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By R.J. Rummel

It is impossible to dissociate language from science or science from language, because every natural [or social] science always involves three things: the sequence of phenomena on which the science is based; the abstract concepts which call these phenomena to mind; and the words in which the concepts are expressed.
----Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, 1789

What are the differences and similarities between democide and genocide? As defined, elaborated, and qualified in Chapter 2 of Death By Government, democide is any murder by government--by officials acting under the authority of government. That is, they act according to explicit or implicit government policy or with the implicit or explicit approval of the highest officials. Such was the burying alive of Chinese civilians by Japanese soldiers, the shooting of hostages by German soldiers, the starving to death of Ukrainians by communist cadre, or the burning alive of Japanese civilians purposely fire-bombed from the air by American airmen.

Genocide, however, is a confused and confusing concept. It may or may not include government murder, refer to wholly or partially eliminating some group, or involve psychological damage. If it includes government murder, it may mean all such murder or just some. Boiling all this down, genocide can have three different meanings.

One meaning is that defined by international treaty, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This makes genocide a punishable crime under international law, and defines it as:

any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Note that only the first clause includes outright killing, while the other clauses cover non-killing ways of eliminating a group. I will call this definition of genocide the legal meaning, since it is now part of international law.

Regardless of this definition and doubtlessly influenced by the Holocaust, ordinary usage and that by students of genocide have tended to wholly equate it with the murder and only the murder by government of people due to their national, ethnical, racial or religious (or, what is called indelible) group membership. This way of viewing genocide has become so ingrained that it seems utterly false to say, for example, that the United States committed genocide against ethnic Hawaiians by forcing their children to study English and behave according to American norms and values. Yet, in the legal view of genocide, this is arguably true. The equating of genocide with the killing people because of their indelible group membership I will label the common meaning of genocide.

In some usage and especially among some students of genocide, the concept has been redefined to fill a void. What about government murdering people for other reasons than their indelible group membership? What about government organized death squads eliminating communist sympathizers, assassinating political opponents, or cleansing the population of antirevolutionaries. What about simply fulfilling a government death quota (as in the Soviet Union under Stalin). None of such murders are genocide according the legal and common meanings. Therefore, some students of genocide have stretched its meaning to include all government murder, whether or not because of group membership. This may be aptly named the generalized meaning of genocide.

As obvious, the problem with the generalized meaning of genocide is that to fill one void it creates another. For if genocide refers to all government murder, what are we to call the murder of people because of their group membership? It is precisely because of this conceptual problem that I created the concept of democide.

We now have three meanings of genocide: legal, common, and generalized. How do these related to democide? Let me try to make this clear through Venn Diagrams. Figure 1A shows two circles, one containing all cases of democide, the other all cases of genocide. Outside of the two circles are all other forms of behavior that is neither democide or genocide. Now, for the legal meaning of genocide, only part of the circle of genocide will overlap that of democide, as shown in the figure. This is because the legal meaning includes nonkilling, while democide includes only killing. The overlap portion of the circles comprise those cases of democide that are the genocidal murder of people in order to eradicate their group in whole or part. That part of the democide circle outside of the overlap contains those murdered for other reasons.

Figure 1B shows the circle of genocide in its common meaning. Then the genocide circle is a smaller one inside the democide circle. That is, in this meaning genocide is a kind of democide, but there are other types of democide as well, such as politicide or the bombing of civilians (see Table 2.1 of Chapter 2).

Now referring to Figure 1C for the generalized meaning of genocide, the genocide and democide circles are the same: democide is genocide and genocide is democide. One of the concepts is then redundant against the other. But then, as I so often point out, what do we call the murder of people because they are, say, Moslems, Jews, or Armenians? This surely is a kind of murder that must be discriminated and understood.

The progress of our knowledge of government murder depends fundamentally on the clarity and significance of our concepts. Especially, these concepts should refer to real world behavior and events that can be clearly and similarly discriminated regardless of the observers and their prejudices. For if any area of social study is laden with predispositions and biases, it surely has to do with the who, why, when, and how of government murder (the meaning of "government" and "murder" are themselves concepts that require clarification, as I tried to do in Chapter 2). For these reasons I believe that both genocide in its common meaning and democide as I have defined it have an important role in understanding government murder. The legal view of genocide, however, is too complex and subsumes behavior too different in kind, such as government murder, government induced psychological damage, government attempting to eliminate a group in whole or in part (what empirical meaning can we give to "in part "?), or government removing children from a group (removing what percentage constitutes genocide?), and so on. In the case of democide, the vast majority of government killing is manifestly murder--the intent to commit murder is inherent in the act itself. For example, soldiers lining up civilians against a wall and shooting them to death without a fair trial is manifestly government murder. And in its common meaning, most cases of genocide can be equally discriminated, as in the Holocaust or of the Armenian genocide in Turkey during 1915-1916.

The conclusion is that genocide should ordinarily be understood as the government murder of people because of their indelible group membership (let the international lawyers struggle with the legal meaning) and democide as any murder by government, including this form of genocide. 


* May, 1998. This was written for this web site in order to help clarify the distinction between genocide and democide. The concept of democide is unique to this web site while genocide is in general use, although as will be shown here, much confused in the literature.

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