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Holocaust and Genocide Studies 18.1 (2004) 133-135

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Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide, Alexander Laban Hinton (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), xvi + 405 pp., $60.00.

Alexander Laban Hinton has assembled fifteen essays, most presented in 1998 during a session on anthropology and genocide at a conference of the American Anthropological Association. This wide-ranging collection is divided into five main topics: the genocide of indigenous peoples; anthropologists in the Holocaust; culture and genocide; the effects and influence of genocide on memory, trauma, coping, and renewal; and critical reflections on anthropology's place in the study of genocide. The result is a pioneering effort that addresses both the phenomenon of genocide as well as the role that anthropologistsósometimes unwittingly, sometimes knowinglyóhave played in promoting human destruction. One of the more interesting aspects of this work is Hinton's own introductory essay, "The Dark Side of Modernity: Toward an Anthropology of Genocide," which links both contemporary genocide and the role of anthropologists in the process of mass murder to global modernization. The following paragraphs convey some of the ideas of Hinton and the other contributors.

It is estimated that since the fifteenth century some thirty to fifty million indigenous people perished as a result of direct or indirect contact with European imperialism (p. 44). They died as a result of diseases spread by Europeans, state-sponsored genocide, genocidal massacres perpetrated by settlers, and exploitative economic and ecological policies. Much of this was intentional and therefore genocidal, as inthe case of the Herero of Southwest Africa, the native Tasmanians, and various peoples of North and South America. In the meantime, most of the groups that survived biologically have seen their cultures and languages so undermined that they are in danger of what some have called "ethnocide" or "cultural genocide" (p. 59).

A few voices in Europe and America condemned the slaughter. However, for the most part, Europeans and Americansóincluding those who studied native peoplesóviewed the victims as racially inferior, "savages" whose destruction was an inevitable by-product of "progress." Theodore Roosevelt famously remarked, "The settler and pioneer have at bottom had justice on their side; this great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages" (p. 45). Today between 450 and 650 million indigenous peoples worldwide remain by no means safe from the costs of "progress" (p. 57).

As is well known, the concept of "race," coined and applied by nineteenth-century anthropologists and others, had devastating effects in Europe itself, where it played a decisive role in the destruction of Jews, Roma, Slavs, and others. The nadir in the process that linked anthropology and medicine to [End Page 133] race and genocide was the career of Josef Mengele, who had degrees in both disciplines and conducted his notorious "experiments" in Auschwitz on behalf of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut to bolster the Nazi racialist worldview (p. 126). Since the nineteenth century, anthropologists as well as other students of society have played ambiguous roles concerning race and genocide. On the one hand, they contributed to the destruction process; on the other, especially after the horrors of the Nazi experience and the rise of a global human-rights consciousness, they have tried to prevent further destruction and save surviving native peoples and cultures.

In his introductory essay Hinton views modernity as a complex process linking political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions, each potentially contributing to genocide. According to him, politically, the modern world is characterized by the nation-state; economically, by capitalism; socially, by societies differentiated on the basis of class, gender, and ethnicity; and culturally, by a widespread dedication to secularism and technical and scientific rationality. Modernity, both as a social force and as a "meta-narrative" of "progress," continues to be deleterious to indigenous peoples, casting them and their institutions as "traditional," "backward," and "uncivilized," destined to disappear one way or the other.

Nation-states have contributed to the process by trying to eliminate domestic cultural differences, seeing them as pockets of resistance to their sovereignty, and substituting in...