Letters - Letter of the week

Robert Skidelsky's account of genocide and mass murder ("The killing fields", 26 January) is flawed by its Eurocentric bias. The 20th century stands out only if you ignore, as Skidelsky does, the greatest mass killing machines in world history - the European empires. The British in India alone killed as many as any of the 20th-century horrors Skidelsky mentions. Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis puts the number of Indians killed in famines in the last three decades of the 19th century in the tens of millions. While local food shortages were triggered by climatic fluctuations, the mass deaths were the direct and predicted results of British policy. Further, Skidelsky does not include in his 20th-century list the six million Bengalis killed by the "man-made famine" in 1942. Their deaths were just as much the result of British policies as famine deaths in the Soviet Union were of Stalin's.

As for genocide, that was a persistent feature of the European expansion to the Americas, southern Africa and Australia. Skidelsky must have heard of the extermination of the Tasmanian natives by white settlers in the 19th century, and, like any schoolboy of the mid-20th century, of the massacre of the Plains Indians in the US after the civil war. The latter story was always told from the point of view of the perpetrators, but one would have to be a moral imbecile not to recognise it as genocide.

John Wilson
London NW3

This article first appeared in the 02 February 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The Hutton report - How a judge let Blair off