Racism, Nationalism, and International Bystanders as Contributing Factors of War and Atrocity

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 The twentieth century was a period of growth and expansion that changed many aspects of everyday life across the globe. New technological advances made mass production possible, women’s movements brought awareness to voting rights, and the standard of living was dramatically improved. Along with many positive changes, the twentieth century was filled with war and horrible human atrocities. The genocides in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Holocaust, just a few examples of the atrocities that occurred, took the lives of millions of people. The belief of superior and inferior races caused tensions between different ethnicities, nationalist ideals within nations led to conflict, and the apathy of international bystanders allowed atrocities to amass to greater proportions, these are important factors that promoted and sustained war and atrocity in the twentieth century.

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 The separation of race and the widespread belief in superior and inferior races ignited the spark for genocide in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and during the Holocaust. The genocide in Yugoslavia was brutal, approximately one hundred thousand people were killed in just four years. The fall of communism and the declaration of independence of Slovenia and Croatia ignited ethnic tensions and caused neighbors to turn against each other. There were three different ethnic groups living in Yugoslavia at the time, the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats. The Serbs believed that they were ethnically superior to the Muslims and Croats. This separation of race and the belief that the Serbs were superior, caused horrifying acts to be committed against the Muslim and Croat populations living in Yugoslavia. “The conflict included…the deliberate destruction of towns and cities, massacres of defenseless civilians, and the forcible removal of ethnic groups from their territory. This sort of campaign came to be known as “ethnic cleansing” – a term that tells little of the horror inflicted upon the affected civilians.”[1] This act of “ethnic cleansing” was barbaric and entirely based upon the belief in superior and inferior ethnic populations. This separation of ethnic populations is defined as a type of racism that led to the strategic termination of thousands of innocent people.

 The genocide in Rwanda was in some ways similar to Yugoslavia, but the religious beliefs of the Germans and Belgians living in Rwanda made the tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes even worse. Racism was prevalent in pre-genocidal Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. There has always been a distinction between the two tribes, even though they share the same region, religion, and language. In the late 1800s, there was a Tutsi king and under his rule the Tutsi people believed that the two tribes lived peacefully together. Contrary to this belief, the Hutu people revealed that they suffered extreme brutality under Tutsi rule. These two differing beliefs in the treatment of the Hutu show that the separation of the two tribes was existent before any foreign influences. Rwanda was colonized by the Germans and Belgians in the late nineteenth century and their religious beliefs played a major role in making racial tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes more severe. “In the colonial era, under German and Belgian rule, Roman Catholic missionaries, inspired by the overly racist theories of 19th – century Europe, concocted a bizarre ideology of ethnic cleavage and racial rankings that attributed superior qualities to the country’s Tutsi minority.”[2] The Roman Catholics preached that “the Tutsi were descendants of Noah’s disgraced son Ham”[3] and that made them more equal to white people than the Hutu. The entirely invalid religious proposals of superior and inferior tribes by the Roman Catholic missionaries created stronger tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi people. The genocide in Rwanda was facilitated through the racial separation of the Hutu and Tutsi, which was made worse by the religious teachings of the German and Belgian missionaries claiming that the Tutsi were superior to the Hutu.

 The Holocaust was one of the most brutal genocides and took the lives of approximately six million European Jews. The motivation behind this human atrocity was the belief that the Jews were inferior to the Germans. Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany and had a “dream of an ethnically pure Germany that would conquer Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe, unite all of continental Europe under German rule, and enslave or eliminate lesser races.”[4] Hitler believed that by eliminating “lesser races” he would create a perfect German society, free of all imperfections and worthy to rule the world. Hitler’s main target was the Jewish population living in Europe. Hitler was strongly influenced by Social Darwinism, the belief that some people are more fit to survive than others and used that theory against the Jews.[5] He also believed Jews were “crafty, corrupt, and predatory materialists, devoid of all patriotism and feelings for others, and they advocated subversive ideas such as liberalism, capitalism, Marxism, and cultural modernism.”[6] These stereotypes were not justified in any way and were purely based upon Hitler’s irrational belief that racial segregation was necessary to conquer the world. Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism campaign, the separation of Germans and Jews, is a form of racism that ultimately led to the Holocaust and termination of millions of innocent people.

 Racism was a major contributor to human atrocities, and also can be linked to forms of nationalism across the globe. Nationalism is the efforts made by a nation to unify its citizens and can often lead to feelings of superiority over other countries. These feelings of superiority and inferiority between nations caused crimes of atrocity to be committed against other nations and even its own citizens. Nationalist ideals in the twentieth century lead to war and atrocity among and within nations.

 Germany and the events of the Holocaust are prime examples of nationalism being used to justify human atrocities. When Hitler came into power, he had a vision of creating a perfect Lebensraum (living space) in Germany. Nationalist ideals motivated Hitler to believe that Germans were superior to all other nations and deserved to live in an ethnically cleansed society. Hitler strongly theorized that his nation “the Third Reich” would last for a thousand years, and that Germany was the most powerful and superior country in the world. “Hitler called his state the Third Reich. He claimed that like the Holy Roman Empire, his empire would last 1,000 years. Hitler also harbored grand aspirations to impose racial purity and German power in Europe and perhaps beyond.”[7] Nationalism heavily influenced Hitler to believe that his nation was better than all other nations, nationalism also inspired Hitler to want to expand and conquer new territory. He came up with a plan called “Generalplan Ost”, meaning plan for the east, that he would use to expand German territory by strategically murdering millions of Jewish people.[8] Lebensraum could only be achieved if all ethnically inferior people were removed from German territory. Hitler’s belief that Germans deserved to conquer the world because of their racial superiority, along with nationalist ideals, that Germany was the best and strongest nation, caused the events of the Holocaust to take place.

 The genocide in Yugoslavia was caused by the nationalistic ideals of Croatia and the response by the Serbian communities living there. In 1991 Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The Croat population, inspired by nationalism, wanted their own state and independence from Yugoslavia. This caused an uproar from the Serbian population in Croatia. “In Croatia, Serbs constituted 12% of the population and many of them feared that their status and security in an independent Croatia would suffer significantly.”[9] The separation of the ethnic populations in Yugoslavia caused tensions to rise. The Croats and Serbs could not live peacefully together because nationalistic ideals influenced them to believe that each population was superior to the other. These ideals created a violent uproar that led the Serbs to form an “ethnic cleansing” campaign, in which they slaughtered thousands of innocent Croats.

 Nationalism is the feelings of patriotism and pride within a nation that can cause citizens to believe their nation is better than others. These feelings of superior and inferior nations can sometimes cause apathy in international bystanders. The apathy of international bystanders can also be caused by the dominance of another nation over them, or the consequences the nation might face if they tried to stop the horrible acts from being committed. Apathy is the lack of interest in a problem; international bystanders often had apathy as they stood by and did nothing while other nations were struggling with war or genocide. This kind of apathy can have serious consequences when international bystanders have the potential to save the lives of thousands of people, but they decide not to.

 The Holocaust was not carried out by Hitler alone, it required the assistance of many people, teams, and nations. Many people assisted Hitler because they feared the consequences, or because they were Nazi sympathizers. Nations feared Germany and often did nothing to help the Jews living in their territory. “Neutral countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, and Turkey accepted limited numbers of refugees, but none wanted to antagonize Hitler while his armies seemed invincible.”[10] These nations often times handed over the Jews living there and did not resist the Germans, even though they knew that it was wrong. International bystanders in the Holocaust could have saved millions of lives, but they chose not to. By choosing not to save the lives of their citizens, international bystanders facilitated the genocide of millions of Jews.

 The genocide in Rwanda is considered to be the most preventable genocide in world history. Within Rwanda, organizations could have stepped up and brought awareness to the unjust acts being committed. The Roman Catholic church did not speak out against the murders in Rwanda to its Christian followers. The French government was assisting Rwandan forces and continued to supply them with military training and weapons as they witnessed the deaths of innocent people. International bystanders also played a huge role in allowing the genocide in Rwanda to occur. “At the United Nations, the Security Council, led unremittingly by the United States, simply did not care enough about Rwanda to intervene appropriately. Aside from France’s interest in Rwanda, there were no economic or strategic interests at play for any of the other members of the UN Security Council. As a result, they simply ignored what was taking place in Rwanda. What makes this betrayal of their responsibility even more intolerable is that the genocide was in no way inevitable. It could have been prevented entirely.”[11] The United Nations Security Council could have easily sent troops over to Rwanda and put an end to the genocide occurring there, but they chose not to; therefore, ignoring the deaths of thousands of innocent Rwandan citizens. The apathy of international bystanders is a major contributor to genocide in the twentieth century. With the help of these international bystanders, genocide could have been prevented and thousands of lives could have been saved.

 War and atrocity in the twentieth century was brutal, and countries justified their inhumane actions through many ideologies, even if they were entirely invalid. We can learn from these past mistakes that it is important to respect the differences of other cultures, ethnicities, and nations. As the Dalai Lama states, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” The only way to solve conflict is by recognizing our differences and having kindness and patience in reaching a solution. There are many factors contributing to war and atrocity in the twentieth century, but the most important factors are racist ideologies, which lead to ethnic tensions within nations, nationalism that creates conflicts, and the apathy of international bystanders that facilitates the persistence of these atrocities.


[1] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 478

[2] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 448

[3] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 448

[4] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 192

[5] Lecture, 10/25/18

[6] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 193

[7] Robert Tignor, Jeremy Adelman, Stephen Aron, Stephen Kotkin, Suzanne Marchand, Gyan Prakash, and Michael Tsin, Worlds Together Worlds Apart Fifth Edition Volume: C (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 730

[8] Lecture, 10/25/18

[9] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 478

[10] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 203

[11] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 456

 The twentieth century was a period of growth and expansion that changed many aspects of everyday life across the globe. New technological advances made mass production possible, women’s movements brought awareness to voting rights, and the standard of living was dramatically improved. Along with many positive changes, the twentieth century was filled with war and horrible human atrocities. The genocides in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Holocaust, just a few examples of the atrocities that occurred, took the lives of millions of people. The belief of superior and inferior races caused tensions between different ethnicities, nationalist ideals within nations led to conflict, and the apathy of international bystanders allowed atrocities to amass to greater proportions, these are important factors that promoted and sustained war and atrocity in the twentieth century.

 The separation of race and the widespread belief in superior and inferior races ignited the spark for genocide in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and during the Holocaust. The genocide in Yugoslavia was brutal, approximately one hundred thousand people were killed in just four years. The fall of communism and the declaration of independence of Slovenia and Croatia ignited ethnic tensions and caused neighbors to turn against each other. There were three different ethnic groups living in Yugoslavia at the time, the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats. The Serbs believed that they were ethnically superior to the Muslims and Croats. This separation of race and the belief that the Serbs were superior, caused horrifying acts to be committed against the Muslim and Croat populations living in Yugoslavia. “The conflict included…the deliberate destruction of towns and cities, massacres of defenseless civilians, and the forcible removal of ethnic groups from their territory. This sort of campaign came to be known as “ethnic cleansing” – a term that tells little of the horror inflicted upon the affected civilians.”[1] This act of “ethnic cleansing” was barbaric and entirely based upon the belief in superior and inferior ethnic populations. This separation of ethnic populations is defined as a type of racism that led to the strategic termination of thousands of innocent people.

 The genocide in Rwanda was in some ways similar to Yugoslavia, but the religious beliefs of the Germans and Belgians living in Rwanda made the tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes even worse. Racism was prevalent in pre-genocidal Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. There has always been a distinction between the two tribes, even though they share the same region, religion, and language. In the late 1800s, there was a Tutsi king and under his rule the Tutsi people believed that the two tribes lived peacefully together. Contrary to this belief, the Hutu people revealed that they suffered extreme brutality under Tutsi rule. These two differing beliefs in the treatment of the Hutu show that the separation of the two tribes was existent before any foreign influences. Rwanda was colonized by the Germans and Belgians in the late nineteenth century and their religious beliefs played a major role in making racial tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes more severe. “In the colonial era, under German and Belgian rule, Roman Catholic missionaries, inspired by the overly racist theories of 19th – century Europe, concocted a bizarre ideology of ethnic cleavage and racial rankings that attributed superior qualities to the country’s Tutsi minority.”[2] The Roman Catholics preached that “the Tutsi were descendants of Noah’s disgraced son Ham”[3] and that made them more equal to white people than the Hutu. The entirely invalid religious proposals of superior and inferior tribes by the Roman Catholic missionaries created stronger tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi people. The genocide in Rwanda was facilitated through the racial separation of the Hutu and Tutsi, which was made worse by the religious teachings of the German and Belgian missionaries claiming that the Tutsi were superior to the Hutu.

 The Holocaust was one of the most brutal genocides and took the lives of approximately six million European Jews. The motivation behind this human atrocity was the belief that the Jews were inferior to the Germans. Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany and had a “dream of an ethnically pure Germany that would conquer Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe, unite all of continental Europe under German rule, and enslave or eliminate lesser races.”[4] Hitler believed that by eliminating “lesser races” he would create a perfect German society, free of all imperfections and worthy to rule the world. Hitler’s main target was the Jewish population living in Europe. Hitler was strongly influenced by Social Darwinism, the belief that some people are more fit to survive than others and used that theory against the Jews.[5] He also believed Jews were “crafty, corrupt, and predatory materialists, devoid of all patriotism and feelings for others, and they advocated subversive ideas such as liberalism, capitalism, Marxism, and cultural modernism.”[6] These stereotypes were not justified in any way and were purely based upon Hitler’s irrational belief that racial segregation was necessary to conquer the world. Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism campaign, the separation of Germans and Jews, is a form of racism that ultimately led to the Holocaust and termination of millions of innocent people.

 Racism was a major contributor to human atrocities, and also can be linked to forms of nationalism across the globe. Nationalism is the efforts made by a nation to unify its citizens and can often lead to feelings of superiority over other countries. These feelings of superiority and inferiority between nations caused crimes of atrocity to be committed against other nations and even its own citizens. Nationalist ideals in the twentieth century lead to war and atrocity among and within nations.

 Germany and the events of the Holocaust are prime examples of nationalism being used to justify human atrocities. When Hitler came into power, he had a vision of creating a perfect Lebensraum (living space) in Germany. Nationalist ideals motivated Hitler to believe that Germans were superior to all other nations and deserved to live in an ethnically cleansed society. Hitler strongly theorized that his nation “the Third Reich” would last for a thousand years, and that Germany was the most powerful and superior country in the world. “Hitler called his state the Third Reich. He claimed that like the Holy Roman Empire, his empire would last 1,000 years. Hitler also harbored grand aspirations to impose racial purity and German power in Europe and perhaps beyond.”[7] Nationalism heavily influenced Hitler to believe that his nation was better than all other nations, nationalism also inspired Hitler to want to expand and conquer new territory. He came up with a plan called “Generalplan Ost”, meaning plan for the east, that he would use to expand German territory by strategically murdering millions of Jewish people.[8] Lebensraum could only be achieved if all ethnically inferior people were removed from German territory. Hitler’s belief that Germans deserved to conquer the world because of their racial superiority, along with nationalist ideals, that Germany was the best and strongest nation, caused the events of the Holocaust to take place.

 The genocide in Yugoslavia was caused by the nationalistic ideals of Croatia and the response by the Serbian communities living there. In 1991 Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The Croat population, inspired by nationalism, wanted their own state and independence from Yugoslavia. This caused an uproar from the Serbian population in Croatia. “In Croatia, Serbs constituted 12% of the population and many of them feared that their status and security in an independent Croatia would suffer significantly.”[9] The separation of the ethnic populations in Yugoslavia caused tensions to rise. The Croats and Serbs could not live peacefully together because nationalistic ideals influenced them to believe that each population was superior to the other. These ideals created a violent uproar that led the Serbs to form an “ethnic cleansing” campaign, in which they slaughtered thousands of innocent Croats.

 Nationalism is the feelings of patriotism and pride within a nation that can cause citizens to believe their nation is better than others. These feelings of superior and inferior nations can sometimes cause apathy in international bystanders. The apathy of international bystanders can also be caused by the dominance of another nation over them, or the consequences the nation might face if they tried to stop the horrible acts from being committed. Apathy is the lack of interest in a problem; international bystanders often had apathy as they stood by and did nothing while other nations were struggling with war or genocide. This kind of apathy can have serious consequences when international bystanders have the potential to save the lives of thousands of people, but they decide not to.

 The Holocaust was not carried out by Hitler alone, it required the assistance of many people, teams, and nations. Many people assisted Hitler because they feared the consequences, or because they were Nazi sympathizers. Nations feared Germany and often did nothing to help the Jews living in their territory. “Neutral countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, and Turkey accepted limited numbers of refugees, but none wanted to antagonize Hitler while his armies seemed invincible.”[10] These nations often times handed over the Jews living there and did not resist the Germans, even though they knew that it was wrong. International bystanders in the Holocaust could have saved millions of lives, but they chose not to. By choosing not to save the lives of their citizens, international bystanders facilitated the genocide of millions of Jews.

 The genocide in Rwanda is considered to be the most preventable genocide in world history. Within Rwanda, organizations could have stepped up and brought awareness to the unjust acts being committed. The Roman Catholic church did not speak out against the murders in Rwanda to its Christian followers. The French government was assisting Rwandan forces and continued to supply them with military training and weapons as they witnessed the deaths of innocent people. International bystanders also played a huge role in allowing the genocide in Rwanda to occur. “At the United Nations, the Security Council, led unremittingly by the United States, simply did not care enough about Rwanda to intervene appropriately. Aside from France’s interest in Rwanda, there were no economic or strategic interests at play for any of the other members of the UN Security Council. As a result, they simply ignored what was taking place in Rwanda. What makes this betrayal of their responsibility even more intolerable is that the genocide was in no way inevitable. It could have been prevented entirely.”[11] The United Nations Security Council could have easily sent troops over to Rwanda and put an end to the genocide occurring there, but they chose not to; therefore, ignoring the deaths of thousands of innocent Rwandan citizens. The apathy of international bystanders is a major contributor to genocide in the twentieth century. With the help of these international bystanders, genocide could have been prevented and thousands of lives could have been saved.

 War and atrocity in the twentieth century was brutal, and countries justified their inhumane actions through many ideologies, even if they were entirely invalid. We can learn from these past mistakes that it is important to respect the differences of other cultures, ethnicities, and nations. As the Dalai Lama states, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” The only way to solve conflict is by recognizing our differences and having kindness and patience in reaching a solution. There are many factors contributing to war and atrocity in the twentieth century, but the most important factors are racist ideologies, which lead to ethnic tensions within nations, nationalism that creates conflicts, and the apathy of international bystanders that facilitates the persistence of these atrocities.


[1] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 478

[2] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 448

[3] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 448

[4] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 192

[5] Lecture, 10/25/18

[6] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 193

[7] Robert Tignor, Jeremy Adelman, Stephen Aron, Stephen Kotkin, Suzanne Marchand, Gyan Prakash, and Michael Tsin, Worlds Together Worlds Apart Fifth Edition Volume: C (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 730

[8] Lecture, 10/25/18

[9] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 478

[10] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 203

[11] Totten, Samuel, and Wiliam S. Parsons. Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2013, 456

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