- The Magnitude of Genocide by Colin Tatz and Winton Higgins
Since the mid-1990s, the field of genocide studies has seen a rapid expansion of interest and attention that has been spurred on by horrific crimes of mass violence in such farflung places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As a result, scholars from a variety of disciplines have increasingly focused their attention on working to explain the etiology and dynamics of genocidal processes and practices in order to develop effective policies intended to prevent and intervene when genocide appears imminent or has already broken out. Consequently, an extensive literature on genocide exists today that can easily overwhelm the reader because of its extent and complexity. This is especially true when one combines the scholarship of genocide with the writing on the Holocaust, one of the most extensively studied and written about events in all of history. Making sense of this vast literature can be extremely difficult, especially when one also considers that the term itself is conceptually problematic, encompasses a variety of destructive actions and policies, is subject to various definitional debates, and has often been applied in problematic ways. This is where the new book The Magnitude of Genocide, by Australian scholars Colin Tatz and Winton Higgins, fills an important need by providing an up-to-date and comprehensive overview of the state of contemporary genocide studies.
The authors have not written a simple survey that just summarizes the state of knowledge of genocide studies, but rather organize their book and discussion around some original ideas that contribute to the depth and explanatory power of their analysis. Approaching the subject from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, for example, the authors set out to examine genocide based on what they refer to as the "magnitude" of different cases, a term they borrow from seismology and the study of earthquakes that allows them to compare and contrast different examples of genocide based on their relative "intensity and immensity." It is an intriguing and innovative approach that enables the authors to assess the relative scale or dimensions of genocide in a variety of cases, some of them well known, others less so. Although the Holocaust does loom large in the narrative simply because of its sheer scale and role as the paradigmatic example of genocide, Tatz and Higgins include many other examples of genocide as well in order to provide the reader with a broader understanding of the various ways in which genocide has been perpetrated. Some of these examples, such as the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, are well-known, while others, such as the violence that occurred in East Timor, or at the founding of Bangladesh, or the contemporary attacks against the minority Yazidi in Iraq by ISIS, are not very known at all. Not only [End Page 153] is this last ongoing case extremely relevant and contemporary, but by illustrating the ways in which campaigns of terror can morph into genocidal violence, the authors clearly illustrate the ways in which genocidal ideologies and practices are connected to other forms of violence, such as terrorism. It also serves as a reminder that genocide continues to change and evolve over time, a point they repeatedly emphasize when contrasting ancient examples of genocide with modern ones.
The notion of genocidal magnitude provides an interesting lens through which the authors are able to explore, compare, and contrast these disparate cases in ways that identify a number of important themes and processes connecting various examples of genocide. Much of their discussion is structured around the work of Yehuda Bauer and Richard Dekmejian who suggest that genocide requires five specific prerequisites; (1) an ancient hatred or an ideological imperative of that kind, (2) an authoritarian regime or a brutal dictatorship, (3) a war setting that provides the necessary smoke screen and secrecy, (4) a compliant bureaucracy, and (5) an enabling technology. Their analysis consequently highlights, for example, the importance of certain kinds of nationalism and racism for the development of genocidal ideologies and practices. Using...