Ask for examples of purges throughout history and you may dig up a summary like this one:
In the era of Republican Rome, Gaius Marius proscribed Sullan supporters after he and Cinna ousted Gnaeus Octavius; Sulla followed with even more brutal proscriptions against Marian supporters when he came into the dictatorship. The Second Triumvirate instituted more proscriptions some forty years afterward after taking control of Rome from Caesar's murderers.
The earliest use of the term itself was the English Civil War's Pride's Purge. In 1648, the moderate members of the English Long Parliament were purged by the army. Parliament would suffer subsequent purges under the Commonwealth including the purge of the entire House of Lords. Counter-revolutionaries such as royalists were purged as well as more radical revolutionaries such as the Levellers. After the Restoration, obstinate republicans were purged while some fled to New England.
The French Revolution saw revolutionary factions purging each other. The most famous purge was Robespierre's Terror which ended with him being purged as well. After the fall of Napoleon, all those associated with revolutionary activity were purged.
Purges are often associated with the Stalinist and Maoist regimes. Those who were purged (among them artists, scientists, teachers, people in the military, but also many long-time communists who dared to disagree with the party leadership) were sent to labor camps or executed. The most notorious of CPSU purges was the Great Purge initiated by Joseph Stalin during the 1930s. Deng Xiaoping was known for the distinction of returning to power multiple times after surviving multiple purges.
The Nazis also engaged in purges, most notably in the Night of the Long Knives (1934) and the mass reprisals against Adolf Hitler's opponents following the July Plot (1944).
After France's liberation by the Allies in 1944, purges were processed by the Free French and mostly the French Resistance against former collaborationnists, the so called vichystes, its legal phase was known as épuration légale.
Under the instructions by the American Occupation Force as part of its directions to democratize Japan, the Japanese government purged over 200,000 individuals, including former military leaders, members of the parliament, high-ranking bureaucrats, regional politicical leaders, labor union leaders, business leaders, educators, journalists, and spiritual leaders, who had been associated with the nation’s efforts to establish the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The purge was carried out in one year period as of February 1, 1946, and most of those who were designated as war-sympathizers were banned from holding public offices until the end of occupation on April 28, 1952.
In the United States, the events that took place during the period of McCarthyism in the (1950s) were anti-communist purges. A valid argument can be made that the United States engaged in the systematic purging of Native American people. Evidence for government participation in Indian removal can be found in many official state and historical documents.
That's only a sampling of large purges. Another, more recent example, is found in the final months of the Bush administration in 2008, when agency heads purged dozens of employees in the federal government, people known as whistleblowers, people suspected of disloyalty.
Patricia Caperton Parent, writing in "Texas Politics Today," explains how a purge works:
In the plural executive and at the board and commission level, aggressive agency directors can employ 'reduction in force' campaigns. This tool, developed to streamline and get rid of waste in state agencies, requires employees to re-apply for their positions and can be used by adroit supervisors to purge entire departments of political undesirables. Once the old workers are gone, new sympathetic workers can be installed at various levels. New workers can easily be recruited from party and personal networks.
This week brings news of a new purge, right here in South Carolina.
State Education Superintendent Mick Zais is restructuring the department's administrative offices in an effort to improve efficiency and it has involved the elimination of about 50 positions since May.
Twenty-three of the job reductions came from voluntary resignations or retirements, but 27 others were reductions in force. Local school leaders may have different contacts at the state level, but the services and programs in schools shouldn't be affected, said Jay W. Ragley, the department's deputy superintendent for legislative and public affairs.
What I know of "voluntary resignations or retirements" is that they are rarely "voluntary." Give someone the choice of resigning -- with the possibility of getting a cordial letter of recommendation for future reference -- or being fired and having a gaping hole shot through your employment history, and most victims will opt to resign. Similarly, target an employee who's eligible to retire and threaten to demote or re-assign them to your department's Outer Egypt branch, and they'll likely take retirement. "Voluntary resignations and retirements" don't fool anyone.
And it's not over, according to Zais's minister of propaganda. "The reorganization happening now will help the state fulfill its budget mandate, and Ragley said more changes are to come."
Apparently, the dear leader has been studying closely those in his charge, and making two lists: "Zais has been studying the department's operations since he came into office in November, so these decisions weren't hasty, Ragley said. He didn't know how many more positions would be cut or how much Zais hoped to save, but Ragley said Zais planned to exceed the required amount of cuts."
And the purge isn't a piecemeal affair. It isn't as if each department or program was asked to make cuts themselves. Zais's master plan involves wholesale closing and consolidation of "main" Department of Education functions.
Two of the department's five main divisions -- Standards and Learning was one and Innovation and Support was the other -- will be consolidated, and those employees' duties will be shifted to other areas. The names of the new divisions haven't been decided, but services in those divisions included: Developing requirements for what students must learn, charter schools, school buses, youth services, and facilities.
Ragley said the changes should help the department focus more on effective teaching, accountability for schools and the department, and technology.
Having departments called "Standards and Learning" and "Innovation and Support" might have helped the department focus more on effective teaching, accountability for schools and the department, and technology. Purging the Department of Education of 50 out of 393 department staff probably doesn't. Cutting jobs and whole departments merely helps those remaining staff members focus harder on saying the right words to keep their jobs until they're eligible to retire and leave.
Does anyone know the names of the victims?