R.J. Rummel spent 8 years preparing and writing a volume of works which are summarized in this book, Death By Government. It is an impressive and critical read; yet also a horrible tale of human suffering caused by human in authority. Rather than attempting to re-phrase Rummel’s wording, let me quote him below:
After eight years of almost daily reading and recording of the number of instances of men, women, and children by the tens of millions being tortured or beaten to death, hung, shot, and buried alive, burned or starved, stabbed or chopped into pieces, and murdered in all the other ways creative and imaginative human beings can devise, I have never been so happy to conclude a project.
He goes on to state that what kept him at it was the belief that there was something worthwhile in the study; and his conclusion is
“The problem is Power. The solution is democracy. The course of action is to foster freedom.”
A worthwhile conclusion, and one I appreciate the mental sacrifice and anguish pushed through to complete this series of research and accompanying volumes.
Death by Government is an important read as it will open up history and mankind in a way you’ve never really considered before. There are some horrid examples of human murder, death and suffering, but much of the book is straight numerical. X millions killed here, Y millions killed here. By whom, where, when, and sometimes the murderer’s ‘why’. Though typically the ‘why’ given for murder by the murderers is due to “necessity”, we can probably all agree on is an excuse not on firm moral ground.
If you don’t think you have a good handle on the way humans operate, and how the “worst get on top”, how bad dictators can be; then read this book. If you think you do have a good handle, well, also read this book to find out how much worse it can get. I personally took a break from reading it for a couple weeks because it is so chock full of just unimaginable pain; 400 pages of death; 100 pages of indexes and references to remind you just how real these people are. This is no story time of people imagined; every murder committed is an individual with a history, with friends, family and loved ones. Dead.
This is a chilling book, and obviously not a light read. But if we don’t understand just how bad conditions can be, and don’t attempt to understand what causes those conditions; we can not work to avoid those in the future. Thousands of years of history have proven that Power Kills, if we don’t understand that in our heart of hearts, how can we ever truly foster freedom within our selves let alone our community and society? If I may be religious on a non-religious topic, it’s like attempting to live a righteous life without truly understanding the death and harm caused by sin to you and others. It’s impossible.
For freedom and for the hundreds of millions killed by people not all that different from me.
Update: For additional commentary and a list of excerpts pulled from this book see the Death By Government Commentary List