Read an advance excerpt from THE SPECTER OF GENOCIDE: MASS MURDER IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE, edited by Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan and forthcoming from Cambridge University Press:
On the Thai-Cambodian border in 1979, a young Khmer Rouge company commander remembered the U.S. aerial bombardment of his native village eight years before. Of the 350 villagers, 200 were killed, he said. The twelve-year-old survivor ran terrified into the jungle. Khmer Rouge guerrillas gave him a gun. They told him the "killing birds" had come "from Phnom Penh." Urban dwellers were the enemy. After victory in 1975, this boy murdered 200 "enemies." Asked what it felt like to kill so many people, he patted his right shoulder. "It hurts, here," he said, recalling the kickback from his rifle butt. In mid-2001, as many as 300,000 children under eighteen were participating in armed conflicts in 41 countries. How many of these young victims could become future war criminals?
Long-term genocide prediction and prevention require understanding of the societal nutrients that fertilize the seedbeds of mass murder. Popular historical grievances, previous social traumas, ingrained poverty, educational deprivation, sudden political or economic destabilization, colonial occupation, and war are just some of the conditions that foster the growth of sociopathic political movements. For example, modern warfare, exacerbated by the spread of the technology of industrial slaughter from the late 19th century, has been a breeding ground for genocidal movements, even as it provides a cover for their crimes. The Khmer Rouge and others were spawned in wartime atmospheres of crisis.