The C Word

Why was the 20th century so violent, and why did its worst excesses occur in the early 1940s and in Central and Eastern Europe, Manchuria and Korea? [In his new book, War of the World, Niall] Ferguson’s answer is ethnic conflict, economics and empires in decline.

You can’t really have a discussion about 20th century atrocities without giving plenty of time to communism. That’s why I hope Ferguson’s book (and the forthcoming UK TV series based on it) doesn’t tip-toe around the issue like this review does. Years ago, I wrote about our ambivalence over communism in my review of The Black Book of Communism:

Black Book underscores the enormity of communism’s impact. Communism once stood on four continents, ruling one-third of humanity, always poised to expand. There was a clear line of inheritance from regime to regime. Each received material aid and ideological inspiration from its predecessor. Most important, individuals were as expendable as grains of sand. According to the authors, the communist death toll approaches 100 million people. The authors’ research offers a rough exposition of the crimes of communism: USSR, 20 million deaths; China, 65 million deaths; Vietnam, 1 million deaths; North Korea, 2 million deaths; Cambodia, 2 million deaths; Eastern Europe, 1 million deaths; Latin America, 150,000 deaths; Africa, 1.7 million deaths; Afghanistan, 1.5 million deaths; the international communist movement and communist parties not in power, about 10,000 deaths. Communism compiled a lengthy enemies list, which included political parties, clergy, intellectuals, shopkeepers, many ethnic groups, and other “socially dangerous elements.” Enemies were starved and worked to death; executed with bullets, shovels, and hammers; devoured by dogs; lit on fire; and made to kill one another for their capturers’ amusement.

My review is reprinted here.