In part, I "sold" Routledge on the idea of this book by asserting that not only will the last lectures be thought-provoking but that they would NOT be the form of a typical paper. Rather, I said that the contributions will be "delivered" in the tone and tenor of an actual lecture, from beginning to end.
In light of that, I wish to remind each of you that it is important, indeed, imperative, that you set your contribution up in the form of a lecture -- with an opening you'd likely use in presenting a last lecture and with a closing that you'd likely use in a last lecture.
In order to provide you with a sense as to what I am talking about I am taking the liberty herein to include a last lecture that was delivered by a noted researcher in the University of San Francisco's School of Medicine.
Should you wish to review other such lectures, simply GOOGLE something along the lines of: last lecture series offered by universities
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.
I thought a great deal about what I wanted my last lecture to be and set about to writing it. I called it: "Love Not Troops: (Re)imagining a Solution to Mass State Violence". As my parting shot to the world, I wanted to push the envelop as much as possible and suggest that what was lacking (mostly) was a crisis of imagination. I submitted my contribution and the editor didn't like it (creative differences as they say). Not detailed enough I was told. No clear action plan.
That was part of my point actually. The audience needed to be prompted to think a different way. Who am I to micromanage organizing around the new idea. I was retiring after all (given the scenario pitched to me), delivering my last lecture (perhaps to start my consulting firm). A little pissed because the instructions for submission were not that clear, I realized that I could just go straight to the reading audience and dispense with the production and delivery component of the edited book. So, here you go:
All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being – Albert Camus
I once included the quote above in an academic article about state repression and was told by the editor that while they liked the sentiment, they believed that it had no place in a piece of scholarship. Within the pages of the journal, there should only be things that were serious, rigorous and well thought out. I was kind of surprised and a little disappointed by the editor. Up until that time, I thought that political science in particular and social science in general was meant to use all of its tools to erase from existence all those things that negatively impacted human life. I was trying to do just that and thought that the enterprise could use a reminder. In addition to that I could not think of anything more serious than what Camus referenced.
After that experience, I invariably inserted the quote into everything that I wrote – removing it from submissions right before I (e)mailed them off, and I include it into almost every class syllabus that I created. Today, I will invoke the call again but shift it a little: “in the midst of a murderous world, let us agree to reflect on MASS murder”. Today, we will talk and think about perhaps one of the most important topics that you will ever not discuss: stopping large-scale, state-sponsored mass killing.
Now, let’s take that a part for a second:
- By “stopping” I mean preventing before it occurs and/or terminating activities underway;
- By “large-scale” I mean involving a large number of people both as perpetrators and as victims;
- By “state-sponsored” I mean directly involving political authorities; and,
- By “mass killing” I mean involving extensive loss of life and/or harm.
This is our topic, in a nutshell. To get us there, we are going to talk about definitions, then why such activity occurs as well as how and, finally, we will talk about what could stop such activities as well as where in the process these might/might not function.
Jumping ahead to the punchline, I will suggest that we are largely suffering from a crisis of imagination regarding stopping large-scale, state-sponsored mass killing – at least stopping it at the root. Most of what we propose in terms of solutions deals with the most immediate and pressing manifestations of the problem but in a sense we end up trying to put out fires but without fully addressing the excessive amount of flammable materials in the environment as well as the ease with which matches are distributed. Toward this end, governments and attempted monopolies of coercive power are a part of the problem as well as a desire for domination and conflict management over a desire for love defined as some degree of positively shared identity, reflected within behavior, organization, language and values. Now, before you tune out, thinking that I have lost my mind or given over to my grounding in the 1960s, I wish to clarify that I am not talking about Burt Bacharach or Beyonce’s love. Rather, I’m talking about the love discussed by Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon – a fellowship of sorts. As King said, desegregation will only produce
"a society where men are physically desegregated and spiritually segregated, where elbows are together and hearts apart. It gives us social togetherness and spiritual apartness. It leaves us with a stagnant equality of sameness rather than a constructive equality of oneness." But integration will bring in an entirely different kind of society whose character is best summed up in the phrase "Black and White Together" -- the title of one of the chapters of Why We Can’t Wait and the theme of one stanza of the civil rights movement’s hymn "We Shall Overcome." Integration will enlarge "the concept of (brotherhood, sisterhood and transhood) to a vision of total interrelatedness (Smith and Zep 1974: 130)."
We will return to love a little later.
It is normally best to start at the beginning, as it were, and I wish to start with some definition of large-scale, state-sponsored mass killing. Guided by existing scholarship (Davenport 2007), I would suggest that this refers to government action that directly harms or hinders human life that involves a relatively large number of individuals. This normally includes First Amendment–type rights (e.g., assembly, association and speech), due process in the enforcement and adjudication of law (e.g., not getting picked up and incarcerated for no apparent reason), and personal integrity or security (e.g., not being tortured, disappeared and/or killed). I say “normally” because my opinion has shifted over time.
Throughout my career, I have focused on overt, large-scale manifestations of state violence: e.g., the genocide in Rwanda during 1994 and the effective shut down of Rwandan civil society following the Rwandan Patriotic Front victory at the end of the interstate war, the activities of the British military and Northern Ireland police during the “Troubles”/ “Conflict” or the activities of the US government against diverse social movement organizations during the 1960s-1970s (e.g., the Black Panther Party, the Republic of New Africa as well as the old and new left). These campaigns involved massacres, targeted assassination, torture, disappearances, mass arrests, beatings, home invasions, curfews, blockades, indiscriminate shooting into crowds and political banning. The work above is extremely important as it has led to many insights about what is taking place and why but it has led to something of a blind spot, which is highly problematic.
Focused on the events above, we have missed what could alternatively be called “covert repressive action” (i.e., death squads, torture, informants and black ops) and “slow genocide”, “mass discrimination” or Johan Galtung’s controversial idea of “structural violence” (i.e., systematically holding/preventing one group from acquiring life-sustaining resources). I would argue that highlighting these are extremely important whenever we talk about large-scale, state-sponsored mass killing. I say this because I have spent about a decade studying the Indian practice of untouchability or caste discrimination which effects up approximately 200 million people. What is untouchability? Now, that is a controversial topic in and of itself (Macwan et al. 2009) – it is at once a practice of political domination, a religious birthright, a cultural way of being infused into eating, marrying, walking, worship, where when lives, how one lives and occasionally if one lives. Accordingly, it has been a struggle to find research that is helpful in categorizing what it is, juxtaposing it against other forms of state-sponsored mass killing and systematically trying to assess what influences its application. There is much more work available on overt manifestations of the topic but if one were to total the number of fatalities lost to untouchability over the four thousand years that it has existed, it is possible that this has been one of the largest and longest state-sponsored mass atrocities in human history. Of course, the minute that this is said, we get to the other controversial point: the Indian government has outlawed the practice. Having said this, we get to the other issue: the enforcement of the law has been quite limited and thus through ineptitude or complicity the Indian government has allowed the practice to continue – killing untold individuals for thousands of years.
On why. Regarding the first part of the question, the answer has been fairly straightforward. Governments kill because they find themselves at odds with part or all of the relevant population under their jurisdiction. In a sense, this defines the interaction: 1) the government involved claims/puts forward a specific identity that is separate/distinct from as well as in competition with that of the targeted (i.e., the threat/challenger/dissident/terrorist/outsider) and 2) the government (at least to some degree) harbors some animosity toward the targeted. The dual characteristics of identity and grievance are essential for I believe it is the opposite situation that allows us to better conceive of peace and love as well.
To the point, I believe that peace and love are not simply geared towards non-conflict but rather toward a fuller, deeper sense of “mutuality” between governments and those they interact with, across a variety of dimensions: e.g., communication, language, education, worship, traveling, working, housing, eating, marrying and political life. Indeed, the end of this “peace continuum” of which I speak (Davenport 2017 et al.) is not simply a better regulated conflict situation between two hostile actors. Rather, it is a fundamental shift in the interaction because the interaction is geared toward the creation of a mutually-respectful, harmonious community (for similar concept see Deutsch et al. 1957).
On how. Regarding the second part of the question above, the answer has also been fairly straightforward. Think of everything as starting with some group (A in the figure below). These individuals conceive of an idea regarding what they would like to do about another group of people (e.g., an ethnic, religious or political minority). In this case, they wish to have them killed in large numbers (D in the figure). The initial group gives their idea to those who can order the implementation (B in the figure). We could call them administrators or political authorities. In turn, these actors give the command to enact the relevant policy to members of the security apparatus (C in the figure); this includes the military, the police and militias/death squads. These individuals strategize, plan, prepare and train for the execution. In following this sequence, the leaders of this institution pass the plan down the chain of command to those under their charge who implement the relevant action – in this case, this is where the actual killing takes place (D in the figure).
Given this conception, there are five ways to bring an end to the relevant behavior. First, one could remove the potential victim from harms way or facilitate their flight – perhaps to a neighboring country or safe zone (dealing with D in the figure). Alternatively, one could send individuals into the relevant country to surround them and protect them like human shields. Second, related to the last point, one could try and block the repressive agent from enacting the policy of interest (i.e., killing). This could be done with placing troops directly in their path. This could also be done by not having any repressive agents in the first place but that is a somewhat different conversation. Third, one could try to interfere with the delivery of the kill order between the policymakers and the repressive agent or between repressive agents. This is relevant to discussions about jamming radio frequencies and, again, placing troops in the way to disrupt transportation/communication. Fourth, one could try to disrupt the decision maker from coming up with the decision to kill. This could be done by using some kind of constraint on elected officials or, more creatively, coming up with an alternative policy for eradication. Finally, one could try to interfere with/undermine/replace the development of the objective being pursued. This involves shifting the goals of those influencing the repressive process.
Now, clearly one can see the superiority of the last approach. There are ways around the other four: there might be access to potential victims despite attempts at isolating them; units sent into a locale to protect individuals might not be well equipped or willing to engage and the idea of not having nation-states with a monopoly on coercion seems impossible when predatory actors exist in the international system; and, interfering with the delivery of a message only seems to delay the problem as opposed to eliminating it. But can we imagine shifting goals from political leaders away from killing? Here, I think of John Lennon’s song “Imagine” – a brilliant mind experiment on deconstructing and reconstructing the political world around us to point out that we made it (the political world) and we can remake it – if we can only imagine it as being possible.
The discussion above is important for it suggests that much of our thinking and actions relevant to the topic of stopping large-scale, state-sponsored mass killing has presumed that killing is natural for political authorities as well as security force agents and thus we are often led to policies that essentially send killers to deal with killers. But, if killing is not natural and if episodes of mass killing are periods in which the predisposed sociopaths are given free reign, then our attention needs to be shifted. First, we should try to isolate the predisposed individuals and understand how/when they are released and how/when they infect others around them. Second, we should try to challenge as well as eliminate the idea that violence is an acceptable behavior for political authorities. Think about it: nation-states are generally founded on and maintained by the idea that different groups of people are put together and then compelled to exist in the same space, submitting to some governing authority through the threat or actual use of some monopolized violence. Some may try and reduce the bluntness of their governance by creating some attachment to the political entity in mind but the threat of violence always lies in the background. And this is partly why the problem persists. We can stop these particular actors from behaving at this particular point in time but we are structuring, arming and instilling within the next political apparatus a reason and capability to do the same thing that we were worried about later.
If, however, this idea of coercion and force by political authorities was rendered unacceptable and replaced with the ideas of peace/mutuality and we structure political systems in a way that discouraged militarism, coercion and force, then we are not only stopping the idea of large-scale state repression but also its implementation. And we are back to love – the deepest form of mutuality that could be imagined (i.e., the most positive end of the peace continuum). I mentioned I would return here.
In many ways, I think that we should dwell here for a while (conceptually) because we have spent too much time managing. I think that we have spent too much time accepting the world and governments and security force agents for what some think/say they are. We need to envision the world as well as political entities that we wish to live within and push for the creation of that world as well as those entities. Satisficing and realism have rendered our efforts ineffectual or unapplied. Not all government officials wish to create, maintain or use coercion and force and not all security force agents wish to use it either (although they might wish to create and maintain them). We should begin with this variation in orientations and figure out how it gets overwhelmed/overrun/ignored to result in mass killing. We need to reorient our thinking about governments from being babysitters with baseball bats to midwives with wise suggestions. We should try thinking about the problem in a different way for a while and see where that gets us. As part of that, we should take the repressive system (outlined above) apart and see which parts are moveable.
And with that we are back to Camus: “All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the consequences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being.”
Collins, Randall. 2009. Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Davenport, Christian. 2007. “State Repression and Political Order.” Annual Review of Political Science 10:1-23.
Davenport, Christian. 2017. The Peace Continuum: What it is and How to Study it. Oxford University Press.
Deutsch, Karl, Sydney Burrell, and Robert Kann. 1957. Political Community and the North Atlantic Area: International Organization in Light of Historical Experience. Princeton.
Grossman, Lt. Col. Dave. 2014. On Killing. Open Road Media.
Macwan, Martin, Christian Davenport, David Armstrong, Allan Stam, Monika Kalra Varma and Amanda Klassing. Understanding Untouchability. Ahmedabad, India: Navsarjan Trust. 2009. http://navsarjan.org/Documents/Untouchability_Report_FINAL_Complete.pdf/view
Smith, Kenneth L., and Ira G. Zepp. 1974. Search for the beloved community: The thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr. Judson Press.