Death by Government: The Missing Chapter

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Over the past decade a number of researchers have attempted to document the extent to which various governments during the twentieth century committed acts of mass murder against their own citizens. The millions of deaths catalogued by such researchers as R.J. Rummel, author of Power Kills and Death by Government, and by the authors of The Black Book of Communism, are not deaths caused by foreign armies, but by all those unfortunate souls’ own governments.

The reason for all the killing, whether it is called genocide or "democide," to use Rummel’s term, was to eliminate all opposition to the ruling regime and its ideology. In Russia, the kulaks "who resisted collectivization [of land] were shot, and the others deported," according to The Black Book of Communism (p. 9). When the rural population of the Ukraine resisted, Stalin created a famine that killed 6 million in a few months. "Virtually identical crimes" were committed "by the regimes of Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, and Pol Pot," according to The Black Book (p. 10).

In Power Kills, R. J. Rummel writes that "democidal" regimes tend to become even more vicious toward their own people when their political power "is conjoined with an absolutist ideology" (p. 93). And, "when the rulers of such regimes find for whatever reason that the continued existence of a social group is incompatible with their beliefs or goals, totalitarian power enables them to destroy that group" (p. 93). "War or rebellion" have often provided "an excuse and cover for a regime to eliminate those social groups it finds objectionable."

Armed with this understanding, the authors of The Black Book present the following statistics regarding how various communist governments killed their own citizens by the millions (p. 4):

  • U.S.S.R.: 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

Rummel has studied more than just the former communist regimes, and includes Nazi Germany’s 21 million civilian murders, among others.

After familiarizing myself with this stomach-turning literature (you cannot really understand the essence of socialism without it), it struck me that there is a glaring omission. According to this scholarship, "democide" occurs because of a desire on the part of a ruling regime to eliminate its opposition; to eliminate all challenges to its "absolutist ideology"; to exterminate a social group whose very existence is incompatible with the regime’s goals or ideology; and often occurs disguised by a war or a rebellion that provides a convenient excuse.

The glaring omission is the 300,000 Americans who were killed by the Lincoln regime from 1861—1865. According to some conservative estimates, some 50,000 Southern civilians were also killed. The southern secessionists certainly were a significant opposition to the ruling regime; they absolutely denied the validity of the regime’s absolutist ideology — nationalism and a "mystical" union (as Lincoln called it) that must be held together at all cost; they were certainly dissenting to the Lincoln regime’s goals and its nationalistic ideology; and Lincoln did refer to the original, peaceful acts of secession as a "rebellion." Indeed, the "official" U.S. government title for the War to Prevent Southern Independence is "The War of the Rebellion."

More than half of the 300,000 or so southerners (one out of four adult men) who died, perished from disease. Nevertheless, it was the war, which forced those men to live in conditions where they would be subjected to being exposed to epidemics, that was the root cause of their death.

On the day he was inaugurated Lincoln pledged his everlasting support for a constitutional amendment that had just passed the House and Senate (the "Corwin Amendment") that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. It was his "mystic" union that he launched an invasion of the southern states over, eventually killing hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens. And Lincoln always considered southerners to be fellow citizens in light of the fact that he never conceded that secession was legal. The southern states never really left the union, in Lincoln’s opinion; therefore, he admittedly waged the bloodiest war in history up to that point against his own people.

Some 300,000 southern men were killed by the Lincoln regime at a time when the population of the entire country was about 30 million, one-tenth of what it is today. Standardizing for today’s population, the equivalent number would be 3 million. If this number were included in the above table, it would make the Republican Party regime of the 1860s appear to be even worse democidal murderers than the twentieth-century communist regimes of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the Vietnamese communists, North Korea, and the communist dictators in all of Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

Confronting this ugly reality also calls into question the basis of all of R.J. Rummel’s work in this area, which is his claim that democracies do not tend to wage war on each other. The War to Prevent Southern Independence is a major contradiction of this claim, and it is simply brushed aside by Rummel.

Rummel is not the first to make this claim, however. World War I was supposed to be "the war to end all wars" by dethroning the European monarchs and replacing them with democracies. It didn’t work out quite that way.

Ludwig von Mises offered a more realistic interpretation of the causes of "total war" (including the mass slaughter of civilian dissenters) in the chapter of his magnum opus, Human Action, entitled "The Economics of War." "[T]otal war is an offshoot of aggressive nationalism," he wrote (p. 819, Scholars Edition). "While laissez faire eliminates the causes of international conflict, government interference with business and socialism create conflicts for which no peaceful solution can be found."

It was the Republican Party of the 1860s whose party platform was dominated by mercantilistic interventionism, complete with high protectionist tariffs, a politicized banking system, corporate welfare, and much more. The phrase "New Deal" was first used to describe the blizzard of domestic policy interventionism that was ushered in by the Lincoln regime.

The South was so much in favor of free trade, by contrast, that protectionist tariffs were outlawed altogether in the Confederate Constitution. And the majority of the political opposition to politicized banks and corporate welfare had come from the south for some seventy years as of 1861.

Southerners opposed the aggressive nationalism of the Republican Party regime (not of all northerners), and by seceding, adopting free trade, and no longer paying federal taxes (mostly the tariff) they threatened a very quick destruction of that regime. For that they had to be invaded, killed by the hundreds of thousands, conquered, occupied, and re-educated over and over again.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe (Crown Forum/Random House).

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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