Sunday, November 21, 2010

obey freely

After railing at the notion that ordinary killers in a genocide are forced into it, that they act against their will, it being inconceivable that your average person would so easily throw aside the belief that murder was wrong and grab a machete, Daniel Goldhagen quotes one of the Rwandan Hutu who did just that. Goldhagen says, these are “words that could serve as a motto for our age’s willing executioners, whether ordinary Germans, ordinary Serbs, or ordinary Hutu, ‘you obey freely.’”

Whole societies buy into the idea that some class of persons needs to be eliminated in order to avoid disaster (or to make way for some wondrous transformation). In societies that have perpetrated mass slaughter it is not difficult to find people who have killed their neighbors, even the children of their neighbors, and taunted and tortured them while doing it. These killers are often protected from legal retribution (if such becomes likely) because even those who did not actively wield a murder weapon agree something had to be done, something permanent, because things just couldn’t go on the way they were.

Is it easy to create the kind of animosity that explodes, when the circumstances are right, into an orgy of bloodletting? Probably not. It probably takes years of effort and persuasion, peer pressure, repetition. But that sort of effort and persuasion, that sort of mindnumbing repetition of irrational blaming, is not hard to find, even today, and probably in your neighborhood.

source: Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen


Elisabeth said...

This is scarily accurate, Glenn, the way we justify our abuses of others in the name of 'progress'.

Everyone is quite capable of sadism. We have to work actively against it, and call it what it is when we see it, not pretend it's a good thing when it's not.

Thanks for a thoughtful beautifully written post.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Goldhagen's book is interesting, but I can't read much of it at a sitting. Too grim.