20th Century Genocides
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2014
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0105
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2014
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0105
The scholarship on genocide has grown exponentially since the 1970s. The two general objectives of genocide studies have been to develop more systematic explanations of causes of genocide and a deeper understanding of consequences than previously available in the literature. Genocides in the 20th century are estimated to have cost more than forty million lives. The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin (b. 1900–d. 1959), a Polish-Jewish legal scholar, who, in reaction to the atrocities taking place during World War II, advocated the creation of an international legal instrument to prevent genocide. His efforts led to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (9 December 1948). The convention is legally binding under international law but has become the subject of much heated debate, mostly regarding contending definitions of “genocide.” A consensus has formed among scholars that genocides in the 20th century encompassed (although were not limited to) the following cases: Herero in 1904–1907, the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire in 1915–1923, the Holodomor in the former Soviet Ukraine in 1932–1933, the Jewish Holocaust in 1938–1945, Bangladesh in 1971, Cambodia in 1975–1979, East Timor in 1975–1999, Bosnia in 1991–1995, and Rwanda in 1994. The diversity of subject areas, theories, and methodologies in genocide studies notwithstanding, most work is primarily concerned with the role of the perpetrator state; the nature of leadership; the ability of the leaders to transform ordinary men into murderers and bureaucracies into instruments of murder; and, finally, how to prevent future genocides. Although a small number of scholarly works have also paid attention to followers and bystanders, this area requires more research, as does genocide prevention. Regardless of the paucity of scholarly literature on genocide prevention, the European Union, in cooperation with the government of Hungary, took the significant step of establishing, in 2011, the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities.
The literature on genocide consists of general surveys; comparative analyses of two or more cases; anthologies on a specific genocide, with individual chapters analyzing various aspects of the case; and case studies that offer historical analyses with varying degrees of detail and units of analysis. General surveys—for example, Totten and Parsons 2013 and Jones 2017—often first discuss definitions of “genocide” and theoretical considerations, followed by individual chapters devoted to each case of genocide. The comparative approaches develop theoretical frameworks and identify key factors common in the cases under consideration. The comparative approach has registered limited success in furthering the subfield; frequently, these books contain chapters on individual cases rather than systematic comparative analyses of two or more cases. Melson 1992 and Midlarsky 2005 are successful comparative studies. Anthologies covering a case of genocide usually contain chapters that address different aspects of the case, such as the chronological sequence of events, the leadership of the perpetrator regime, the psychology of trauma suffered by the survivors, and the international or geopolitical situation. The largest body of scholarship consists of single case studies, which provide fairly detailed analyses of the events and personalities, while advancing a specific theory or theories about the causes and consequences of the genocide. The scholarship on genocide in the 20th century underscores several variables that contribute to such human catastrophes. Rummel 1994 and Valentino 2004 stress the role and nature of the state; Valentino 2004 pays particular attention to the personal characteristics of the leaders and their ability to mobilize the machinery of murder (e.g., bureaucracies of civil services, the military, and intelligence) and the population. Staub 1989 focuses on the psychology, culture, and ideology of the perpetrator group. Charny 1999 is a monumental, two-volume encyclopedia of genocide, covering various dimensions of mass murder and genocide. Midlarsky 2005 and Jones 2017 also discuss non-genocide or “contested” cases in an effort to emphasize the key components of genocides. The significant growth in genocide studies clearly reflects efforts to understand genocides, with the hope of finding effective means of preventing future genocides. Hamburg 2010 proposes new approaches to conflict resolution and management. Similarly, Staub 2011 discusses various social and psychological factors contributing to conflict escalation and approaches to early prevention. Finally, two anthologies, Totten 2008 and Totten 2013, offer some of the best scholarship on genocide prevention.
Charny, Israel W. Encyclopedia of Genocide. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 1999.
The two volumes offer a comprehensive, indispensable source for specialists and nonspecialists alike. Particularly strong are the sections on the study of genocide, the Armenian genocide, and the Holocaust. The guiding principle, as articulated by Charny, is that genocide is a universal phenomenon.
Hamburg, David A. Preventing Genocide: Practical Steps toward Early Detection and Effective Action. Rev. ed. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010.
Identifies early warning methods for proactive assistance for countries experiencing violence. Hamburg recommends the creation of international centers for the prevention of genocide, one within the UN system and one in the European Union. Democratic and economic development would further strengthen preventative measures.
Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. 3d ed. London: Routledge, 2017.
A valuable contribution to genocide studies. In addition to individual cases of genocide, this volume also offers an extremely useful section on “social science perspectives,” including psychological, sociological, anthropological, and political science perspectives. Discusses a number of issues, such as gendercide and “gendered propaganda,” usually omitted in most other survey textbooks.
Melson, Robert F. Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Provides an excellent comparative analysis and an explanatory model. Discusses the significance of several variables, including revolutionary regime, the personal characteristics of the leadership, the ideology of the perpetrator (e.g., pan-Turkism and anti-Semitism), and war. War creates the political and bureaucratic space for the implementation of a policy of annihilation.
Midlarsky, Manus I. The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Midlarsky presents a comparative analysis of domestic (social and economic) and international (geopolitical) environments of the 20th century genocides. He correctly contends that comparative analyses of genocide are necessary for more meaningful understanding of genocide and mass murder. He also considers non-genocide cases in an effort to develop an explanatory framework.
Rummel, R. J. Death by Government. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1994.
Rummel introduces the concept of “democide,” as applied to the intentional killing by states. The word genocide, he argues, should be reserved for state-sponsored mass murder for the physical and cultural destruction of a people. Numerous data are presented in useful tables. Democratization represents the best solution to end democide.
Staub, Ervin. The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
A psychological and cultural study on the susceptibility of ordinary citizens to turn into perpetrators of genocide and mass violence. Under certain circumstances, individuals embrace stereotypical thinking that serves as ideological justification for mass murder. This volume also examines the role of bystanders. Outlines specific steps toward nonviolent conflict resolution.
Staub, Ervin. Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict, and Terrorism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
This study analyzes the causes of various forms of mass violence and—based on several case studies (e.g., Rwanda)—certain principles and practices of prevention and reconciliation. The author stresses the role of political leaders, the media, nongovernmental organizations, and bystanders in preventing escalation of conflict and creating opportunities for reconciliation.
Totten, Samuel, ed. The Prevention and Intervention of Genocide. Vol. 6, Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2008.
Surveys through essays and annotated bibliographies various approaches to international prevention and intervention and the failure and successes of the international community at prevention. Examines the obstacles to prevention and calls for the institutionalization of early warning regimes. Looks at the issue and effectiveness of sanctions. Discusses the challenges posed by state sovereignty in addition to a host of other obstacles to international protection of groups victimized by perpetrators of genocide, as in the case of Rwanda. Explores avenues to punish perpetrators and to establish a just post-genocide society, including the importance of education and training.
Totten, Samuel, ed. Impediments to the Prevention and Intervention of Genocide. Vol. 9, Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2013.
Examines through essays and annotated bibliographies approaches to the prevention of genocide, with particular emphasis on the employment of military intervention. Looks at obstacles to the development of international mechanisms for such intervention. Identifies several impediments, such as historically realpolitik conceptualization of sovereignty and the international system, lack of political will both at the national and international levels, and the willful ignoring on the part of governments and international organizations of mass killings underway in different parts of the world. In addition, other contributing factors to inaction when confronted by genocide include contending interpretations of the UN Genocide Convention, the role of the media, and the lack of sufficient information in the process of an ongoing genocide.
Totten, Samuel, and William S. Parsons, eds. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2013.
This anthology is essential reading on the genocides of the 20th century. The volume combines background information and analyses with eyewitness accounts to explore the causes and consequences of genocide. The final chapter considers the sociological and international dimensions of genocide prevention and legal, military, and humanitarian responses.
Valentino, Benjamin A. Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th Century. Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.
Argues that although psychological and sociological factors (e.g., ethnic hatreds) contribute to genocide, such mass killings are ultimately policies orchestrated by a small circle of dictatorial leaders and implemented by loyal followers. Genocide is an instrument of policy, and prevention necessitates the removal from power of such leadership.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Academic Theories of International Relations Since 1945
- Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
- Arab-Israeli Wars
- Arab-Israeli Wars, 1967-1973, The
- Armed Conflicts/Violence against Civilians Data Sets
- Arms Control
- Arms Races
- Arms Trade
- Asylum Policies
- Authoritarian Regimes
- Balance of Power Theory
- Bargaining Theory of War
- Case Study Methods in International Relations
- Central Europe
- Challenge of Communism, The
- China and Japan
- China's Defense Policy
- China’s Foreign Policy
- Chinese Approaches to Strategy
- Civil Resistance
- Civil Society in the European Union
- Cold War, The
- Conflict Behavior and the Prevention of War
- Conflict Management
- Conflict Management in the Middle East
- Contemporary Shia–Sunni Sectarian Violence
- Countermeasures in International Law
- Criminal Law, International
- Critical Theory of International Relations
- Cuban Missile Crisis, The
- Cultural Diplomacy
- Cyber Security
- Cyber Warfare
- Decision-Making, Poliheuristic Theory of
- Demobilization, Post World War I
- Democracies and World Order
- Democracy and Conflict
- Democracy in World Politics
- Deterrence Theory
- Digital Diplomacy
- Diplomacy, History of
- Diplomacy, Public
- Disaster Diplomacy
- Diversionary Theory of War
- Drone Warfare
- Eastern Front (World War I)
- Economics, International
- Embedded Liberalism
- Emerging Powers and BRICS
- Empirical Testing of Formal Models
- Energy and International Security
- Epidemic Diseases and their Effects on History
- Ethics and Morality in International Relations
- Ethnicity in International Relations
- European Migration Policy
- European Security and Defense Policy, The
- European Union as an International Actor
- European Union, International Relations of the
- Face-to-Face Diplomacy
- Fascism, The Challenge of
- Feminist Methodologies in International Relations
- Feminist Security Studies
- Food Security
- Forecasting in International Relations
- Foreign Policy Decision-Making
- Foreign Policy of Non-democratic Regimes
- Foreign Policy of Saudi Arabia
- Foreign Policy, Theories of
- French Empire, 20th-Century
- From Club to Network Diplomacy
- Future of NATO
- Game Theory and Interstate Conflict
- Gender and Terrorism
- Genocide, Politicide, and Mass Atrocities Against Civilian...
- Genocides, 20th Century
- Geopolitics and Geostrategy
- Germany in World War II
- Global Citizenship
- Global Civil Society
- Global Constitutionalism
- Global Environmental Politics
- Global Ethic of Care
- Global Governance
- Global Justice, Western Perspectives
- Grand Strategy
- Greater Middle East, The
- Greek Crisis
- Hague Conferences (1899, 1907)
- History and International Relations
- Human Rights
- Human Rights and Humanitarian Diplomacy
- Human Rights Law
- Human Security
- Hybrid Warfare
- Identity and Foreign Policy
- Ideology, Values, and Foreign Policy
- Indian Perspectives on International Relations, War, and C...
- Indigenous Rights
- Intelligence Oversight
- Internal Displacement
- International Conflict Settlements, The Durability of
- International Criminal Court, The
- International Economic Organizations (IMF and World Bank)
- International Health Governance
- International Justice, Theories of
- International Law
- International Monetary Relations, History of
- International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
- International Nongovernmental Organizations
- International Norms for Cultural Preservation and Cooperat...
- International Organizations
- International Relations, Aesthetic Turn in
- International Relations as a Social Science
- International Relations, Practice Turn in
- International Relations, Research Ethics in
- International Relations Theory
- International Security
- International Society
- International Society, Theorizing
- International Support For Nonstate Armed Groups
- Internet Law
- Interstate Cooperation Theory and International Institutio...
- Intervention and Use of Force
- Interviews and Focus Groups
- Iran, Politics and Foreign Policy
- Iraq: Past and Present
- Just War Theory
- Korean War
- Kurdistan and Kurdish Politics
- Law of the Sea
- Laws of War
- Leadership in International Affairs
- Leadership Personality Characteristics and Foreign Policy
- League of Nations
- Lean Forward and Pull Back Options for US Grand Strategy
- Mediation and Civil Wars
- Mediation in International Conflicts
- Mediation via International Organizations
- Middle East, The Contemporary
- Middle East, The Contemporary
- Middle Powers and Regional Powers
- Military Science
- Minority Rights
- Multilateralism (1992–), Return to
- National Liberation, International Law and Wars of
- National Security Act of 1947, The
- Nations and Nationalism
- NATO, Europe, and Russia: Security Issues and the Border R...
- New Multilateralism in the Early 21st Century
- Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation
- Nonviolent Resistance Datasets
- Normative Aspects of International Peacekeeping
- Normative Power Beyond the Eurocentric Frame
- Peace of Utrecht
- Peacebuilding, Post-Conflict
- Political Demography
- Political Economy of National Security
- Political Extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Political Learning and Socialization
- Political Psychology
- Politics and Islam in Turkey
- Politics and Nationalism in Cyprus
- Popular Culture and International Relations
- Post-Civil War State
- Post-Conflict and Transitional Justice
- Post-Conflict Reconciliation in the Middle East and North ...
- Power Transition Theory
- Preventive War and Preemption
- Prisoners, Treatment of
- Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)
- Process Tracing Methods
- Pro-Government Militias
- Prospect Theory in International Relations
- Psychology and Foreign Policy
- Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
- Public Opinion and the European Union
- Quantum Social Science
- Race and International Relations
- Religion and International Relations
- Religiously Motivated Violence
- Reputation in International Relations
- Responsibility to Protect
- Rising Powers in World Politics
- Role Theory in International Relations
- Russian Revolutions and Civil War, 1917–1921
- Sanctions in International Law
- Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), The
- Shining Path
- Sinophone and Japanese International Relations Theory
- Social Scientific Theories of Imperialism
- Soviet Union in World War II
- Space Strategy, Policy, and Power
- Spatial Dependencies and International Mediation
- State Theory in International Relations
- Status in International Relations
- Strategic Air Power
- Strategic and Net Assessments
- Sub-Saharan Africa, Conflict Formations in
- Sustainable Development
- Systems Theory
- Teaching International Relations
- Territorial Disputes
- Terrorism, Geography of
- Terrorist Financing
- Terrorist Group Strategies
- The Changing Nature of Diplomacy
- The Queer in/of International Relations
- the Twenty-First Century, Alliance Commitments in
- The Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relation...
- Theories of International Relations, Feminist
- Theory, Chinese International Relations
- Time Series Approaches to International Affairs
- Trade Law
- Transnational Actors
- Transnational Law
- Transnational Social Movements
- Trust and International Relations
- UN Security Council
- United Nations, The
- United States and Asia, The
- Uppsala Conflict Data Program
- US and Africa
- US–UK Special Relationship
- Voluntary International Migration
- War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714)
- Weapons of Mass Destruction
- Western Balkans
- Western Front (World War I)
- Westphalia, Peace of (1648)
- Women and Peacemaking Peacekeeping
- World Economy 1919-1939
- World Polity School
- World War II Diplomacy and Political Relations
- World-System Theory