Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

By James Waller | Go to book overview

Death of a Guatemalan Village

THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF Guatemala, a country no larger than Ohio, are descendants of the Mayan civilizations that sought to reestablish their identities and land claims after the collapse of the Mayan empire and before the arrival of the Spaniards. Their Mayan ancestors had the glory of great social and political organizations, military strength, and extraordinary technical achievements. They were a culture of uncommon accomplishments, especially in agriculture, textiles, and medical practices. Today, however, the lives of the approximately 10 million Mayan inhabitants in Guatemala—representing more than half of Guatemala's total population—are a far cry from those of their ancestors. The political, social, and economic persecution of indigenous peoples in Guatemala is unparalleled in the contemporary world.

Over 60 percent of the Guatemalan population lives in dispersed rural communities of less than 2,000 people. Health and educational services are scarce to nonexistent in most of those communities. All told, 45 percent of the population lack minimal health services and the mortality rate for children under age five was 67 per 1,000 live births in 1995—one of the highest such rates in the industrialized world. Only about 48 percent of the adult Guatemalan population can read, and in the rural areas, illiteracy rises to 72 percent. Approximately 65 percent of the arable land in the country is held by 2 percent of the population. The inequity in land ownership at least partially corresponds with the fact that 36 percent of the urban population and 71 percent of the rural population live in extreme poverty.

Such deprivations have fueled periodic rebellions and, most recently, an armed insurgency that ran from 1960 through the end of 1996. In that thirty-six-year period of internal conflict, more than 440 rural villages were razed, more than 40,000 people “disappeared,” and between 150,000 and 200,000 Guatemalans were killed. These actions resulted in more than 200,000 orphans, 80,000 widows, and the internal displacement of nearly

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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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