All successes notwithstanding, much of human history is largely an orgy of violence and murder. It seems that the lowest and most primitive parts of us have led us into an evil spiral of power and greed, resulting in the enslavement, rape, and murder of millions of people. History provides us with many examples of this: the empires of Alexander the Great, the Mongols, and the Romans are some, but also Spain, Portugal, Prussia, and especially Russia and Britain have had enormous empires. During and after the conquest of these empires, millions of people have been subjected to terrible atrocities. Yet, these pale in comparison to what was to come.
The 20th century undoubtedly represents the darkest chapter in human history, where two world wars and countless conflicts and wars, especially in the aftermath of the Cold War, claimed enormous amounts of lives and suffering. The First World War claimed over 15 million lives, while the Second World War saw a staggering 60 million lives lost. In addition to this, there are all the millions who died in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, as well as the countless conflicts and wars fought in South America, Africa, and the Middle East.
Professor Milton Leitenberg, who has written and contributed to a dozen books and published over 180 journal articles, including European Perspectives, Great Power Intervention in the Middle East, and The Wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, 1945-82, presents statistics on the number of deaths in wars and conflicts between 1945 and 2000 in ”Deaths in Wars and Conflicts in the 20th Century.”
Among other things, he showed that 600,000 people died during Vietnam’s struggle for freedom against France between 1945-54, that 1 million died in Algeria’s struggle for freedom against France from 1954-62, and that 2.4 million died during the Vietnam War from 1960-75.
The total number of deaths in all wars and armed conflicts between 1945 and 2000, according to Professor Leitenberg, is estimated at 41 million. However, this does not include the abuses by regimes that have led to the execution of citizens. We will soon delve into research that shows that these atrocities have claimed more victims than the wars themselves – but let’s first look at the concept of genocide.
The word ”genocide” (from the Greek ”genos” = race or tribe and Latin ”cide” = kill, in Swedish, ”folkmord”) was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish law professor, in his work ”Axis Rule in Occupied Europe,” 1944. Rudolf Joseph Rummel, an American Professor Emeritus of Political Science, has dedicated over 50 years to researching and collecting data on violence and wars with the aim of finding ways to eliminate them. Professor Rummel writes:
”Genocide is horrific, it is an abomination for our species and wholly unacceptable. It is an obscenity, an evil in our time that all good people must work to eliminate. At its core, there is no doubt about what this evil is; everyone realizes that the Nazi program to kill all Jews was genocide. There is also no doubt that the Bosnian Serb massacre of Bosnian Muslims is genocide.
But was the massacre of helpless villagers in Sudan by government forces suppressing a rebellion, the Indonesian army’s purge of communists, the killing of political opponents by the nationalist government on Taiwan, executions of landowners during land reform in the Soviet Union, or the prisoners who died in Vietnamese reeducation camps, genocide?
What about non-lethal acts that have been called genocide, such as the assimilation of one culture into another and when diseases spread to natives through contact with colonists or the forced displacement of a people or African slavery?”