Grisly specifics share space with an insightful, often startling analysis of why mass murder occurs and how to stop it.
Historian and journalist Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, 1996) considers genocide the end point of eliminationism, a set of tactics that a dominant group uses against a detested minority. Eliminationism begins with repression (ghettos, apartheid, segregation) and moves on to transformation (obliterating culture, forbidding a minority’s language, forcible religious conversion) and expulsion (deportation, “resettlement,” ethnic cleansing). The author maintains that eliminationism never turns to genocide through mass hysteria, blind obedience or war. It is always a political decision requiring considerable planning, he writes, and “there is no mass murder of elimination that I know that could not have been avoided had one person or a few people decided to do otherwise, which they easily could have done.” Most disturbing, once the political decision occurs, the slaughter proceeds with almost universal approval. Ordinary police, soldiers and civilians kill their victims face to face—this includes the Holocaust, despite the gruesome Nazi ovens—often preceded by humiliation, torture and mutilation. Goldhagen assembles interviews with perpetrators from Rwanda to Serbia to Argentina to Cambodia. All express regret, but the author points out that while they were killing all believed they were performing a necessary patriotic duty. The author makes a convincing case that preventing genocide requires only a modest effort by leaders of democratic nations and the United Nations, both of which are criminally negligent. The UN facilitates genocide by trumpeting its rule of noninterference in other nations’ affairs. Our leaders are well informed of ongoing genocides but refuse to act unless pushed by public opinion—sadly, the media generally avoids the subject—or convinced that national interest is threatened.
A significant achievement—rarely encouraging, but intensely researched and wholly original.