hiring out-of-town killers, so that the assassin could feel that he was killing one of'them' rather than of 'us'.

The writings of classical Greece reveal an extension of this tribal territorialism. The known world was larger and more diverse, but 'us' Greeks were still distinguished from 'them' barbarians. Our word 'barbarian' is derived from the Greek barbaroi, which simply means non-Greek foreigners. Egyptians and Persians, whose level of civilisation was like that of the Greeks, were nevertheless barbaroi. The ideal of conduct was not to treat all men equally, but instead to reward one's friends and to punish one's enemies. When the Athenian author Xenophon wanted to express the highest praise for his admired leader Cyrus, Xenophon related how Cyrus always repaid his friends' good turns more generously, and how Cyrus retaliated on his enemies' misdeeds more severely (for example, by gouging.out their eyes or cutting off their hands).

Humans, like the Mungi and Scratching Rock hyena clans, practised a dual standard of behaviour, with strong inhibitions about killing one of us', but a green light to kill 'them' when it was safe to do so. Genocide was acceptable under this dichotomy, whether one considers the dichotomy as an inherited animal instinct or as a uniquely human ethical code. We all still acquire in childhood our own arbitrary dichotomous criteria for respecting or scorning other humans. I recall a scene at Goroka airport in the New Guinea highlands, when my Tudawhe field assistants were standing awkwardly in torn shirts and bare feet, and an unshaven, unwashed white man with a strong Australian accent and hat crumpled over his eyes approached. Even before he had begun to sneer at the Tudawhes as 'black burns, they won't be fit to run this country for a century', I had begun to think to myself, 'Dumb Aussie redneck, why doesn't he go home to his goddamn sheep dip. There it was, a blueprint for genocide: I scorning the Australian, and he scorning the Tudawhes, based on collective characteristics taken in at a glance. With time, this ancient dichotomizing has become increasingly unacceptable as a basis for an ethical code. Instead, there has been some tendency towards paying at least lip-service to a universal codethat is, one stipulating similar rules for treating different peoples. Genocide conflicts directly with a universal code.

Despite this ethical conflict, numerous modern perpetrators of genocide have managed to take unabashed pride in their accomplishments. When Argentina's General Julio Argentine Roca opened the pampas for white settlement by ruthlessly exterminating the Araucanian Indians, a delighted and grateful Argentinian nation elected him president in 1880. How do today's practitioners of genocide wriggle out of the conflict between their actions and a universal code of ethics? They resort to one of three types of rationalizations, all of which are variations on a simple psychological theme, 'Blame the victim!

Firstly, most believers in a universal code still consider self-defence justified. This is a usefully elastic rationalization, because 'they' can invariably be provoked into some behaviour adequate to justify self-defence. For instance, the Tasmanians delivered an excuse to genocidal white colonists by killing an estimated total of 183 colonists over thirty-four years, while being provoked by a far greater number of mutilations, kidnappings, [apes, and murders. Even Hitler claimed self-defence in starting the Second World War, and he went to the trouble of faking a Polish attack on a German border post.

Possessing the 'right' religion or race or political belief, or claiming to represent progress or a higher level of civilization, is a second traditional justification for inflicting anything, including genocide, on those possessing the wrong principle. When I was a student in Munich in 1962, unrepentant Nazis still explained to me matter-of-factly that the Germans had had to invade Russia, because the Russian people had adopted Communism. My fifteen field assistants in New Guinea's Fakfak Mountains all looked pretty similar to me, but eventually they began explaining to me which of them were Moslems and which were Christians, and why the former (or the latter) were irredeemably lower humans. There is an almost universal hierarchy of scorn, according to which literate peoples with advanced metallurgy (for instance, white colonialists in Africa) look down on herders (such as Tutsi, Hottentots), who look down on farmers (such as Hutu), who look down on nomads or hunter-gatherers (such as Pygmies, Bushmen).

Finally, our ethical codes regard animals and humans differently. Hence modern perpetrators of genocide routinely compare their victims to animals in order to justify the killings. Nazis considered Jews to be subhuman lice; the French settlers of Algeria referred to local Moslems as ratons (rats); 'civilized' Paraguayans described the Ache hunter-gatherers as rabid rats; Boers called Africans bobbejaan (baboons); and educated northern Nigerians viewed Ibos as subhuman vermin. The English language is rich in animal names used as pejoratives: you pig (ape, bitch, cur, dog, ox, rat, swine).

All three types of ethical rationalizations were employed by Australian colonists to justify exterminating Tasmanians. However, my fellow Americans and I can obtain a better insight into the rationalization process by focusing on the case that we have been trained from childhood to rationalize: our not-quite-complete extermination of American Indians. A set of attitudes that we absorb goes roughly as follows.

To begin with, we do not discuss the Indian tragedy muchnot nearly as much as the genocide of the Second World War in Europe, for instance. Our great national tragedy is instead viewed as the Civil War. Insofar as we stop to think about white versus Indian conflict, we consider it as belonging to the distant past, and we describe it in military language, such as the Pequod War,

Great Swamp Fight, Battle of Wounded Knee, Conquest of the West, and so on. Indians, in our view, were warlike and violent even towards other Indian tribes, masters of ambush and treachery. They were famous for their barbarity, notably for the distinctively Indian practices of torturing captives and scalping enemies. They were few in number and lived as nomadic hunters, especially bison hunters. The Indian population of the US as of 1492 is traditionally estimated at one million. This figure is so trivial, compared to the present US population of 250 million, that the inevitability of whites occupying this virtually empty continent becomes immediately apparent. Many Indians died from smallpox and other diseases. The aforementioned attitudes guided the Indian policy of the most admired US presidents and leaders from George Washington onwards (see quotations at the end of this chapter).

These rationalizations rest on a transformation of historical facts. Military language implies declared warfare waged by adult male combatants. Actually, common white tactics were sneak attacks (often by civilians) on villages or encampments to kill Indians of any age and either sex. Within the first century of white settlement, governments were paying scalp bounties to semi-professional killers of Indians. Contemporary European societies were at least as warlike and violent as Indian societies, when one considers the European frequency of rebellions, class wars, drunken violence, legalized violence against criminals, and total war including destruction of food and property. Torture was exquisitely refined in Europe: think of drawing and quartering, burning at the stake, and the rack. While the pre-contact Indian population of North America is the subject of widely varying opinions, plausible recent estimates are about eighteen million, a population not reached by white settlers of the US till around 1840. Although some Indians in the US were semi-nomadic hunters without agriculture, most were settled farmers living in villages. Disease may well have been the biggest killer of Indians, but some of the epidemics were intentionally transmitted by whites, and the epidemics still left plenty of Indians to kill by more direct means. It was only in 1916 that the last 'wild' Indian in the US (the Yahi Indian known as Ishi) died, and frank and unapologetic memoirs by the white killers of his tribe were still being published as recently as 1923.

In short, Americans romanticize the white/Indian conflict as battles of grown men on horseback, fought by US cavalry and cowboys against fierce nomadic bison-hunters able to offer strong resistance. The conflict is more accurately described as one race of civilian peasant farmers exterminating another. We Americans remember with outrage our own losses at the Alamo (circa 200 dead), on the battleship U.S.S. Maine (260 dead), and at Pearl Harbor (about 2,200 dead), the incidents that galvanized our support for the Mexican War, Spanish-American War, and the Second World War respectively. Yet these numbers of dead are dwarfed by the forgotten losses that we inflicted on the Indians. Introspection shows us how, in rewriting our great national tragedy, we like so many modern peoples reconciled genocide with a universal code of ethics. The solution was to plead self-defence and overriding principle, and to view the victims as savage animals.

ISHI, the last surviving Indian of the Yahi tribe of northern California. The photograph on the opposite page shows him, starving and terrified, on 29 August 1911, the day that he emerged from forty-one years of hiding in a remote canyon. Most of his tribe was massacred by white settlers between 1853 and 1870. In 1870 the sixteen survivors of the final massacre went into concealment in the Mount Lassen wilderness and continued to live as hunter-gatherers. In November 1908, when the survivors had dwindled to four, surveyors stumbled upon their camp and took all their tools, clothes, and winter food supplies, with the result that three of the Yahis (Ishi's mother, his sister, and an old man) died. Ishi remained alone for three more years until he could stand it no longer and walked out to white civilization, expecting to be lynched there. In fact, he was employed by the University of California Museum at San Francisco and died of tuberculosis in 1916. The photograph is from the archives of the Lowie Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley.

Our rewriting of American history stems from the aspect of genocide that is of greatest practical importance in preventing itits psychological effects on killers, victims, and third parties. The most puzzling question involves the effect, or rather the apparent non-effect, on third parties. On first thought, one might expect that no horror could grip public attention as much as the intentional, collective, and savage killing of many people. In reality, genocide rarely grips the public's attention in other countries, and even more rarely are interrupted by foreign intervention. Who among us paid much attention to the slaughter of Zanzibar's Arabs in 1964, or of Paraguay's Ache Indians in the 1970s?

Contrast our lack of response to these and all the other instances of genocide in recent decades with our strong reaction to the sole two cases of modern genocide that remain vivid in our imagination, that of the Nazis against the Jews and (much less vivid for most people) that of the Turks against the Armenians. These cases differ in three crucial respects from the genocide we ignore: the victims were whites, with whom other whites identify; the perpetrators were our war enemies whom we were encouraged to hate as evil (especially the Nazis); and there are articulate survivors in the US, who go to much effort to force us to remember. Thus, it takes a rather special constellation of circumstances to get third parties to focus on genocide. The strange passivity of third parties is exemplified by that of governments, whose actions reflect collective human psychology. While the United Nations in 1948 adopted a Convention on Genocide that declared it a crime, the UN has never taken serious steps to prevent, halt, or punish it, despite complaints lodged before the UN against on-going genocide in Bangladesh, Burundi, Cambodia, Paraguay, and Uganda. To a complaint lodged against Uganda at the height of Idi Amin's terror, the UN Secretary-General responded only by asking Amin himself to investigate. The United States is not even among the nations that ratified the UN Convention on Genocide. Is our puzzling lack of response because we did not know, or could not find out, about on-going genocide? Certainly not: many cases of genocide of the 1960s and 1970s received detailed publicity at the time, including those in Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Cambodia, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Lebanon, Paraguay, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, and Zanzibar. (The casualties in Bangladesh and Cambodia each topped a million.) For example, in 1968 the Brazilian government filed criminal charges against 134 of the 700 employees of its Indian Protection Service for their acts in exterminating Amazonian Indian tribes. Among the acts detailed in the 5,115-page Figueiredo Report by Brazil's attorney general, and announced at a press conference by Brazil's minister of the interior, were the following: killing of Indians by dynamite, machine-guns, arsenic-laced sugar, and intentionally introduced smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis, and measles; kidnapping of Indian children as slaves; and the hiring of professional killers of Indians by land development countries. Accounts of the Figueiredo report appeared in the American and British press, but failed to stimulate much reaction.

One might thus conclude that most people simply do not care about injustice done to other people, or regard it as none of their business. This is undoubtedly part of the explanation, but not all of it. Many people care passionately about some injustices, such as apartheid in South Africa; why not also about genocide? This question was addressed poignantly, to the Organization of African States, by Hutu victims of the Tutsi in Burundi, where somewhere between 80,000 and 200,000 Hutu were killed in 1972.

Tutsi apartheid is established more ferociously than the apartheid of Vorster, more inhumanly than Portuguese colonialism. Outside of Hitler's Nazi movement, there is nothing to compete with it in world history. And the peoples of Africa say nothing. African heads of state receive the executioner Micombero [President of Burundi, a Tutsi] and clasp his hand in fraternal greeting. Sirs, heads of state, if you wish to help the African peoples of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau to liberate themselves from their white oppressors, you have no right to let Africans murder other Africans. . Are you waiting until the entire Hutu ethnic group of Burundi is exterminated before raising your voices?

To understand this lack of reaction of third parties, we need to appreciate the reaction of surviving victims. Psychiatrists who have studied witnesses of genocide, such as Auschwitz survivors, describe the effects on them as 'psychological numbing'. Most of us have experienced the intense and lasting pain that comes when a loved friend or relative dies a natural death, out of sight. It is virtually impossible for us to imagine the multiplied intensity of pain when one is forced to watch at close hand many loved friends and relatives being killed with extreme savagery. For the survivors, there is a shattering of the implicit belief system under which such savagery was forbidden; a sense of stigma that one must indeed be worthless to have been singled out for such cruelty; and a sense of guilt at surviving, when one's companions died. Just as intense physical pain numbs us, so does intense psychological painthere is no other way to survive and remain sane. For myself, these reactions were personified in a relative who survived two years in Auschwitz, and who remained practically unable to cry for decades afterwards.

As for the reactions of the killers, those killers whose ethical code distinguishes between 'us' and 'them' may be able to feel pride, but those reared under a universal ethical code may share the numbing of their victims, exacerbated by the guilt of perpetration. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who fought in Vietnam suffered this numbing. Even the descendants of practitioners of genocidedescendants who have no individual responsibilitymay feel a collective guilt, the mirror image of the collective labelling of victims that defines genocide. To reduce the pain of guilt, the descendants often rewrite history; witness the response of modern Americans, or that of Ms Cobern and many other modern Australians.

We can now begin to understand better the lack of reaction of third parties to genocide. Genocide inflicts crippling and lasting psychological damage on the victims and killers who experience it first-hand. But it also may leave deep scars on those who hear about it only second-hand, such as the children of Auschwitz survivors, or the psychotherapists who treat the survivors and Vietnam veterans. Therapists who have trained professionally to be able to listen to human misery often cannot bear to hear the sickening recollections of those involved in genocide. If paid professionals cannot stand it, who can blame the lay public for refusing to listen?

Consider the reactions of Robert Jay Lifton, an American psychiatrist who had already had much experience with survivors of extreme situations before he interviewed survivors of the Hiroshima A-bomb:

. . now, instead of dealing with 'the atomic bomb problem', I was confronted with the brutal details of actual experiences of human beings who sat before me. I found that the completion of each of these early interviews left me profoundly shocked and emotionally spent. But very soonwithin a few days, in factI noticed that my reactions were changing. I was listening to descriptions of the same horrors, but their effect upon me had lessened. The experience was an unforgettable demonstration of the 'psychic closing off we shall see to be characteristic of all aspects of atomic bomb exposure. .

What genocidal acts can we expect from Homo sapiens in the future? There are plenty of obvious reasons for pessimism. The world abounds with trouble spots that seem ripe for genocide: South Africa, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, New Caledonia, and the Middle East, to name just a few. Totalitarian governments bent on genocide seem unstoppable. Modern weaponry permits one to kill ever larger numbers of victims, to be a killer while wearing a coat and tie, and even to effect a universal genocide of the human race.

At the same time, I see grounds for cautious optimism that the future reed not be as murderous as the past. In many countries today, people of different races or religions or ethnic groups live together, with varying degrees of social justice but at least without open mass murderfor instance, Switzerland, Belgium, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, even the post-Ishi USA. Some attempts at genocide have been successfully interrupted, reduced, or prevented by the efforts or anticipated reactions of third parties. Even the Nazi extermination ofjews, which we view as the most efficient and unstoppable of genocides, was thwarted in Denmark, Bulgaria, and every other occupied state where the head of the dominant church publicly denounced deportation ofjews before or as soon as it began. A further hopeful sign is that modern travel, television, and photography enable us to see other people living 10,000 miles away as human, like us. Much as we damn twentieth-century technology, it is blurring the distinction between 'us' and 'them' that makes genocide possible. While genocide was considered socially acceptable or even admirable in the pre-first-contact world, the modern spread of international culture and knowledge of distant peoples have been making it increasingly hard to justify.

Still, the risk of genocide will be with us as long as we cannot bear to understand it, and as long as we delude ourselves with the belief that only rare perverts could commit it. Granted, it is hard not to go numb while reading about genocide. It is hard to imagine how we, and other nice ordinary people that we know, could bring ourselves to look helpless people in the face while killing them. I came closest to being able to imagine it when a friend whom I had long known told me of a genocidal massacre at which he had been a killer.

Kariniga is a gentle Tudawhe tribesman who worked with me in New Guinea. We shared life-threatening situations, fears, and triumphs, and I like and admire him. One evening after I had known Kariniga for five years, he told me of an episode from his youth. There had been a long history of conflict between the Tudawhes and a neighbouring village of Daribi tribesmen. Tudawhes and Daribis seem quite similar to me, but Kariniga had come to view Daribis as inexpressibly vile. In a series of ambushes the Daribis finally succeeded in picking off many Tudawhes, including Kariniga's father, until the surviving Tudawhes became desperate. All the remaining Tudawhe men surrounded the Daribi village at night and set fire to the huts at dawn. As the sleepy Daribis stumbled down the steps of their burning huts, they were speared. Some Daribis succeeded in escaping to hide in the forest, where Tudawhes tracked down and killed most of them during the following weeks. The establishment of Australian government control ended the hunt before Kariniga could catch his father's killer. Since that evening, I have often found myself shuddering as I recalled details of itthe glow in Kariniga's eyes as he told me of the dawn massacre; those intensely satisfying moments when he finally drove his spear into some of his people's murderers; and his tears of rage and frustration at the escape of his father's killer, whom he still hoped to kill some day with poison. That evening, I thought I understood how at least one nice person had brought himself to kill. The potential for genocide that circumstances thrust on Kariniga lies within all of us. As the growth of world population sharpens conflicts between and within societies, humans will have more urge to kill each other, and more effective weapons with which to do it. To listen to first-person accounts of genocide is unbearably painful. But if we continue to turn away and to not understand it, when will it be our own turn to become the killers, or the victims?


SOME GENOCIDES, 1900 1950 | The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee | INDIAN POLICIES OF SOME FAMOUS AMERICANS