Nationalism and Colonialism

Kasandra Housley

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will recognize patterns of dehumanization built into colonial systems.
  2. Students will recognize nationalism was related to the rise of Nazi power and the persecution of Jewish and other populations.
  3. Students will understand that Nazis admired imperial states and their methods, learning from the British Empire and the United States, in order to advance racial concepts of Nazi empire and colonization in Europe.


This chapter provides a broad overview of colonialism and nationalism in the international environment surrounding the Holocaust. It would be difficult to fully understand American failure in Afghanistan after 9/11 without understanding the history of the Cold War, U.S. Containment Strategy, and the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Similarly, it would be difficult to fully understand the Holocaust without also understanding the events and the world which preceded it. On one hand, the world prior to the 1930s had reached a colonial apex. This is particularly true of France and Great Britain, nations that still controlled much of the world as colonial possessions. On the other hand, World War I led to the elimination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. WWI resulted in a diminished German Empire, which put the young state of Germany (established in 1871) in a fragile position compared to the other imperial states of Western Europe. Whereas France and Great Britain had long imperial histories to that point, the German Empire had hardly lasted more than two generations before its collapse.


The colonial world was informed by ideologies of conquest, domination, and subjugation of people around the globe. In the following sections we will briefly review the early colonial era, focusing on the 19th century. It was this period in which nationalism, another driver of the Holocaust, took off in Europe. It led to the creation of Germany as a unified state. Both colonialism and nationalism reinforced a worldview in which there were nations in the ‘core’ and those in the ‘periphery‘. The core held power and capital. The core also reinforced a national sense of belonging. Those living in the ‘periphery’ were outsiders, both politically and economically weak. The core exploited the periphery for cheap labor. It was this worldview which fed the Nazi goal of domination over those defined as beneath them.


Nazis were particularly hateful toward Jews, who were falsely portrayed as conspirators in capitalist colonial or communist threats. The Holocaust involved persecution and destruction of groups imagined to be a threat and portrayed as inferior by Nazi eugenics and racist views of national identity and imperial expansion.

The Colonial World

Christopher Columbus’ first trip to the Americas in 1492 was a famous early chapter in Western colonialism. Still, the first major European Empires did not take hold until later in the 16th century. The English began their efforts at colonization in Ireland at the very same time that they were beginning to colonize North America. The English lost their American colonies to revolution early on, but by the 19th century, they had recovered,[1] becoming the largest empire in the world, and the most enduring. Aided by the Industrial Revolution and their expansive colonial holdings, Britain was able to become an unrivaled global power.


The colonial system was foremost about economics. Colonial possessions served the colonizer in the mercantilist economic system. Under the principles of mercantilism, a colony provides raw materials and cheap labor. The colonizer uses the raw materials and cheap labor to manufacture goods with capital. The colonizer, however, needs export markets in which to sell those manufactured goods. The colony then becomes the export market for those manufactured goods. In short, the colony feeds the benefits of its labor to the colonizer and the empire becomes enriched economically. The benefits of that enrichment remain at ‘home’ in London or Paris, or Berlin, while the colony becomes relatively poorer and weaker. The material wealth gap between the two widens, as stated in dependency theory. Over time, the core accumulates more wealth and power, making it ever more difficult for the peripheral state to overcome its own subjugation.


Irishman depicted as Gorilla
A satirical cartoon, from the Punch, showing an Irishman depicted as an ape. Public Domain Image

The experience of colonization reinforced several ideas which would later contribute to Nazi ideology and the Holocaust. Chiefly, colonization proved to colonizers that there were, on the one hand, inferior peoples who deserve to be conquered, and on the other hand, groups of people destined to be conquerors. Because Europe was home to some of the world’s most successful empires, controlling large parts of the global south, European domination seemed justified and self-evident. The notion of European racial superiority was reinforced by economic and political reality. The power which Europeans possessed over their colonial subjects ensured that system remained in place for centuries. But the concept of race itself was always changing to reflect power relationships (‘racial formation,’ in sociological terms). Consider the Irish, who today are considered white and co-equal. Historically however, the Irish, in English eyes, were racially inferior.


Many of the inhumane horrors of the twentieth century were also committed in the 19th century. Colonialist genocide eliminated whole groups of people. Australian colonists stole aboriginal children to keep them as pets. People starved to death in labor camps and suffered in concentration camps for the benefit of the imperialist economy (Stone, 2017). In King Leopold’s Belgian Congo (his personal possession), people who failed to meet work quotas had their limbs cut off; 10 million souls perished. These tragedies occurred in the places ‘off the map,’ outside of the ‘core’ or center of the world as understood in Western Europe. Human history is full of such horrors and tragedies; the colonial era was perhaps the most concerted effort to dominate the entire planet.[2]

Race and Power: Ireland

The English justified their colonization of Ireland with many ideological and intellectual ‘facts.’ To the English government, the Irish could be “removed from their lands to make room for Englishmen” (Canny 1973, p.579) because they had been conquered before, in the Medieval Era. There was also a persistent attitude that the Irish, particularly when under traditional Gaelic law, were barbarous and needed to be subdued. The English had declared the Catholic Irish to be pagans throughout the late 16th century because their practice of the Catholic faith was too far removed from what the English recognized as legitimate. They even went so far as to accuse the Irish of being cannibals (Canny 1973, pp.586-587).


All these things, along with the fact that many Irish were perceived to be unsettled, reinforced the idea that it was acceptable to dispossess and slaughter the Irish; they were seen as uncivilized barbarians. These ideas persisted against the Irish. They were a prerequisite to English indifference to Irish suffering during the Great Famine (1845-1852). These attitudes are quite like those toward the Roma, Jews, and other ethnic groups on the near periphery of European power.


Also known as the Potato Famine (1845-1852), the Great Famine was caused by a blight that ruined crops, causing one million Irish to starve to death while the country was still under British rule. At the time, the British government and English landlords in Ireland continued to permit the export of food from Ireland, as they would do in many of their colonies later in the 19th and even 20th century. Irish peasants who worked the land were evicted for failure to pay. Many of them, starving, continued to work to earn a living or pay rent. Up to two million Irish fled Ireland. This was at a time when Britain was an extraordinarily wealthy Empire. In Britain, many held to the belief that the Irish were at fault, that the Irish were responsible for their own plight due to their ‘excessive breeding’ and poor national character.[3]


To this day, scholars argue over the notion that what occurred was genocide (Guinnane, 1997), taking the position that the British never intended to kill the Irish, their deaths were instead rationalized as an unfortunate consequence of market forces. Intent is often the most difficult element of genocide to prove, as it is necessary to prove the mental state of the perpetrators who may never admit to the intention (United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948). What is clear, is that this is just one of many famines caused by British policy, in which government leadership intentionally took food from people who were starving and transferred it to a place where people were not starving to satisfy the market.[4] Further, genocide prevention was established as international law only in the wake of the Holocaust (Weiss-Wendt, 2019).

19th Century Horrors

Between 1876-1879 and 1896-1902, somewhere between 10 and 30 million Indians died under British rule, largely due to famine, just as with Ireland. The same pattern of colonial indifference to suffering, and the same excuse that it was Nature’s will, were used to absolve the British Empire of responsibility for what was happening. In England, intellectuals continued to stymie calls for assistance to India by citing a firm belief in the wisdom of markets and the ‘truth’ of Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism was the belief that the laws of nature also applied to humans and that only the fittest humans would survive. By this logic, if the Indians were starving, it was because they were too populous. Their starvation was justified as a natural culling to keep their numbers in check. This academic pseudo-science was a misapplication of Charles Darwin’s idea of evolution, and the ideas of Thomas Malthus and Adam Smith (see also Late Victorian Holocausts). These justifications allowed those in the public or government who may have been sympathetic to the plight of Indians to be silenced in their calls for aid. And in those areas where aid had been attempted, government representatives were quick to criticize it as a waste of money to feed people who were ‘not enlightened enough to feed themselves’[5] (Osborn, 1879, p.565).


Victims of the Great Famine 1877
Victims of the Great Famine 1877 Public Domain

As among colonized peoples before and since, there were rebellions. In 1877, while wheat exports from India to the UK nearly doubled from the year before, some Indians started a relief strike. Families refused orders to “march to the new, militarized work camps where men were separated from their wives and children.” (Davis, 2001, p.41) The idea behind the work camp was that those willing to work would be fed. However, few in the work camps survived on the meager rations, given their famished condition when they arrived. Some individuals had to trek a hundred miles to these camps, and if they arrived at all, they would be worked and starved to death (Davis, 2001, p.39).


The modern definition of genocide requires the intention to destroy a people. What is clear is that even when informed about the horrific effects of famine policy created by British officials, the response was to not only silence individual critics, but to also silence the press reporting on them.[6] When that did not work, and individuals attempted to provide relief themselves, they too were punished or reprimanded, as in the case of Sir Richard Temple for whom the Temple Wage is named.[7] The lives of Indians (or blacks as they were often called), were considered far less important than the revenue needed to keep the empire growing. Even a century later, during the Bengal Famine in 1943, while the British were fighting the Nazis,[8] Winston Churchill would argue that aid to Indians was not worthwhile because ‘Indians breed like rabbits ” (Amery et al., 1988, p.950; Mukerjee, 2010, p.29). Some three million Indians would go on to die of starvation yet again under British rule in 1943.


There are several phrases used by both Americans and the British that echo the very sentiments of Nazi ideology. But as Hitler pointed out himself, the British had a habit of coloring their imperial ambitions in the language of noble intent. As a result, finding proof of genocidal intention is more difficult. Still, it is challenging to see any but a Master Race narrative when Churchill said in 1902, “The Aryan Race is bound to triumph,” fantasizing about partitioning China, or when he said in 1937 “I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia…by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race….has come in and taken its place (Heyden, 2015).”[9] British wartime calculations sacrificed Bengal as part of the larger Denial Policy (measures intended to deny India’s resources to Japan, should they invade), replicating the attitudes towards the 1870s famines.[10] Even Churchill’s own Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery, found Churchill’s worldview comparable to that of Adolf Hitler (Mukerjee, 2010; Amery et al., 1988, p.993).[11] These sentiments compare with those uttered against Jews, Native Americans, the Irish and black Africans, who all at various points, had been colonized and made victims of genocidal policies.[12]

American Settler Genocide and German Conquest for Empire

The United States of America and the German Empire could be described in retrospect as perpetrators of genocidal murder in the 19th century.[13] The American example is covered here due to Adolf Hitler’s admiration for British and American Empires. He understood Britain’s Empire rested on British naval supremacy, and similarly, American power on territorial conquest.[14] Throughout the 19th century, the United States expanded its territory through small wars against Native Americans in a process also known as “Western Expansion” or “Manifest Destiny”. Manifest Destiny was the American belief that expansion across the continent was right and even divine. Hitler’s imperial ambitions for Germany were thus not a new vision. German “political justification for colonies was inexhaustible” (Synder, 2015). And so, early on, Germany sought to create an empire, doing so most earnestly under the Nazi regime to emulate an American model.


In America, white settlers had petitioned their government for the removal of Native Americans who inhabited territory the settlers wanted, to expand the space available for them to colonize. The passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 attempted to give incentives for Native American groups to vacate their territories for lands farther West, giving white settlers millions of acres of land to claim. Indigenous resistance to this process resulted in, among other events, the Trail of Tears, a forced migration turned death march across more than 5,000 miles.[15] This want for new lands to settle was echoed in Germany’s imperial ambitions in Africa in the 19th century, and again in Europe, in the 20th century. The Slavs, Poles, Czechs, Ukrainians, and other groups were all targeted as part of Hitler’s east-facing version of Manifest Destiny, where they were cast as the uncivilized inferiors[16] to be conquered and disposed of to make way for German agriculture (Snyder, 2015).


The American government, legal system, and society inspired Nazi racial laws, eugenics programs, and policy planning (Whitman, 2017, pp. 107 & 133).[17] Anti-miscegenation laws, which outlawed interracial marriage, in the United States had created a racial hierarchy with blood quantum criteria (ex: quadroon, octaroon). Even while fighting Nazism, the United States military could execute black soldiers who married white women by charging them with rape.


Americans continued to practice eugenics. Women of indigenous, black, Puerto Rican or otherwise ‘undesirable stock’ were subject to sterilization well into the 1970s. U.S. troops spread rumors that blacks had tails or venereal disease, to scare away white women (and Japanese women), as had been done in WWI and as continued during the Korean war when the same rumors surfaced. White supremacy was everywhere, but white skin alone was not the same as Whiteness. With a eugenic perspective beyond American racialism, Jews, Irish, Boers, and others who appeared as white could be rationalized towards the bottom of the racial hierarchy when such justifications were required for strategic objectives.

German Colonialism

While German Jews were enjoying the newfound fruits of political emancipation in Germany, the German conquest of Namibia began in the 1880s, slowly bringing German settlers to the southwest of the African continent. When the Herero, an indigenous group in Namibia, went to war against the Germans to take back the good pastureland that the Germans were claiming for themselves, they lost, and the Germans commenced a genocide, killing 40-70,000 men, women, and children. Just like Native Americans, the Herero knew that they were being displaced by European settlers. They also knew they were increasingly powerless to protect themselves from being robbed of their cattle, and that the German courts would not hold Germans accountable for crimes against Herero people.


But “five factors thwarted a swift German military victory: their preparation for a European-style conflict, the Namibian environment, disease, insufficient troop strength, and Herero guerrilla tactics. Each of these factors contributed to the decision to annihilate the Herero” (Madley, 2004). In other words, the Herero had challenged the mythology of German superiority. German technological advantages in the form of machine guns and other artillery proved problematic without roads and rail lines to move them quickly. The guerrilla tactics of the Herero, like those of Native Americans, had outsmarted the Germans and made conquest challenging. In short, the Herero embarrassed the German military by successfully fighting back (even for a short time), enraging the Germans nearby and those at home in Germany. So enraged were they, that even after the Herero surrendered, survivors were taken to labor camps where perhaps 45% died, and only now have the Herero recovered their population (Madley, 2004).

Recolonizing Germany After WWI and the Mythology of WWII

It is helpful to remember that colonization is not only about settling unsettled land or taking it from the ‘natives.’ In the imperial model, colonization is also about creating a new economic and political reality. Nazi Germans looked to Eastern Europe as a land ripe for German exploitation, a land that would be needed if Germany were to become a great empire again (having lost their empire after WWI), but they also imagined a reconfigured Germany, solely for Germans. This vision, which promised more space for the ‘Aryan’ race and nation (Bergen, 2016), imagined threats from Jews, Roma, and Afro-Germans left behind by French West African soldiers, among others.


Nazis marginalized and persecuted groups perceived as threats, portraying many as criminals, or even future colonizers of Germany. Again, in an imperialist worldview, there are only the conquered and those that conquer. The forces of nationalism , specifically the notion of a politically independent Germany for people ‘of German blood,’ was harnessed to engage racially privileged Germans in the dehumanization of people portrayed as outsiders. This encouraged everyday people, not just trained soldiers, to rationalize fear and violence in the name of national glory. In every genocide before and since the Holocaust, this process of dehumanization has allowed perpetrators to view positively their enemy’s pain, igniting unspeakable levels of violence and barbarism.[18]


Table 1: Massive Fatality Rates in the Colonial Era
Year/Core Empire Periphery Population Estimated Deaths
15-20c./Various Native Americans (North and South) 10-50 million[19]
16-19c./Various Africans (Slave Trade) 4-6 Million (Middle Passage and Beyond)
1845-1852/Britain Irish (Potato Famine) 1 million
late 1870s-1880s/Britain Indians in the Deccan Famine Chinese (simultaneously) 10-30 million 10-30 million
1885-1908/Belgian Congo Congolese 10 million
1933-1945/Nazi Germany Jews, Slavs, Ukrainians etc. 12 million
1932-1933/Stalin’s Russia Ukrainians (Holodomor Famine) 2-4 million
1931-1945/Japan Chinese 20-50 million
1943/Britain Bengal Indians 3 million

Much like African Americans, some German Jews had started to accumulate wealth, hold office, and contribute to society in the newly formed German state less than a century before WWII erupted. Like many African Americans in the United States, many Jews also remained hopelessly impoverished. Jewish Germans were removed from government jobs, state schools, and most professional roles, and thus kept out of power and influence in the Nazi German state. The defeat of Germany in WWI drove some Germans into the murderous antisemitism of the 20th century, which was to be even more harmful than the political anti-Semitism of the late 19th century. This period upended Jewish political gains of the previous forty years. “The unending crises of the 1920s undermined authority and destroyed the Germans’ confidence in the state” and opened the door to authoritarian government (Hayes, 2012, p. 36). This degradation of living standards also reawakened the desire for an empire that had been nurtured in the late 19th century. Having lost its African empire, the ‘new Germany’ needed to be reorganized and reassembled, and the Jews would have to be replaced or removed if Germany was going to be recolonized for the benefit of ‘Aryan’ Germans.


WWII has become mythologized in the sense that the narrative of “Good vs. Evil” constructed by the victors of WWII has obscured certain facts (Alexander, 2009). The narrative that it was primarily the Axis Powers (the Japanese, Germans, and Italians) that were the primary perpetrators of unrelenting atrocities on humanity has overshadowed the wider reality of imperialist, colonial, and nationalist violence which had already infected the world for generations. The Nazis, like the world’s earlier imperialists, tried to hang on to supremacy over those they deemed inferior. Imperialism and nationalism continued to harm people across the world in South Africa, the United States, and elsewhere. The legacies of colonial rule are, like the Holocaust, important to remember and difficult to forget.


From the 16th Century until the 20th century, humanity watched the rise and fall of a global colonial system. In that system, the world was divided between civilized and barbarian, colonizer and colonized. The leading powers of the world, namely in Europe, justified their conquest of the world in increasingly racist terms which were reinforced by their success. The nationalism and violence of WWII, the Holocaust included, were not aberrations, but instead, the result of this highly racialized and violent worldview which had festered throughout the globe.


The genocidal slaughter and violent indifference to suffering, which has festered elsewhere, ultimately returned to Europe. It came back in the form of German imperialism and destruction, horrific violence against Jews, Slavs, and others deemed dangerous or undesirable. Nazi Germany yearned to achieve the power and supremacy achieved by the British and American empires. Nazi Germany repeated their colonial efforts with high levels of intentionality. And, even after the fall of Nazi Germany, the legacy of the old colonial world in the Americas, Africa, and elsewhere, would take further decades to fall apart. Neither genocide, eugenics, nor racist segregation disappeared with the victory of the Allies at the end of the WWII, but it was a beginning.




Alexander, J. C., & Jay, M. (2009). Remembering the Holocaust: A debate. Oxford University Press.

Amery, L. S., Barnes, J., & Nicholson, D. (1988). The Empire at bay: The Leo Amery diaries 1929-1945. London: Hutchinson.

Bergen, D. L. (2016). War and genocide: A concise history of the Holocaust (Third edition). Rowman & Littlefield.

Canny, N. (1973). The Ideology of English Colonization: From Ireland to America. The William and Mary Quarterly. 30(4). 575-598. doi: 10.2307/1918596

Davis, M. (2001). Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso.

Goldhagen, D. (Writer) & DeWitt, M. (Director). (2009). ‘Worse than War,’ PBS, accessed 2022.

Guinnane, T. (1997, September 17). Ireland’s Famine Wasn’t Genocide. Retrieved July 30, 2020. from Washington Post Archives

Hayes, P. & Roth, J.K. (2012). Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies. Kindle Books.

Heyden, T. (2015, January 26). The 10 greatest controversies of Winston Churchill’s career. BBC News. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from BBC News.

Kakel, C. P. (2013). The Holocaust as colonial genocide: Hitler’s “Indian Wars” in the “Wild East.” Palgrave Macmillan.

Lower, W. (2005). Nazi Empire Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Press.

Madley, B. (2004). Patterns of frontier genocide 1803-1910: the aboriginal Tasmanians, the Yuki of California, and the Herero of Namibia. Journal of Genocide Research, 6:2, 167-192.

Moses, A. D. (2010). Colonialism. Oxford University Press.

Mukerjee, M. (2010). Winston Churchill’s Plan for Post-war India. Economic and Political Weekly, 45(32), 27-30. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from JSTOR JOURNAL ARTICLE:
Winston Churchill’s Plan for Post-war India

National Archives and Records Administration. (.n.d.). Founders online: From Thomas Jefferson to Indian Nations, 10 January 1809. National Archives and Records Administration. Retreived May 11, 2022, from Founders Online: From Thomas Jefferson to Indian Nations, 10 January 1809

Osborn, Lieut. Colonel R. D. (1879). “India under Lord Lytton”. The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, Issue 4.

Powderly, W. G. (2019). How infection shaped history: Lessons from the Irish Famine. Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association130, 127–135. National Library of Medicine: HOW INFECTION SHAPED HISTORY: LESSONS FROM THE IRISH FAMINE

Snyder, T. (2015). Black Earth: The Holocaust as history and warning. essay, Tim Duggan Books.

Stone, D. (2017). Concentration camps: A short history. Oxford University Press.

The University of Chicago Library. East European Jews in the German-Jewish Imagination – The University of Chicago Library. (n.d.). Retreived May 11, 2022

Weitz, E. D. (2010). Nationalism. Oxford University Press.

Weiss-Wendt, A. (2019). Documents on the Genocide Convention from the American, British, and Russian Archives. Bloomsbury Academic, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Whitman, J. Q. (2017). Hitler’s American model: The United States and the making of Nazi race law.

Teaching Resources

Museums and Centers of Note

Terre Haute Holocaust Museum/ Twins Experiments (Eva Kohr)

CANDLES Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Lesson Plans

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Carnegie Endowment website

Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program

Heritage Center

Heritage Center website

Tahlequah, Oklahoma

The archives housed by the Cherokee Heritage Center hold priceless documents, materials and primary sources concerning the history of the Cherokee people.

Amongst these resources are accounts documenting the forced removal of the Cherokee from their historical land. Beginning in May of 1838, Cherokee people (and other Native Americans) were forced from their homes by gunpoint. Many of the accounts, just like those in India almost a half century later, come from missionaries and other religious figures who bore witness to these important events.

It is perhaps poignant that the Trail of Tears began in 1838, almost exactly one century before the worse Nazi laws against Jews in Germany were passed, paving the way for the Holocaust. This is a great opportunity to reinforce the parallels (and stark differences) between the two colonization/re-colonization efforts in the two countries.

More Academic Articles


Miller, J. C. (1981). Mortality in the Atlantic Slave Trade: Statistical Evidence on Causality. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 11(3), 385–423.

Stern, S. J. (1988). Feudalism, Capitalism, and the World-System in the Perspective of Latin America and the Caribbean. The American Historical Review, 93(4), 829–872.

Tandeter, E. (1981). Forced and Free Labour in Late Colonial Potosi. Past & Present, 93, 98–136.

Suggested Books

  • Potosi: The Silver City That Changed the World; Kris Lane
  • Imagined Communities; Benedict Anderson
    • What is a nation?
    • What led to or allowed for the spread of nationalism in the 18th and 19th centuries?
    • What technological changes today are allowing for a surge in nationalism? What is contributing to the rise of right-wing and nationalist movements?
  • On Killing; Lt. Col. Dave Grosssman, Recommend: Introduction and Chapter 1
    • What is the safety catch?
    • What are the rules of engagement for the current US military?
  • Late Victorian Holocausts; Mike Davis
    • Does intention matter? Does the legal idea of genocide as ‘intent to kill’ set too high a burden of proof?
    • The intent to kill one versus one million. Does intent matter when there are millions dead?
    • When does the international system respond? Why?

In Class Activities and Exercises

Trail of Tears

  • Read the accounts of eyewitnesses in both the Trail of Tears and Holocaust archives: ask the students to look for similarities in the experiences, fears, and language used. (Ex: internment camps, violence, conditions, etc.)
  • Examples from the museum/archive: “The overthrow of the Cherokee Nation is completed. The whole population are made prisoners.” Eyewitness, Missionary Evan Jones (1838). “The soldiers came and took us from our home. They first surrounded our house…and did not permit us to take anything with us, not even a second change of clothes.” Ooloo-Cha, Cherokee widow of Sweet Water 1842.


  • This chapter does not cover Spain and its empire in the Americas because most of these colonies had obtained independence from Spain for some time, and as a result, Spain had lost its Empire well before the Nazis came to power. Still, the imperial ambition, conquest, and indifference to those who served the empire as slaves and laborers was present. The history of Potosi and its role in Spanish power is good for contrast. For international context, it is important to remember that Spain’s Empire was largely brought to an end with its defeat by the United States in 1898. Thus, Spain stayed neutral in WWI. Still, the ‘empire’ did not officially end until the mid-twentieth century.

Watch List

General Discussion Questions

  1. In the America’s, what rationalizations were used to justify genocide and mass killing?
  2. Did conditions under which people worked in the America’s, particularly during the conquest of Central and South America amount to genocide?
  3. What is a colony and what purpose does it serve?
  4. What is an empire?
  5. Is the nation-state the ideal form of the state?
  6. Is nationalism merely a different kind of religion? A godless religion?
  7. What factors contributed to the dehumanization of ‘others’ throughout the colonial period?
  8. What language is used to dehumanize the ‘other’?
  9. How did imperial powers rationalize their violence?
  10. In what ways does the political world still reflect the colonial period?
  11. What was a long term effect of Ireland’s colonization?
  12. Why is Ireland’s colonization so often ignored?
  13. Does the creation of a nation-state necessarily entail violence?
  14. Is genocide merely a product of power differentials (core-periphery, rich-poor, strong-weak) or is it inherent to or natural to human behavior?
  15. What role does the press play in aiding/abetting genocide? Was this different during the colonial period?
  16. Is there a bystander effect at play during colonial genocides? What bystanders played the role of observers? Who were the witnesses?
  17. How does ‘aggressive defensiveness’ explain the behavior of ordinary Germans? How does it explain violence in the world today?

Relevant News Articles

BBC. (n.d.). Bolivia: LA “Montaña rica” Corre el Riesgo de desplomarse. BBC News Mundo. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from BBC News Mundo


Toro, J. J. (2021, February 23). La montaña del “Vale un potosí” Corre Riesgo de desaparecer. El País. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from El Pais: Planeta Futuro


  1.                Recovered financially, at least. By 1790, American colonists were purchasing twice as much from Britain as they had been in 1760. Moreover, the British were more committed than ever to their imperialist project, directing much more attention to India, which would become the centerpiece of their empire.
  2.                 In the 19th century, the concept of “The Great Game” was developed. This idea was captured in the boardgame “Risk.” It holds that in the quest for Global Domination, he who holds ‘Asia’, wins the game. Thus, the perception that Russia is forever seeking to dominate central Asia and find a warm water port. Similarly, Great Britain's conquest of the Indian subcontinent was seen as a great victory toward the game. Both empires, as well as the United States, have proven the task may be impossible for any empire attempting to hold Afghanistan, the proverbial “Graveyard of Empires.” All three superpowers have ultimately been defeated in their attempt to hold Afghanistan or otherwise control central Asia. 
  3.                In fact, Sir Charles Trevelyan, a colonial administrator who would later serve in India, said that the blight was divine judgment, sent to “teach the Irish a lesson”. His other writings as letters to colleagues also support the genocidal motives of the English elite toward the Irish. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  4.                 “In 1845, for example, more than 25 million bushels of corn were exported to Britain from Ireland. The export of livestock to Britain also increased during the famine years. In total, more than 3 million live animals were exported from Ireland between1846 and 1850 to British ports. Almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to the ports of Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, and London during 1847, when 400,000 Irish men, women, and children died of starvation and related diseases.” (Powderly, 2019)
  5.                 Lord Lytton said it was due to the “unwillingness of the people to leave their homes than by any want of forethought on the part of the local government in providing works where they might be relieved” (Osborn, 1879, p.565).
  6.                 This secretive attitude again was not only about the press, it was also tied to the problem of collective tax revenue from India. “...by pretending that there was no famine calling for a remission. The dearth and the frightful mortality throughout the North-West Provinces were to be preserved as a State secret like the negotiations with Shere Ali.” From the writings of Lieut. Colonel R. D. Osborn (1879). Lt. Col. Osborn testifies not only to the secretiveness of the government, but also the fact that they did not communicate information about the famine in the North-West provinces to the press. Britain was beginning, trying, and failing to conquer Afghanistan for the second time starting in 1878, and needed the tax revenue to pay for the efforts through the period of this famine.
  7.                 Sir Richard Temple, for whom the Temple Wage is named, had at first attempted to alleviate starvation in Bengal by importing rice from Burma in 1874. However, the British government disapproved and the result was a burn to his reputation. To compensate for this perceived strike against him, Temple instituted the Temple Wage in 1877 in order to appear stronger. Shielding his actions with the appearance of science, he framed the starvation regimen as an experiment to see how little those in the labor camps could survive on (Osborn, 1879). It was less than that provided in Buchenwald concentration camp. See also Late Victorian Holocausts.
  8.                 “Long rule in India had inculcated in the British a racial arrogance and born-to-rule mentality that he (Hitler) wanted Germans to emulate.” (Hayes and Roth, 2012, p.74)
  9.                 From the Diary of Lord Amery, referring to Churchill as Winston, “This, like India or any form of self-government for coloured people, raises in him a wholly uncontrollable complex.” (Amery et al., 1988, p.988). He also referred to Indians as a beastly people, with a beastly religion, according to Lord Amery. (Amery et al., 1988, p. 832).
  10.               Churchill’s imperialist worldview is well documented as were the ongoing administrative and policy choices common between both the 19th and 20th century, including the decision to silence the press. The government, not nature, was ultimately responsible for Bengal’s situation, since the denial policy destroyed rice patties and boats used for transport and fishing, exacerbating shortages and spurring speculative hoarding. (Famine Inquiry Commission, Report on Bengal, pp. 25-26, 170). See also, “Hungry Bengal: War, Famine, and the End of Empire by Janeem Mukerjee (2015, pp.251-252). It is worth noting that, prior to and post-independence, famine in India was far less common and less deadly than during British rule.
  11.               In particular, a professed ill regard for Indian moneylenders who ‘should be stood up to’ (Amery et al., 1988, p.993).
  12.               It is important to note that this mode of thought pervades even those whom it attacks. Free Blacks who went to Liberia seeking to build their own state saw themselves also as civilizing the natives in Africa they encountered. Jewish secularists and assimilationists in Europe also used language which demeaned Eastern European Jews and their language Yiddish. Heinrich Grantz, born a Prussian Jew, called it ‘half-bestial.’
  13.               It should be noted that the British and Americans still had control over their empires by the time Hitler rose to power. Were the Belgians still in control of Congo, Hitler may have looked equally fondly upon King Leopold II, who was responsible for the murder of up to 10 million people in the Belgian Congo. Those 10 million people died for Leopold’s personal enrichment.
  14.               Professor Timothy Snyder (2017, March 08) describes how Hitler Modeled His Plan for Global Conquest After America's Manifest Destiny (retrieved July 29, 2020). See also Snyder’s (2015) book Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, and the book Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law by James Q. Whitman. Whitman documents the ways in which Nazis interpreted American race laws. Nazi lawyers reported back that, for example, America’s one-drop rule was overly harsh (Whitman, 2017, p.126).
  15.               While war against Native Americans was often disguised as a matter of security, the United States continued expanding westward because the desire for more land, and thus power, could not be satisfied. Thomas Jefferson had envisioned an America in which no Indian would exist east of the Mississippi. He made calculated and strategic plans to dispossess Indians of their land. Yet, he assured in 1809 speech to the Wiandots, Ottawas, Chippewas, Poutewatamis, and Shawnese that he wished to “befriend you in every possible way but the tribe which shall begin an unprovoked war against us, we will extirpate from the Earth.” From Thomas Jefferson to Indian Nations, 10 January 1809.
  16.               “It is inconceivable that a higher people should painfully exist on a soil too narrow for it, whilst amorphous masses, which contribute nothing to civilization, occupy infinite tracts of a soil that is one of the richest in the world,” Hitler’s view of Slavic peoples. (Snyder, 2015, p.18). 
  17.               See: The Holocaust as Colonial Genocide: Hitler's 'Indian Wars' in the 'Wild East' by C. Kakel (2013) and Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine by Wendy Lower. “Some Nazi regional leaders fancied themselves as overseers in a system reminiscent of the antebellum South in the United States or of the European colonization of Africa.” (Lower, 2005, p. 109).
  18.              See also “Worse than War” (2010), a PBS documentary hosted by Daniel J. Goldhagen on the subject of genocide.
  19. Estimates for Native American deaths caused by genocide vary due to widely different estimates on the original population in North and South America. Estimates as high as 100 million often include those who died of disease.

About the author

Kasandra Housley attended Seton Hall University where she studied Diplomacy and International Relations with a focus on ethnic conflict. After obtaining her Master’s Degree in Political Science, she began her career as a college educator in Indiana’s community college system where she remained for eight years. Ms. Housley currently resides in Bloomington, Indiana where she continues to work as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her current research interests include human security, futurism, and the climate crisis.



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The Holocaust:  Remembrance, Respect, and Resilience Copyright © 2023 by Kasandra Housley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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