]]]]]]]]]]]]   WAR ISN'T THIS CENTURY'S BIGGEST KILLER   [[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                         R.J. Rummel,                      (6/1/88)
     Professor of political science, Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa
[This article is a slightly shortened version of the one published in 
the Wall St. J. 7/7/1986. Though two years old, I think it is one of 
                 the most revealing ever written.]

     Our century is noted for its bloody wars. World War I saw 9 mil-
lion people killed in battle, an incredible record that was surpassed 
within a few decades by the 15 million battle deaths of World War II. 
Even the numbers killed in 20th-century revolutions and civil wars 
have set historical records. In total, about 35,654,000 people have 
died in this century's international and domestic wars, revolutions, 
and violent conflicts.
     Yet, even more unbelievable than these vast numbers killed in war 
is a shocking fact. The number of people killed by totalitarian or 
extreme authoritarian governments already far exceeds that for all 
wars, civil and international. Indeed, this number already approxi-
mates the number that might be killed in a nuclear war.
     The table provides the relevant totals and classifies them by 
type of government (definitions provided by Freedom House, a New-York-
based human-rights group) and war. By "killed is meant the direct or 
indirect killing by government officials, or government acquiescence 
in killing others.

    >>>> Twentieth Century Killed, by Cause

]]]] Twentieth Century Killed, by Cause  [[[[[[[

     CAUSE               TOTALS              AVERAGES
                         (in millions)   (per 100,000 population)
     Government          119.4                349
        Communist         95.2                477
        Other non-free    20.3                495
        Partially free      3.1                 48
        Free               0.8                 22
     War                  35.7                 22
        International     29.7                 17
        Civil              6.0                 26
     All figures rounded. Source: various historical materials.

     Those killed in the totals were killed apart from the pursuit of 
any continuing military action or campaign, or as part of any con-
flict. The Jews that Hitler slaughtered during World War II are 
counted, since their merciless and systematic extermination was 
unrelated to and actually conflicted with Hitler's pursuit of the war.

     The totals are based on a nation-by nation assessment and are 
minimum figures that may underestimate the true total by 10% or more. 
Moreover, they do not even include the 1921-22 Soviet famine and the 
1958-61 Chinese famine, which caused about 4 and 27 million deaths, 
respectively, by the imposition of a command agricultural economy and 
by destructive collectivization.
     However, the table does include the Soviet government's planned 
starvation of the Ukraine that was begun in 1932 as a way of destroy-
ing Ukranian nationalism and breaking peasant opposition to collecti-
vization. As many as 10 million may have been starved to death or 
succumbed to famine-related diseases; I estimate 8 million died. Had 
these people all been shot, the moral responsibility would have been 
no greater. 
     The table lists 831,000 people killed by free democratic govern-
ments, a fact that should startle most readers. This figure includes 
the French massacres in Algeria before and during the Algerian War 
(36,000 killed, at a minimum), and those Eastern Europeans killed by 
the the Soviets after the Western democracies forcibly repatriated 
them during and after World War II.
     It is appalling that the democracies, particularly Britain and 
the US, turned over to Soviet authorities more than 2,250,000 Soviet 
citizens, prisoners of war, and Russian exiles (who were not Soviet 
citizens) found in the Allied zones of occupation in Europe. Most of 
these people were terrified of returning and refused to cooperate; 
often whole families preferred suicide. An estimated 795,000 of those 
repatriated were executed or died in, or traveling to, slave-labor 
     It is sad that hundreds of thousands of people can be killed by 
governments with hardly an international murmur, while a war killing 
several thousand people can cause an immediate world outcry and global 
reaction. Contrast the international focus on the relatively minor 
1982 war between Britain and Argentina with the widescale lack of 
interest in Burundi's killing of some 100,000 Hutu in 1972, of Indone-
sia slaughtering a likely 600,000 people it accused of being "commu-
nists" in 1965, and of Pakistan's eventual killing of from one to 
three million Bengalis in 1971.
     A most noteworthy example of this double standard is the Vietnam 
War. The international community was outraged at the US efforts to 
prevent North Vietnam from taking over South Vietnam and ultimately 
Laos and Cambodia. "Stop the killing" was the cry, and eventually the 
pressure of foreign and domestic opposition forced an American with-
drawal. The overall number killed in the Vietnam War on all sides was 
about 1.2 million people.
     South Vietnam was eventually conquered by the North, and Cambodia 
was taken over by the Khmer Rouge, who in trying to recreate a primi-
tive communist agricultural society slaughtered from one to three 
million Cambodians. If we take two million as the best estimate, then 
in four years the government of this small nation of 7 million alone 
killed 64% more people than died in the 10-year Vietnam War. Overall, 
the best estimate of those killed by the victorious communists in 
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is 2,270,000. And the killing still goes 
     To view this double standard from another perspective, both world 
wars cost 24 million battle deaths. But from 1918 to 1953, the Soviet 
government executed, slaughtered, starved, beat or tortured to death, 
or otherwise killed some 39.5 million of its own people (estimates 
vary from between 20 and 83 million). In China under Mao Tse-Tung, the 
communist government eliminated, as an average figure between esti-
mates, 45 million people. The number killed in just these two nations 
is about 84.5 million, or a lethality of 252% more than both world 
wars together. Yet, have the world community and the intellectuals 
generally shown anything like the same horror or outrage over these 
Soviet and Chinese megakillings as has been directed at the much less 
deadly world wars?
     However, as large as the number of people killed by communist 
governments is, it is nearly the same as for other non-free govern-
ments. This is due to the massacres and widescale killing in the very 
small country of East Timor, where since 1975 Indonesia has eliminated 
(aside from the guerrilla war and associated violence) an estimated 
100,000 Timorans out of a population of 600,000. Omitting this country 
alone would reduce the average killed by non-communist, non-free 
governments to 397 per 10,000, or significantly less than the 477 per 
10,000 for communist countries.
     In any case, we can still see from the table that the more free-
dom in a nation, the fewer people killed by government. Freedom serves 
as a brake on a governing elite's power over life and death.

     This principle appeared to be violated in the two special cases 
mentioned above. One was the French government's mass killings in the 
colony of Algeria. There the Algerians were considered to be second-
class citizens and lacked the right to vote in French elections. In 
the other case the Allied democracies acted during and just after 
wartime, under a regime of strict secrecy, to turn over foreigners to 
the Soviet Union. These foreigners, of course, had no rights as citi-
zens that would protect them in the democracies. In no case have I 
found a democratic government carrying out massacres, genocides and 
mass executions of its own citizens; nor have I found a case where 
such a government's policies have knowingly and directly resulted in 
the large-scale deaths of people through privation, torture, beatings 
and the like.
     Absolutist governments (those that Freedom House would classify 
as not free) are not only many times deadlier than war and other forms 
of violent conflict. They are a major cause of militarism. Indeed, 
absolutism, not war, is mankind's deadliest scourge of all.
     In light of all this, the peaceful, nonviolent fostering of civil 
liberties and political rights must be made mankind's highest humani-
tarian goal. Not simply to give the greatest number the greatest hap-
piness, not simply to obey the moral imperative of individual rights, 
but because freedom preserves life and peace.

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