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  • To Massacre:A Perspective on Demographic Competition
  • Ralph J. Hartley

In 1974, during the Cypriot war, a lone Greek nationalist rationalized his mass murder of seven Turkish Cypriot women and children: "Afterwards, I noticed the child. What harm had it done, you ask? It was TurkishWhy did I shoot them? I'll tell you. Because it's war. Now, it had to be done in cold blood, you understand? You have to keep your nerve" (Loizos 1981:90). [italics original] Fein (1994:97) emphasized that genocidal behavior is "the purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity directly or through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members." This man's reason for the killing of women and children is a conscious, explicit expression of genocidal behavior.

Shaw's (2005:85-86) assertion that "small" accidental massacres are inevitable within modes of modern warfare where the "deliberate transfer of risks to civilians" is practiced complicates socio-psychological analyses of intent, where intent with which the act is committed is considered an active shared mental process. Behavior that involves genocidal intent does not have to be the primary design of the killer(s). Proximate goals can be as simple as immediate material gain. [End Page 237]

Precedent for indiscriminant targeting of civilian non-combatants within environments of war in order to destroy the power and economy of an adversary permits the potential to blur the categorical orientation of genocidal actions (e.g. deWaal 2005, Dutton et al. 2005, Hewitt 1987, Markusen and Kopf 1995, Scherrer 1999, Slim 2003).1 It can be argued that the extent to which genocidal behavior plays a role in both inter- and intra-state war is an indicator of the level of intended dominance via destruction of the social and economic status of an adversary with an assigned identity. Shaw's (2003) thesis that genocidal activities are an extension of modern degenerate war against unarmed civilians at a multitude of scales sets the stage for a discussion of the underlying motivation of political actors and individual perpetrators for varied massacre events.

Not all episodes of mass murder and summary execution, commonly considered a massacre, result from behavior that is considered, in legal parlance, genocidal (cf. Simon 1996). The description of an atrocity that includes mass killing as genocidal is susceptible to the variance in what constitutes genocidal behavior by social scientists, independent of the wording of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention (Scherrer 1999). The term genocidal massacre is used by Markusen (1999) and Shaw (2003:8) to describe an incident of mass killing in the context of directed genocide by an organized group or politically defined entity. Although it can be argued that the technological means of mass killing of non-combatants is not relevant when the act is intentional, as in aerial bombing, this discussion is focused on events where killers are in proximity and visually confront the individuality of their victims.

Massacres that target households, extended families, neighborhoods, or villages constitute behavior grounded in competition at multiple scales. The killing of specific families in Algeria in 1997-1998, for example, served effectively to eliminate adversaries and to coerce and intimidate surviving rivals (Kalyvas 1999). Assigning these horrors of contemporary atrocity behavior that include rape, torture, and amputation to historical disputes or the complexities of modern social and political environments ignores our knowledge of human activities in pre-industrial societies. Despite the defining and categorization of genocide in the modern era, massacres, where the killing is conducted irrespective of sex or age, are well documented through time as humans formed cooperative social groups and competed with other non-affiliated groups for resources valuable at that time and in that space. In addition to historically documented massacres of indigenous villagers and residential camps by dominant militaries, archaeological investigations in numerous [End Page 238] areas of the world have encountered evidence of massacres at homesteads and villages where the inferred intent was to eliminate all inhabitants. Osteological analyses of remains at many of these sites indicate the killing did not discriminate on the basis of sex or age; children often being represented as a significant percentage of victims. Ethnohistorical sources and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1518
Print ISSN
0003-5491
Pages
pp. 237-251
Launched on MUSE
2007-03-06
Open Access
No
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