A criminologist attempts to understand genocide and its etiology.
Rafter (Emerita, Criminology/Northeastern Univ.; Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime Theory and Popular Culture, 2011, etc.) restricts her study to eight of the more than 60 genocides (as defined by the U.N.) of the 20th century to find what, if anything, may be common to all such profound crimes. She examines the German elimination of the Herero people of Africa, the Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Nazi doctors’ murders of the disabled, the Russian Katyn Forest massacre in Poland, Suharto’s rampage in Indonesia, Pol Pot’s killings in Cambodia, the genocide of the indigenous Mayans in Guatemala, and the Hutu war against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The author does not include the Holocaust in general, which “is treated exhaustively elsewhere”; her book, otherwise detailed, is haunted by the omission. In the analysis of her selected representative instances of killing on a large scale, Rafter does find some similarities. Genocides, for example, thrive during war and unrest. They are often homegrown and lack protectors for the victims, who are dehumanized as vermin, infidels, or subhuman creatures. In half the sample, rape was a favored tactic, and Rafter gives special attention to gender. Furthermore, genocide operates much like organized crime, with recidivism likely. The crime ends when victims, who either have fled or are dead, are no more and outside forces eventually intervene. Suggested cures—e.g., stern warnings to perpetrators or some action by the U.N.—are stained with futility. The author’s text, sporadically describing the particular horrors of each case study in full academic form complete with charts, citations, and scholarly formality, cries for more warmth. “When all attempts at interpretation have ended,” the author bleakly concludes, “there is still something mysterious left over, something so dreadful that it cannot be explained.”
A comparative criminological approach to genocide, bloodless in pursuit of scientific inquiry and most appropriate for students and specialists.