Monday, September 24, 2007

"Blood and Soil"

Ben Kiernan is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History, professor of international and area studies, and the founding director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University. His books include How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930–1975 and The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur, and reported the following:
The central argument of Blood and Soil is that millennia of global history offer rich evidence of genocide’s essential features, which are often recognizable in advance of a catastrophe. Therefore, during the gestation of new outbreaks, these features may be identifiable early enough to spark timely interventions that may prevent future tragedies. Over many centuries and across the globe, most perpetrators of genocide and extermination have exhibited similar ideological preoccupations underlying their wide political disparities. Four common features of genocidal thinking, often expressed well before the worst violence breaks out, are: racial or religious prejudice, territorial expansionism, agrarian romanticism, and revivalist cults of antiquity glorifying ancient purity and power. Their combination is explosive.

Page 69 of Blood and Soil demonstrates how three of these ideological elements, present during a dark period in the history of ancient Rome, re-emerged among ruling circles in late seventeenth-century England. Chapter 1 of the book, entitled “Classical Genocide and Early Modern Memory,” documents the Roman genocide of the Carthaginians in 146 BCE, a campaign conducted at the urging of Marcus Porcius Cato, the Senator and Censor who relentlessly reiterated: delenda est Carthago (“Carthage must be destroyed”). Much of the ensuing catastrophe was forgotten for more than a millennium, but during the Renaissance, the ‘rise of antiquity’ and the rediscovery of classical texts made the ancient Carthaginians’ tragic fate much better known, and in some cases it became a new precedent for violent repression. In sixteenth-century colonial Ireland and Mexico, some commentators considered the victimized indigenes to be descendants of dispersed Carthaginian survivors. Page 69 of the book opens with another link between this ancient genocide and early modern exterminations:

Perpetrators even quoted Cato directly. During the English conquest of the Scottish Highlands, London’s secretary of state for Scotland, Sir John Dalrymple, wrote in 1691 of the MacDonald clan of Glencoe: “[T]here is no reckoning with them; delenda est Carthago.” Dalrymple meant what he said. He described the Catholic MacDonalds as “the only popish clan in the kingdom, and it will be popular to take a severe course with them.” He instructed the authorities in Scotland to use “fire and sword and all manner of hostility; to burn their houses, . . . and to cut off [kill] the men.” Dalrymple termed this “rooting out the damnable sept [clan].” King William signed orders to attack the clan leader MacIain of Glencoe “and that tribe” and “to extirpate that band of thieves.” Dalrymple urged “that the thieving tribe in Glencoe may be rooted out in earnest.”

These genocidal orders passed down the chain of command. When they reached Scotland, the commander in chief there, Sir Thomas Livingstone, knew that MacIain had surrendered two weeks earlier and sworn an oath of loyalty. Yet Livingstone told Lieutenant Colonel James Hamilton that “the orders are so positive from Court to me not to spare any of them that have not timely come in,” that he should “begin with Glencoe, and spare nothing which belongs to him, but do not trouble the Government with prisoners.” Dalrymple insisted that despite its surrender, the “thieving tribe” must be “rooted out and cut off. It must be quietly done.” Hamilton informed Major Robert Duncanson: “The orders are that none be spared.” Duncanson instructed Captain Robert Campbell “to put to the sword all under seventy.” It was “the King’s special command” that “these miscreants be cut off root and branch.” Attacking Glencoe in a snowstorm, troops killed MacIain and 37 of his men in their homes, and some women and children, but most of the clan escaped. Days later, when Hamilton reported taking prisoners, Livingstone ruled it “a mistake that these villains were not shot,” and he ordered all prisoners “dispatched . . . where they are found.” Dalrymple wrote: “All I regret is, that any of the sept got away.”(122)

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler termed Roman history “the best mentor” and Carthage the most appropriate example of a victim, because of what he called the “slow execution of a people through its own deserts.” Blood and Soil also shows the importance to genocidal thinking of agrarian romanticism, along with racism, expansionism, and cults of antiquity like that of classical Roman imperialism.
Read an excerpt from Blood and Soil, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue