Magazine article The World and I

The Unspeakable Pleasure : A Study of Human Cruelty

Magazine article The World and I

The Unspeakable Pleasure : A Study of Human Cruelty

Article excerpt

Littleton, Colorado, April 20, 1999, around 11:20 a.m.

"Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold enter the library of Columbine High School. Armed with a double-barreled shotgun, a pump shotgun and two semi-automatic rifles, they open fire on their classmates. As students scream and dive for cover, the two killers stroll around the library, looking for targets. One of the gunmen spots 17-year-old Kacey Ruegsegger crouching under a table. "Peekaboo," he says, stooping to fire a bullet into her neck. He laughs as she crumples onto the floor, bleeding.1"

"They were shooting everywhere. ... They wanted to kill everything in sight," recalled senior Nick Foss, who managed to escape the shooters by punching through a ceiling panel and shimmying down a ventilation shaft.2 "They were, like, orgasmic," said 19-year-old Nicholas Schumann, who heard the shooters' laughter while hiding in a room under the library.3

Kaunas, Lithuania, June 27, 1941, around 11 a.m.

From the report of a German army officer:

"While I was traveling through the town, I went past a gasoline station which was surrounded by a dense crowd of people. There was a large number of women in the crowd and they had lifted up their children or stood them on chairs or boxes so that they could see better. At first I thought this must be a victory celebration or some type of sporting event because of the cheering, clapping, and laughter that kept breaking out. However, when I inquired what was happening, I was told that the "Death-Dealer of Kovno" was at work. ... I became witness to probably the most frightful event that I had seen during the course of two world wars."

"A blond man of medium height, aged about twenty-five, stood leaning on a wooden club, resting. At his feet lay about fifteen to twenty dead or dying people. Water flowed continuously from a hose washing blood away into the drainage gully. Just a few steps behind this man some twenty men, guarded by armed civilians, stood waiting for their cruel execution in silent submission. In response to a cursory wave the next man stepped forward silently and was then beaten to death with the wooden club in the most bestial manner, each blow accompanied by enthusiastic shouts from the audience.4"

The report of a photographer who was present:

"Within three-quarters of an hour he had beaten to death the entire group of 45 to 50 people in this way ... After the entire group had been beaten to death, the young man put the club to one side, fetched an accordion and went and stood on the mountain of corpses and played the Lithuanian national anthem. ... The behavior of the civilians present (women and children) was unbelievable. After each man had been killed they began to clap. ... In the front row there were women with children in their arms who stayed there right until the end of the whole proceedings.5"

THE UNSPEAKABLE PLEASURE OF CRUELTY

There is an important difference between the killing spree of the Lithuanians on June 27, 1941, and the killing spree of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris on April 20, 1999. The Lithuanians were acting in accordance with the directives of their newly arrived German occupiers; Klebold and Harris were breaking the law. The Lithuanians were interested in killing only Jews; Klebold and Harris had a laundry list of hatreds that included athletes, Christians, blacks, and Hispanics. According to some witnesses, Harris and Klebold fired at anything that moved.

But the two killing sprees share something that has not received as much attention as it should. In both cases the executioners were having a good time. Eyewitnesses to both events commented on the laughter that accompanied the killing. These people were enjoying themselves. They were having a ball.

A SHORT HISTORY OF CRUELTY

The taste for cruelty--for getting a kick out of watching other people suffer and die--is not new. There have always been individuals who took pleasure in killing other human beings. …

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