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On Wars and Genocide: Are They Avoidable?

By       Message Ludwik Kowalski       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   11 comments

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Genocide (mass killings of civilians) keeps occurring all over the world (1,2). Two of them affected me personally. Hitler's genocide killed most of the members of my family, Stalin's genocide killed my father.

Less than ten days before invading Poland, Hitler said (3): "Thus for the time being I have sent to the East only my 'Death's Head Units' with the orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language. . . ." On January 1933, Stalin said (4): "As the result of fulfilling the Five-Year plan, we have managed to eliminate totally the last remains of the enemy classes from their productive base [agriculture]. We smashed kulaks and prepared the way for their annihilation.''

Are mass killings avoidable? Hitler's holocaust was based on racism; Stalin's slaughter was based on the concept of class struggle (5). Can we say that these two ideologies of intolerance are responsible for mass killings? Or should the tragedies be attributed to the evil nature of leaders? It is impossible to kill millions without favorable social conditions. Can such conditions be identified? Can they be eliminated? How can this be done?

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Mass murder occurs when brutal and sadistic criminals, to be found in every society, are promoted to positions of dominance, when propaganda is used to dehumanize the targeted population and when children are inoculated with intolerance and hatred. It occurs when victims ("inferior races'' or "class enemies'') are excluded from the norms of morality, when ideological totalitarianism is imposed and when freedom is suspended. Fear and violence, the preconditions of genocide, are likely to be found in societies with large numbers of thieves and informants. Stalin and Hitler were fanatical leaders inspired by the concept of "historic mission.'' They believed that intolerance and large scale brutality were necessary ingredients of social order.

Is moral sensitivity of people sufficient to protect world societies from mass murderers? Probably not. What else is essential? Elimination of extreme poverty and injustice. How can this be accomplished? Many sociologists have asked this question. Karl Marx was one of them. He believed that the "proletarian dictatorship'' was the answer. The idea was tried in many countries and failed. It did not create justice; it replaced old tyrants with more brutal tyrants. Lenin, Stalin and Mao are well known examples.

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So where is the answer? I do not know. Is man's inhumanity to man avoidable? Perhaps not, perhaps it should be accepted as part of human nature. If this is accepted then episodes of mass murder can be compared with other calamities, like epidemics, earthquakes and wars. (The black death epidemic did kill about one third of Europe's population in the Middle Ages; the Aids epidemic is rampant today; disasters caused by global warming are predicted, etc.) But scientific understanding of epidemics has often resulted in great improvements. Likewise, constructing less vulnerable buildings, or avoiding certain locations, can minimize consequences of earthquakes.

We do not accept natural disasters passively; we do everything possible to prevent them, or at least to reduce their undesirable consequences. Why should man's inhumanity to man (6) be accepted as unavoidable? Humanity is also part of nature. Most people want justice and deplore suffering. Shouldn't this be the basis for working toward elimination of man-made calamities?


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style="margin: 0px; font: 12px Arial; font-size-adjust: none; font-stretch: normal">1) Ben Kiernan "Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur;"- Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007

2) James Walter, "Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing;" Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002

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Ludwik Kowalski is a retired physics teacher (Professor emeritus, Montclair State University, New Jersey, USA). He is the author of two recently-published FREE books:

1) "Hell on Earth: Brutality and violence under the Stalinist regime" (more...)

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