Alex Alvarez is professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northern Arizona University. He was the founding director of the Martin-Springer Institute for Teaching the Holocaust, Tolerance, and Humanitarian Values. He is author or coauthor of several books, including Murder American Style, Violence: The Enduring Problem, and Governments, Citizens, and Genocide, and Genocidal Crimes.
Many Native American activists have claimed that their peoples have been subjected to genocide since the arrival of the first Europeans to the Americas. In this work, Alvarez seeks to determine whether the assertions are correct. He provides a detailed examination of various definitions of genocide—which he defines as the implementation of a strategy designed to exterminate a group of people—how they are applied and why. According to the author, planning and intent are the key aspects lacking in much of the evidence put forth to support the accusations. It has been argued that disease was used as a weapon, but Alvarez demonstrates that this devastation was inadvertently transmitted. The author looks for collusion among the colonial-era Dutch, English, French, and Spanish, on a plan to eradicate the native peoples. To believe that European powers enacted such an effort would have denied Native Americans their own agency, yet they actively played European powers against one another to advance their interests. Alvarez acknowledges that many atrocities were committed by Euro-Americans but sees those as distinct from massacre. VERDICT. . . This book is essential reading for anyone interested in human rights as it is a primer on what genocide is and is not.
— Library Journal, Starred Review
Alvarez takes up a set of challenging questions. Unlike many before him, he does not seek to advance a polemic, but instead reflects on the complexities of history, atrocity, and interpretation. He provides a useful introduction to Indian-white relations and the concept of genocide while considering the applicability of the latter to describe the former. Alvarez opens his discussion with a set of framing chapters devoted to precontact history, definitions of and debates about genocide, and the place of Indianness in Western thought. These lay a foundation for his deeper, more thematic chapters. In particular, Alvarez examines disease, wars and massacres, displacement, and efforts at assimilation, exploring the evidence and arguments over to what extent and in what ways each might constitute genocide. The author concludes with a meditation on the power of words, the limits of analysis, and the necessity of complexity. Alvarez writes in an approachable style, encouraging reflection on big questions and the competing answers to them. As such, this book should appeal to students and instructors alike in a wide range of fields, from American Indian studies to political science. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.
— Choice Reviews
Arguing the term genocide is too often used as a blanket pronouncement based on 'a general sense of outrage and horror,' Alvarez (Violence: The Enduring Problem) turns to Native American history to provide a more nuanced understanding of the term. Throughout the book, the author gives examples of the varieties of contact between Europeans and natives of the Americas, including those of the Aztec and Inca. In most cases, these do not meet his definition of the term genocide. The decimation of Native Americans from small pox brought unwittingly by Europeans was not intentional and therefore not genocide. But giving Indians contaminated blankets in the hope that disease would, in the words of Major General Jeffrey Amherst: 'Extirpate this Execrable Race,' is genocide. While Alvarez condemns the many massacres and resettlements, he does not see them as genocide, since it was not the intent of the government to destroy the natives as a race. However, the author makes an excellent case for the intentional and long-term cultural genocide of Native Americans in the kidnapping of children for the purpose of 'acculturation.' The governmental attempt to destroy Native language, religion, history and culture, even under a misguided belief that this was a positive, 'civilizing' action is still cultural genocide. Alvarez gives a thought-provoking study that compels the reader to reexamine concepts that we too often address superficially.
— Publishers Weekly
Alvarez tackles the complex question of whether or not the post-contact decimation of Native American populations, magnified by events such as the Sand Creek Massacre, constituted genocide. He defines genocide as an attempt to destroy a population group. Further, he concludes that genocide entails a strategy, not just an event or series of events. It’s through this lens that he views a selection of massacres, waves of disease, forced removal to reservations, and native children’s mandatory attendance at military and church-run boarding schools, in his attempt to ascertain whether any of these qualify as genocide. Wounded Knee and the Sand Creek Massacre he labels as isolated events, not committed as acts of policy meant to exterminate entire tribes. The Long Walk of the Navajo to the Bosque Redondo Alvarez calls 'traumatic,' but not genocidal, for it was intended to kill Navajo culture, but leave the people alive—the crux, he says, of cultural genocide. In his sensitive treatment of this difficult issue, Alvarez strikes a balance between scholarly pragmatism and a humanist’s empathy for the victims of this immense tragedy.
There is a desperate need for a carefully drawn analysis of the kind Alex Alvarez presents in this book. He has placed his analysis squarely within the context of genocide theory, and by doing so has surpassed many previous works on the topic through the care he has taken for the subject and the concepts upon which it rests. In short, this work is a benchmark for others to follow, and deserves to take its place among the first rank of studies dealing with the question of genocide relative to Native America.
— Paul R. Bartrop, Florida Gulf Coast University
Without at all diminishing the inhumanities, injustices, and indignities that took place, Alvarez argues persuasively that United States’ Indian policy was far more complicated than genocide. This is a well-written, commonsense book that deserves to reach a wide audience.
— David Wishart, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Professor Alvarez has written a comprehensive analysis which directly confronts the controversial question concerning whether or not the destruction of the indigenous populations of the Americas was genocide. The book is exceedingly well written and one of the most interesting treatments of the topic I have seen. It should be of interest to students and teachers in a variety of fields including genocide studies, political science, history and criminal justice.
— Herbert Hirsch, Virginia Commonwealth University
By addressing issues linked to the term genocide and to genocide studies in relationship with the complex histories of Native Americans, Alex Alvarez has put together a thought-provoking volume which will be a valuable resource for study and debate in the classroom.
— Joyce Apsel, New York University
In this important and fascinating study Alex Alvarez examines the question whether or not the catastrophe that engulfed Native Americans following European colonization amounted to genocide. In his work he balances the scholar’s commitment to intellectual honesty with the humanist’s empathy for the victims.
— Robert Melson, professor emeritus, Purdue University; former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars