Genocidalists with a dream of a Golden Age

Prof. Ben Kiernan
Prof. Ben Kiernan

Ben Kiernan, a history professor at Yale, has found some common threads in some of the larger genocides in history. For instance, there is often an idea by murderous theorists of a golden age that has been contaminated and should be restored. His book “Blood and Soil” analyzes genocides, including the the Nazi genocide of course, but also of less known mass-killers.

Let’s start with Pakistan. When Britain left India, there was murder and mayhem, until the subcontinent divided into two countries, a Hindu one (India) and a Muslim one (Pakistan).

Islam says that Muslims should not fight other Muslims, but in Pakistan, that is what happened. West Pakistan was dominated by Punjabis and Pathans, who considered East Pakistan’s Bengali Muslims to be insufficiently martial, insufficiently Islamic, and overly influenced by Hindu culture.
Pakistan’s dictator – Ayub Khan, stated that the easterners demonstrated “all the inhibitions of downtrodden races.”

Trouble began when the dictatorship was overthrown, elections were held, and East Pakistan’s Awami League, which wanted independence, won a national majority. Quickly Pakistan’s army chief, Yahya Khan, intervened to squelch this threat and he told a group of generals, “Kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands.” He appointed a new governor-general for the eastern region, who announced he would implement a “final solution.”

The army had a list of supporters of the Awami league, who they systematically killed, and they killed Hindus and Muslim Bengalis because East Pakistan had to be ‘cleansed’ and as one officer said, it was a holy war (jihad). They also set out to kill “the most respected and influential intellectuals in each city and town.” By the time they were stopped (by an army from India), they had killed at minimum 300,000, and maybe over a million.

In the above example, we see a threat to the integrity of a nation, and the reaction becomes murder of Muslims and genocide of Hindus.

There are other examples of mass killing when a country seems to be falling apart. Turkey (a Muslim country) had lost much of its empire, and murdered its Christian Armenian population in a famous massacre mentioned by Hitler when he said of his own plans of killing “Who today still talks about the annihilation of the Armenians?”  The “Young Turks”  believed in restoring ancient glory, and had a preoccupation with the land and its cultivation. They turned against the Armenians, who were described as “tubercular microbes” that were contaminating the state. The Young Turks dreamed of an empire uniting all Turkic-speaking peoples. Turkic armies pushing eastward would supposedly find their own origins in a “Shangri-La-like area in the steppes of Central Asia” (Shangri-La was a imaginary eastern paradise in the novel ‘Lost Horizon’). The concept of Armenians and Greeks in Turkey (and in eastern lands beyond Turkey) interfered with the pan-Turkic dream. The Young Turks may have also worried about a revolt as well. So they took action. The resulting genocide may have killed up to 1.2 million people.

As for the Nazis, though they employed modern organized methods, they had an obsession with supposed traditional values of antiquity and agriculture. They were going to reclaim a once pristine, lost agrarian Germandom. Hitler had insisted in 1941 in the creation of a “Garden of Eden in the newly occupied eastern territories.” The Nazis had an ideological aversion to cities – Jews were archetypal urbanites, and the purebred ancestors of the Germans were peasants. The “Volk” was rooted, the Jews were rootless. Hitler wrote that modern cities were “…places where all evils, vices, and sicknesses appear to unite. They are above all hotbeds of blood-mixing and bastardization.” He later said: “Work on the land ..teaches energy, self-confidence, and a readiness to make swift decisions; the town-dweller…must have everything exactly mapped out for him.” Himmler agreed: “Cowards are born in towns. Heroes in the country.”

It is interesting to note that early Zionists also believed that working the land would ennoble Jews and renew them and remove their faults.

But back to the Nazis – like the Turks, they wanted to expand eastward, and there were other peoples in the way – urbanized Jews and Slavic peoples. These people had to be removed.

Even genocides that seem to have nothing to do with soil – like the recent killing of the Rwandan Tutsis in Africa by their Hutu fellow citizens, did have a connection in that the murderers had theorists who romanticized the soil.

The Communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia emptied the cities and put the inhabitants in the countryside to farm. They also killed intellectuals, and even people with glasses. Murderers in Rwanda and in Cambodia had in common “racism, a bitter sense of lost ethnic dominance, inchoate cults of agriculture, and ambitions of territorial expansion.”

Kiernan’s book was written in 2007, but in 2015 we see the “Islamic State” trying to bring back a Golden Age of Islam, by adhering very strictly to the practices of the time the Koran was written, and to the letter of the Koran. So we have beheading, crucifixion, murder of infidels who do not convert (and even some who do), slavery and sex-slavery. Any alienated angry young man who lives in an attic in Europe can join the IS armies, become a holy warrior of Islam, and play his part in a glorious vision of the final victory of Islam. IS tells recruits who can’t make the journey to the Middle East that they can stay home in Europe and kill Jews instead. But the point is, they have successfully ethnically cleansed areas more than 3 times the size of Lebanon of Christians. They don’t seem to have a particularly “back to the farm” mentality, but they do have the expansionist mentality, and the “Golden Age” mentality.

I’m sure farming, as any self-employment, does produce self-reliance.  And there have been centuries (such as the 19th) where Westerners were more optimistic about the future.  But pursuing a vision of a Golden age that requires massacring vast numbers of people who somehow don’t fit your dream of social improvement does not put you on the side of the angels.  The “end” does not justify the means, especially if the “end” is dubious in itself.

Blood and Soil – by Ben Kiernan (2007)
Genocide Studies Program at Yale
“Stay home and Kill Jews:”


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