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State-sponsored mass murder

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Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. --Lord Acton

Power kills; absolute power kills absolutely.--powerkills website

Mass murder by a state

From Wikipedia

Mass murder may also be defined as the intentional and indiscriminate murder of a large number of people by government agents; for example, shooting unarmed protestors, throwing grenades into prison cells, and randomly executing civilians. The largest mass killings in history have been governmental attempts to exterminate entire groups or communities of people, often on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Some of these mass murders have been found to be genocides and others to be crimes against humanity, but often such crimes have led to few or no convictions of any type.

The concept of state-sponsored mass murder covers a range of potential killings. It is defined as the intentional and indiscriminate murder of a large number of people by government agents. Examples are shooting of unarmed protestors, lobbing of grenades into prison cells, and random execution of civilians.

Other examples of state-sponsored mass murder include:

Deliberate massacres of captives or civilians during wartime by the state's military forces, such as these committed by:

  • Genghiz Khan,
  • the Golden Horde,
  • the troops of Vlad the Impaler,
  • the Empire of Japan,
  • the Soviet Union, and
  • Nazi Germany during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II:
  • the Nanjing Massacre,
  • the Katyn Forest Massacre of Polish citizens in 1940 and
  • the massacres of political prisoners after the launch of Operation Barbarossa,
  • the Three Alls Policy,
  • the massacre of Soviet Jews at Babi Yar,
  • the mass murder of the Jewish people by the Nazis during the Holocaust
  • the mass murder of the Hungarian and German population in Vojvodina in the Vengeance of Bacska,
  • the murder of 24 unarmed villagers by British troops in the Batang Kali massacre during the Malayan Emergency,
  • the murder of Vietnamese civilians by American soldiers in the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, and in recent times,
  • the hotly disputed, mass murder of civilian Sri Lankan Lee Tamils, by way of tactical shelling, by the Sri Lankan army during the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Actions in which the state caused the death of large numbers of people, which political scientist R. J. Rummel calls "democide", which, in addition to the cases above, may include man-made disasters caused by the state, such as

  • the Holodomor in the Soviet Union,
  • the Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia,
  • the mass killings in Indonesia during Suharto's rise to power, and
  • the famines and poverty caused by the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China.


  • Title: State-Sponsored Mass Murder: The Onset and Severity of Genocides and Politicides
    • Author(s): Matthew Krain
    • Source: The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Jun., 1997), pp. 331-360
    • Stable URL:
      • Abstract: The author argues that openings in the political opportunity structure, rather than the levels of concentration of power, best predict the onset of genocides or politicides and which states will engage in the most severe state-sponsored mass murder. These and other hypotheses are tested. Analysis of logit models reveals that civil war involvement is the most consistent predictor of the onset of genocides or politicides, and other political opportunity structure variables have some effects, especially when in combination with at least one of the other political opportunity structure variables. Analysis of negative binomial event-count models also reveals that political opportunity structure variables best account for the degree of severity of a given genocide or politicide. In sum, openings in the political opportunity structure are more important in understanding what affects the onset and degree of severity of genocides and politicides than other more static variables.
  • Professor Rummel passed away on March 2, 2014. His "Powerkills" website will be maintained by the University of Hawaii Political Science Department.
    • It is true that democratic freedom is an engine of national and individual wealth and prosperity. Hardly known, however, is that freedom also saves millions of lives from famine, disease, war, collective violence, and democide (genocide and mass murder). That is, the more freedom, the greater the human security and the less the violence. Conversely, the more power governments have, the more human insecurity and violence. In short: to our realization that power impoverishes we must also add that power kills.
      • Just to give perspective on this incredible murder by government, if all these bodies were laid head to toe, with the average height being 5', then they would circle the earth ten times. Also, this democide murdered 6 times more people than died in combat in all the foreign and internal wars of the century. Finally, given popular estimates of the dead in a major nuclear war, this total democide is as though such a war did occur, but with its dead spread over a century.

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