Thursday, October 23, 2008

Genocide: "How could they?" Or should it be "Could I?"

More than 100 million people have died at the hands of other people in the last 100 years. The 20th century, coined the age of genocide, saw the genocide and mass killing of over 60 million people.

James Waller, in Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing, published in 2002, contends that ordinary people can commit extrordinary evil if the right ingredients are present. His research begins with Caine slaying Abel and takes us into the 21st century and the genocide in Sudan. "The dawn of the twenty-first century brings little light to the darkness. Sudan, the largest country in Africa, continues its decades-long assault on itself. Of all the wars that have taken place around the world since 1945, the civil war in Sudan and the accompanying genocide against the people of the country's south have claimed more lives than any other conflict." His pre-Darfur research estimated 2 million of the 30 million in Sudan killed and 4.5 million displaced from their homes-more than anywhere else in the world.

Waller feels that "when we understand the ordinariness of extraordinary evil, we will be less surprised by evil, less likely to be unwitting contributors to evil, and perhaps better equipped to forestall evil" Awareness of our own capability to do evil is the best safeguard against genocide and mass killing. "Could I be capable of such inhumanity?" is more appropriate question than is "How could they?"

Prevention of future genocide should include emphases on healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation, such as what is presently going on in Rwanda. A good dose of humility would also serve us all well.

"Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to light" -John Milton, Paradise Lost.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. -Psalm 139: 23-24.

Waller, James. Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 316 pp., Endnotes for each chapter, selected bibliography, index, illustrations (photos, charts).