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“All that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -Edmund Burke
Genocide. It's a manner in which humans have killed for hundreds of years, throughout many corners of the Earth. While there may be disputes over its cause, there seem to be few disputes over the assertion that genocide has evil effects.
Genocide expert Ervin Staub defines evil as "intensely harmful actions, which are not commensurate with instigating conditions, and the persistence or repetition of such acts. A series of actions also can be evil when any one act causes limited harm, but with repetition, these cause great harm" (51).
Clearly,the question then is not "Is genocide evil" but rather how genocide can occur when it's evil is so widely recognized. In Adam Jones' book Genocide: A Comprehensive Introductions, questions such as "Why did states kill their own and other citizens on the basis of nationality, ethnicity or religion? Why did onlookers ignore the killing, or applaud it? Why didn't someone intervene?" Staub also presents a poignant question in the Introduction to his book The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence Although monstrous questions such as these may never be able to be fully answered, empirical studies about genocide or related topics may shed light onto the dark crevices of this topic.
Why Genocide Happens
There have been many studies done to help answer the question of "why genocide happens". If we better understand why there is genocide, we can better answer the question of "how can we stop genocide".
Monroe (2008) identifies three categories of factors that lead to genocide: Macrophenominan (wars, economic depression, etc), structural-political (totalitarian regime, no free press, tec) and personal-psychological factors. Her article focuses on the latter category and her study explores issues of bystanders and rescuers, and there roles in allowing or stopping genocide.
Staub offers a broader rational to why genocides are committed. Staub attributes that such evil as genocide occurs when individuals' needs are no longer met due to the following difficult life conditions: intense economic problems, intense political disorganization, rapid social change, and the ensuing social chaos and disorganization that comes with them. When these conditions occur, Staub suggests that there are psychological, emotional, and cognitive changes that happen within the society. Individuals begin identifying themselves with a group, be it ideological, ethnic, or nationalistic. Individuals begin to promote their groups status by potentially cutting down other groups, and they diffuse the blame of their terrible life conditions on other groups. Finally, these groups begin to construct their own ideologies that will "solve" their groups' problems that are usually at the expense of other groups.
In his book, Staub make an interesting point about how constructed ideologies play into the act of genocide. Staub argues that it is when these extreme ideologies fit into the more established culture is genocide able to become manifest. Staub states that "an ideology with a destructive potential can become a guiding force, overriding contrary elements in culture. However, an ideology has to fit the culture if it is to be adopted by the people." (20) Staub explains, that in order to genocides to be committed, they must be accepted common people, and in order for common people to accept these ideologies, they must be in line with the general culture of these people. Staub uses the Holocaust and Soviet-committed mass killings as examples. He asks "Why was there no Holocaust in Russia where anti-Semitism was intense?" He goes on to answer his own question by applying the above concept. Anti-Semitism, although present in Russia, did not mess with the overall culture of the Russian people as much as, for example, hatred of the rich. Therefore, although a similar ideology existed within both Germany and Russia, genocide against Jews did not occur in Russia, but rather mass-killings based around classism. (Staub, 1992).
For a more personal view of genocide, read about Samaday, a seemingly ordinary man who did terrible things during the urbancide of the Khmer Rouge: Genocide: Personal Connections
Staub also explains how the role of bystanders allows for the commitment of genocide. Staub identifies bystanders as "those members of society who are neither perpetrators of victims, or outside individuals, organizations and nations." Staub explains how bystanders have the power to affect the moral views of perpetrators, possibly being able prevent a genocide. But if bystanders have this power, why aren't more genocides stopped with the outcries of the international community or the non-victim citizens of the perpetrating countries?
Monroe, 2008, discusses psychological process that bystanders to through during times of genocide. One common psychological process that was discovered when Monroe interviewed bystanders of the Holocaust was that bystanders separated themselves from the groups being victimized. This is a classic example of the "Us versus Them" phenomenon. Monroe states that "passive bystanders distances themselves from victims by justifying the acts of perpetrators." By justifying these acts, bystanders feel they can morally exempt themselves from their responsibility to help those who are being persecuted.
Passive bystanders have been found to have external loci of control. Monroe states that these being accept "whatever life brought to them and the impression that the suffering of f others was something over which they had no control.
Monroe also explains another psychological process which has been studied in bystanders to genocide, the process is known as "cognitive stretching. Monroe explains that because genocide is
"so far outside the frame of reference" for most people there normal mental capacities have to be stretched ever for people to be able to comprehend what is happening. If people are not able to fully grasp genocide, they are not able to react to it in a positive and proactive way, such as rescuers do.
Despite the mass evil that is present during times of genocide, there are still people who are strong enough to fight this evil by rescuing victims of genocide. By studying the psychological processes of these rescuers, we may be able to find ways to prevent acts of genocide. Monroe, 2008, discusses psychological processes of rescuers during the Holocaust. Through her study, a few major themes emerge, which are supporter by psychological studies done by others. One of these themes was "strong sense of human connection". Another was "an a cognitive classification process in which all human beings are placed in the same category." People who have this strong sense of human connection and who see all humans as being in the same category, see human suffering as directly affecting themselves, and in this case, the feel it is their duty to help alleviate that suffering.
Rescuers also exhibit a strong sense of self. Monroe states that "rescuers had a strong sense of individuality or separateness and were motivated by moral values that did not depend on the support or approval of other people so much as on their own self-approval." People who have a strong idea of who they are and feel they have a strong connection to th rest of the human race as will have the strength to stand up against genocide.
Heroes of the Holocaust
When individuals continue to feel more entitativity and identification with the ideologies that their group has constructed, their feelings of insecurity slip away little by little. Staub finds that this effect creates a strong connection between the individual and their group, tying them even more closely to their groups' ideologies. This is evident in the Rwandan Genocide where two groups of people who formerly lived in peace together, the Hutu and Tutsis, erupted into violence. In 1994, almost one million Tutsi were butchered by the Hutus simply based on the fact that they were a different group (Smith, 167).
Jones, A. (2006). Genocide: A comprehensive introduction. New York: Routledge.
Monroe, K.R. (2008) Cracking the code of genocide: the moral psychology of rescuers, bystanders and Nazis during the Holocaust. Political Psychology. (29) 699-673.
Staub, E. (1992). The roots of evil: The origin of genocide and other group violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Smith, David. The Most Dangerous Animal. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2007.
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