Death by Government


Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton

Although governments are meant to protect their citizens, secular states in the 20th Century murdered over 169 million of their own citizens! This astonishing statistic is the result of decades of research, by political science Professor R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii. Prof. Rummel’s shocking research is presented in the 500 page book: Death By Government (2006, Transaction Publishers, New Branswick, NJ). The charts and statistics measuring the life taking propensities of state governments were developed from the Professor’s analysis of 8,200 sources, involved over 4,200 consolidations and calculations, which were organised into appendix tables totaling more than 18,100 rows. Just one appendix table alone amounted to over 50 pages and are provided in a supplementary volume: Statistics of Democide: Estimates, Sources and Calculations on 20th Century Genocide and Mass Murder. Prof. Rummel coins the term “Democide” for mass murder by governments.

Prof. Rummel notes that textbooks on political science need to be modernized to recognise political realities. While most textbooks refer to the functions of government as: “Law and Order”, “Individual security”, “Cultural Maintenance” and “Social Welfare”, the fact is that “We have numerous examples of governments that killed hundreds of thousands and even millions of their own citizens, enslave the rest and abolish traditional culture…there is the common and fundamental justification of government that it exists to protect citizens against the anarchic jungle that would otherwise threaten their lives and property. Such archaic or sterile views show no appreciation of Democide’s existence and all its related horrors and suffering. They are inconsistent with the regime that stands astride the society like a gang of thugs over hikers they have captured in the woods, robbing all, raping some, torturing others for fun, murdering others they don’t like, and terrorizing the rest into servile obedience. This exact characterisation of many past and present governments, such as Idi Amin’s in Uganda, hardly squares with conventional political science.”

Rummel observes that while library stacks have been written on the possible nature and consequences of nuclear war and how it might be avoided, the reality is that up to 360 million civilians have been slaughtered by their own governments just in the 20th Century! Yet, very few books have dealt with the overall human cost of “death by government” (The Black Book of Communism being one exception).

“‘Power kills; absolute power kills absolutely. This… is the message emerging from…this book on genocide and government mass murder - …Democide in the 20th Century. The more power a government has, the more it can act arbitrarily according to the whims and desires of the elite, and the more it will make war on others and murder its foreign and domestic subjects. The more constrained the power of governments, the more power is diffused, checked and balanced, the less it will aggress on others and commit Democide…totalitarian Communist governments slaughtered their people by the tens of millions: in contrast, many democracies can barely bring themselves to execute serial murderers.”

Death By Government” includes numerous charts and tables including: the 15 Most Lethal Regimes: Cambodia, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Uganda, Angola, Romania, North Korea and Mongolia. Prof. Rummel documents how these 15 megamurderers wiped out over 151 million people, almost 4 times as many as have died in battle in all the 20th Century’s wars combined.

In total, during the first 88 years of the 20th Century, almost 170 million men, women and children had been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, burnd or killed in any other of the many ways that governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people… our species has been devastated by a modern black plague…a plague of power, not germs.”

Prof. Rummel documents: “Stalin, by far, leads the list. He ordered the death of millions, knowingly set in train events leading to the deaths of millions others, and as the ultimate dictator, was responsible for still millions more killed by his henchmen…far above all is is Gulag – the Soviet slave labour system created by Lenin and built up under Stalin. In some 70 years it chewed up almost 40 million lives.”

Death By Government” documents that most of the victims of Democide “some 40%, are from Asia and the Middle East.” The highest proportion of any regions population were “from the territory of the former Soviet Union.” The Soviet Union and Red China accounted for most of the deaths by government in the 20th Century. “That Stalin, Lenin and their successors murdered almost 62 million Soviet citizens and foreigners is little comprehended outside of the Soviet Union.

Death by Government” calculates that between 35 million and 105 million people were murdered by the Communist party of China from 1949 to 1987. Some other statistics in the “Death By Government” include that the Japanese in the Second World War murdered 5,890,000 civilians. Tito’s Communist partisans murdered 600,000 in Yugoslavia. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge killed between 2 to 3 million Cambodians. Ottoman Turkey wiped out 1,7 million mostly Christian Armenians between 1909 and 1918. Idi Amin’s regime killed over 300,000 civilians in Uganda between 1971 and 1979. The MPLA wiped out 125,000 civilians in Angola (1975 – 1987). The Communist regime wiped out 1.5 million people in Poland just between 1945 and 1948.

Prof. Rummel concludes: “As the arbitrary power of a regime increases massively…as we move from democratic through authoritarian to totalitarian regimes, the amount of killing jumps by huge multiples.” Rummel’s exhaustive documentation in “Death By Government” exhibits the sheer lethality of power. He also concludes that: “Never has there been a war involving violent military action between stable democracies…indeed we have here a general principle that is gaining acceptance amongst students of international relations and war: mainly, that democracies don’t, or rarely, make war on each other. To this I would add that the less democratic two states are, the more likely it is they will fight each other.”

Power gradually extirpates from the mind every humane and gentle virtue” Edmund Burke

Prof. Rummel’s colossal masterpiece “Death By Government” conclusively proves that far from governments being the solution to crime and violence, historically governments have been the prime culprits for crime and violence. Far from governments being the solution, they are more often then not the problem. Most government policies to deal with crime and poverty are counter productive, creating more crime and more poverty. No where is this seen more clearly than in the state attempts to disarm civilians. Every genocide and Democide of the 20th Century was preceded by gun control and disarmament of civilians.

Just as criminals prefer unarmed victims, tyrants prefer disarmed citizens. A government that does not trust its citizens with weapons cannot be trusted with power. Freedom is when the government fears the people. Tyranny is when the people fear the government. No government can be trusted with a monopoly of force. Decentralisation of power, the rule of law and armed citizens are essential foundation for freedom.

Dr. Peter Hammond is the Author of Holocaust in Rwanda and In the Killing Fields of Mozambique

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