DEATH BY GOVERNMENT 20th Century Democide
By R.J. Rummel
Power kills, absolute Power kills absolutely. This new Power Principle is the message emerging from my previous work on the causes of war1 and this book on genocide and government mass murder--what I call democide--in this century. The more power a government has, the more it can act arbitrarily according to the whims and desires of the elite, the more it will make war on others and murder its foreign and domestic subjects. The more constrained the power of governments, the more it is diffused, checked and balanced, the less it will aggress on others and commit democide. At the extremes of Power2, totalitarian communist governments slaughter their people by the tens of millions, while many democracies can barely bring themselves to execute even serial murderers.
These assertions are extreme and categorical, but so is the evidence accumulated in this book, Death By Government, and its complement Statistics of Democide. Consider first war. Table 1.1 shows the occurrence of war between nations since 1816. In no case has there been a war involving violent military action between stable democracies3, although they have fought, as everyone knows, non-democracies. Most wars are between nondemocracies. Indeed, we have here a general principle that is gaining acceptance among students of international relations and war. That is that democracies don't make war on each other. To this I would add that the less democratic two states the more likely that they will fight each other.
This belligerence of unrestrained Power is not an artifact of either a small number of democracies nor of our era. For one thing the number of democratic states in 1993 number around seventy-five, or also taking into account forty-eight related territories, about one-fourth of the world's population.4 Yet we have had no war--none--among them. Nor is there any threat of war. They create an oasis of peace.
Moreover, this is historically true of democracies as well. If one relaxes the definition of democracy to mean simply the restraint on Power by the participation of middle and lower classes in the determination of power holders and policy making, then there have been many democracies throughout history. And whether considering the classical Greek democracies, the forest democracies of medieval Switzerland, or modern democracies, they did or do not fight each other (depending on how war and democracy is defined, some might prefer to say that they rarely fought or fight each other).5 Moreover, once those states that had been mortal enemies, that had frequently gone to war (as have France and Germany in recent centuries), became democratic, war ceased between them.6 Paradigmatic of this is Western Europe since 1945. The cauldron of our most disastrous wars for many centuries, in 1945 one would not find an expert so foolhardy as to predict not only forty-five years of peace, but that at the end of that time there would be a European community with central government institutions, moves toward a joint European military force by France and Germany, and zero expectation of violence between any of these formerly hostile states. Yet such has happened. All because they are all democracies. Even among primitive tribes, it seems, where Power is divided and limited, war is less likely.7 Were all to be said about absolute and arbitrary Power is that it causes war and the attendant slaughter of the young and most capable of our species, this would be enough. But much worse, as the case studies in this book will more than attest, even without the excuse of combat Power also massacres in cold blood those helpless people it controls. Several times more of them. Consider table 1.2 and figure 1.1, the list and its graph of this century's megamurderers--those states killing in cold blood, aside from warfare, 1,000,000 or more men, women, and children. These fifteen megamurderers have wiped out over 151,000,000 people, almost four times the almost 38,500,000 battle-dead for all this century's international and civil wars up to 1987.8 The most absolute Power, that is the communist U.S.S.R., China and preceding Mao guerrillas, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia, as well fascist Nazi Germany, account for near 128,000,000 of them, or 84 percent.
Table 1.2 also shows the annual percentage democide rate (the percent of its population that a regime murders per year) for each megamurderer and figure 1.1 graphically overlays the plot of this on the total murdered. However, such massive megamurderers as the Soviet Union and communist China had huge populations with a resulting small annual democide rate. For their populations as a whole some less than megamurderers were far more lethal.
Table 1.3 lists the fifteen most lethal regimes and figure 1.2 bar graphs them. As can be seen, no other megamurderer comes even close to the lethality of the communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during 1975 through 1978. As described in Chapter 9 of Death By Government, in less than four years of governing they exterminated over 31 percent of their men, women, and children; the odds of any Cambodian surviving these four long years was only about 2.2 to 1.
Then there are the kilomurderers, or those states that have killed innocents by the tens or hundreds of thousands, such as the top five listed in table 1.2: China Warlords (1917-1949), Atatčrk's Turkey (1919-1923), the United Kingdom (primarily due to the 1914-1919 food blockade of the Central Powers in and after World War I, and the 1940-45 indiscriminate bombing of German cities), Portugal (1926-1982), and Indonesia (1965-87). Some lesser kilomurderers were communist Afghanistan, Angola, Albania, Rumania, and Ethiopia, as well as authoritarian Hungary, Burundi, Croatia (1941-44), Czechoslovakia (1945-46), Indonesia, Iraq, Russia, and Uganda. For its indiscriminate bombing of German and Japanese civilians, the United States must also be added to this list (see Statistics of Democide). These and other kilomurderers add almost 15,000,000 people killed to the democide for this century, as shown in table 1.2.
Of course, saying that a state or regime is a murderer is a convenient personification of an abstraction. Regimes are in reality people with the power to command a whole society. It is these people that have committed the kilo and megamurders of our century and we must not lose their identity under the abstraction of "state," "regime," "government," or "communist." Table 1.4 lists those men most notorious and singularly responsible for the megamurders of this century. Stalin, by far, leads the list. He ordered the death of millions, knowingly set in train events leading to the death of millions of others, and as the ultimate dictator, was responsible for the death of still millions more killed by his henchman. It may come as a surprise to find Mao Tse-tung is next in line as this century's greatest murderers, but this would only be because the full extent of communist killing in China under his leadership has not been widely known in the West. Hitler and Pol Pot are of course among these bloody tyrants and as for the others whose names may appear strange, their megamurders are described in detail in Death By Governments. The monstrous bloodletting of at least these nine men should be entered into a Hall of Infamy. Their names should forever warn us of the deadly potential of Power.
The major and better known episodes and institutions for which these and other murderers were responsible are listed in table 1.5. Far above all is gulag--the Soviet slave--labor system created by Lenin and built up under Stalin. In some 70 years it likely chewed up almost 40,000,000 lives, over twice as many as probably died in some 400 years of the African slave trade, from capture to sale in an Arab, Oriental, or New World market.9
In total, during the first eighty-eight years of this century, almost 170,000,000 men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; or buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens or foreigners. The dead even could conceivably be near 360,000,000 people. This is as though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of Power and not germs.
The souls of this monstrous pile of dead have created a new land, a new nation, among us. Let in Shakespeare's word's "This Land be calle'd The field of Golgotha, and dead men's Skulls"10 As clear from the megamurderers listed in table 1.2 alone, this land is multicultural and multiethnic, its inhabitants believed in all the world's religions and spoke all its languages. Its demography has yet to be precisely measured and only two rough censuses, the most recent constituting Death By Government, have so far been taken.11 But this last census does allow us to rank this land of the murdered sixth in population among the nations of the living, as shown in figure 1.3.
This census and the estimates of explorers also enables us to estimate Golgotha's racial and ethnic composition, which is pictured in figure 1.4. Chinese make up 30 percent of its souls, with Russians next at 24 percent. Then there is a much lower percentage of Ukrainians (6 percent), Germans (4 percent), Poles (4 percent), and Cambodians (2 percent). The remaining 30 percent is made up of a diverse Koreans, Mexicans, Pakistanis (largely ethnic Bengalis and Hindus), Turk subjects, and Vietnamese.
But still, is Golgotha dominantly Asian? European? What region did most of its dead souls come from. Figure 1.5 displays two different ways of looking at this: the percent of Golgothians from a particular region and also the percent of a region's 1987 population in Golgotha. While most, some 40 percent, are from Asia and the Middle East, the highest proportion of any region's population in Golgotha, around 22 percent, is from the territory of the former Soviet Union. In other words, Asians are the largest group while the former Soviet Union has contributed the most of its population. Note that 18 percent of Golgothians are former Europeans, including those from all of Eastern Europe except the former USSR; Europe has contributed 6 percent of its population to this land of the murdered.
So much for Golgotha and a summary overview of its statistics. As I already have made clear, Golgotha owes its existence to Power. I can now be more specific about this. Table 1.6 summarizes the most prudent democide results and contrasts them to this century's battle-dead. Figure 1.6 gives a bar chart of these totals.12 Note immediately in the figure that the human cost of democide is far greater than war for authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, while although for democracies they suffer fewer battle-dead than other regimes, this total is still greater than democratic domestic and foreign democide. In evaluating the battle-dead for democracies keep in mind that most of these dead were the result of wars that democracies fought against authoritarian or totalitarian aggression, particularly World War I and II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars.13
Putting the human cost of war and democide together, Power has killed over 203,000,000 people in this century. If one were to sit at a table and have this many people come in one door, walk at three miles per hour across the room with three feet between them (assume generously that each person is also one foot thick, naval to spine), and exit an opposite door, it would take over five years and nine months for them all to pass, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. If all these dead were laid out head to toe, and assuming each is an average 5 feet tall, they would reach from Honolulu, Hawaii, across the vast Pacific and then the huge continental United States to Washington D.C. on the East coast, and then back again almost twenty times.14 Were each of these people also an average of two-feet wide, then to bury them side-to-side and head-to-toe would take fifty-five square miles. Even digging up every foot of all of San Marino, Monaco, and Vatican city to bury these democide and war battle-dead would not be sufficient to bury half of them.
Now, as shown in table 1.6 and figure 1.6, democracies themselves are responsible for some of the democide. Almost all of this is foreign democide during war, and mainly those enemy civilians killed in indiscriminate urban bombing, as of Germany and Japan in World War II.15 It also includes the large scale massacres of Filipinos during the bloody American colonization of the Philippines at the beginning of this century, deaths in British concentration camps in South Africa during the Boar War, civilian deaths due to starvation during the British blockade of Germany in and after World War I, the rape and murder of helpless Chinese in and around Peking in 1900, the atrocities committed by Americans in Vietnam, the murder of helpless Algerians during the Algerian War by the French, and the unnatural deaths of German prisoners of war in French and American POW camps after World War II.16
All this killing of foreigners by democracies may seem to violate the Power Principle, but really underlines it. For in each case, the killing was carried out in secret, behind a conscious cover of lies and deceit by those agencies and power-holders involved. All were shielded by tight censorship of the press and control of journalists. Even the indiscriminate bombing of German cities by the British was disguised before the House of Commons and in press releases as attacks on German military targets. That the general strategic bombing policy was to attack working men's homes was kept secret still long after the war.
Finally, with the summary statistics on democide and war shown in table 1.6, we now can display the role of Power. Figures 1.7A-D illustrate the power curves for the total democide and battle-dead (figures 1.7A-B); and for the intensity of democide and battle-dead, both measured as a percent of a regime's population killed (figures 1.7C-D). In each case, as the arbitrary power of a regime increases massively, that is, as we move from democratic through authoritarian to totalitarian regimes, the amount of killing jumps by huge multiples.
Two more figures will exhibit the sheer lethality of Power. Figure 1.8 shows the proportion of war and democide dead accounted for by authoritarian or totalitarian power together and compares this to the democratic dead. For all this killing in this century, democide and war by democracies contributes only 1 and 2.2 percent, respectively to the total.
And in figure 1.9, one of the most important comparisons on democide and power in Death By Government, the range of democide estimates for each regime-level of power is shown. As mentioned in the preface, I have collected over 8,100 estimates of democide from over a thousand sources to arrive at an absolute low and high for democide committed by 219 regimes or groups. It is highly improbable that the actual democide would be below or above this range. The totals that have been displayed in previous figures have been the sum of conservatively determined mid-totals in this range, and are shown in the figure. Now, what figure 1.9 presents for each type of regime, such as the authoritarian, is the range resulting from the sum of all the lows and highs for all the democide of all regimes of that type. The difference between the three resulting ranges drawn in the figure can only be understood in terms of Power. As the arbitrary power of regimes increase left to right in the figure, the range of their democide jumps accordingly and to such a great extent that the low democide for the authoritarian regime is above the democratic high, and the authoritarian high is below the totalitarian low.
So Power kills and absolute Power kills absolutely. What then can be said of those alleged causes or factors in war, genocide, and mass murder favored by students of genocide. What about cultural-ethnic differences, outgroup conflict, misperception, frustration-aggression, relative deprivation, ideological imperatives, dehumanization, resource competition, etc.? At one time or another, for one regime or another, one or more of these factors play an important role in democide. Some are essential for understanding some genocides, as of the Jews or Armenians; some politicide, as of "enemies of the people," bourgeoisie, and clergy; some massacres, as of competing religious-ethnic groups; or some atrocities, as of those committed against poor and helpless villagers by victorious soldiers. But then neighbors in the service of Power have killed neighbor, fathers have killed their sons, faceless and unknown people have been killed by quota. One is hard put to find a race, religion, culture, or distinct ethnic group whose regime has not murdered its own or others.
These specific causes or factors accelerate the likelihood of war or democide once some trigger event occurs and absolute or near absolute Power is present. That is, Power is a necessary cause for war or democide. When the elite have absolute power, war or democide follows a common process (which I call "the conflict helix"17).
In any society, including the international one, relations between individuals and groups is structured by social contracts determined by previous conflicts, accommodations, and adjustments among them. These social contracts define a structure of expectations that guide and regulate the social order, including Power. And this structure is based on a particular balance of powers (understood as an equilibrium of interests, capabilities, and wills) among individuals and groups. That is, previous conflict and possibly violence determine a balance of powers between competing individuals and groups and a congruent structure of expectations (as for example, war or revolution ends in a new balance of powers between nations or groups and an associated peace treaty or constitution). This structure of expectations often consists of new laws and norms defining a social order more consistent with the underlying distribution of relative power.
However, relative power never remains constant. It shifts as the interests, capabilities, and wills of the parties change. The death of a charismatic leader, the outrage of significant groups, the loss of foreign support by outgroups, the entry into war and the resulting freedom of the elite to use force under the guise of war-time necessity, and so on, can significantly alter the balance of power between groups. Where such a shift in power is in favor of the governing elite, Power can now achieve its potential. Where also the elite have built up frustrations regarding those who have lost power or nonetheless feel threatened by them, where they see them as outside the moral universe, where they have dehumanized them, where the outgroup is culturally or ethnically distinct and the elite perceive them as inferior, or where any other such factors are present, Power will achieve its murderous potential. It simply waits for an excuse, an event of some sort, an assassination, a massacre in a neighboring country, an attempted coup, a famine, or a natural disaster, that will justify beginning the murder en masse. Most democides occur under the cover of war, revolution, or guerrilla war or in their aftermath.
The result of such violence will be a new balance of powers and attendant social contract. In some cases this may end the democide, as by the elimination of the "inferior" group (as of the Armenians by the Turks). In many cases this will subdue and cower the survivors (as of the Ukrainians who lived through Stalin's collectivization campaign and intentional famine). In some cases, this establishes a new balance of power so skewed toward the elite that they may throughout their reign continue to murder at will. Murder as public policy becomes part of the new structure of expectations, of the new social order. Consider the social orders of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and their henchmen.
As should be clear from all this, I believe that war and democide can be understood within a common framework. It is part of the same social process, a balancing of powers, where Power is supreme.
It is not apparent, however, why among states where Power is limited and accountable, war and significant democide do not take place. Two concepts explain this: that of cross pressures and of the associated political culture. Where Power is diffused, checked, accountable, society is riven by myriad independent groups, disparate institutions, and multiple interests. These overlap and contend; they section loyalties and divide desires and wants. Churches, unions, corporations, government bureaucracies, political parties, the media, special interest groups, and such, fight for and protect their interests. Individuals and the elite are pushed and pulled by their membership in several such groups and institutions. And it is difficult for any one driving interest to form. Interests are divided, weak, ambivalent; they are cross-pressured. And for the elite to sufficiently coalesce to commit itself to murdering its own citizens, there must be a near fanatical, driving interest. But even were such present among a few, the diversity of interests across the political elite and associated bureaucracies, the freedom of the media to dig out what is being planned or done, and the ever present potential leaks and fear of such leaks of disaffected elite to the media, brake such tendencies.
As to the possibility of war between democracies, diversity and resulting cross-pressures operate as well. Not only is it very difficult for the elite to unify public interests and opinion sufficiently to make war, but there are usually diverse, economic, social, and political bonds between democracies that tie them together and oppose violence.
But there is more to these restraints on Power in a democracy. Cross-pressures is a social force that operates wherever individual and group freedom predominates. It is natural to a spontaneous social field. But human behavior is not only a matter of social forces, but also depends on the meanings, values, and norms that things have. That is, democratic culture is also essential. When Power is checked and accountable, when cross-pressures limit the operation of Power, a particular democratic culture develops. This culture involves debate, demonstrations, protests, but also negotiation, compromise, and tolerance. It involves the arts of conflict resolution and the acceptance of democratic procedures at all levels of society. The ballot replaces the bullet, and particularly, people and groups come to accept a loss on this or that interest as only an unfortunate outcome of the way the legitimate game is played. "Lose today, win tomorrow."
That democratic political elite would kill opponents or commit genocide for some public policy is unthinkable (although such may occur in the isolated and secret corners of government where Power can still lurk). Even publicly insulting and dehumanizing outgroups in modern democracies has become a social and political evil. Witness the current potency of such allegations as "racism" or "sexism." Of course, the culture of democracy operates between democracies as well. Diplomacy, negotiating a middle-way, seeking common interests, is part of the operating medium among democracies. A detailed political history of the growth of the European Community would well display this. Since each democracy takes the legitimacy of the other and their interests for granted, conflict then is only a process of non-violent learning and adjustment between them. Conferences, not war, is the instrumentality for settling disputes.
In sum, then, where absolute Power exists, interests become polarized, a culture of violence develops, and war and democide follow. In this century alone, by current count, absolute-totalitarian-Powe
This picture of Power and its human costs is new. Few are aware of the sheer democide that has been inflicted on our fellow human beings. That Hitler murdered millions of Jews is common knowledge. That he murdered overall near 21,000,000 Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, Frenchmen, Balts, Czechs, and others, is virtually unknown. Similarly, that Stalin murdered tens of millions is becoming generally appreciated; but that Stalin, Lenin, and their successors murdered almost 62,000,000 Soviet citizens and foreigners is little comprehended outside of the Soviet Union (where similar figures are now being widely published). Then there is Mao Tse-tung's China, Chiang Kai-shek's China, the militarist's Japan, Yahya Khan's Pakistan, Pol Pot's Cambodia, and the others listed in table 1.4, who have murdered in the millions. Even those students of genocide who have tried to tabulate such killing around the world have grossly underestimated the toll. The best, most recent such accounting came up with no more than 16,000,000 killed in genocide and politicide since World War II.18 But this estimate does not even cover half of the some 35,000,000 people likely murdered by just the Communist Party of China from 1949 to 1987 (table 1.2).
Moreover, even the toll of war itself is not well understood. Many estimate that World War II, for example, killed 40,000,000 to 60,000,000 people. But the problem with such figures is that they include tens of millions killed in democide. Many war-time governments massacred civilians and foreigners, committed atrocities or genocide against them, executed them, and subjected them to reprisals. Aside from battle or military engagements, during the war the Nazis murdered around 20,000,000 civilians and prisoners of war, the Japanese 5,890,000, the Chinese Nationalists 5,907,000, the Chinese communists 250,000, the Nazi satellite Croatians 655,000, the Tito Partisans 600,000, and Stalin 13,053,000 (above the 20,000,000 war-dead and democide by the Nazis of Soviet Jews and Slavs). I also should mention the indiscriminate bombing of civilians by the Allies that killed hundreds of thousands, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of these dead are usually included among the war-dead. But those killed in battle versus in democide form distinct conceptual and theoretical categories and should not be confused. That they have been consistently and sometimes intentionally confounded helps raise the toll during World War II to some 60,000,000 people, way above the estimated 15,000,000 killed in battle and military action. And that the almost universally accepted count of genocide during this period also is no more than "6,000,000" Jews, around 13 percent of the total war-time democide, has further muddled our research and thought.19
Even more, our appreciation of the incredible scale of this century's genocide, politicide, and mass murder has been stultified by lack of concepts. Democide is committed by absolute Power, its agency is government. The discipline for studying and analyzing power and government and associated genocide and mass murder is political science. But except for a few specific cases, such as the Holocaust and Armenian genocide, and a precious few more general works, one is hard put to find political science research specifically on this.
Now, one university course I teach is introduction to political science. Each semester I will review several possible introductory texts (the best measure of the discipline) for the course. I often just shake my head at what I find. Given the democide totaled in table 1.2 the concepts and views promoted in these texts appear grossly unrealistic. They just do not fit or explain, or are even contradictory to the existence of a Hell-State like Pol Pot's Cambodia, a Gulag-State like Stalin's Soviet Union, or a Genocide-State like Hitler's Germany.
For instance, one textbook I recently read spends a chapter on describing the functions of government. Among these were law and order, individual security, cultural maintenance, and social welfare. Political scientists are still writing this stuff, when we have numerous examples of governments that kill hundreds of thousands and even millions of their own citizens, enslave the rest, and abolish traditional culture (it took only about a year for the Khmer Rouge to completely suppress Buddhism, which had been the heart and soul of Cambodian culture). A systems approach to politics still dominates the field. Through this lens politics is a matter of inputs and outputs, of citizen inputs, aggregation by political parties, government determining policy, and bureaucracies implementing it. Then there is the common and fundamental justification of government that it exists to protect citizens against the anarchic jungle that would otherwise threaten their lives and property. Such archaic or sterile views show no appreciation of democide's existence and all its related horrors and suffering. They are inconsistent with a regime that stands astride society like a gang of thugs over hikers they have captured in the woods, robbing all, raping some, torturing others for fun, murdering those they don't like, and terrorizing the rest into servile obedience. This exact characterization of many past and present governments, such as Idi Amin's Uganda, hardly squares with conventional political science.
Consider also that library stacks have been written on the possible nature and consequences of nuclear war and how it might be avoided. Yet, in the life of some still living we have experienced in the toll from democide (and related destruction and misery among the survivors) the equivalent of a nuclear war, especially at the high near 360,000,000 end of the estimates. It is as though one had already occurred! Yet to my knowledge, there is only one book dealing with the overall human cost of this "nuclear war"--Gil Elliot's Twentieth Century Book of the Dead.
What is needed is a reconceptualization of government and politics consistent with what we now know about democide and related misery. New concepts have to be invented, old ones realigned to correct--dare I write "modernize"-- our perception of Power. We need to invent concepts for governments that turn their states into a border to border concentration camp, that purposely starve to death millions--millions!--of their citizens, that set up quotas of those that should be killed from one village or town to another (although murder by quota was carried out by the Soviets, Chinese communists, and Vietnamese, I could not find in any introductory or general political science literature even a recognition that governments can be so incredibly inhumane). We have no concept for murder as an aim of public policy, determined by discussion among the governing elite in the highest councils, and imposed through government bureaucracy. Indeed, in virtually no index to any general book on politics and government will one find a reference to genocide, murder, killed, dead, executed, or massacre. Such is not even usually indexed in books on the Soviet Union or China. Most even omit index references to concentration or labor camps or gulag, even though they may have a paragraph or so on them.
A preeminent fact about government is that some murder millions in cold blood. This is where absolute Power reigns. A second fact is that some, usually the same governments, murder tens of thousands more through foreign aggression. Absolute Power again. These two facts alone must be the basis of our reconceptualization and taxonomies. Not, as it is today, only whether states are developed or not, third world or not, militarily powerful or not, or large or not. But also and more important, whether Power is absolute, and whether it has engaged in genocide, politicide, and mass murder.
In any case the empirical and theoretical conclusion is this. The way to end war and virtually eliminate democide appears to be through restricting and checking Power. This means to foster democratic freedom.
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