Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

By James Waller | Go to book overview

4
The Dead End of Demonization

By describing the Nazi criminal, his acts and his mode of thinking in a language replete with metaphors of the most bizarre nature, they turn him into a one-dimensional incarnation of absolute evil. In this way the Nazi killer acquires the amalgamated characteristics of the bogeyman, the demon and the lunatic. With the appearance of this pitch-black culprit, however, the possibility of identification and, thus, worldly judgement, vaporises into thin air.

Dick de Mildt, In the Name of the People

WE HAVE SEEN THAT THE ORIGINS of extraordinary evil cannot be isolated in the extraordinary nature of the collective, the influence of an extraordinary ideology, psychopathology, or a common, homogenous, extraordinary personality. We are then left with the most discomforting of all realities—ordinary, “normal” people committing acts of extraordinary evil. The notion of the “ordinariness” of those who commit extraordinary evil was first given life in the early 1960s when a noted political philosopher posited an obedient, indifferent, and mundane personality to explain the atrocities of the Holocaust. The philosopher's name was Hannah Arendt, and her concept of the “banality of evil” would fundamentally challenge our understanding of who commits extraordinary human evil. 1

Hannah Arendt was one of about 37,000 German Jews who emigrated from Germany in 1933. She first went to France, where, with Youth Aliyah, she worked for the immigration of Jewish refugee children into Palestine. Interned during the war at Gurs, in Vichy France, she escaped, made her way to the United States in 1941, and secured U.S. citizenship in 1951. Arendt's field of study was philosophy, and she counted among her mentors Rudolf Bultmann, Martin Heidegger, and Karl Jaspers. Over time, she became a prominent political philosopher and theoretician who focused much

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Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Foreword vii
  • Preface - I Couldn't Do This to Someone ix
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Contents xix
  • I - What Are the Origins of Extraordinary Human Evil? 1
  • Introduction: A Place Called Mauthausen 3
  • 1 - The Nature of Extraordinary Human Evil 9
  • Nits Make Lice 23
  • 2 - Groups, Ideology, and Extraordinary Evil 29
  • Dovey's Story 50
  • 3 - Psychopathology, Personality, and Extraordinary Evil 55
  • The Massacre at Babi Yar 88
  • 4 - The Dead End of Demonization 94
  • The Invasion of Dili 124
  • II - Beyond Demonization: How Ordinary People Commit Extraordinary Evil 131
  • A Model of Extraordinary Human Evil 133
  • 5 - Our Ancestral Shadow 136
  • The Tonle Sap Massacre 169
  • 6 - Identities of the Perpetrators 175
  • Death of a Guatemalan Village 197
  • 7 - A Culture of Cruelty 202
  • The Church of Ntamara 230
  • 8 - Social Death of the Victims 236
  • The “safe Area” of Srebrenica 258
  • III - What Have We Learned and Why Does It Matter? 265
  • 9 - Can We Be Delivered from Extraordinary Evil? 267
  • Note 281
  • Selected Bibliography 303
  • Index 311
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