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Theatres of Violence

Theatres of Violence: Massacre, Mass Killing and Atrocity throughout History

Philip G. Dwyer
Lyndall Ryan
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 350
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  • Book Info
    Theatres of Violence
    Book Description:

    Massacres and mass killings have always marked if not shaped the history of the world and as such are subjects of increasing interest among historians. The premise underlying this collection is that massacres were an integral, if not accepted part (until quite recently) of warfare, and that they were often fundamental to the colonizing process in the early modern and modern worlds. Making a deliberate distinction between 'massacre' and 'genocide', the editors call for an entirely separate and new subject under the rubric of 'Massacre Studies', dealing with mass killings that are not genocidal in intent. This volume offers a reflection on the nature of mass killings and extreme violence across regions and across centuries, and brings together a wide range of approaches and case studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-300-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables, Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: The Massacre and History
    (pp. xi-xxvi)
    Philip G. Dwyer and Lyndall Ryan

    Massacres have occurred throughout recorded history and are even known to have existed in pre-recorded times. Archaeologists have found, for example, evidence of a Neolithic massacre in Talheim, Germany, which is believed to have taken place over seven thousand years ago. The remains of thirty-four victims, male and female and ranging in age from two to sixty, were unearthed during digs in 1983 and 1984. They were bound and most killed by a blow to the left temple before being thrown into a pit.¹ There is more than enough evidence to suggest that as agricultural societies expanded in Neolithic times,...


    • Chapter 1 The Origins of Massacres
      (pp. 3-16)
      John Docker

      Extreme violence, as in war, massacre and often in genocide, raises disturbing questions about us as a species. Extreme violence haunts our sense of the fundamental nature of humanity, of history as progress, of the ethical bases of societies, of the honour of nations, of ethnic and cultural identity, of intellectual life itself, which is intricately entwined with all these questions. Massacre and genocide studies, separate yet closely related fields, are moved by an anxiety that genocide and massacre possess features that may be impossible to explain. For example, why do groups suddenly turn on their neighbours with whom there...

    • Chapter 2 Massacre in the Peloponnesian War
      (pp. 17-26)
      Brian Boswortha

      The year 1915 has a significant place in the history of massacre. In our time it conjures up the pointless slaughter of the Gallipoli landings. But the Gallipoli campaigns do not stand alone. The area has vital strategic value, and not surprisingly it has had a long and bloody history. In particular, it became the theatre for the naval war between Athens and the Peloponnesian alliance which brought down the Athenian Empire.

      This war ended in late 405 BC with one of the most decisive battles of the ancient world.¹ It was fought off Aegospotami, a stretch of beach on...

    • Chapter 3 ‘The Abominable Quibble’: Alexander’s Massacre of Indian Mercenaries at Massaga
      (pp. 27-37)
      Elizabeth Baynham

      I would like to begin with a quotation from a well known historical novelist, the late Mary Renault, who, despite her innate romanticism, had a considerable gift for recreating the ancient world. The speaker is the young Persian eunuch Bagoas, a servant in the entourage of Alexander the Great. From the safety of Alexander’s camp, he has heard his master and lover slaughtering a large company of Indian mercenaries. These men, having made a separate truce with Alexander, had just left the fortress of Massaga in the Swat valley (northern Pakistan), which was under siege at the time. On being...

    • Chapter 4 The Roman Concept of Massacre: Julius Caesar in Gaul
      (pp. 38-49)
      Jane Bellemore

      Julius Caesar is regarded as one of Rome’s great generals, a reputation he established in the main through his subjugation of Gaul (58–50 BC), but Caesar ensured his place in history by providing a commentary on these campaigns,Gallic Wars(Commentarii de Bello Gallico), which he published during or just after the period of the campaigns.¹ Although Caesar should be suspected of presenting his actions in Gaul in the best possible light, nevertheless, because of his privileged position as commander of the Roman forces, his view of the motives and strategies used in the deployment of Roman troops is...

    • Chapter 5 Atrocity and Massacre in the High and Late Middle Ages
      (pp. 50-62)
      Laurence W. Marvin

      If one views ‘Western Civilization’ as a long but ambiguous continuum, the Middle Ages is often portrayed as its most violent era. When Marcellus the gangster remarks in the filmPulp Fictionthat he plans to ‘… git medieval…’ on someone, the audience understands he means brutality at the very least, with wholesale slaughter a likely possibility.¹ The terms ‘Feudal’, ‘Medieval’ and ‘Middle Ages,’ are synonymous with arbitrary, extreme forms of violence. This view of course does not square with the facts. Undoubtedly massacre and atrocity formed part of the medieval experience, but the medieval world held no exclusive rights...

    • Chapter 6 A Sea of Blood? Massacres during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, 1641–1653
      (pp. 63-78)
      Inga Jones

      Thus Dave Grossman described atrocity and massacre – issues which are at the centre of this volume. ‘To look at the ugliest aspect of war’² is its purpose, not only to answer the question of how such human catastrophes are perceived by contemporaries and successive generations, but, perhaps more importantly, to approach an understanding of why they occur.

      The seventeenth century is generally regarded as one of academic and technological innovation, not least in the military sphere. This was the century of Hugo Grotius, Maurice of Nassau, Gustavus Adolphus and the development of standing armies. However, it was also an age...


    • Chapter 7 Looking the Other Way: The Gnadenhütten Massacre and the Contextual Interpretation of Violence
      (pp. 81-93)
      Rob Harper

      In early March 1782, roughly 160 western Pennsylvania militia marched to eastern Ohio in search of American Indian warriors responsible for attacks on white settlements. According to rumours, the warriors had occupied the town of Gnadenhütten, a recently abandoned mission of the Church of the United Brethren (more commonly known as Moravians). When they arrived, the Pennsylvanians found not warriors, but almost one hundred Moravian Indian converts, who had returned to their former homes to find food. The militia initially offered the Indians safe passage to Fort Pitt, but then accused them of aiding enemy war parties and condemned them...

    • Chapter 8 Settler Massacres on the Australian Colonial Frontier, 1836–1851
      (pp. 94-109)
      Lyndall Ryan

      In 2005, Richard Broome, one of the most respected historians of the Australian colonial frontier, published his long awaited history of the Aboriginal people of the colony of Victoria.¹ As the first sustained narrative of their historical experiences from the British colonization of their country in 1836 to the present, it is, by necessity, an account of how they survived against the odds, because from the outset it appears that the British settlers did everything possible to eradicate them. The grim statistics leave the reader in no doubt about what happened. Broome estimated that there were at least 10,000 Aboriginal...

    • Chapter 9 Tactics of Nineteenth-Century Colonial Massacre: Tasmania, California and Beyond
      (pp. 110-125)
      Benjamin Madley

      Camped under Sally’s Peak near the eastern Tasmanian coast, the Paredarerme slept. They did not know that some thirty white men – soldiers, police and colonists – were marching toward them on that November night in 1823. Years later, one of the attackers explained how expedition members ‘proceeded stealthily as they neared the spot; and, agreeing upon a signal, moved quietly in couples, until they had surrounded the sleepers.’ Then ‘The whistle of the leader was sounded, and volley after volley of ball cartridge was poured in upon the dark groups around the little camp-fires.’ The eyewitness concluded: ‘The number slain was...

    • Chapter 10 A Blueprint for Massacre: The United States Army and the 1870 Blackfeet Massacre
      (pp. 126-140)
      Blanca Tovías

      As the sun rose on 23 January 1870, an expedition of some 200 mounted men, commanded by Colonel Eugene Baker, prepared to attack a Pikuni (Blackfeet) band under the leadership of Heavy Runner, camped for the winter on a spot on the Marias River known as the Big Bend.² Heavy Runner and his followers, some of whom were afflicted by smallpox, woke to find themselves surrounded by soldiers, who had marched by night and camped by day, with temperatures hovering well below freezing, to avoid detection. Heavy Runner came forward to meet the soldiers ‘holding up his [treaty] medal and...

    • Chapter 11 When Massacre Appears: Representations of Australian Indigenous Massacres in Fiction
      (pp. 141-154)
      Katrina Schlunke

      Massacres that have occurred in the past are still present in the form of historical record, oral history and most popularly in film and novels. This chapter is concerned with the ways in which knowledge of past massacres are transmitted in fictional form, through novels and films. It looks at two particular examples of scenes of past massacres of Indigenous Australians as they appear in the international award-winning novelSecret Riverby Kate Grenville and the internationally acclaimed feature filmTrackerdirected by Rolf de Heer.¹ The novel is set in the early Australian colonial period near the settlement of...


    • Chapter 12 Memories of Massacres and Atrocities during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars
      (pp. 157-169)
      Philip G. Dwyer

      On 3 March 1799, the French army arrived before the walls of Jaffa in what was then known as Syria (now just outside Tel Aviv) and started to lay siege to the town. Four days later, after a breach in the wall had been made, Napoleon sent two emissaries to negotiate the surrender; the reply was the appearance of their heads on pikes behind the walls. That same day, the town fell and the troops gave themselves up to pillage, rape and murder for two, possibly four whole days (witnesses diverge on this point), indiscriminately killing anyone that fell in...

    • Chapter 13 Stalin’s Trap: The Katyn Forest Massacre between Propaganda and Taboo
      (pp. 170-185)
      Claudia Weber

      In March 1940, the Soviet NKVD killed about fifteen thousand Polish prisoners of war who had been captured by the Red Army in the wake of the invasion of Poland in September 1939. When German troops discovered the mass graves three years later, the so-called Katyn Forest massacres became the focus of war propaganda and politics. This chapter analyses the history of the Katyn massacres in the context of Allied policy on the treatment of war crimes during and immediately after the Second World War. In doing so, it concentrates on Soviet war crimes policy, often neglected by the academic...

    • Chapter 14 The Great Secret: Sites of Mass Killings in Stalinist Russia
      (pp. 186-198)
      François-Xavier Nérard

      On 25 July 1937, the heads of the Western Siberia regional operational sectors of the NKVD, the political police in Stalin’s USSR, were gathered in Novosibirsk by Sergei Mironov, their regional leader. The agenda of this meeting was very simple: the implementation of the forthcoming operational order n. 00447, to be issued by Nikolai Ezhov, the people’s commissar for internal affairs.¹ This order had been prepared by the highest authorities in the USSR during the month of July 1937.² Its aim was to ‘crush mercilessly this entire gang of anti-Soviet elements, to defend the working Soviet people from their counterrevolutionary...

    • Chapter 15 Spectacular Atrocities: Making Enemies during the 1965–1966 Massacres in Indonesia
      (pp. 199-212)
      Annie Pohlman

      Following a military coup on 1 October 1965, an estimated 500,000 Communists and their sympathizers were murdered and a further one and a half million detained at the beginning of General Suharto’s ‘New Order’ regime (1966–1998). What incited these crimes was a pervasive propaganda campaign staged immediately after the coup by the Indonesian military. The propaganda blamed the coup on the military’s mass-supported political rival, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and presented the party together with its supporters as an evil, atheist and treacherous influence that had to be eradicated in order to save the nation.¹ The killings and...

    • Chapter 16 A Necessary Salve: The ‘Hue Massacre’ in History and Memory
      (pp. 213-225)
      Scott Laderman

      When Richard Nixon appeared before a national television audience on 3 November 1969, he had before him an unenviable task. Having been elected by a citizenry increasingly anxious to bring American involvement in the Vietnam war to an end, the president found himself confronting the twin, and seemingly contradictory, goals of appeasing this growing sentiment while, at the same time, maintaining the American military commitment and thus the ‘credibility’ of American power. To achieve the former objective, Nixon proposed ‘Vietnamization’, a gradual withdrawal of US combat troops coupled with heightened aerial bombardment and an intensified effort to train the Republic...

    • Chapter 17 A Battle for Perceptions: Revisiting the Cassinga Controversy in Southern Africa
      (pp. 226-242)
      Gary Baines

      The name Cassinga (or Kassinga) came to the attention of the world a little more than thirty years ago. At the time it evoked a range of responses, from outrage to grief to the celebration of military bravado. The name still provokes strong reactions among those who have a stake in a particular version of the Cassinga story. According to the South African Defence Force (SADF), it launched a cross-border strike against a South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) training base in Angola. The strike targetted ‘terrorists’ and the success of the mission was measured in terms of its achieving...


    • Chapter 18 Method in Their Madness: Understanding the Dynamics of the Italian Massacre of Ethiopian Civilians, February–May 1937
      (pp. 245-257)
      Giuseppe Finaldi

      On 19 February 1937 a ceremony was held outside the seat of the Italian government in Addis Ababa, capital of the newly conquered colony of Ethiopia. It honoured the birth of the first son of Italian heir to the throne Humbert of Savoy; the Viceroy of Ethiopia Marshall Rodolfo Graziani presided. The highest authorities of the new Italian Government handed out small gifts to various Ethiopian dignitaries and petitioners and made the usual speeches. The atmosphere and the activities of the day, as well as the ceremony itself, were not unusual; all colonial governments gave great importance to these small...

    • Chapter 19 The Algerian War on French Soil: The Paris Massacre of 17 October 1961
      (pp. 258-270)
      Hélène Jaccomard

      On the night of 17 October 1961, responding to calls by leaders of the French arm of the Federation of National Liberation (FLN),¹ about twenty thousand Algerian men, women and children converged on the centre of Paris in order to demonstrate peacefully against a racially discriminatory edict that imposed a curfew on Algerian workers, and obliged Algerian cafés to shut by 7 pm. The measure was meant to curb FLN operations against the police and non-FLN supporters.² Some workers were arrested even before they started marching and taken to police headquarters and detention centres in stadiums and other large public...

    • Chapter 20 Wedding Massacres and the War in Afghanistan
      (pp. 271-284)
      Stephen J. Rockel

      News reports filed in July 2002 tell a vivid and tragic story. Late in the evening of Monday 1 July, five hundred people were gathered in a remote village in Deh Rawud district, Uruzgan province, in central Afghanistan, celebrating a wedding. Chinara, an eighteen year old, was listening to songs on a cassette recorder with her girlfriends. Her sister was soon to marry a local tribal chief’s son. All of a sudden, at around 11 pm, the roar of aircraft engines drowned out the music, and there was a huge explosion. At that moment and over the hours that followed,...

  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 285-296)
  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 297-302)
  12. Index
    (pp. 303-324)