Samuel Totten lecture transcript
Tuesday, October 24, 1995
SAMUEL TOTTEN: Good evening and welcome. It is a distinct honor to be here this evening to introduce the lecture series, “Genocide and Mass Murder in the Twentieth Century.” Indeed, it has been an honor to work with various Museum personnel, particularly Lydia Perry, Carol Zawatsky, and Phyllis Conyers.
The development of this lecture series took place over the course of the past year and a half. From the outset, the plan was to offer a series of lectures on a number of the major genocidal events of the 20th century in order to provide, as the title of the series suggests, a historical perspective, as well as to address some of the most vital issues facing the field of genocide studies today.
We are extremely pleased to have assembled such a prestigious group of speakers. Indeed, among our speakers are some of the most noted U.S.-based scholars and activists in the field of genocide studies today.
Over the course of the next 8 weeks, we will have eight lectures on key aspects of genocide and mass murder in the 20th century. Tonight, for our initial address, we are honored to have Dr. Helen Fein, a highly respected scholar and leader in the field of genocide studies. She will open the series by addressing how the concept of genocide evolved and was established in international law. I will introduce her in more detail momentarily.
Our second lecture will be delivered by Dr. Richard Hovannisian, professor of Armenian and Near Eastern History at the University of California at Los Angeles. The author of many books on the Armenian genocide, including “The Armenian Genocide: In Perspective,” and the “Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, and Ethics,” he will address the causes, process, and effects of the Armenian genocide that was perpetrated between 1915 and 1919 by the government of the Ottoman Empire, which was dominated by the so-called Committee of Union and Progress, or the Young Turk Party.
The third talk in the series will be by Robert Conquest, senior research fellow and Scholar/Curator of the Russian Collection at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. The author of numerous books, including “The Harvest of Sorrow,” “Soviet Collectivization of Agriculture and the Terror Famine,” he will discuss the Soviet-made famine of 1932 to 1933, during which six to seven million people perished as a result of what Sakharov called Stalin’s Ukraine-phobia.
The focus of the fourth lecture will be “War, Genocide, and Mass Slaughter in Rwanda and Burundi.” Ms. Allison des Forges, past Chair of the International Commission on Human Rights in Rwanda and Burundi, and currently a consultant to Human Rights Watch, will address the recent genocide in Rwanda and the problems now surfacing in Burundi. Among the key questions she will address are: CAN all of the recurrent violence between Hutu and Tutsi in these countries be called genocide? How can further massacres be avoided, and if they cannot be avoided, what should the international community do to bring them to an end?
The fifth talk is going to focus on the Cambodian genocide, and presently we do not have a speaker for that session, but we should have one shortly.
Raul Hilberg, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Vermont, and one of the most eminent scholars on the Holocaust, will deliver the sixth speech. The author of the highly acclaimed, three-volume study, “The Destruction of the European Jews,” he will discuss the Holocaust as it relates to the concept of genocide.
The seventh lecture, whose focus will be on China and its policies as they relate to mass murder, will be delivered by Merle Goldman, professor of history at Boston University. A prolific author of numerous books and papers on the issue of dissent and human rights in China, her most recent book is “Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China.” Concluding the series will be a lecture by Barbara Harff, associate professor of political science at the United State Naval Academy and senior research associate at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland at College Park. A researcher whose interests are international in comparative dimensions of massive human rights violations, ethnic conflict and international policies constraining intra-national aggression, her talk will focus on the vital issues of intervention and prevention of genocide.
Now, some may ask, why conduct a series on various genocides at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum? The answer is rather simple. While the Museum’s principal mission is to advance and disseminate knowledge about the unprecedented human tragedy of the Holocaust, and to preserve the memory of those who suffered, it is also to encourage humanity to reflect upon the moral questions raised by the Holocaust and upon our responsibilities as citizens of an interdependent world.
In that regard, then, one of his key aims is to educate about the insidious nature and results of prejudice, discrimination, antisemitism, racism, and the hatred of the other. All of these, as well as other factors, of course, are often at play in situations that can and sometimes do culminate in genocide. Unfortunately, genocide and mass murder have not been rare occurrences in this century nor in recent times.
It’s been estimated by Roger Smith, professor of government at the College of William and Mary, that over 50 million persons have fallen victim to genocide since 1900. Since the conclusion of World War II when the world was informed of the horrors of the Holocaust, numerous genocides have been perpetrated in various parts of the world: the 1972 genocide in Burundi; the genocide in Bangladesh in 1971, where the Pakistani government killed between one and three million Bengalis; the genocide in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 that was perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. More recently, there is the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where over a half million people, mostly Tutsi, were killed by the Hutu. And of course, there’s the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, which is another story altogether.The point is genocide and mass murder is an issue that is very much a part of the world today.
What we hope to accomplish through this series of lectures is to raise key issues that face humanity as we approach the 21st century, issues such as, how is genocide defined, and what are the ramifications of how that term is defined and used? What are the ramifications of the incorrect usage of the term “genocide” by the media, by governments and others? What are the long-term after-effects of genocidal acts? Is there any way to intervene and/or to prevent future genocides from taking place, and if so, how? And, finally, what are scholars currently focusing on vis-à-vis the issue of genocide, and what role is their research playing in regard to detecting and possibly intervening and preventing future genocides? All of those questions and more will be addressed by the various speakers over the course of the next 8 weeks.
It is worth noting that the field of genocide studies constitutes a relatively new field. As late as 1983, our speaker this evening, Dr. Helen Fein, wrote, and I quote, “No stream of sociology or major theory since 1945 has considered genocide focally, either to explain genocide or to consider its implications for theories of the state of development and of community and society. Few sociologists have studied genocide, and even fewer have attempted a general explanation.”
“This is also true,” she writes, “of anthropologists, political scientists, and psychologists. There’s a similar paucity of social scientists who consider state violence, terror, and repression or the development of human rights. Social science most often glosses over blood and victims in antiseptic abstraction, masking the nature of the state.”
Fortunately, thanks to a small but influential group of scholars, this situation has begun to change over the past decade. A number of pioneers in the field, some of who will deliver lectures in this series, have made significant headway in regard to addressing the aforementioned concerns.
It is our hope that this series of lectures sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will continue to contribute to the ongoing dialogue that is now underway.
That said, I wish to welcome all of you here this evening. And it is my hope that as many of you as possible will be able to attend the entire series. It is also my hope that you will find the series stimulating and thought-provoking.
We have purposefully asked our guest lecturers to leave ample time for discussion with members of the audience, so that any questions, concerns, and issues can be addressed.
I now wish to introduce our speaker for this evening, Dr. Helen Fein. A sociologist, she views the sociological imagination as a tool to examine how humans produce collective evil and collective good. She has written and edited nine books, including two prize-winning works on genocide: “Accounting for Genocide: National Response and Jewish Victimization During the Holocaust,” and “Genocide: A Sociological Perspective.”
She also serves as executive director of the New York City-based Institute for the Study of Genocide. She is also president of the newly-formed International Association of Genocide Scholars, which met for the first time this summer. Finally, she is a fellow of the Francois Xavier Bagnoud Institute for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard University School of Public Health.
Dr. Fein is one of the most distinguished scholars in the field of genocide studies and has been a prime mover in regard to bringing together scholars from across the globe to discuss and share ideas, concerns, and research vis-à-vis various aspects of genocide.
In her own research, she raises tough questions and is exemplary in regard to how she tackles them. Through her own work, she sets a high standard of excellence for all those who conduct research and write about genocide.
It is a distinct pleasure and honor to welcome Dr. Helen Fein as our first speaker in this series.