Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Why Not Kill Them All?"

Just finished up this book – my light holiday reading. Impressed enough by its breadth and depth to blurb it here. Basically the authors have provided an overview of the history of genocide through an analytical lens focused on explaining why it happens and how it might be stopped, based on the best available evidence.

With glib, easy-to-read prose and sub-headings like “How to Get Ordinary People to Become Butchers,” Chirot and McCauley demonstrate the “normality of genocidal mass murder.” In so doing, they reverse the puzzle as it is usually expressed by social scientists. Rather than ask, how is it possible for ordinary people to do horrible things, they ask: since the socio-psychological mechanisms and socio-political conditions for mass murder are quite normal and prevalent, why are there so few such cases? What functions to contain violence?

The bulk of the book then provides an interesting analysis of some strategies societies have used to limit warfare, including exogamy and cultural rules limiting the slaughter of noncombatants. It then explores contemporary strategies for genocide prevention, concluding rather unsurprisingly that strong ties at the level of civil society are the best bulwark against the kind of in-group/out-group think that can lead to spirals of violence.

There are points of weakness in the argument. It is occasionally circular, and the authors move back and forth from a rather optimistic view of human nature to concluding that “There is no sign that occasions of inter-group violence are decreasing.” (Untrue, actually: the Liu Institute’s 2005 Human Security Report found a general decline in genocidal episodes since the end of the Cold War.) The authors also don’t themselves conduct original research for the project.

But the book brilliantly ties together the available literature on mass killing and presents it in a highly readable and matter-of-fact way that I found quite refreshing.

1 comment:

hank_F_M said...


Thanks for the link to your blogroll.

I added you to mine, which forced me to do a long over do update. Thanks

Looks like a great blog. I like the post, trying to deal with a serious problem in a constructive manner.

I suppose you’ve seen R. J. Rummel’s website and

I reviewed one of his books
Death by Governemnt which looks at the subject as a political process.

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