The World’s Bloodiest History: Massacre, Genocide, and the Scars They Left on Civilization by Joseph is not a book about the happiest of topics, but it does provide some interesting insights. The book has examples of some highlights, or should I say lowlights, of human history – how we so easily kill those who are different from us.
The book begins with the Roman sacking of Carthage in 146 BCE and ends with the massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Christian Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. Cummins covers many of the largest atrocities committed in history, but he also describes some not so well-known. They all share the common link of being turning points in history. For example, Cummins mentions the massacre of Cheyenne Indians (mainly women, children, and elderly) by Colorado militia in 1864. He argues that this action triggered Indian uprisings and attacks across the West – more importantly it convinced the various Indian tribes that they could not trust the whites (they had signed a peace treaty and wrongly assumed they were safe). After this, some of the worst fighting in the history of warfare between Indians and whites occurred.
Cummins does a thorough job of providing a balanced account from both sides. For example, many people know of the murder of nearly 100 American artillerymen at the hands of the German SS at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Cummins rightly criticizes this atrocity, but he also points out that the Americans were not immune from committing their own atrocities. In fact, on New Year’s Day during the Battle of the Bulge, American troops murdered 60 German soldiers who surrendered in the Belgian village of Chenogne – no one was prosecuted for this incident. As the trite expression goes – two wrongs do not make a right.
Although a difficult subject to read about, Cummins brings his point across that massacres normally backfire – the “solution” causes more issues in the long term. Cummins clearly describes the events in an easy-to-read format. He includes photographs and illustrations throughout the text for the reader to better understand the scope of the atrocities.
Cummins book shines a light on some of humanity’s worst moments.