Genocide, mass murder, massacres. The words themselves are chilling, evoking images of the slaughter of countless innocents. What dark impulses lurk in our minds that even today can justify the eradication of thousands and even millions of unarmed human beings caught in the crossfire of political, cultural, or ethnic hostilities? This question lies at the heart of Why Not Kill Them All? Cowritten by historical sociologist Daniel Chirot and psychologist Clark McCauley, the book goes beyond exploring the motives that have provided the psychological underpinnings for genocidal killings. It offers a historical and comparative context that adds up to a causal taxonomy of genocidal events.
Rather than suggesting that such horrors are the product of abnormal or criminal minds, the authors emphasize the normality of these horrors: killing by category has occurred on every continent and in every century. But genocide is much less common than the imbalance of power that makes it possible. Throughout history human societies have developed techniques aimed at limiting intergroup violence. Incorporating ethnographic, historical, and current political evidence, this book examines the mechanisms of constraint that human societies have employed to temper partisan passions and reduce carnage.
Might an understanding of these mechanisms lead the world of the twenty-first century away from mass murder? Why Not Kill Them All? makes clear that there are no simple solutions, but that progress is most likely to be made through a combination of international pressures, new institutions and laws, and education. If genocide is to become a grisly relic of the past, we must fully comprehend the complex history of violent conflict and the struggle between hatred and tolerance that is waged in the human heart.
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Princeton University Press
July 16, 2006
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Excerpt from Why Not Kill Them All? by Daniel Chirot
ARE WE KILLERS OR PEACEMAKERS?
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. --Matthew 5:38-45
Our world today is dangerous. It has always been dangerous, but modern technology, a globalized economy, easy communications, and massive migration now spread the effects of crisis in one part of the world to other parts very quickly. We do indeed live in a "global village." But like ancient village societies, we still have our clans and tribes, each with their territories, whose competitive disputes can degenerate into violence and occasional genocidal massacres. Like the agrarian states and civilizations that emerged from stateless societies thousands of years ago, we still have competing religions that usually coexist but set boundaries that can lead to very violent wars and genocidal purges. Like the modern technological societies that came into being in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we still have competing nationalisms, and we still struggle to cope with all the changes brought about by modernity. We still generate new ideologies and adapt old ones to support one side or another in the disputes that are produced by the conflicting demands of the modern world. These have produced massive genocidal violence in the twentieth century and may do so again.
Despite this stark prospect, in this book we plan to show that there is no reason to despair. Pre-state societies, agrarian states, different religions, and modern states and societies have also devised ways of mitigating conflicts, so that not all of them have been excessively violent, and relatively few have been genocidal. Without such mechanisms, human history would be far more tragic, and today our species would have little prospect of surviving much longer. We can learn from past attempts to control violence, and we can devise new ways of dealing with crises that may lead to political massacres.
Conflict can become genocidal when powerful groups think that the most efficient means to get what they want is to eliminate those in the way. It can become equally or more murderous when the motive is revenge, and descend to the worst levels of slaughter when there is great fear that the survival of the enemy group might endanger the survival of one's own group. The most intractable cause of genocidal killings emerges when competing groups--ethnic, religious, class, or ideological--feel that the very presence of the other, of the enemy, so sullies the environment that normal life is not possible as long as they exist.
As we proceed through the book, however, we will see that it is possible in many ways to combat the tendency for conflicts to degenerate to such a point. Developing exchanges with other groups lessens the chances that any conflict will reach genocidal proportions. Codes of honor, moral teachings, and formal rules to govern conflict have the same effect. We will explore ideologies that are so absolutely sure of themselves that they demand extreme final solutions that wipe out their enemies, yet we will also find ideologies that are far more tolerant and accepting of compromise. These are not necessarily pacifist ways of thinking, but ones that are based on skepticism about any absolute judgment of others or situations. Enlightenment ideas that originated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can moderate extremism. By exposing the myths that can lead to genocidal wars for the unhistorical fabrications that they really are, objective examinations of the past can make it more difficult to stoke genocidal passions. Emphasizing the worth of individuals, their distinctive attributes, and their rights over those of impersonal communities greatly diminishes the likelihood that intolerant, closed groups will be able to recruit enough members to become dangerous. Enlightenment thinking these days may be an increasingly insecure basis for trying to prevent the kinds of conflicts that could lead to genocide, but it is surely one, despite its Western origins, that is worth trying to preserve, particularly because it faces challenges even within the West.
At a much more modest level, there are many ways of lessening tensions between different communities. We will look at truth and reconciliation commissions. These do not provide universal solutions, but in some circumstances they can help. In some places decentralization and local autonomy can greatly decrease internal tensions.