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By R.J. Rummel

As shown on this web site (e.g., see Table 1.2 of Death By Government), from 1900 through 1987 governments murdered near 170,000,000 people. With respect to this figure I am often asked how much of this occurred since the end of World War II in 1945. With the conclusion of that war and the discovery of the breadth and depth of the Holocaust, many demanded "Never Again." But our history since has rather been: "Again, again, again, and again."

From 1945 and up to 1987, about 76,000,000 people have been murdered in cold blood by one regime or another, around thirteen times the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Most of this democide has been done for political reasons (reasons of state or power), but also much of it has been outright genocide (the killing of people by virtue of their ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality--for the difference between democide and genocide, click here). From 1900 to 1987, about 39,000,000 people, including Jews in the Holocaust, were killed in genocide throughout the world. I do not have a break down of this total for the post-WWII years, but it seems that the proportion of genocide to overall democide has remained roughly the same. If so, genocide since the war possibly accounted for near 20,000,000 of those murdered.

The greatest source of post-war democide was communism (see the communist death toll). During and after the war communists seized power, or came to power with the help of Soviet military might, as in Eastern Europe. In addition to the USSR, Mongolia, Eastern European regimes, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia, communist regimes eventually also included China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, Grenada, Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and South Yemen, or 26 regimes in all. These communist governments and the communist guerrillas they supported in other countries account for about 66,000,000 of the 76,000,000 murdered since the war, or about 87 percent. Clearly, of all regimes, communist ones have been by far the greatest killer. During these years it has been mostly death by Marxism than more generally by government.

Other regimes, however, did from 1946 to 1987 murder about 10,000,000 people. This killing was due to attempts to maintain control over colonies, as by France and Portugal; to rid the country or newly acquired territory of ethnic Germans after the war; as by Poland and Czechoslovakia; to some form of ethnic cleansing, as in Nigeria and Burundi; to hold power, as by the Nationalist government of China and by Pakistan; or to establish a theocracy, as in Iran, or state socialism as in Myanmar.

Tables 1-5 present the democide totals for each regime, 1946-1987, and ranks the regimes as to their democide for each decade. For each decade one can see the democide of the minor dictatorships and in the first decades the massive contribution of communist regimes to the total. However, as we approach 1987 there was a clear decline in overall democide with the waning of communism. This can best be seen in the year-by-year plot of total democide in Figure 23.1 ("nonstate regimes" in the plot refers to guerrilla organizations and terrorist groups that controlled a certain territory, as did Castro before his defeat of the Batista regime in Cuba). The absolute peak of democide occurred during World War II. But rather than this be the end of it, the second highest peak was in the 1950s as one new communist regime after another tried to eliminate its opposition and establish totalitarian control. And with the establishment of new communist regimes in the 1960s we see another peak. The next and last peak in the early 70s is largely due to the democide of West Pakistan in rebellious East Pakistan in 1971 (over a million murdered).

What has happened since 1987, the cutoff year for my statistics? Democide has continued, of course, as any newspapers reader can attest. Possibly 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rawandans have been slaughtered and around 2,000,000 have been starved to death in North Korea in its continuing famine (which for practical purposes is intentional). Possibly in each of the countries of Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, and Burundi, hundreds of thousands have been murdered; and lesser numbers have been so killed in Kosovo, Bosnia, Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Uganda, Congo (Kinshasa), Zaire, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and North Korea (aside from the political famine). Then there are Azerbaijan, Liberia, Nigeria, Myanmar, Turkey, Russia, Syria, Sri Lanka, and Iran in which may be a few hundreds or thousands have been killed since 1987. And no doubt there are other governments that deserve to be mentioned for their democides, but have so far escaped attention by the media.

How many corpses should thus be added to the world total since 1987? I can only make an educated guess, but would put the figure between 3,000,000 and 6,000,000. Lets say a reasonable death toll is 4,000,000. For the years 1946 to 1999 then, this would make to democide total about 80,000,000. While even if the 4,000,000 for 1988-1999 is roughly correct this is a huge number of murders in absolute terms, it is much less than what we might expect given the average number killed per year 1900-1987. Indeed, on the basis of that average we should expect about 19,000,000 additional deaths in the years 1988-1999.

Let us stop a moment to think about this likely 80,000,000 murdered since WWII. This is a statistic impossible to grasp. Only twelve countries in the world have a population larger than this number of killed. It is as though the total Philippine population of 79,000,000 were murdered; or that all the people living in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, and Norway were wiped out together--not in some natural catastrophe that kills quickly, but for most of the victims a painful and slow death at the hands of a government. To look at this toll another way, it is over five times the number of combat deaths for all the nations that fought in WWII alone. Add those killed in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the two most deadly major wars since WWII, and the democide 1946-1999 is still almost three times these total combat dead. Perhaps this democide is still impossible to absorb. Then consider this. If laid head to toe, and each of the corpses is assumed to be 5 feet tall (1.52 meters), then the 80,000,000 victims would circle the globe (at the equator) three times. Three times!

However, as pointed out, democide has been declining sharply. What accounts for this? As should be clear from the above, the first reason is that the deadly totalitarian version of communism is all but dead. It now only exists in North Korea. And China and Cuba have moved to a more authoritarian, less-totalitarian, version. A second reason is that democracy--the regime least prone to commit democide, especially against its own citizens--has grown throughout the world. From perhaps a dozen or so countries in 1946 the number of democracies had grown to 114 out of 191 states in 1995. The age of totalitarianism is over and that of democracy is upon us. To my knowledge no liberal democratic government has committed democide since 1987 (in terms of civil and political rights, neither Russia nor Turkey is yet a liberal democracy), which is predictable from the this web site's theme: power kills--the less power, the less the democide.

Moreover, with the growth in democracies, changes in the norms, structure, and functioning of the international system are moving against democide. No longer is state sovereignty a legal/conceptual bulwark against international humanitarian intervention in a state. Through the United Nations the international community has intervened to stop the killing in Bosnia and Rawanda, and as of this writing NATO is using military action against Serbia to stop its democide in Kosovo. True, these interventions are often too late. True, there are too many cases of mass-murder that are ignored. But a core legal bridge has been crossed and no government guilty of mass murder now can confidently protect itself by the claim that this is its own business. This is now especially true with, first, the precedent creating UN establishment in The Hague in 1993 of a temporary tribunal to indict and try those who have committed war crimes in the former Yugoslavia; and second, the approval (by 120 to 7) in 1998 of a treaty to set up a permanent international criminal court in The Hague to prosecute genocide, war crimes, aggression, and other crimes against humanity. The Court will have the power to issue arrest warrants for the citizens of a country even against the government's will--a remarkable step forward in making democide by governments a punishable offense.

But still, there is so much to be done to eliminate this horror. Even in this day and age, we can have the Congo's government of President Laurant Kabila broadcast over the state radio this open call to murder:

People must bring a machete, a spear, an arrow, a hoe, spades, rakes, nails, truncheons, electric irons, barbed wire, stones, and the like, in order, dear listeners, to kill Rawandan Tutsis. (Quoted in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, August 19, 1998, p. A-18)

Most of the cases of democide detailed on this site were as flagrantly the direct action of government. Indeed, for many nations, such as the USSR, Communist and Nationalist China, Nazi Germany, Turkey during World War I, and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, democide was as much the policy of their governments as was having prisons and an army. Democide was not an event or an episode, not a happening or incident, it was done in the ordinary course of events, sometimes even in order to fill government quotas as to the number to be killed.

The lesson from all this horror is clear, as recent democide further confirms: reduce government power, check and balance it, divide it among different regions and municipalities, constitutionally limit it, and make the people its only source and arbiter. That is, promote democratic freedom.


* May, 1998. This was written for this web site as a result of the often asked question about democide since World War II.

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