All the notes were taken directly from the source mentioned.
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Even if a general is reluctant to tell the newspapers how many men he lost in a bungled offensive, he still has to tell the accountants to drop 4,000 men from the payroll. Even if a dictator tries to hide how many civilians died in a massive resettlement, his finance minister will still note the disappearance of 100,000 taxpayers. A customs official at the harbor will be collecting duties on each cargo of new slaves, and someone has to pay to have the bodies carted away after every massacre. Head counts (and by extension, body counts) are not just an academic exercise; they have been an important part of government financing for centuries.
Destruction and creation are intimately intertwined. The fall of the Roman Empire cleared the way for medieval Europe. The Second World War created the Cold War and democratic regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan. The Napoleonic Wars inspired works by Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Goya. I’m not saying that the 1812 Overture was worth the half-million lives lost in the Russian Campaign, morally speaking. I’m just saying that as a plain historical fact, there would be no jazz, gospel, or rock and roll without slavery, and everyone born in the postwar Baby Boom of 1946-64 owes their existence to World War II.
Chaos is deadlier than tyranny. More of these multicides result from the breakdown of authority rather than the exercise of authority.
War kills more civilians than soldiers.
The only major characteristic that applies to most of these mass killings without applying to all of them is that four-fifths are wars. You may not consider it a startling revelation that wars kill more people than dictators-after
Many of the dictators came from communities slightly beyond the margin of the nations they would come to lead. Napoleon was Corsican, not French. Stalin was Georgian, not Russian. Hitler was Austrian, not German. Alexander was Macedonian, not Greek.
Terrorism rarely kills more than a few dozen people per incident.
When you let crazy opinions pass without debate, outside observers might think that those opinions are commonly accepted.
The most destructive and decisive event of many wars was a siege, not a battle.
The immediate cause of a conflict is a mistake, unfounded suspicion, or rumor.
I still expected this book would be mostly male: Hitler, Stalin, Chinggis Khan . . . not just men, but men advised and assisted by other men, opposed by more men, in which women only appeared as victims, trophies, or background.
Considering that India has usually contained around one-fifth or one-sixth of the human population-as many people as either China or Europe-why doesn’t India show up on my list as often as China and Europe? Even when India appears on the list, the worst megadeaths were inflicted by non-Hindus-Lytton, Yahya Khan, and Aurangzeb.
Lunatics were running every country in Europe-except one. A perfectly sane military dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte, ruled France, and that was the country causing all of the trouble.
More than 95 percent of all deaths in the twentieth century were by natural causes.
Maybe the only reason why it appears that so many were killed in the past two hundred years is that we have more records from that period.
Plenty of wars have been fought over oil, gold, loot, slaves, and trade routes, but you have to scrounge widely and pass over a lot of counterexamples to build up a list of them.
Alsace-Lorraine has been traded back and forth after every war between France and Germany
Until the Nazis built their death camps, the Colosseum may have been the smallest site of the most killings in history, with more killings per acre than any battlefield or prison.
Paradigm: This is the theoretical framework within which theories, laws, and generalizations are formulated.
The scale of Aztec human sacrifice was so far beyond most religious killings that it probably requires a special explanation. The Spanish Inquisition (32,000 killed)11 and the witch hunts (60,000 killed)12 simply can’t compare to the Aztec sacrifice.
Three shifts in the winds of history made the Western slave trade stand out for its cruelty. The first was the rise of global capitalism in the fifteenth century. This broke the cultural and emotional connections between masters and slaves who had lived among each other in the same communities for generations. It turned slaves into mere commodities to be bought and sold in anonymous bulk across wide distances. Second was racism. “We” have always been better than “them,” but through most of human history, “we” were a tiny tribe-Saxons, Athenians, Venetians, Judeans, whatever-in a big sea of “them.”
A feedback cycle developed where so many Africans lived as slaves in the New World that slavery seemed like the obvious, natural condition for Africans. Once Europeans began to associate dark skin with slavery, every dark-skinned person was assumed to be a slave, and if he wasn’t, well, then he should be.
The very fact that there were abolitionists at all was a victory for both the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation.
The Old Testament cursed the descendants of Canaan to slavery. Saints Peter and Paul instructed slaves to obey their masters. In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the Dum Diversas, which granted Catholic countries “full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be . . . and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery.” In fact, until well into the 1800s, most missionary societies considered slavery to be beneficial because it brought pagan Africans into the warm bosom of Christendom.
By the late 1700s, the leading minds of Western Civilization (Bentham, Hume, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, for example) had recognized the injustice of slavery.
Slaves were a long-term investment that tied up capital and became riskier as the economy became more dynamic. With markets always fluctuating, it was easier to just hire and fire free labor as needed, rather than raise slaves from babies for jobs that might be gone when they were old enough to work. Only agricultural production was steady enough, year by year, to make it feasible to acquire a workforce years before it would be put to use.
Pure and unadulterated slavery is the strongest taboo in international law.
Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize for this in 1999. “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy,” he wrote in Development as Freedom.
When the crops failed in India in 1876, there was nothing to replace them. The scarcity drove prices up beyond the reach of the ordinary Indian.
Meanwhile, as the people of India starved, over 300,000 tons of grain was exported from India to Europe.
The Russian Revolution led to one of the largest redistributions of wealth ever seen, but for the most part the Communists didn’t go door to door seizing property. They simply refused to enforce the laws of property when ordinary people stole it from the wealthy.
Communist theory by abolishing private farms and bringing all of the peasants into collective farms. Here they could share modern equipment and be forced to sell crops at government-mandated prices. Peasants who resisted were shot or, more likely, deported to unhealthier climates where they labored on government projects without anyone knowing.
For the most part, the ‘meat-grinder,’ as Solzhenitsyn called the system of Soviet repression, was not intended to kill or torture people but to reduce them to the status of cattle, who were worth feeding only as long as they could help boost production figures.
The German invasion of Russia on June 21, 1941, caught the Soviets entirely off guard. In battle after battle, Russian armies were annihilated.
Among the prisoners of war taken in the first rush was Stalin’s son, Yakov Dzhugashvili. Hitler offered to trade him back for a German general but Stalin refused. Yakov eventually died in German custody, running into an electric fence while attempting either an unsuccessful escape or a successful suicide.
The old Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald remained open a while longer, now as a Soviet concentration camp, where 8,000 to 13,000 new political prisoners died.
The stakes in this East-West rivalry were raised when the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in 1949. The next year, Stalin approved and supplied the North Korean invasion of South Korea.
POLAND SUFFERED THE MOST DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR. It was the first nation to be conquered; then it was partitioned, then subjected to massacres, which escalated to genocide;
In January 1948 a Hindu fanatic assassinated Mohandas Gandhi for betraying his side and caring about the lives of the enemy.
Although the United States was hastily boosting its military strength by calling up reserves and expanding the draft, the new troops were being held in reserve against possible Soviet invasions of Germany, Turkey, or Iran, rather than being sent to Korea.
Sometimes mankind has a really bad day, like April 15, 1912. On that day, the mortally wounded ocean liner Titanic sank into the icy waters of the North Atlantic, taking fifteen hundred passengers to their deaths. Meanwhile, half a world away in Korea, Kim Il-sung was born. Of those two events, the second was probably worse.
Usually an entire family is punished for the crimes of a single member.
Lucky descendants of a Japanese-era freedom fighter might be granted all of the benefits due the Central class, while the descendants of bankers, landowners, or southerners are kept out of good jobs and the capital city, like all of the scum of the Hostile class.
The government in Pyongyang, however, puts a special effort into keeping the people ignorant of how bad their life really is. They are told that things are even worse outside North Korea and that they are lucky to be living in a land where the Dear Leader will take care of them. To maintain this fiction, the people are not allowed to have any contact with foreigners. Radio dials are fixed so that they can receive only North Korean stations. All foreign visitors surrender their cell phones at the border and must keep two Korean escorts with them at all times.
The bigger problem is that every Communist regime in history killed huge numbers of its own people.
The fact that millions of people died for control of these places may be the best proof that both sides in the Cold War were sincerely motivated by ideology. If the Soviet Union and United States had been concerned with only economic self-interest, they would have let these countries go without a fight.
This totals some 11 million people who died in various conflicts where the Americans supplied one side and the Soviets supplied the other.
If you find it difficult to keep all of these African countries straight, don’t worry about it. Their names and outlines aren’t important. African countries rarely correspond to any authentic national entity. The continent was arbitrarily sliced up among the colonial powers at the big European conferences of the nineteenth century.
The Rwandan government eventually set the official death toll of the genocide at 937,000.9 It was the worst single episode of pure genocide in decades-five times as swift as the Holocaust.
After a generation of shuffling, nudging, and posturing, Europe had divided into two power blocs-the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy versus the Triple Entente of France, Britain, and Russia.
Gavrilo Princip created the twentieth century on June 28, 1914. Almost every geopolitical trend that unfolded across the globe for the next eight decades traces back to the day this Serbian terrorist assassinated the Hapsburg heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in the provincial capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. After he was hustled off by police, his Austrian interrogators learned that the assassination had been planned in Belgrade. They issued an ultimatum to Serbia: let us follow up our leads or else.
Serbia refused, and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia couldn’t let Austria destroy a fellow Eastern Orthodox, Slavic nation and gain another piece of the Balkans, so the Russians declared war on Austria. Germany couldn’t let a fellow German nation that shared its longest border get crushed by Russia so the Germans took the plunge as well. Then the Germans demanded an assurance from France that the French wouldn’t be jumping on Germany while the Germans were busy invading Russia. They even wanted the French to allow German troops to occupy key French border fortifications so that France would be unable to cause any trouble. France, of course, refused, so Germany declared war on it as well.
Perfected in the late 1880s, a machine gun sprays out bullets so quickly that it is physically impossible for soldiers to attack across open ground without being cut down-no matter how many soldiers rush at it, and no matter how quickly they run. Within the first few months, the armies realized that the days of pure, gutsy frontal assaults were over.
Mao is almost certainly the deadliest individual in history to have wreaked havoc inside a single country.
Organized crime was virtually eliminated as real gangsters, pirates, and bandits were killed or imprisoned with little formality. The simultaneous Agrarian Reform campaign saw the destruction of the landlord class. The peasants were encouraged to seize land and attack the owners. Mao preferred public killings for maximum impact.
Millions of prisoners were put to work in the newly established laogai (“reform through labor”) camps.
In 1950, Mao threw a couple of million troops into the Korean War against the United Nations, United States, and United Kingdom, making this the last open war between great powers in history (so far).
This massive urbanization pulled 90 million peasants off the farms, stripping the land not just of its workforce but also of its experience and folk wisdom.
To prove to the world that the Great Leap was a success, China exported almost 5 million tons of grain in 1959.
The Chinese troops who moved in to crush the insurgents had orders to eradicate any focus of Tibetan nationalism. The Chinese demolished countless temples and systematically destroyed statues, paintings, and books.
As with so many of his schemes, it became obvious after a couple of years that the Cultural Revolution was undermining China’s viability. Because most of China’s schools were shut down during the Cultural Revolution, an entire generation would enter adulthood distinctly undereducated.
These first purges, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution represent the three peaks in the death rate under Mao,
He failed to gain admittance to art school because of his inability to draw people, which is probably a metaphor-if not an actual symptom-for a deep psychological flaw. He made a meager living painting postcards and then moved to Munich, Germany, to escape poverty, multiculturalism, and the Austrian draft; however, when the First World War broke out, he enlisted in a local German regiment.
Fascism had originated in Italy under Mussolini (who ruled in 1922-43).
At first, the Nazis did poorly in Germany’s elections, but the collapse of the world economy in 1929 turned unemployed voters toward parties with radical agendas.
He established the first concentration camp at Dachau, outside of Munich, to hold the growing numbers of political prisoners.
In 1938, Austria was annexed, and Czechoslovakia was neutralized and partitioned.
A secret treaty with the Soviet Union secured a free hand in the east, and in September 1939 he launched a massive invasion of Poland, sweeping over it in a matter of weeks. The French and British declared war.
Stalin was taking advantage of these distractions to expand into the smaller neighbors of the Soviet Union, taking parts of Poland, Romania, and Finland and completely devouring Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Mussolini also tried to expand Italy’s holdings, this time from Albania (annexed in 1937) into Greece, and from Libya into Egypt, but he met unexpected resistance.
In a little over three years, Germany had taken ten countries, Russia had annexed three and shared one of Germany’s, while Italy had annexed one.
The opening attack in May 1941 proved this, as the Soviets were caught completely off guard.
The fall of every big Soviet city was soon followed by a massacre.
Possibly 750,000 soldiers and 140,000 civilians died in the Battle of Stalingrad, making it the second bloodiest battle in human history.11 Yes, it was only the second. History’s bloodiest battle was the simultaneous battle for Leningrad, in which some 1.5 million soldiers and civilians died.
For the first time in two years of war, the Russians won a battle without snow. This three-week battle had killed 325,000 soldiers all told, but significantly, the Russians had lost only three and a half times as many as the Germans.15 This was a sixfold improvement over the first year of the war, when twenty times as many Soviets died as Germans.
By 1944, eight million foreigners, mostly civilians, had been brought to Germany as slave labor.
Hitler had bigger plans for the Third Reich. To purify his new European empire, he classified anyone who didn’t fit into conventional society as subhuman and scheduled them for extermination. Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Freemasons, and mental patients were jailed, gassed, shot, and castrated by the tens of thousands.
Smaller ghettos were eventually wiped out or consolidated into larger ghettos, and the largest anywhere was the Warsaw ghetto. Walled off from the rest of the city, Jews might be let out to work, but otherwise, they were kept quarantined. Disease and malnutrition cut the population drastically, but even that wasn’t fast enough, so the Germans began shipping them off to concentration camps to be used as slave labor.
Jews who weren’t needed for hard labor were stripped of their belongings and sent to the showers. Instead of water, crystals of Zyklon-B, the trade name for hydrogen cyanide, would be dumped through vents in the roof, vaporizing into poisonous gas. After a frantic several minutes of screaming and scrambling, the victims would fall silent. The gas would be pumped out, and the corpses would be carted off to high-capacity crematoria.
By the end of 1943, most of the Jews under German control were dead, and all of the death camps but Auschwitz were shut down.
Some German allies (Croatia, Romania) were perfectly happy to cooperate with the Final Solution and established their own concentration camps, while others (Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, and Italy) tried to stay out of it.
The Nazis systematically reduced Warsaw to rubble and massacred the population in what’s been called the largest single atrocity of the war.28 Some 225,000 Poles died in the Warsaw uprising.
German ships were packed with civilians and wounded soldiers and launched from ports in the Baltic toward the West, often to be torpedoed by Soviet submarines. The converted cruise ship Wilhelm Gustloff was sent to the bottom with over 9,000 passengers and crew, the deadliest single shipwreck in history. The overstuffed freighter Goya was sunk, taking along over 6,000 refugees.
Hitler had no intention of meeting the same fate as Mussolini, who had recently been captured by partisans, shot, and strung up in the town square like a slaughtered hog.
Unable to delay any longer, Hitler committed suicide with a gunshot to the head after poisoning his dog and new wife. His followers set fire to his body and scattered before the Russians got there.
The Japanese code of honor did not allow surrender, so when the situation turned hopeless, rather than ask for terms, soldiers launched suicidal charges against the American positions in order to die gloriously in battle. This refusal to surrender was so deeply rooted in the national psyche that even civilians killed themselves by the thousands rather than suffer the humiliation of being taken alive. Some stubborn Japanese soldiers took to the jungles and refused to surrender as late as the 1970s.
It’s been estimated that as many as 160,000 civilians-one-third of Okinawa’s population-died in the crossfire, or by mass suicide, or (among the less fanatical) by forced suicide.
The war had been chewing up Japanese pilots so quickly that their replacements could not be trained in the subtle skills of aerial dogfighting and precision bombing, so the Japanese turned instead to blunt suicide attacks against American shipping. Kamikaze pilots crashed planes loaded with explosives into the American fleet. The ferocity of the Japanese defense convinced American war planners to reconsider invading their home islands and instead try bombing them into submission.
By World War II, that was up to one accidental death for every four battle deaths.37 Soldiers were now being crushed in jeeps, smashed in airplanes, burned in trucks, scalded and poisoned by strange new chemicals, mangled and electrocuted by heavy equipment, and blown apart by mishandling heavy munitions.
The experience of World War II reinforced the truism that war sparks technological innovation. Radar, jet aircraft, computers, sonar, antibiotics, and guided missiles were some of the new technologies first deployed in World War II.
The artillery expended 80 percent of the total ammunition fired and caused 45 percent of deaths in battle.
The British launched the war’s first major firebombing on the night of July 28-29, 1943, against Hamburg, incinerating 42,000 residents.42 On the night of February 13-14, 1945, Allied bombers destroyed Dresden and 35,000 civilians.* On March 9-10, 1945, American bombers destroyed Tokyo, killing 84,000 inhabitants.
As the world’s primary industrial power, the United States was the first to work out all of the technical problems. On August 6, 1945, a single airplane dropped a single atomic bomb on Japan, and the city of Hiroshima was blasted out of existence, taking along 120,000 of its inhabitants.44 Three days later, another nuclear strike destroyed Nagasaki and 49,000 of its inhabitants.
Because the war was almost over anyway and the bombs were used against cities rather than armies or fleets, debate rages over whether these attacks were necessary; however, two other facts stand out. The Japanese stopped their dithering and surrendered unconditionally a few days after the bombing of Nagasaki, and since that time, nations armed with nuclear weapons have carefully avoided fighting big wars with each other.
The fall of the Axis did not stop the killing. Many countries had come out of enemy occupation with their political systems wrecked, so chaos replaced oppression.
Tens of thousands of surviving Jews fled Europe to make a new life in the British colony of Palestine, which shortly became the independent state of Israel.
The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey claimed that “probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6-hour period [March 9-10, 1945] than at any time in the history of man.”48 This may be true, depending on which numbers you accept, but I’m more inclined to count the 120,000 killed almost instantly at Hiroshima as the most people killed in the shortest time by human agency in history.*The killing of 1.1 million at Auschwitz took longer, but it probably counts as the most people killed in the smallest place. The bloodiest battle in history was probably the Siege of Leningrad (if you count both soldiers and civilians) or Stalingrad (if you only count soldiers), but even if they weren’t, then the other likeliest candidates were also fought on the Russian front.
Most Germans would like to be able to blame the Holocaust on a narrow clique of fanatics, but pesky facts keep showing that a disturbing number of ordinary citizens-from civil servants to common soldiers-assisted in the process.
In this case, revisionists seem to forget that the world went to war against Hitler because he was dangerous, not because he was evil. This is an important distinction in international relations. You can do whatever you want inside your own country, but when you start invading your neighbors, the rest of the world gets jumpy. No matter how brutal Stalin may have been to his own people, he was content to stay inside the borders of the Soviet Union. By the time Stalin began grabbing small countries for himself, the West was already committed to war with Hitler. The choice wasn’t between fighting Hitler or Stalin. The choice was to fight Hitler or both of them.
Without the Soviets, the Western allies would have had to face several million more Germans all by themselves. This gave Stalin a better negotiating position throughout the war.
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