Eric Markusen

Activist genocide scholar


Eric Markusen, genocide scholar: born Detroit 8 October 1946; Assistant Professor, Southwestern Minnesota State University 1983-85, Professor of Sociology 1990-2007; married 1981 Randi Morrau (one daughter); died Marshall, Minnesota 29 January 2007.

The genocide scholar Eric Markusen spent most of his life trying to understand genocide, trying to fathom how perpetrators and accomplices could act as they did, and to explain the willingness of governments, and their citizens, to engage in the mass killing of innocent people. Markusen's research took him to former Soviet satellites, Cambodia, Croatia and Bosnia, Poland, Serbia, the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea, to Rwanda and to Chad.

He was part of the team of experts chosen by the Coalition for International Justice to interview more than 1,000 refugees in camps in Chad, people who had fled Darfur. The findings were incorporated into the US State Department's Atrocities Documentation Project, after which a determination was made that genocide was taking place in Sudan.

The finding was acknowledged by the then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in September 2004 in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The subsequent failure to take effective action to stop the genocide was a profound disappointment which Markusen believed further diminished the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. He later toured the United States to give talks to describe the suffering he had witnessed.

Markusen was the author of many articles and books on genocide, but also on nuclear warfare and strategic bombing. At the outset, his interest had been the mass slaughter of civilians in the probable effects of nuclear war, and he had wanted to challenge how the national security policies of powerful states relied on a threat to kill millions of people. Markusen became a friend of Daniel Ellsberg, famous for his release of the "Pentagon Papers" in 1971. Ellsberg had been a top-level nuclear war planner in the Kennedy administration and he later became an ardent anti-nuclear advocate.

It was in 1981, while studying nuclear weapons issues at Princeton University's Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, that Markusen met Robert Jay Lifton and helped Lifton research The Nazi Doctors (1986), for which dozens of former Nazi doctors, as well as surviving victims were interviewed. Markusen and Lifton later co-authored The Genocidal Mentality: Nazi holocaust and nuclear threat, published in 1990.

There are today courses on genocide studies at a growing number of universities around the world and in the early Nineties Markusen welcomed the newly emerging field of the study of genocide and the establishment of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. He believed it necessary for new generations of students and citizens to appreciate just how serious the epidemic of genocidal killing had become. While the study of genocide was a profoundly distasteful task, it did require a critical and realistic look at modern society.

Since many of the world's political and economic problems took place in societies with a heritage of festering racial and ethnic animosities, he believed that the danger of victimisation was ongoing. Modern warfare was itself genocidal and reflected a tendency for war to create the necessary social and psychological conditions conducive for genocide.

Markusen believed that whenever groups were deliberately targeted for destruction - and when members of the groups were killed simply because of their membership in the group - then the label genocide was appropriate. This was consistent, he argued, with the spirit of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who had coined the word genocide and whose conception of genocide was published in 1944 in Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. It was his belief that the mass killing of civilians and the scale of killing were the moral issue of the age. The ongoing debate about the definition of the term genocide was used increasingly as a tool to delay or completely avoid moral and political imperatives and legal obligations.

For several years Markusen was director of research at the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Copenhagen. His own research took him on extensive travels including to former Yugoslavia in 1994 where he experienced the shattered cities of Vukovar, Mostar, and Sarajevo. He would describe how in Croatia and Bosnia he had passed through village after village wrecked by war. It was here - and later reinforced by stories from Rwanda - that he came to appreciate the courage and dedication of United Nations peacekeeping forces and others who risked their own lives in an attempt to reduce the suffering.

Like many genocide scholars Markusen possessed a sad realism about human beings. But he also had a passionate commitment to justice. The ray of hope for his generation had been the creation of the special tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda to try perpetrators of genocide. For him this represented a real and progressive milestone in international law, in the history of the human rights movement and in the struggle against genocide.

Eric Markusen, born in 1946, had a difficult childhood. His mother suffered from schizophrenia and committed suicide while Eric was a schoolboy. His father, who had served in the US Navy during the Second World War, was an alcoholic who some years later also committed suicide. After graduating from Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota, with a BA in sociology and psychology in 1969, Eric Markusen considered a career in social work but he met Professor Robert Fulton, a founder director of the Center for Death Education and Research at the University of Minnesota, who became a mentor and friend.

Markusen taught sociology and social work at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall from 1983 to 1985, and was appointed Professor of Sociology in 1990. He was Contributing Editor and Associate Editor of the Encyclopedia of Genocide (1999), of which Professor Israel W. Charny was the founding Editor in Chief.

Eric Markusen was gentle, straightforward, committed and decent. He was teacher, a researcher but also an activist for genocide prevention. He was pivotal in the world of genocide scholarship and in July the 2007 conference of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, to be held at Markusen's suggestion in Sarajevo, will be dedicated in his memory.

Linda Melvern

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?