Worse Than War

Why Do Killers Kill?

This film excerpt begins with a short introduction to the crisis in Darfur, suggesting that genocide is an ongoing problem. It then moves to Rwanda, where Goldhagen interviews Esperance Nyirarugira, a rape victim whose family was brutally murdered right before her eyes.

Why Does the International Community Fail to Intervene?

The film excerpt begins with the question of why genocide continues to occur even though the phrase “never again” has resounded innumerable times since the end of World War II. The discussion then shifts to the international failure to stop the Turks’ systematic mass elimination and extermination of Armenians during World War I. The film excerpt focuses on the Turkish government’s denial of this genocide and the fact that the United States has failed to formally recognize it as a genocide.

This film excerpt also depicts the crisis and genocide in the region of Darfur in western Sudan. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, whose Islamic Arab dictatorship controls northern Sudan, was conducting a long and bloody eliminationist assault against the predominantly black and Christian southern Sudan. The campaign, which was also designed to bring this oil-rich region under al-Bashir’s control, ended in 2005. Al-Bashir and his forces killed as many as two million people and expelled millions more from their homes and regions. In the film, Goldhagen explains that the impunity with which the Sudanese government was allowed to conduct the war against the south led to the genocide in Darfur. In 2003, the Sudanese government began systematic attacks in Darfur, using as a pretext for its action the small incident of a raid by two armed groups of Darfuris on a Sudanese military installation (the raid was protesting years of economic and political discrimination). By 2010, the Sudanese government and its forces had, directly and indirectly, contributed to the deaths of more than 300,000 Darfuris, expelled more than 2.5 million people, and tortured and raped victims on a vast scale.

An interview with Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the genocide in Rwanda (1994), raises questions about the failure of international diplomacy in the 1990s. Specifically, the interview examines the failure of the United States to do anything to stop the Rwandan Hutu’s genocidal killing of Tutsi. The film excerpt also examines and questions the role of the United Nations during the genocide. It probes what Goldhagen sees as UN paralysis and overemphasis on national sovereignty. The film takes issue with the definition of the term national sovereignty as “the state’s right for immunity from other countries intervening in its internal affairs.” According to Goldhagen, this definition stands in the way of effective intervention during genocide.

The reactions of outside states to a genocide or eliminationist assault can be broken into those actions carried out before, during, and after the killings. This section focuses on reactions during and after genocide, addressing several of Goldhagen’s ideas for early detection and response to imminent genocidal threats.

What is the Role of Leaders in Genocide?

Following a discussion of the role of Pol Pot in the Cambodian genocide, Goldhagen cites a series of other episodes of mass killing and asserts that “genocide is always the decision of one leader or a small group of leaders.” Using examples from the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, he explains that genocide is the result of a calculated political act rather than a spontaneous eruption of hateful feelings. His father and mentor, Erich Goldhagen—a Holocaust survivor and scholar—offers a chilling picture of a world ruled by Hitler. The excerpt contains footage of Daniel Goldhagen at an old Berlin train station. Metal plaques on the old tracks with destination names, dates, and numbers memorialize those sent to German death camps during World War II.

The film continues with images from the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides and with an analysis of the means that leaders use to mobilize their people for mass killing. Among other things, the film discusses how leaders start genocides, their motivation for doing so, and the ways in which they inflame historical prejudices to incite violence. Finally, this clip introduces the use of the media as a means of intensifying prejudices and producing fear in order to mobilize people to participate in mass killings. Among the included media are radio sounds from Radio Mille Collines, which was used extensively in Rwanda to dehumanize the Tutsi people, to mobilize Hutu to murder the Tutsi—including, sometimes, their neighbors—and to coordinate the killings.

The next segment here is a documentary to show the establishment of the International Criminal Court and whether this Court can actually enforce genocide. Watch.

2 thoughts on “Worse Than War

  1. Defining the Problem

    Raphael Lemkin and the Term Genocide

    What is genocide? The term genocide is a historically recent one, and its definition has been the topic of many scholarly debates. It was coined by the jurist Raphael Lemkin. As a law school student in 1921, he began to study the Turks’ 1915 campaign to rid the Ottoman Empire of its Armenian population. Distraught by the deliberate mass killing of Armenians, he found out that there was no law that criminalized the actions of a state against its own people. After Lemkin—a Jew—escaped Nazi-occupied Poland in 1940, he devoted his life to creating such a law. [1.] In 1944, Lemkin first used the term genocide to describe this crime:

    By “genocide” we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing) . . . . Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. [i.]

    After the Holocaust, Lemkin’s term genocide was used by the United Nations when it set out to create the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). Article II of the Genocide Convention defines genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    (a) Killing members of the group;

    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. [ii.]

    [1.] For an extensive discussion of Lemkin and his lifelong struggle to outlaw mass killing, see Totally Unofficial: Raphael Lemkin and the Genocide Convention (Brookline: Facing History National Foundation, Inc., 2008).

    [i.] Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), 79.

    [ii.] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” (1948), Prevent Genocide International web site, http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/convention/text.htm [1] (accessed July 6, 2011).


  2. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen and Eliminationism

    Goldhagen argues that the Genocide Convention’s definition is too narrow and that it should include political groups along with ethnic, national, religious, and racial groups.

    This would help include the millions of people persecuted under the Communist China government and the Soviet government as victims of genocide.

    It would also prevent mass murderers from evading the charge of genocide by claiming that they are not targeting one of the categories defined by the convention, but are merely engaged in a political conflict.

    Goldhagen also sees genocide as one aspect of a larger phenomenon that needs to be recognized.

    He has coined a new term, eliminationism, to define this phenomenon, which includes mass killing as well as the related acts that perpetrators use to get rid of unwanted or hated groups of people.

    The five principal eliminationist tools are:

    Forced transformation, such as forced religious conversion: destroying a group’s essential and defining political, social, or cultural identities

    Extreme repression: reducing, with violence or its threat, a group’s ability to inflict real or imagined harm upon others

    Expulsion, often called deportation: removing people more thoroughly, by driving them beyond a country’s borders, or from one region of a country to another, or by forcing them into concentration camps

    Prevention of reproduction: diminishing a group’s normal biological reproduction by preventing its members from becoming pregnant or giving birth, or by systematically raping the women so they bear children not “purely” of their group

    Extermination: the most final eliminationist act, as it is not interim or piecemeal.[i]

    Goldhagen argues that the laws criminalizing genocide and the international community’s response to such crimes are deficient: the international community should respond to all instances of eliminationism, and not only to those assaults that are of sufficient size and scope to reach the threshold of what is conventionally or legally considered “genocide.”

    He believes to prevent mass killing and elimination, the international community must take action long before the actual eliminationist assaults began, by putting effective deterrents in place and by forcefully responding to all the measures that lead up to eliminationist onslaughts.

    [i.] Adapted from Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity (United States: PublicAffairs, 2009), 17–18.


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