Book Review

The political and cultural contexts of the modern world introduce both positive and negative influences of the genocide studies and experiences. Notably, the two aspects have a major effect on the genocide perspective in the contemporary world. In the past, the only influencing context was the legal aspect which also played a major role in the naming of the criminal act. The current understanding of “genocide” is that it is a domestic occurrence directed against the victim nations. It is important to note that the field is associated with a great amount of the available literature on this subject. The current paper is aimed at extensively exploring the foundations of genocide based on book reviews. The paper will provide an in-depth analysis and reviews of three books on genocide, What is Genocide by Martin Shaw, Centuries of Genocide by Totten and Parsons, and On the Nature of Genocidal Intent by Campbell.  

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1.  Shaw, M. (2007). What is genocide? Cambridge: Polity Press. 

Background on Genocide

The book provides historical information on genocide. According to the reading, subsequent occurrence of the “crime” led to the need of finding a name for it. The process required support from various professionals including the academicians and human rights activists. The proponents came up with a new concept of human destructive behavior termed as genocide. 

Shaw explains that various episodes of genocide have occurred in the world with the earliest genocide being witnessed in 1915. The latest one took place in 1994. According to the author, the occurrence of the genocides is quite alarming as the numbers are too high. For this reason, the subject of genocide has attracted the attention of different people and institutions including human rights activists, academicians, and social scientists. 

According to the author, the main aim of social scientists in terms of finding a definition for genocide is to relate the moral barbarity of such crimes and better place them within the larger communal context which they are thought to belong to. 

Shaw’s in-depth analysis of the social science aspect of genocide implies that their definition aims to be more comprehensive and preemptive in their formulations. 

Through the book, What is Genocide, Shaw seeks to address two major issues related to genocide definition.

Unchanging definition of genocide

Shaw explains modern and historical perspectives which provide the modern understanding of the genocide ideology. Despite the negative contributions of the criminal act of genocide there have been major changes in this field. 

The reading enumerates key reasons for the unchanging definition of genocide while at the same time offering major reasons for the need to make the necessary changes. 

While reading the text, one is in a position to cite the different whys and wherefores for the unchanging definition of genocide. In the past years, people paid minimal attention to the criminological and sociological aspects of the crime of genocide. For instance, the legal aspect related to the definition of genocide did not consider the major reasons contributing to the occurrence of genocide. 

According to the book, the legalists working on the legal definition of genocide failed to consider genocide motives as elements of the crime. In the present times, social scientists try to incorporate the limiting acts of genocide in the definition of the crime. 

Reasons and need for changing the definition of genocide

Shaw highlights the fact that unprotected groups were left out of the genocide definition. In this regard, modern comprehension of genocide lacks various aspects in its definition to make it comprehensive. 

Some of the perspectives discussed in the reading include political and social scientific views that try to include ideologies from the minority groups. Initially, genocide was defined as a crime against humanity. However, over the years, the crime against humanity started to include such aspects as widespread and systematic crimes against all civilians. 

Shaw explains in the book that the definition of genocide as defined by the Convention has remained untouched since 1948. It is therefore important that contemporary parties incorporate a new meaning and understanding of genocide. 

Genocide Defined

The author presents the key aspects of the 1948 Convention definition of the term genocide. Genocide is an act committed with an intention to ruin a national, ethnical, religious or racial group. Despite the definition trying to encompass every aspect, there the definition has been severely criticized as most groups find it vague and with varied shortcomings. 

The definition is related to several unrelated situations. Shaw cites one example related to the definition as the one-child policy in China which is considered genocidal as it limits the population growth of particular segments of the nation’s ethnic affiliations.

Scholars reject major aspects of the UN Convention 1948 definition. Shaw explains that the definition excludes the “annihilation of groups defined by other characteristics such as class or political affiliation”. 

Chapter One – Contradictions of Genocide Theory

The chapter focuses on the origins of genocide, with key emphasis on the global-historical ideology. The author uses the chapter to highlight the number of genocides recorded all over the globe over the century. The chapter examines the derivation and progression of the theory, unravels some central speculative deliberations, and explores debated cases regarding the confines of the genocide background. In order to understand the meaning and definition of genocide, it is important that the readers have knowledge of genocide in prehistory, early modernity and antiquity. 

The term “genocide” is quite new but the ideology is ancient. The chapter quotes the Bible to indicate the different aspects of the origin of genocide. The main aim of genocide in the past years was to eradicate enemy ethnicities and to incorporate and exploit other members of society. In ancient times, the genocides spared young women and girls for the sake of procreation and a source of dominant offspring. This was a typical trait in the ancient times as the gender-selective mass killing and root and branch genocide took over the past genocides. 

According to the chapter, the first recorded genocide was the Roman siege. In the siege, over 150,000 people were killed in Rome. Understanding the aspects of genocide, the chapter explores two different cases classified as genocide, one in Europe and the other in Africa. The two case studies indicate the times and geographical aspects of genocide and its effects. The chapter delves into the details of the Vendee uprising in which over 150,000 people died while the Zulu genocide was responsible for displacement and murder of thousands of people.

The book highlights the outcome of the UN Convention. Before the year 1948, genocide was considered a crime, however, there was no particular name assigned to the crime. Notably, the Second World War era witnessed no naming of the crime. After 1948, the naming process of the “crime” began, with key progress being witnessed during the UN Convention. One notable contributor to the naming of the concept was Raphael Lemkin, who was later known as the founder of genocide studies. 

The chapter also explains major contested cases of genocide. Contemporary times focus on the genocidal intent, which may influence future definitions of the crime. 

One notable contested case in the chapter is the viewpoint according to which terrorism should be considered genocide. The key question is whether terrorism should be categorized as genocide regarding the intents, circumstances, and consequences of the act. The author finalizes with the debate of justifying genocide. All these aspects majorly rely on the intent of the act. 

Chapter Eight – The Missing Concept

In this chapter, Shaw outstandingly tries to reconcile the sociological factor that often exists in the mind of those who have an intention to commit the crime. These people rarely own up to the fact that they are killing people. In essence, they refer to their victims in inhuman terms such as insects. 

The ideology behind this denial is to motivate their actions of mass murder. In the chapter, the author also highlights the acknowledgement of the killers through their crude ways of killing civilians.  

2.  Totten, S., & Parsons, W. S. (2012). Centuries of genocide: Essays and eyewitness accounts. New York, NY: Routledge.

Overview of Eyewitness Accounts

Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts majorly concentrates on the diverse accounts of the crime committed in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The book contains various chapters, each written by acknowledged experts in the given field. 

The parts cooperatively represent various aspects of punitive viewpoints. The key pillar of the text lies in the introductory section which provides readers with definitional issues, promises, convolutions and obstructions to the deterrence and intermediation of genocide. 

The book consists of various genocide accounts from people and institutions who witnessed the crime firsthand. These accounts were obtained from various parts of the world, and the diversity of the accounts allows readers to fully comprehend the genocide issue in the world. 

The witnesses’ genocide accounts also help readers to understand more about the differences and similarities of the different genocidal crimes. 

Structure of Eyewitness Accounts

To achieve this understanding, the author structures the accounts according to the major questions. These questions help the witnesses to address similar issues of their different genocide instances which in turn provide the readers with deep understanding of every instance of genocide witnessed in the world.

Reading through every chapter of Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, it is noticeable that it consists of the standard questions posed to every witness of different genocide accounts. 

The particular key questions include; who committed the genocide, how the act was committed, reasons behind the occurrence of the genocide, the main victims of the crime, and the outstanding historical forces related to the genocide. 

In addition, the author questions the witnesses on the long-range consequences of the genocide, the responses received during and after the genocide, future interpretation by scholars, and the contribution of the genocide to the relevant field of study. 

The book aims to make readers accept that knowledge about annihilation is significant and that every individual has an obligation not to become insusceptible to deeds of genocide, particularly in the contemporary world. The eyewitness accounts give major back up to the information provided in the book. The edition includes few revisions of the chapters including new chapter authors on Herero genocide and Rwanda genocide. 

Centuries of Genocide offers readers a platform to learn in measured but no less wrenching tones of the deliberate annihilation of the different aspects of genocide committed in Indonesia, Rwanda, Armenia, Burundi, Kosovo, Darfur, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Iraqi-Kurdistan, and many other areas highlighted in eighteen essays. 

The author dedicates three chapters to the exploration of the perspectives of the European Holocaust which resulted in the death of over 44 million people. It is evident that the essays differ in detail, tone, and range. However, despite the difference in time, geographical location and other factors, the author investigates major similarities through the standard questions. The essays are similar as they provide readers with background information, the ethos and response from the persons and institutions.


The introductory statement in the book “ Will the killing ever stop?” is a profound question which allows the readers to ponder over the impacts of genocide. The introduction by the author integrates the ideas and concepts developed in the foreword and continues to set out the parameters for the discussion in the rest of the book. 

The first parts of every chapter in the book provide the context for the genocide followed by the second part which includes a compilation of eyewitness explanations in relation to the particular instance of genocide under discussion. The fourth edition of the book also offers maps to locate the various regions where the atrocities were committed.

When reading the seventeen essays and the introduction part, it becomes evident that the book aims to portray the key issues witnessed during different genocides. The book revolves around the struggle to bring about significant and profound worldwide change in fighting against genocide in modern times. 

The annexation of spectator versions and experiences from diverse parts of the world is an indication that the atrocity can occur anywhere and to anyone at any time. Few governmental forces have been able to limit the occurrence of genocide with a perfect example being the Darfur situation. The genocide cited in Darfur is still ongoing even in the 21st century; hence, genocidal acts are not ancient. 

Chapter Ten – “The Burundi Genocide”

The chapter focuses on the first recorded case of genocide in the Great Lakes Region of Africa which led to the death of over 300,000 Hutu. The genocide occurred in 1972 and attracted minimal media attention. Notably, there were no efforts by the reigning governments to carry out investigations on the reasons behind the occurrence of the atrocity. Over the years, there have been cases of blame game between the two communities, Hutus and Tutsis. The following areas of the chapter need to be emphasized.

  • The historical and regional context of the Burundi genocide. It seems that the Burundi 1972 killings intended to crush the insurrection. The reigning government orchestrated the atrocity with the intention to insure the long-term stability of the state. The only reasonable way to maintain this control was through the elimination of the all educated Hutu elites and potential elites. Another motivating factor was the need for the government to transform the instruments of force including the police and army to a monopolistic aspect of rule.
  • The road to mass murder
  • The silence of the international community
  • The aftermath – The 1972 Burundi genocide drastically altered the nation’s ethnic frame. Subsequent years have witnessed the stern lines of the Hutu-Tutsi fault line to extreme aspects. It is apparent that the 1972 genocide majorly contributed towards the 1994 Rwanda genocide as the two communities strived to claim dominance in the regions.
  • Eyewitness Accounts: The Burundi Genocide

Chapter Seventeen: “The Intervention and Prevention of Genocide-Where there Is the Political Will, there Is a Way”.

The last chapter of the book seeks to make sense of the genocide and its consequences. Despite the regular mass killing of innocent people in the whole world, there have been minimal initiatives to prevent further occurrences. The author recommends varied measures through which concerned parties can arbitrate and avert the happening of genocide. 

According to the research carried out by the experts on genocide, Totten recommends to establish efficient systems which will help prevent the occurrence of genocide. 

One notable approach presented in the chapter is detecting an actual case of genocide early enough to take stringent measures. From the presented genocide cases in the textbook, most of the highlighted accounts would not have happened had the relevant authorities acted on the available information.   

3.  Campbell, J. J. (2012). On the nature of genocidal intent. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Genocidal Intent

Over the years, the subject of genocide has received close attention from different scholars. One major aspect is the intention behind most instances of genocide in the world. In this regard, Jason Campbell takes up the subject in his book, On the Nature of Genocidal Intent. 

The author provides a hypothetical insight to genocidal intent, analytically examining its theoretical and coherent structures, and deliberating its conjectural foundations. The in-depth exploration provides specific insight into the procedure of operationalizing mass massacre and genocide.

The examination comprises of analysis of the obligations played by the orchestrators and the development of a systematic genocidal plan. This necessitates the need to eradicate the populations’ demographic identifiers.

Identifying genocidal intent

The author also comprehensively discusses the vigorous course of generational struggle, wherein former offenders turn into victims while victims turn out to be offenders.

The 1948 UN Convention worked out the definition of genocide. It is apparent that the connotation of genocide and its consequences both legally and socially, relies keenly on the ideology of intent. However, further discussion of the subject has been rigid, not allowing contribution from social scientists. 

The major intention for the creation of the book is to countenance other members of the community to provide assistance in the direction of understanding the genocide subject. The major way for this contribution is through the understanding of genocidal intent. In the introduction part of the book, Campbell tries to uncover the relationship between “the intent to kill and the intended result” which is an act of genocide. 

The UN Convention explores the intent within the boundaries of genocide. The deeper people understand the genocidal intent, the more comprehension of the nature and preconditions is required to satisfy an act of genocide. 

The author places emphasis on the need to accept the affiliation between the deed and the intent behind the act. According to the UN Convention, the definition and its details don’t give a chance to understand the relationship between the intent and the act of genocide. In the introduction part of the book, Campbell offers eight definitional perceptions of genocidal intent. 

Prior to understanding of the genocidal intent, the author explores the criteria for the selection of direct or indirect genocidal forces. In terms of direct genocidal force, the government authorized and sanctioned military forces are used to commit an act of genocide. In the case of indirect genocidal force the perpetrators of genocide use paramilitary or militia groups to commit the act of genocide. 

Chapter Three – “Genocidal Intent and its Relationship to Consequences”

Campbell brings out the existing relationship between the genocidal intent and the consequences of the act of genocide. The consequences of genocide are detrimental with the major one being murder of innocent lives. For such atrocities to pass as genocide, the act should involve the loss of lives. In most cases, the number of deaths runs into thousands. 

Various genocide acts indicate different intents, depending on the forces behind the atrocity. For instance, the Burundi 1972 genocide occurred from the side of the direct force where the government intended to remain in power. The consequences witnessed after any genocide may clearly portray the genocidal intent. 

The people succumbing to the act, the destruction of property, and people affected in terms of future arrests indicate the genocidal intent. The recommendation of the author in the chapter is that the relevant organizations and authorities should identify genocidal intent before exploring any major consequences and damages. 

Chapter Eight: “Inconsistencies within the Logic of Genocidal Intent”

The last chapter of the book tries to explore the existing inconsistencies within the logic of genocidal intent. Despite the need to understand the nature of genocidal intent, the criteria employed in the process leaves room for inconsistencies. 

The reported cases of genocide vary in lengths, from the geographical locations to the time of occurrence. In this regard, it is difficult to find a standard way which various relevant authorities can use to figure out the genocidal intent. 

Notable, different genocides occur under varied circumstances; hence the inconsistencies exist. On the other hand, the pre-genocide factors may lead to major inconsistencies. 

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