Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder

Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder

Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder

Why Not Kill Them All? The Logic and Prevention of Mass Political Murder


Genocide, mass murder, massacres. The words themselves are chilling, evoking images of the slaughter of countless innocents. What dark impulses lurk in our minds that even today can justify the eradication of thousands and even millions of unarmed human beings caught in the crossfire of political, cultural, or ethnic hostilities? This question lies at the heart of Why Not Kill Them All? Cowritten by historical sociologist Daniel Chirot and psychologist Clark McCauley, the book goes beyond exploring the motives that have provided the psychological underpinnings for genocidal killings. It offers a historical and comparative context that adds up to a causal taxonomy of genocidal events.

Rather than suggesting that such horrors are the product of abnormal or criminal minds, the authors emphasize the normality of these horrors: killing by category has occurred on every continent and in every century. But genocide is much less common than the imbalance of power that makes it possible. Throughout history human societies have developed techniques aimed at limiting intergroup violence. Incorporating ethnographic, historical, and current political evidence, this book examines the mechanisms of constraint that human societies have employed to temper partisan passions and reduce carnage.

Might an understanding of these mechanisms lead the world of the twenty-first century away from mass murder? Why Not Kill Them All? makes clear that there are no simple solutions, but that progress is most likely to be made through a combination of international pressures, new institutions and laws, and education. If genocide is to become a grisly relic of the past, we must fully comprehend the complex history of violent conflict and the struggle between hatred and tolerance that is waged in the human heart.


You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and
a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is
evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him
the other also.…; I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray
for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your
Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil
and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:38–45

Our world today is dangerous. It has always been dangerous, but modern technology, a globalized economy, easy communications, and massive migration now spread the effects of crisis in one part of the world to other parts very quickly. We do indeed live in a “global village.” But like ancient village societies, we still have our clans and tribes, each with their territories, whose competitive disputes can degenerate into violence and occasional genocidal massacres. Like the agrarian states and civilizations that emerged from stateless societies thousands of years ago, we still have competing religions that usually coexist but set boundaries that can lead to very violent wars and genocidal purges. Like the modern technological societies that came into being in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we still have competing nationalisms, and we still struggle to cope with all the changes brought about by modernity. We still generate new ideologies and adapt old ones to support one side or another in the disputes that are produced by the conflicting demands of the modern world. These have produced massive genocidal violence in the twentieth century and may do so again.

Despite this stark prospect, in this book we plan to show that there is no reason to despair. Pre-state societies, agrarian states, different reli-

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