This article reviews the political science literature on political violence against civilians, including genocide, mass killing, and terrorism. Early work on these subjects tended to portray this kind of violence as irrational, random, or the result of ancient hatreds between ethnic groups. Most scholars studying political violence today, however, understand it to be primarily, if not exclusively, instrumental and orchestrated by powerful actors seeking to achieve tangible political or military objectives. Scholars continue to disagree, however, about the specific motives that drive belligerents to target civilians or the conditions under which large-scale violence against civilians is most likely.


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