Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing

By James Waller | Go to book overview

The Church of Ntamara

THE HISTORICAL RECORDS indicate that Rwanda's first inhabitants were the Twa, hunters and gatherers related to cave-dwelling pygmies. They were followed from the south by the agriculturalist Hutu, with Bantu features including woolly hair, broad noses, dark skin, and full lips. During the sixteenth century, the Tutsi—very slender and tall, straight-nosed, and light brown in complexion—arrived from the north, perhaps from Ethiopia, in a migration that appears to have been gradual and mostly peaceful. Throughout their history, the three groups spoke the same language, shared the same territory, followed the same traditions, and even acknowledged the same king (the Mwami). Over the years, however, the Tutsi cattle ranchers emerged as an aristocratic elite, the Hutu farmers as commoners, and the Twa as potters and entertainers who were generally held in low regard by the other groups.

When German explorers first entered the country in 1894, Rwanda— “the land of a thousand hills”—was a growing and expansive empire. Only a few neighboring peoples were as strong or stronger than Rwanda. It also is true that precolonial Rwanda was one of the most centralized and rigidly stratified societies in the Great Lakes region of east central Africa. In this vertically structured society, Hutu peasants were, for all practical purposes, now on the lowest rung of the ladder, socially, economically, and politically (given the Twa's diminishing numbers). Though Hutus represented about 85 percent of a total population estimated at 2 million at the turn of the twentieth century, power, status, and wealth were generally in the hands of the Tutsi—a minority accounting for a bit less than 15 percent of the population. 1 Rather than ethnic categories, the early conceptions of “Hutu” and “Tutsi” conveyed class status, since power and prestige in Rwanda depended on possession of cattle.

Inequality was inscribed in the differential treatment accorded to each group and, as a result, the potential for conflict certainly existed between

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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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