Political Tyranny, Violence and Genocide

Discipline: Comparative Politics
Instructor: Bielasiak
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1050
End: 1205
Field Work: Day 1 - Gdansk - Friday, 5 September | Poland Download Syllabus

Time and time again, history has witnessed the rise of political leaders who turned
against other racial, ethnic, or political groups and committed mass murder in the name of
a better tomorrow. Hitler and Stalin, by their ideas and actions, defined much of the past
century. Less renowned leaders, in all corners of the world, preached hate towards other
people, and defined politics as the struggle between good and evil. What enabled these
leaders to mobilize entire communities, even nations, to perpetrate mass destruction?
To answer the question, the course examines major instances of political tyranny and
mass murder in the past century. We consider Stalin and the Soviet Terror, Hitler and
the Holocaust, and their more recent imitators, the “little Hitlers” and “little Stalins.”
We study collective violence in countries along our voyage, under the fascist regimes
in Spain and Portugal, during apartheid in South Africa, and under the dictators in
Argentina and Brazil, as well as the most extreme form of violence, the genocides in
Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
For each case, we look at political leaders and conditions to understand the rise of
tyranny, and examine political developments and ideological arguments leading to
violence and genocide. We also address the question of responsibility through the eyes
of perpetrators, victims and bystanders, and pay special attention to the responses of the
international community to mass murder.

Field Work

Country: Poland
Day: 1 - Gdansk - Friday, 5 September

The field lab is divided into two components. The first is a visit to the Stuthoff concentration camp (located in the outskirts of Gdansk), dedicated as a memorial to Holocaust victims.  The site includes exhibits about the operation of the camp and different methods of mass destruction (including a documentary film).  A central aim of the visit is to learn about collective violence, the victims of Nazism, and to reflect on the nature of victim commemoration.  It is also an opportunity to think about what the exhibits tell us about the perpetrators and the legacies of Nazi rule and destruction.  The second part consists of visits to memorials in Gdansk that commemorate victims of violence, notably the Solidarity Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers and the Westerplatte WWII memorial.  The purpose of the visits is to examine and consider different forms of collective violence and their victims. Students will be asked to read excerpts form Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men and Daniel Goldhagen, Willing Executioners to engage the debate about responsibility for the mass murder of Jewish and other victims of Nazism. Academic Objectives: 1.  Learn about the victims of the Holocaust and the methods of mass destruction 2.  Consider and evaluate different forms of political violence and their victims 3.  Connect the observations from the camp and memorials to issues of responsibility for mass killings