The causes of violent behavior in humans are often topics of research in psychology and sociology. Neurobiologist Jan Volavka emphasizes that for those purposes, “violent behavior is defined as overt and intentional physically aggressive behavior against another person.
Scientists disagree on whether violence is inherent in humans. Among prehistoric humans, there is archaeological evidence for both contentions of violence and peacefulness as primary characteristics.
Riane Eisler, who describes early matriarchal societies, and Walter Wink, who coined the phrase “the myth of redemptive violence,” suggest that human violence, especially as organized in groups, is a phenomenon of the last five to ten thousand years.
The “violent male ape” image is often brought up in discussions of human violence. Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham in “Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence” write that violence is inherent in humans. However, William L. Ury, editor of a book called "Must We Fight? From the Battlefield to the Schoolyard--A New Perspective on Violent Conflict and Its Prevention” debunks the "killer ape" myth in his book which brings together discussions from two Harvard Law School symposiums. The conclusion is that “we also have lots of natural mechanisms for cooperation, to keep conflict in check, to channel aggression, and to overcome conflict. These are just as natural to us as the aggressive tendencies.
James Gilligan writes violence is often pursued as an antidote to shame or humiliation. The use of violence often is a source of pride and a defence of honor, especially among males who often believe violence defines manhood.
Stephen Pinker in a New Republic article “The History of Violence” offers evidence that on the average the amount and cruelty of violence to humans and animals has decreased over the last few centuries.
The American Psychiatric Association planning and research committees for the forthcoming DSM-V (2012) have canvassed a series of new Relational disorders which include Marital Conflict Disorder Without Violence or Marital Abuse Disorder (Marital Conflict Disorder With Violence). Couples with marital disorders sometimes come to clinical attention because the couple recognize long-standing dissatisfaction with their marriage and come to the clinician on their own initiative or are referred by an astute health care professional. Secondly, there is serious violence in the marriage which is -"usually the husband battering the wife" . In these cases the emergency room or a legal authority often is the first to notify the clinician. Most importantly, marital violence "is a major risk factor for serious injury and even death and women in violent marriages are at much greater risk of being seriously injured or killed (National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women 2000)." The authors of this study add that "There is current considerable controversy over whether male-to-female marital violence is best regarded as a reflection of male psychopathology and control or whether there is an empirical base and clinical utility for conceptualizing these patterns as relational."
Recommendations for clinicians making a diagnosis of Marital Relational Disorder should include the assessment of actual or "potential" male violence as regularly as they assess the potential for suicide in depressed patients. Further, "clinicians should not relax their vigilance after a battered wife leaves her husband, because some data suggest that the period immediately following a marital separation is the period of greatest risk for the women. Many men will stalk and batter their wives in an effort to get them to return or punish them for leaving. Initial assessments of the potential for violence in a marriage can be supplimented by standardized interviews and questionnaires, which have been reliable and valid aids in exploring marital violence more systematically." The authors conclude with what they call "very recent information" on the course of violent marriages which suggests that "over time a husband's battering may abate somewhat, but perhaps because he has successfully intimidated his wife. The risk of violence remains strong in a marriage in which it has been a feature in the past. Thus, treatment is essential here; the clinician cannot just wait and watch." The most urgent clinical priority is the protection of the wife because she is the one most frequently at risk, and clinicians must be aware that supporting assertiveness by a battered wife may lead to more beatings or even death.
It is also important to this topic to understand the paradoxical effects of some sedative drugs..Serious complications can occur in conjunction with the use of sedatives creating the opposite effect as to that intended. Malcolm Lader at the Institute of Psychiatry in London estimates the incidence of these adverse reactions at about 5%, even in short-term use of the drugs. The paradoxical reactions may consist of depression, with or without suicidal tendencies, phobias, aggressiveness, violent behavior and symptoms sometimes misdiagnosed as psychosis.
One of the main functions of law is to regulate violence.
Sociologist Max Weber stated that state power is the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force on a specific territory. Law enforcement is the main means of regulating nonmilitary violence in society. Governments regulate the use of violence through legal systems governing individuals and political authorities, including the police and military. Most societies condone some amount of police violence to maintain the status quo and enforce laws.
However, German political theorist Hannah Arendt noted: "Violence can be justifiable, but it never will be legitimate ... Its justification loses in plausibility the farther its intended end recedes into the future. No one questions the use of violence in self-defence, because the danger is not only clear but also present, and the end justifying the means is immediate".In the 20th century in acts of democide governments may have killed more than 260 million of their own people through police brutality, execution, massacre, slave labor camps, and through sometimes intentional famine.
Violent acts that are not carried out by the military or police and that are not in self-defence are usually classified as crimes, although not all crimes are violent crimes. Damage to property is classified as violent crime in some jurisdictions but not in others. It is usually considered a less serious offense unless the damage injures, or potentially could injure, others. Unpremeditated or small-scale acts of random violence or coordinated violence by unsanctioned private groups usually are prosecuted. While most societies condone the killing of animals for food and sport, increasingly they have adopted mores and laws against animal cruelty.
Nevertheless, some hold the actual deaths from war have decreased compared to past centuries. In War Before Civilization, Lawrence H. Keeley, a professor at the University of Illinois, calculates that 87% of tribal societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65% of them were fighting continuously. The attrition rate of numerous close-quarter clashes, which characterize endemic warfare, produces casualty rates of up to 60%, compared to 1% of the combatants as is typical in modern warfare. Stephen Pinker agrees, writing that “in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher.”
Jared Diamond in his award-winning books, Guns, Germs and Steel and The Third Chimpanzee provides sociological and anthropological evidence for the rise of large scale warfare as a result of advances in technology and city-states. The rise of agriculture provided a significant increase in the number of individuals that a region could sustain over hunter-gatherer societies, allowing for development of specialized classes such as soldiers, or weapons manufacturers. On the other hand, tribal conflicts in hunter-gatherer societies tend to result in wholesale slaughter of the opposition (other than perhaps females of child-bearing years) instead of territorial conquest or slavery, presumably as hunter-gatherer numbers could not sustain empire-building.
Religious and political ideologies have been the cause of interpersonal violence, and violent riots, political repression, ethnic cleansing and genocide through out history. Ideologues often falsely accuse others of violence, such as the ancient blood libel against Jews, the medieval accusations of casting witchcraft spells against women, caricatures of black men as “violent brutes” that helped excuse the late nineteenth century Jim Crow laws in the United States, and modern accusations of satanic ritual abuse against day care center owners and others.
Both supporters and opponents of the twenty-first century War on Terrorism regard it largely as an ideological and religious war.
Vittorio Bufacchi describes two different modern concepts of violence, one the “minimalist conception” of violence as an intentional act of excessive or destructive force, the other the “comprehensive conception” which includes violations of rights, including a long list of human needs. These concepts are reflected in conflicts between “left wing” anti-capitalists and “right wing’” pro-capitalists.
Anti-capitalists assert that capitalism is violent. They believe private property, trade, interest and profit survive only because police violence defends them and that capitalist economies need war to expand. Many contest calling any form of property damage violent. Similarly, many anti-capitalists lambast what they call structural violence which denotes a form of violence in which social institutions kill people slowly by preventing them from meeting their basic needs, often leading further to social conflict and violence.
Supporters of capitalism are wary of a wide definition of violence that requires the state and its violent enforcement agencies to fulfill all needs denied by structural violence. However, unlike those critics who support state capitalism, free market supporters argue that it is violently enforced state laws intervening in markets which cause many of the problems anti-capitalists attribute to structural violence.
Throughout history, some religions like Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Quakerism and individuals like Mahatma Gandhi have preached that humans are capable of eliminating individual violence and organizing societies through purely nonviolent means. Gandhi himself once wrote: “A society organized and run on the basis of complete non-violence would be the purest anarchy.” Modern political ideologies which espouse similar views include pacifist varieties of voluntarism, mutualism, anarchism and libertarianism.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines violence as "Injury inflicted by deliberate means", which includes assault, as well as "legal intervention, and self-harm". The World Health Organization ( “WHO”) in its first World Report on Violence and Health defined violence as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.
WHO estimates that each year around 1.6 million lives are lost world-wide due to violence. It is among the leading causes of death for people ages 15-44, especially of males.
Recent estimates for murders per year in various countries include: 55,000 murders in Brazil, 30,000 murders in Russia, 25,000 murders in Colombia,, 20,000 murders in South Africa, 15,000 murders in Mexico, 14,000 murders in the United States,, 11,000 murders in Venezuela, 6,000 murders in El Salvador, 1,600 murders in Jamaica, 1000 murders in France, 500 murders in Canada, and 200 murders in Chile.
Johan Galtung defines violence as "avoidable insult to basic human needs": survival, well being, identity, and freedom.
The topic of violence in popular media is controversial. This includes violence in films, television, music, comic books, and video games and televised sports. Violence in the media has led to government censorship and regulation. In the United States the FCC regulates television and radio, as does the CRTC in Canada. Media also self-regulate, as through many movie rating systems and the Entertainment Software Rating Board for video games.
Violent content has been a central part of video game controversy. Critics like Dave Grossman and Jack Thompson argue that violence in games (some of which they both call "murder simulators") hardens children to unethical acts, although this remains a subject of intense debate.
- Caesar's campaigns. As many as 1 million people (probably 1 in 4 of the Gauls) died, another million were enslaved, 300 tribes were subjugated and 800 cities were destroyed during the Gallic Wars (present-day France). The entire population of city of Avaricum (Bourges) (40,000 in all) was slaughtered. During Julius Caesar's campaign against the Helvetii (modern-day Switzerland) approximately 60% of the tribe was destroyed, and another 20% was taken into slavery.
- Boudica's uprising. Boudica (d. 60/61AD) was a queen of the Celtic Iceni people of Norfolk in Roman-occupied Britain who led a major uprising of the tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. They destroyed Camulodunum (Colchester, a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). In the three cities destroyed, between 70,000 and 80,000 people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says the Britons had no interest in taking or selling prisoners, only in slaughter by gibbet, fire or cross. Cassius Dio's account gives more prurient detail: that the noblest women were impaled on spikes and had their breasts cut off and sewn to their mouths, "to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour" in sacred places, particularly the groves of Andraste.
- Albigensian Crusade. The Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade (1209–1229) was a 20-year military campaign initiated by the Pope Innocent III of the Roman Catholic Church to eliminate the heresy of the Cathars of Languedoc. Béziers was a Languedoc stronghold of Catharism and the first city to be sacked, on July 22, 1209. In the bloody massacre which followed, no one was spared, not even those who took refuge in the churches. The commander of the Crusade was the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury (or Arnald Amalaricus, Abbot of Citeaux). When asked by a Crusader how to distinguish between the Catholics and Cathars once they'd taken the city, the abbot famously replied, "Kill them all, God will know His own" - "Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet". According to "Caesarius of Heisterbach: Medieval Heresies," after the city was taken, at a cost in life of thousands of defenders, about 450 heretics were "examined" by the inquisitors and many of them claimed to be good Catholicss rather than being heretics. Fearing the possibility that these were lying, must have caused the infamous phrase to first be uttered. In the end, the Albigensian Crusade killed an estimated 1,000,000 people, not only Cathars but much of the population of southern France.
- Mongol Empire. Quoting Eric Margolis, Adam Jones observes, in his book Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, that in the 13th century the Mongol horsemen of Genghis Khan were genocidal killers (génocidaires) who were known to kill whole nations leaving nothing but empty ruins and bones. Many ancient sources described Genghis Khan's conquests as wholesale destruction on an unprecedented scale in their certain geographical regions, and therefore probably causing great changes in the demographics of Asia. For example, over much of Central Asia speakers of Iranian languages were replaced by speakers of Turkic languages. The eastern part of the Islamic world experienced the terrifying holocaust of the Mongol invasions, which turned northern and eastern Iran into a desert. Between 1220 and 1260, the total population of Persia may have had dropped from 2,500,000 to 250,000 as a result of mass extermination and famine.
Before the Mongol invasion, Chinese dynasties reportedly had approximately 120 million inhabitants; after the conquest was completed in 1279, the 1300 census reported roughly 60 million people. About half of the Russian population died during the Mongol invasion of Rus. Historians estimate that up to half of Hungary's two million population at that time were victims of the Mongol invasion of Europe.
"They [the Mongols] attacked Russia, where they made great havoc, destroying cities and fortresses and slaughtering men; and they laid siege to Kiev, the capital of Russia; after they had besieged the city for a long time, they took it and put the inhabitants to death. When we were journeying through that land we came across countless skulls and bones of dead men lying about on the ground. Kiev had been a very large and thickly populated town, but now it has been reduced almost to nothing, for there are at the present time scarce two hundred houses there and the inhabitants are kept in complete slavery."
- Timur’s conquests. Timur Lenk was a 14th century conqueror of much of Middle East and Central Asia, and founder of the Timurid dynasty. He thought of himself as a ghazi, but his biggest wars were against Muslim states. In 1383, Timur started the military conquest of Persia. He captured Herat, Khorasan and all eastern Persia to 1385 and massacred almost all inhabitants of Neishapur and other Iranian cities. When revolts broke out in Persia, he ruthlessly suppressed them, massacring the populations of whole cities. When Timur entered Delhi (India), the city was sacked, destroyed, and left in ruins. When Timur conquered Persia, Iraq and Syria, the civilian population was decimated. In the city of Isfahan he ordered the building of a pyramid of 70,000 human skulls, from those that his army had beheaded, and a pyramid of some 20,000 skulls was erected outside the Aleppo. Timur herded thousands of citizens of Damascus into the Cathedral Mosque before setting it aflame, and had 70,000 people beheaded in Tikrit, and another 90,000 more in Baghdad. After the capture of Bagdad, Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him (many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur). Nestorian Christians east of Iraq were almost entirely eliminated by Timur. As many as 17 million people may have died from his conquests.
- Aztec human sacrifice. The Aztecs sacrificed thousands of victims (often slaves or prisoners of war) annually to the sun god Huitzilopochtli; an offering to Huitzilopochtli would be made to restore the blood he lost, as the sun was engaged in a daily battle. Human sacrifices would prevent the end of the world that could happen on each cycle of 52 years. For the re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed about 80,400 people over the course of four days. According to Ross Hassing, author of Aztec Warfare, "between 10,000 and 80,400 persons" were sacrificed in the ceremony.
- Vlad the Impaler. Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad Dracula, the 15th century ruler of Wallachia in present-day Romania, has been characterized as exceedingly cruel. Impalement was his preferred method of torture and execution. As expected, death by impalement was slow and painful. Victims sometimes endured for hours or days. Impalement was Vlad's favourite method of torture but was by no means his only one. The list of tortures he is alleged to have employed is extensive: nails in heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially in the case of women), scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to animals, and boiling alive. No one was immune to Vlad the Impaler's attentions. His victims included women and children, peasants and great lords, ambassadors from foreign powers and merchants. In 1459, he had 30,000 of the Saxon merchants and officials of the Transylvanian city of Kronstadt who were transgressing his authority impaled. In 1462 Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, during his campaign against Wallachia, was “greeted” by the sight of veritable forest of stakes on which Vlad the Impaler had impaled 20,000 Turkish prisoners. Dracula was probably killed in battle against the Ottoman Empire near Bucharest in December of 1476.
- Thirty Years' War. The Thirty Years' War was fought between 1618 and 1648, primarily on the territory of Holy Roman Empire. Virtually all of the major European powers were involved. The Thirty Years' War was the most destructive conflict in Europe prior to World War I. Atrocities and massacres, such as Sack of Magdeburg, became standard methods of warfare. During the war, Germany's population was reduced by 30% on average; in the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to half, while in some areas an estimated two thirds of the population died. Germany’s male population was reduced by almost half. The population of the Czech lands declined by a third. The Swedish armies alone destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns.
- Reconquest of Ireland. It is estimated that as much as a third of the entire population of Ireland perished during the civil wars and subsequent Cromwellian conquest in the mid-17th century. Since the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Ireland had been mainly under the control of the Irish Confederate Catholics. The Cromwellian reconquest of Ireland was extremely brutal, and it has been alleged that many of the army's actions during the reconquest would today be called war crimes or even genocide. William Petty who conducted the first scientific land and demographic survey of Ireland in the 1650s (the Down Survey), concluded that at least 400,000 people and maybe as many as 620,000 had died in Ireland between 1641 and 1653, many as a result of famine and plague. At the time, Ireland had around 1.5 million inhabitants.
- The Deluge. During the 1640s and 1650s the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was devastated by several conflicts, in which the Commonwealth lost over a third of its populations (over 3 million people). First, the Chmielnicki Uprising when Bohdan Khmelnytsky's Cossacks massacred tens of thousands of Jews and Poles in the eastern and southern areas he controlled (today's Ukraine). It is recorded that Khmelnytsky told the people that the Poles had sold them as slaves "into the hands of the accursed Jews". It is estimated that 100,000 Jews were massacred and 300 of their communities destroyed. The decrease of the Jewish population during that period (referred to in Polish history as The Deluge) is estimated at 100,000 to 200,000, which also includes emigration, deaths from diseases and jasyr (captivity in the Ottoman Empire).
- Revolt in the Vendée. Vendée is remembered as the place where the peasants revolted against the French Revolutionary government in 1793. They resented the changes imposed on the Roman Catholic Church by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790) and broke into open revolt in defiance of the Revolutionary government's military conscription. This guerrilla war became known as the Revolt in the Vendée, led at the outset by an underground faction called the Chouans.
Initially the Vendée rebels gained the upper hand, so on August 1 1793 the Committee of Public Safety ordered General Jean-Baptiste Carrier to carry out a pacification of the region. The Republican army was reinforced and the Vendéan army was eventually defeated. The Reign of Terror, seen elsewhere in France, was extraordinarily brutal in the Vendée. There was a massacre of 6,000 Vendée prisoners, many of them women, after the battle of Savenay. Subsequently, there was the drowning of 3,000 Vendée women at Pont-au-Baux. This was followed by 5,000 Vendée priests, old men, women, and children killed by drowning at the Loire River at Nantes in what was called the "national bath" - tied in groups in barges and then sunk into the Loire. Under orders from Committee of Public Safety in February 1794 the Republican forces launched their final "pacification" (the Vendée-Vengé or "'Vendée Avenged") - twelve columns, the colonnes infernales ("infernal columns") under Louis-Marie Turreau, were marched through the Vendée, indiscriminately targeting not only the remaining rebels and the people who had given them support, but the innocent as well.
Beyond these massacres there were formal orders for forced evacuation and 'scorched earth' - farms were destroyed, crops and forests burned, and villages razed. There were many reported atrocities and a campaign of mass killing universally targeted at residents of the Vendée regardless of combatant status, political affiliation, age or gender. Some consider these acts to be the first modern genocide. The campaign was ordered as such by the Comité de Salut public:
"The committee has prepared measures that tend to exterminate this rebellious race of Vendéeans, to make their abodes disappear, to torch their forests, to cut their crops."The orders to Turreau were:
"Exterminate the brigands to the last man instead of burning the farms, punish the fleeing ones and the cowards, and crush that horrible Vendée. Combine the most assured means to exterminate all of this race of brigands."
When the campaign dragged to an end in March 1796 the estimated dead numbered between 117,000 and 500,000, of a population of around 800,000.
- Wahhabist conquests. The Saudi Wahabbist sheiks were convinced that it was their religious mission to wage holy war (jihad) against all other forms of Islam. In 1801 and 1802, the Saudi Wahhabists under Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad ibn Saud attacked and captured the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf in Iraq, massacred the Shiites and destroyed the tombs of the Shiite Imam Husayn and Ali bin Abu Talib. In 1802 they occupied Taif where they massacred the population. In 1803 and 1804 the Wahhabis captured Mecca and Medina. In Mecca and Medina they destroyed monuments and various holy Muslim sites and shrines, such as the shrine built over the tomb of Fatima Zahra, the daughter of Muhammad, and even intended to destroy the grave of the Prophet Muhammad.
- Taiping Rebellion. During the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) that followed the secession of the Tàipíng Tiānguó (太平天國, Heavenly Kingdom of Perfect Peace) from the Qing empire both sides tried to deprive each other of the resources to continue the war and it became standard practice to destroy agricultural areas, butcher the population of cities and in general exact a brutal price from captured enemy lands in order to drastically weaken the opposition's war effort. This war truly was total in that civilians on both sides participated to a significant extent in the war effort and in that armies on both sides waged war on the civilian population as well as military forces. In total between 20 and 30 million died in the conflict making it bloodier than the World War I or Russian Civil War.
- American Civil War. The American Civil War, the deadliest in American history, caused 620,000 soldier deaths and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white males aged 13 to 43 died in the war, including 6% in the North and an extraordinary 18% in the South.
General Phillip Sheridan's stripping of the Shenandoah Valley starting from September 21, 1864 and continuing for two weeks was considered "total war" in that its purpose was to eliminate foodstuffs and supplies vital to the South's war plans. Sheridan took the opportunity when he realized opposing forces had become too weak to resist his army. In another event in that conflict, Union General Order No. 11 (1863) ordered the near-total evacuation of three and a half counties in Missouri, which were subsequently looted and burned. US Army General William Tecumseh Sherman's 'March to the Sea' in November/December 1864 destroyed the resources required for the South to make war. Sherman is considered one of the first military commanders to deliberately and consciously use total war as a military strategy. General Ulysses S. Grant and President Abraham Lincoln initially opposed the plan until Sherman convinced them of its necessity.
- War of the Triple Alliance. War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870) was the bloodiest conflict in the history of South America, fought between Paraguay and the allied countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Paraguay’s prewar population of between one and one-half million was reduced to about 221,000 in 1871, of which only about 28,000 were men. Paraguay's dictator, Francisco Solano López, is widely regarded as being responsible for the war, which led to his death. "Conquer or die" became the order of the day. Lopez ordered thousands of executions in the military. In 1868, when the allies were pressing him hard, he convinced himself that his Paraguayan supporters had actually formed a conspiracy against his life. Thereupon several hundred prominent Paraguayan citizens were seized and executed by his order, including his brothers and brothers-in-law, cabinet ministers, judges, prefects, military officers, bishops and priests, and nine-tenths of the civil officers, together with 500 foreigners, among them several members of the diplomatic legations (the San Fernando massacres). The bodies were dumped into mass graves.
- Indian Wars. In his book The Wild Frontier: Atrocities during the American-Indian War from Jamestown Colony to Wounded Knee, amateur historian William M. Osborn sought to tally every recorded atrocity in the area that would eventually become the continental United States, from first contact (1511) to the closing of the frontier (1890), and determined that 9,156 people died from atrocities perpetrated by Native Americans, and 7,193 people died from those perpetrated by settlers. Osborn defines an atrocity as the murder, torture, or mutilation of civilians, the wounded, and prisoners.
The most reliable figures are derived from collated records of strictly military engagements such as by Gregory Michno which reveal 21,586 dead, wounded, and captured civilians and soldiers for the period of 1850–90 alone. Other figures are derived from extrapolations of rather cursory and unrelated government accounts such as that by Russell Thornton who calculated that some 45,000 Indians and 19,000 whites were killed. This later rough estimate includes women and children on both sides, since noncombatants were often killed in frontier massacres.
These had originally been set up as "refugee camps" by the Army for families whose farms had been destroyed by the British under their "Scorched Earth" policy (sweeping the country bare of everything that could give sustenance to the guerrillas, including women and children, and including destroying crops, burning down homesteads and farms, poisoning wells, and salting fields) and thousands of Boers had already been brought into them.
Kitchener succeeded Roberts as commander-in-chief in South Africa in November 29, 1900 and in an attempt to break the guerilla campaign, initiated plans to "flush out guerrillas in a series of sytematic drives, organized like a sporting shoot, with success defined in a weekly 'bag' of killed, captured and wounded, and to sweep the country bare of everything that could give sustenance to the guerrillas, including women and children. . . . It was the clearance of civilians -- uprooting a whole nation -- that would come to dominate the last phase of the war. Following Kitchener's new policy, more camps were built and converted to prisons and many tens of thousands more women and children were forcibly moved to prevent the Boers from resupplying at their homes.
By August 1901, 93,940 Boers were reported to be in "camps of refuge". A report after the war concluded that 27,927 Boers (of whom 24,074 [50% of the Boer child population] were children under 16) had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps. In all, about one in four (25%) of the Boer inmates, mostly children, died.
- Don Cossacks. Following the defeat of the White Army in Russian Civil War, a policy of decossackization (Raskazachivaniye) took place on the surviving Cossacks and their homelands since they were viewed as potential threat to the new Soviet regime. That was the first example when Soviet leaders decided to "eliminate, exterminate, and deport the population of a whole territory". The Cossack homelands were often very fertile, and during the collectivisation campaign many Cossacks shared the fate of kulaks. The man-made Holodomor famine of 1932-1933 hit the Don and Kuban territory the hardest. According to historian Michael Kort, "During 1919 and 1920, out of a population of approximately 1.5 million Don Cossacks, the Bolshevik regime killed or deported an estimated 300,000 to 500,000".
- Spanish Civil War. The number of casualties is disputed; estimates generally suggest that between 500,000 and 1 million people were killed in the Spanish Civil War. Over the years, historians kept lowering the death figures and modern research concludes that 500,000 deaths is the correct figure. Atrocities during the war were committed on both sides. At least 50,000 were executed during the civil war. Franco's victory was followed by tens of thousands of summary executions.
In his recent, updated history of the Spanish Civil War, Antony Beevor "reckons Franco's ensuing 'white terror' claimed 200,000 lives. The 'red terror' had already killed 38,000. Julius Ruiz concludes that "although the figures remain disputed, a minimum of 37,843 executions were carried out in the Republican zone with a maximum of 150,000 executions (including 50,000 after the war) in Nationalist Spain. In Checas de Madrid, César Vidal comes to a nationwide total of 110,965 victims of Republican repression; 11,705 people being killed in Madrid alone.
- During World War II. -- Germany. During World War II, the holocaust initiated by the German National Socialist party killed millions of people: Slavs, Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Serbs, and especially Jews. After the end of World War II, this genocide came to be known as the Holocaust. Poles, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma and homosexuals and anybody considered a threat to the Nazi party were rounded up and sent to labour camps, death camps, or just killed in their homes.
The Nazi occupation of Poland resulted in the death of one-fifth of the population, some 6 million people, half of them Jewish. The Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people during the war, about half of all World War II casualties. Of the 5.7 million Soviet POWs captured by the Germans, 3.5 million had died while in German captivity by the end of the war.
-- Japan. Japanese soldiers rounded up and killed millions of civilians and prisoners of wars from surrounding nations, especially from Korea, China, Philippines and US during World War II. At least 20 million Chinese died during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).
Unit 731 was amongst one of the most notorious examples of wartime atrocities committed on a civilian population during World War II, where cruel and inhumane experiments were done to thousands of Chinese civilians and Allied prisoners of war. The Rape of Nanking is another example of atrocity committed by Japanese soldiers on a civilian population. Hundreds of thousands of men were slaughtered, while women of all ages were systematically raped and / or killed by Japanese soldiers.
The Three Alls Policy (Sankō Sakusen) was a Japanese scorched earth policy adopted in China during World War II, the three alls being: "Kill All, Burn All and Loot All". Initiated in 1940 by Ryūkichi Tanaka, the Sankō Sakusen was implemented in full scale in 1942 in north China by Yasuji Okamura who divided the territory into pacified, semi-pacified and unpacified areas. The approval of the policy was given by Imperial Headquarters Army Order Number 575 on 3 December 1941.
Because of the sheer scale of suffering caused by the Japanese military during the 1930s and 1940s, it is often compared to the military of Nazi Germany during 1933–45. Much of the controversy regarding Japan's role in World War II revolves around the death rates of prisoners of war and civilians under Japanese occupation. The historian Chalmers Johnson has written that:
-- Soviet Union.
According to the historian Norman Naimark, the propaganda of Soviet troop newspapers and the orders of Soviet high command were jointly responsible for excesses by members of the Red Army. The general tenor in the writings was that the Red Army had come to Germany as an avenger and judge to punish the Germans. On January 12, 1945 army General Cherniakhovsky turned to his troops with the words: There shall be no mercy - for nobody, as there had also been no mercy for us... The land of the fascists must become a desert …
On the German side, any organized evacuation of civilians was forbidden by the Nazi government to boost morale of the troops, now for the first time defending the "Fatherland", even when the Red Army entered German territory in the last months of 1944. It is estimated that Soviet soldiers raped at least 2,000,000 German women and girls, an estimated 200,000 of whom later died from injuries sustained, committed suicide, or were murdered outright.
- Mao Zedong. Mao’s first political campaigns after founding the People’s Republic were land reform and the suppression of counter-revolutionaries, which centered on mass executions, often before organized crowds. These campaigns of mass repression targeted former KMT officials, businessmen, former employees of Western companies, intellectuals whose loyalty was suspect, and significant numbers of rural gentry. The U.S. State department in 1976 estimated that there may have been a million killed in the land reform, 800,000 killed in the counterrevolutionary campaign. Mao himself claimed a total of 700,000 killed during these early years (1949–53). However, because there was a policy to select "at least one landlord, and usually several, in virtually every village for public execution", 1 million deaths seems to be an absolute minimum, and many authors agree on a figure of between 2 million and 5 million dead. In addition, at least 1.5 million people were sent to "reform through labour" camps (laogai). Mao’s personal role in ordering mass executions is undeniable. He defended these killings as necessary for the securing of power.
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, perished in the violence of the Cultural Revolution. When Mao was informed of such losses, particularly that people had been driven to suicide, he blithely commented: "People who try to commit suicide - don't attempt to save them! . . . China is such a populous nation, it is not as if we cannot do without a few people.
- Equatorial Guinea. In September 1968, Francisco Macías Nguema was elected first president of Equatorial Guinea, and independence was granted in October. In July 1970, Nguema created a single-party state. In 1972 Nguema took complete control of the government and assumed the title of President for Life. Nguema’s regime was characterized by abandonment of all government functions except internal security, which was accomplished by terror; he acted as chief judge who sentenced thousands to death. This led to the death or exile of up to 1/3 of the country's population. Out of a population of 300,000, an estimated 80,000 had been killed. Uneasy around educated people, he had killed everyone who wore spectacles. All schools were ordered closed in 1975. The economy collapsed, and skilled citizens and foreigners left.
- Idi Amin Dada. Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, is notorious for being one of the bloodiest dictators of the 20th century. The exact number of people killed is unknown. The International Commission of Jurists estimated the death toll at no fewer than 80,000 and more likely around 300,000. An estimate compiled by exile organizations with the help of Amnesty International puts the number killed at 500,000. The victims soon came to include members of other ethnic groups, religious leaders, journalists, senior bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, students and intellectuals, criminal suspects, and foreign nationals. In some cases entire villages were wiped out. Bodies were dumped into the River Nile, on at least one occasion in quantities sufficient to clog the Owen Falls Hydro-Electric Dam in Jinja.
- Ethiopia. During Mengistu’s 17-year reign it was not uncommon to see students, suspected government critics or rebel sympathisers hanging from lampposts each morning. Mengistu himself is alleged to have murdered opponents by garroting or shooting them, saying that he was leading by example. Some experts have estimated that 150,000 university students, intellectuals and politicians were killed during Mengistu's rule. Amnesty International estimates that up to 500,000 people were killed during the Red Terror of 1977 and 1978. On 12 December 2006 Mengistu Haile Mariam was found guilty of genocide and other offences. He was sentenced to life in prison in January 2007.
- Western New Guinea. Amnesty International has estimated that more than 100,000 Papuans, one-sixth of the population, have died as a result of government-sponsored violence against West Papuans, while others had previously specified much higher death tolls. In 2004 the Yale University Law School published "Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control", a 75 page report detailing the applicability of Indonesian control to each of the genocide conventions.
- Algerian Civil War. During the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s, a variety of massacres occurred. The massacres peaked in 1997 (with a smaller peak in 1994), and were particularly concentrated in the areas between Algiers and Oran, with very few occurring in the east or in the Sahara. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people lost their lives during the conflict.
Starting around April 1997 (the Thalit massacre), Algeria was wracked by massacres of intense brutality and unprecedented size; previous massacres had occurred in the conflict, but always on a substantially smaller scale. Typically targeting entire villages or neighborhoods and disregarding the age and sex of victims, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) guerrillas killed tens, and sometimes hundreds, of civilians at a time. These massacres continued through the end of 1998, changing the nature of the political situation considerably. The areas south and east of Algiers were hit particularly hard; the Rais and Bentalha massacres in particular shocked worldwide observers. Pregnant women were sliced open, children were hacked to pieces or dashed against walls, men's limbs were hacked off one by one, and, as the attackers retreated, they would kidnap young women to keep as sex slaves. This quotation by Nesroullah Yous, a survivor of Bentalha, expresses the apparent mood of the attackers:
The GIA's responsibility for these massacres is undisputed; it claimed credit for both Rais and Bentalha (calling the killings an "offering to God" and the victims "impious" supporters of tyrants in a press release), and its policy of massacring civilians was cited by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat as one of the main reasons it split off from the GIA. At this stage, it had apparently adopted a takfirist ideology, believing that practically all Algerians not actively fighting the government were corrupt to the point of being kafirs, and could be killed righteously with impunity; an unconfirmed communiqué by Zouabri had stated that "except for those who are with us, all others are apostates and deserving of death.
- Second Congo War. The Second Congo War, also known as Africa's World War, began in 1998. The largest war in modern African history, one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II, it directly involved eight African nations, as well as about 25 armed groups. Nearly 5 million people have died. A U.N. human rights expert reported in July 2007 that sexual atrocities against Congolese women go 'far beyond rape' and include sexual slavery, forced incest, and cannibalism.
In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti Pygmies, told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman". Makelo asked the UN Security Council to recognise cannibalism as a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.