As We Remember the Atrocities of the 20th Century, We Must Change the Way We Think About Mass Violence

By Brad Evans – February 4, 2014

The Independent

“Mass violence is poorly understood if it simply refers to casualties on battlefields or continues to be framed through conventional notions of warfare. We need to interrogate the multiple ways in which entire populations are rendered disposable on a daily basis if we are to take seriously the meaning of global citizenship in the 21st Century.

The next few years provides us with a timely opportunity for serious reflection. As we begin memorializing the “ Century of Violence”, including the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the Centenary of World War I, the 70th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and the 40th anniversary of the “killing fields” in Cambodia, confronting the suffering of the past will become part of contemporary debate.

While there is no doubt a need to collectively memorialize these traumatic and horrifying world events, it is not sufficient to simply use this as an opportunity to claim that we now live in more secure and peaceful times.

A number of authors like Steven Pinker have us believe that the mass violence is on the decline due to the expansion of liberal zones of influence and pacification. This all rests on points of definition. While it might be possible to offer an account of more peaceful times by reducing our analysis to questions of violence between States or ideology, such accounts fly in the face of the lived realities of many of the world’s citizens.

What we need is a sober and honest reflection on the memory of violence so that we are better equipped to understand its more subtle and sinister qualities.”

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