Understanding Evil: Lessons from Bosnia

By Keith Doubt | Go to book overview
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3. EVIL’S REASON

The fact that the concept of evil has no explanatory power just
when we feel most need of it does not mean that it is inessential
to our understanding of what happens even then.

—Raimond Gaita

What is the evil in war crimes? The word “evil” is a signifier, and its meaning needs to be recovered; otherwise, the word loses its significance despite the preponderance of its use. During the war against Bosnia, the nationalist Serb Army and the Yugoslav People’s Army deliberately targeted civilian funerals. Massacres sometimes occurred during services, thus preventing family members from burying their loved ones. Communities were forced to abandon their deceased in fields or on streets. The war criminals then grotesquely discarded the bodies into remote pits or inaccessible mines. Sometimes they planted grenades into these pits to discourage the recovery of the bodies.

The term “mass graves” is a misnomer because mass graves are not graves. Religious ceremonies and social rituals were not properly performed. While saying prayers for the dead, religious leaders took refuge from shelling by jumping into graves. In Sarajevo, Serbian snipers attacked and killed those preparing graves. Women and children were deliberately wounded or killed by shells while throwing dirt into a grave during a service.

An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the Institute for Research of Crimes against Humanity and International Law in Bihać, Bosnia, Septem

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