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Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 Paperback – 15 May 1994

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Product details

  • Paperback: 524 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers; New edition edition (15 May 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560009276
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560009276
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,308,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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* Named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice! "[Death by Government] is a compelling study of what the author calls democide--the intentional killing by governments through genocide, politicide, massacre, and terror. . . . A product of eight years of research by a distinguished political scientist, this is an unrivaled magnum opus with dozens of tables, figures, copious notes, and a massive bibliography. Essential reading for historians, political scientists, and readers interested in genocide." --R. H. Dekmejian, Choice "Death by Government should be read in history classes not just across America, but around the world. The problem of power, as Rummel terms it, remains with us today. . . . Only if we learn from the past can we ever hope to end state-sanctioned murder. The case for human liberty and limited government has never been made more effectively than by this fearsome book." --Doug Bandow, Cato Institute "Death by Government is a good introduction to the general phenomena of state-sponsored mass murder or democide (Rummel's concept). The numerous case studies are a mizture of carefully wrought description of the horrendous suffering of peoples under maily authoritarian political systems, with just the right dose of personal horror stories to make the book a memorable study of human deprivation and misery. For this effort, Rummel ought to be applauded." --Barbara Harff, the Journal of Interdisciplinary History "With this volume, Rummel has completed his magnum opus on genocide and government mass murder, in short what Rummel calls 'democide'. . . . Rummel's methodology is based on averaging figures from a large number of sources, rather than historical source criticism or demographic estimates. This is a controversial method, yet it is clearly documented and well argued. . . . This work if a major achievement and will provide a reference point which no future systematic work on democide can ignore." --Nils Petter Gleditsch, Journal of Peace Research "Governments have murdered about 169 million people in the twentieth century, according to Rummel's estimate. . . . Yet mass murder by governments has been largely ignored by political science. Rummel argues that, to rectify this omission, a reconceptualization of government and politics is required. To this end he proposes the concept of 'democide', which he defines as the intentional killing by a government of unarmed people. . . . Rummerl draws our attention to facts that are often ignored and should not be." --Michael Freeman, the Slavonic and East European Review

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Roland M on 6 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
this is a classic text detailing the evil done by governments in the 20th century and should be read by all
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John Barkley on 22 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a strange academic text: most of it is dedicated to the gorey details of the 20th century's dictatorship rather than making arguments. "Death by Government" is to books what "Cannibal Holocaust" is to films: it's difficult to read it all the way through without feeling disturbed by the depiction of mankind's cruelty. You can't help but wonder whether R.J. Rummel is some sort of sado-masochist considered how his main focus is on the precise details of torture and massacres. It is only in the first chapter that he argues for his beliefs: that democracy will spread peace and toleration. I can't say that he convinced me here: he needs to deal with specific cases that might threaten the democratic peace theory, such as the Northern Ireland conflict, to convince me. The title suggests that the deaths are confined to those inflicted by governments, but Rummel seems to have an extremely broad definition of "government" in what he includes in the pre-20th century examples: he lists witch-hunts, civil wars and the violence of settlers against natives (e.g. in Australia), which all seem like killings by a source other than government. His analysis seems to minimise the role that "ordinary people" play in atrocities. It's at times like this when he seems to be just interested in gore.

On the upside, it is a useful guide for looking up dictatorships. He has used a huge number of sources, running to 70 pages. It's good to summarise details on dictatorships in one place. He lists the varying estimates of body counts for each regime, and gives his own estimate in the title for each chapter.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 25 reviews
109 of 109 people found the following review helpful
War not biggest killer - governments kill more of their own 20 Jun. 1999
By Storm Russell - Published on
Format: Paperback
Sometimes it takes the insight of others to help me make better sense of what I already knew. I used to think war was the greatest cause of death and tragedy, but after reading R.J. Rummel's "Death by Government" I came to the recognition that governments killing their own citizens (what Rummel terms "democide") accounts for far more death than war has this century (by a factor of about four to one). War's visibility distorts perception. For example, I have long been aware of the six million Jews executed in the Holocaust because this was part of World War II. Yet even while I also knew the former Soviet Union had annihilated some fifty to sixty million of its own people, until I read Rummel I had not given the Soviet slaughter nearly the same significance as the Holocaust (though the number of Soviet citizens slaughtered was literally ten times the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis!). Rummel has been called the foremost "atrocitologist" of our time and "Death by Government" has been thoroughly researched with expertise. To complete the book this former Yale professor and Nobel Peace Prize nominee recorded over 8,000 estimates of genocide and mass murder from over a thousand sources. As a political science doctoral student, I have reviewed many books on the subject, and, for anyone interested in understanding genocide and government mass murder, "Death by Government" is the most comprehensive compilation of government atrocities I have ever encountered. It contains the pertinent numbers as well as the sad and grisly tales of unimaginable carnage. "Death by Government" is an illuminating book on some of the darkest elements of this century. Any course on these issues will be seriously enhanced by Rummel's very readable accounting of state sponsored homicide.
92 of 96 people found the following review helpful
The Most Important History Book You've Never Heard Of . 3 Jun. 2003
By the wizard of uz - Published on
Format: Paperback
And with reason. There is none of the sacrifice, drama or nobility reported in battles. It's not about Thermopylae or Gettysburg.
This is an account of what humanity has done to itself--and continues to this day. It's a book on comparitive demonology. One almost gets the impression that a soldier ripping a baby from his mother's arms, tossing it in the air and catching it on the point of his bayonet is the rule, not the exception. Ditto for POW's captured by front line troops.
The author is a professor of Political Science who finds it amazing that his colleagues write texts on the purposes of government, yet fail to mention that (with the possible exception of the Jewish victims of Nazi genocide) instead of protecting citizens from "the savagery of the jungle" by rule of law, governments have and continue to be, THE greatest killers of all.
"Democide" is the word he coins to combine genocide (murdering because of membership in a hated race, ethnicity,or religion,) plus politicide ( murdering for political purposes, e.g; dissidents ) and mass murder (indiscriminate killing).
Democide is always committed by governments. It is as organized as taxation or road building. Discounting civilians accidentally killed in cross-fires, or even in the aerial bombardments of cities, this still leaves horrifying numbers.
Pre-Twentieth Century? An estimate of 169,198,000 human beings massacred. Since this includes the victims of Genghis Khan, Incas, Conquistadors, etc., There's an obscene tendency to see them as not quite human, not quite real due to the distance in time. So Tarmelane, the Turkish conqueror slaughtered 100,000 people outside of Delhi and he liked to make pyramids of human heads?--Who cares?--Just stuff in history books. . .
Is WW2 is close enough? We all know about the 6 million Jews, but did you know that constituted only aprox 13% of the victims of The Nazi Genocide State?
Overall, by genocide, euthanasia, killing of hostages, reprisal raids, starvation, forced labor camps and so forth the figure is anywhere from 15 to 31 million, most likely 21 million. Rummel admits he may be off somewhat in numbers, but certainly not as to the State's intentions. The Nazis still head the list when it comes to killing people in occupied territories, with the Imperial Japanese Military being second.
As to murdering one's own people, it's estimated some 35,236,000 for the Communist Chinese Anthill. The author notes that those who were shocked by the 1989 Beijing massacre of students, really shouldn't have been--it's the norm. But even that figure is topped by 54,800,000 victims of The Soviet Gulag State.
(Not counting an additional 5-7 million comprised of German POW's plus non-combatants deliberately murdered by The Red Army).
For sheer numbers, Stalin is our grand prize winner in brutality. In terms of percentage, however, the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot beats his insanity--they wiped out nearly one third of all Cambodians.
The chapter on The Vietnamese War State is most instructive, not just for the total toll of 1,670,000 victims but for the inferences Rummel draws: Before the U.S. entered the war, the Viet Minh were already as hardened a bunch of mass killers as the most disciplined SS units under Himmler. America had no idea what it was getting itself get into.
The Balkans are something else. Off the scale.
Required reading.
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Should be Required Reading in College Curricula 8 Oct. 1999
By Sugi Sorensen - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A shocking and sobering account of what happens when governments become too powerful. Rummel's corollary to Lord Acton's dictum is "Power kills; absolute power kills absolutely." His research is top notch. The writing is less so. But the message is clear -- when it comes to forms of government, the freer it is, the less likely the government is to kill its own. The lesson should be to promote poltical freedom wherever possible and limit the power of government. A powerful antidote to advocates of benevolent big brother.
59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Democides, Genocides, and Holocausts 7 Sept. 2002
By Louise Cate - Published on
Format: Paperback
Death by Government examines democides (definition below) of one million or more in the 20th century and before. The author, R. J. Rummel, shows that totalitarian regimes commit most of the democides. The underlying principle is that the less freedom people have, the greater the violence; the more freedom, the less violence. Rummel says, "The problem is power. The solution is democracy. The course of action is to foster freedom."
To understand the book, it is worthwhile to remember the following definitions:
DEMOCIDE: the intentional government killing of an unarmed person or people, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder. Note: "demos" = people. "cide" (caedere) = kill
GENOCIDE: among other things, the killing of people by a government because of their indelible group membership (race, ethnicity, religion, and language).
POLITICIDE: the murder of any person or people by a government because of their politics or for political purposes.
MASS MURDER: the indiscriminate killing of any person or people by a government.
HOLOCAUST: a thorough destruction, especially by fire. A type of genocide.
Although the book examines democides (definition above) of one million or more in the 20th century and before, the rest of this review will focus on the ten worst democides in the 20th century.

We all know the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. Most American do NOT know that the ten worst totalitarian governments murdered more than 136 million OTHER people during the 20th century. The following is a list of the ten governments responsible for all those deaths.
(* = about 2 million MURDERS)
Soviet Gulag (1917-87)
-Executions during collectivization, etc.
* ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Communist Chinese State (1949-87)
-Executions of landlords, peasants, etc.
** ***** ***** *****
Nazi State (1933-45)
-6 mil Jews, 5 mil Poles, 10 mil others
***** *****
Chinese Nationalist (1928-49)
-Purges of communists, etc.
Japan's military (1936-45)
-Nanking massacre, etc.
Khmer Rouge (1975-79)
-Khmer Rouge kill 1/3 of Cambodians
Turkey's Young Turks (1909-18)
-Slaughter of Turkey's Armenians
N. Vietnamese (1945-1987)
-S Vietnam's democide = 90,000.
Poland killed ethnic Germans
-8 million fled Poland (1945-1948)
West Pakistan (1958-87)
-E. Pakistan Hindus killed or expelled
TOTAL # Murdered = 142,000,000+
67 of 75 people found the following review helpful
If war is hell ... then what is Big Government? 27 July 2000
By K. S. Finley - Published on
Format: Hardcover
R. J. Rummel shows that over the last century, a person was almost twice as likely to be killed by their own government than by a force from outside their country. He also reveals that most of the killing of innocent citizens was done by communist regimes in their pursuit of the Utopian Communist State. A process which continues to this day in North Korea.
I was never taught that in school. I was taught that wars kill people and that governments protect people. The present multi-cultural teaching in this country tells us that all governmental systems and cultures are equally valid and that none of us has a right to condemn any system other than our own, no matter how evil that other system might appear from the outside. R. J. Rummel teaches us lessons about Government murder that give us a reference point from which we can judge all governments and cultures... if you kill innocent people then your system is bad. For example: Communism is bad because the policy requires killing anyone who disagrees with the state, and relies on terror to control its citizens. I wonder if any high school student would give those reasons to choose capitalism over communism?
He offers many other insights into how killing and terror become everyday tools for governing in some countries, and how a peaceful country can end up committing genocide against its own people.
This book provides a perspective that can not be found anywhere else!
My only complaint about this book is that he never seems to find a word strong enough to describe the horror created when a government kills large numbers of its own people. He immediately throws out "Genocide" in favor of "Democide", but that just doesn't seem harsh enough. My first thought was that if war is hell, then Big Government is death. So I guess "Death by Government" is as close as our language can get.
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