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Understanding Genocides
How They Are Implemented

From the book Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. Excerpted by arrangement with PublicAffairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2009. For more information, please visit Public Affairs

Three months into the Germans’ systematic annihilation of Eu­rope’s Jews, one German perpetrator, Martin Mundschütz, though a true believer in the cause, found the gruesome killing too un­nerving. Like a meat eater unable to bear the gore of the slaughter­house, he had to get out. Referring to an earlier meeting, Mundschütz wrote his commander:

Colonel, you are under the assumption that I have succumbed to a spell of weakness which will pass again without injury. Weakness was not the cause of my regrettably unmanly behavior towards you on the occasion of our discussion, rather my nerves snapped. They snapped only as a result of the nervous breakdown of three weeks ago, as a result of which visions have haunted me day and night, driv­ing me to the verge of madness. I have partly overcome these visions, but I find that they had bereft me totally of all my energy and that I can no longer control my will. I am no longer able to contain my tears; I flee into doorways when I am in the street and I slip under covers when I am in my room.

After explaining that he had managed to conceal his condition from his comrades and prophesying that if his commander did not transfer him, his condition would become “so obvious that my name [will be] on everyone’s lips,” Mundschütz continued:

If you, Herr Colonel, however, have an understanding and a heart for one of your subordinates, who wants to sacrifice himself to the very last for the cause of Germany, but who does not want to present the spectacle of one who is said to have succumbed to cowardice, then please remove me from this environment. I will thankfully return when recovered, but please allow me to leave before I succumb to the same melancholia that afflicts my mother.

How did his commander, a colonel in the SS, respond to this man’s re­quest to stop killing? With venom? With violence? Or with solicitude? The colonel wrote his superiors:

I have spoken with Mundschütz myself and tried to straighten him out. As an answer I have received from him the enclosed letter. . . . According to it, it seems all in all that a hereditary disposition of Mundschütz has asserted itself. Mundschütz is no longer fit for ac­tion. I therefore have transferred him to the rear and request that all formalities necessary for his return be completed. According to the opinion of the unit’s doctor, a transfer to the SS sanatorium for the mentally ill in Munich appears necessary.

Mundschütz was transferred home and assumed other duties. An ardent Nazi, he passionately sought admittance to the SS, the institution that had brought him into the killing fields and now considered his member­ship application without prejudice, his refusal to kill notwithstanding.1

This spectacle of a whimpering, “cowardly” executioner, who ap­proves of the killing and who is treated with understanding by the sup­posedly most unforgiving SS, gives lie to many misconceptions about the German perpetrators and, as we will see, about the perpetrators of mass murder in general. The most egregious misconception is that per­petrators are incapable of reflecting on the desirability of mass slaugh­ter or their own participation in it. As this episode suggests, if we want to understand eliminationist perpetrators, then we must eschew the pre­vailing, thoughtless clichés about “human nature,” blind obedience to authority, bureaucratic mindsets, or irresistible social psychological pressure. Instead, we must investigate the killers, asking how and why they do what they do.

Both scholars and nonscholars have assumed that when a leader or­ders people to be eliminated, his followers do it reflexively, and that the unhuman, so-called machinery of destruction, like a machine, in­exorably begins to roll forward. This assumption, most prevalent in writings about the Holocaust, was so powerful that for the first sev­eral decades of the investigation of mass murder, the perpetrators and their own understanding of their actions were not topics of serious scholarly inquiry. Almost no research was done on the perpetrators and almost no actual knowledge about them existed. What substituted for knowledge was an array of false notions, some having achieved mytho­logical status, about the Holocaust’s perpetrators, the institutions of killing, and its essential features.

It was wrongly believed that the Holocaust’s perpetrators were all or principally SS men, that they were relatively small in number, that they had to kill, and that modern technology itself made the genocide pos­sible. (These notions still circulate in the popular media and unscholarly writing.) Something as basic as the number of perpetrators was there­fore unknown and not even raised as a question in the central works on the Holocaust. Dehumanizing and virtually racist clichés about so-called German national character informed many. Who the killers were, how they joined killing institutions, what life was like while killing, what they thought of their victims and their deeds, what choices they had, and what choices they made about treating their victims—these and other questions were left uninvestigated. On the rare occasions that such questions were asked, they were answered with empirically barren speculation presented as settled fact.

Until my book Hitler’s Willing Executioners directly took issue with this historical neglect, what was true about the Holocaust’s investiga­tion, which antedated the study of other mass murders by decades, has by and large been true about other mass murders. Thus, when Michael Kaufman, trying to make sense of the Serbs’ onslaught against Koso­vars in 1999, deemed it necessary to plumb the motives of the Serbian perpetrators, he wrote in the New York Times that the time had come to ask “the kinds of questions raised in Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s book.”2 Even today, untenable assumptions about why people follow orders to annihilate thousands or millions of people remain rife in the literature on mass murder. Little has been written on the institutions of mass slaughter and elimination. Few empirically grounded conclusions have been put forward about why mass murders, or eliminations, get implemented, and in the manner and with the means that they do.

This subject is explosive. Shifting attention away from monstrous, supposedly irresistible leaders, from abstractions such as a “terror ap­paratus,” and from faceless institutions such as the German SS (or Sad-dam’s Republican Guards, the Serbs’ Arkan’s Tigers, and others) forces people to confront the humanity of the perpetrators and their horrify­ing acts, and to ask difficult questions, deemed threatening by many, about the societies and cultures that bred such people. Confronting perpetrators—one man, then another, then another—also forces people to face the overwhelming, undoable necessity of bringing thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people to justice for committing murder. People on all sides would generally prefer (some are desperate) to sidestep this task, to get on with life, and so are content to blame leaders and a few unusually barbarous killers. It should therefore have come as no surprise that when Hitler’s Willing Executioners was published, an international explosion ensued that lasted years. In being a broad and unvarnished study of the Holocaust’s German perpetrators, the book made their humanity unavoidable. By forcing these themes before the public and answering these questions, it overturned misconceptions about the Holocaust, including about Germany’s political culture before and during the Nazi period. Reject­ing customary abstractions and the ahistorical and incoherent implica­tion of humanity itself in the mass murder (the “anyone would have done it” refrain), it focused on the actual human beings, principally though not exclusively Germans, who actually committed and sup­ported the mass murder and other eliminationist acts.

An in-depth study could be done on the German perpetrators, be­cause a wealth of information exists about them—from the vast testi­mony of survivors and of the perpetrators themselves, collected after the war by Germany’s legal authorities. Only a fraction of such infor­mation exists for other mass murderers. Generally, little is known about the killing institutions and their members. Hence, an analysis of why and how the perpetrators implemented most exterminationist and eliminationist programs relies on less voluminous and good in­formation (substantial knowledge about the defeated Hutu killers in Rwanda has been emerging). Overall conclusions must be provisional and tentative, until more complete information is uncovered about other mass eliminations (though it is unlikely to happen about most of them).

Mass murder and eliminations begin because, in seemingly opportune circumstances, leaders decide to address their “problems” with “final solutions” or near-final ones that usually employ a combination of eliminationist means. Yet leaders do not perpetrate the crime alone. So the analysis must venture beyond the leaders, their worldviews, and their decision-making circumstances, to a range of institutional, logis­tical, and human factors that map what must occur for the killing and eliminationist acts to proceed.

Mass elimination operations are often mammoth: the vast number of victims (hundreds of thousands, millions, even tens of millions) and of perpetrators (tens, hundreds of thousands, even millions); the opera­tions’ geographic size can be a country or a continent; the places to at­tack or comb through can run into the thousands; the coordination of the many institutions and perpetrators can be extensive and complex. It should come as no surprise, then, that substantial planning often pre­cedes the actual murderous and eliminationist onslaughts. It should also come as no surprise that, for two reasons, this strategic planning typically focuses on killing targeted peoples’ elites, the most dangerous portion of the people who are most likely to organize resistance.

The Turks carried out such detailed preparation and targeting of elites. For months they planned a coordinated lethal assault on Turkey’s Armenians, raised the units that would spearhead it, and drew up lists of the Armenian elites to be killed immediately. The Germans similarly had planning offices working out the programs for the elimination of the Jews in Germany and throughout Europe, and for eliminating Poles and others from territories that Germans wished to repopulate with Germans. Before the Germans began Soviet Jews’ systematic annihila­tion, they created and mobilized, among other units, the Einsatzgrup­pen mobile killing squads. Before the Germans began the assault on each country’s or territory’s Jews, they planned and coordinated the assault’s different aspects, and in many places, starting with Germany itself, the strategy included creating a pseudolegal foundation that itself composed one facet of the eliminationist program and provided a basis for the upcoming intensified attacks.

The Khmer Rouge, anything but the embodiment of modern forward thinking, nevertheless knew what they would do upon taking power. They immediately embarked on the most thoroughgoing and precipi­tous expulsion in human history—emptying Cambodian cities, towns, and villages in a few days. They also proceeded to murder Cambodia’s elites, slaughtering former government and military officials, doctors, lawyers, teachers, other professionals, anyone with evidence of an ad­vanced education. The Hutu leadership similarly conducted extensive planning for the eventual annihilation of the Tutsi. The preparation may have begun four years before implementation. It included raising and training units, drawing up lists of Tutsi elites to be killed, coordinating the assaults nationwide, and undertaking more than a dozen ex­ploratory killings. Major Brent Beardsley, the executive assistant to General Romeo Dallaire, the UN commander in Rwanda during the genocide, explains: “In the space of one day, [the perpetrators] ampu­tated the entire moderate leadership of Rwanda; by that night, they were all dead. They and their families were dead. A lot of the leadership within the Tutsi community was dead. They had targeted all that day, and they had succeeded. So this was extremely well planned, well or­ganized and well conducted. This was not something that was just spon­taneous.”3 In each case—and this is true of many others, including in the Soviet Union, China, Kenya, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sudan—the nature of eliminationist political leaders’ planning varies, depending on a host of differences among the countries, settings, and intentions behind each eliminationist assault. Yet there are some constants.

Political leaders must find people to carry out the eliminationist pro­gram. What are the identities, recruitment procedures, and motivations of the perpetrators? The leaders must organize these people within in­stitutions. What institutions are they? Do the leaders use existing ones or create new ones? How do the institutions function? The perpetrators must gain access to the victims. How do they choose and identify them? The perpetrators must then implement the program. What are its lo­gistics and what means do they use?

The annihilation cannot happen instantaneously (except with nuclear weapons, massive airpower or artillery targeting civilians, or fully fueled aircraft), so at what pace and for how long do the perpetrators kill and eliminate their targets? The perpetrators often have more extensive con­tact with the victims than merely the instant of execution, and they are often charged with other, nonlethal tasks. What else do they do to the victims? The victims themselves are not inert. When are they able to re­sist their would-be murderers, and with what consequences?

The answers to these questions vary. Sometimes the best that can be done is to describe the variations and to unearth certain patterns, while seeking to account for the similarities and differences among on­slaughts, and to assess how critical each of these subjects is for ex­plaining mass annihilations and eliminations more broadly. Ultimately, we wish to know why the perpetrators kill. Why do they brutally expel people from their homes, regions, and countries? Why do they subject their victims to many other forms of deprivation and suffering? Why do the perpetrators not say no?

The Perpetrators

A perpetrator is anyone who knowingly contributes in some tangible way to the deaths or elimination of others, or to injuring others as part of an annihilationist or an eliminationist program. This includes people killing at close range or by protracted means, such as starvation. It in­cludes people setting the stage for the lethal blow, by identifying vic­tims, rounding them up, moving them to the killing sites, or guarding them at any stage of the elimination process. It includes people more distant from the deed. Leaders creating the killing and elimination pro­grams, and those working closely with and in support of them, and lesser officials contributing to the fashioning or transmitting of elimi­nationist policies or orders, are perpetrators. People supplying mate­rial or logistical support to killing institutions are perpetrators. What exactly a person perpetrates, and for what exactly he should be legally and morally culpable, depends on what he does in aiding what kinds of eliminationist ends. If he orders or organizes or has a ministerial or command role in institutions that take part in the eliminationist pro­grams, then he is a perpetrator of the overall mass murder or elimina­tionist program. If he kills or facilitates the killing of many people, then he is a perpetrator of mass murder. If he helps to drive people from their home and country, then he is a perpetrator of eliminationist ex­pulsion. If he beats and tortures people but somehow manages to do nothing to contribute to people’s deaths, then he is a perpetrator of as­sault and torture. What the minimum is that a person must do to cross the legal and moral threshold into culpability can be debated. But for those participating in eliminationist onslaughts, the need to explain why each perpetrator acts, which includes how each one understands the victims and his own deeds, applies to the person rounding up the victims, and the one organizing killing logistics, as much as it does to the person mowing down the victims or hacking them to death.

A killing or eliminationist institution is one deployed for mass mur­der or elimination, and its members kill or eliminate, or tangibly hasten the deaths or elimination of others. Many different institutions have been used for these purposes, and their variety is examined below. In many instances they include central national institutions, including gov­ernments and ministries, and in certain instances, there may be so many as to include virtually entire bureaucracies, if these are deeply enmeshed in an annihilationist or eliminationist program, as in the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, in communist China, and in Baathist Iraq.

The perpetrators of mass annihilation and elimination are not born as killers or brutes. They must be made, in two senses: by following some path that lands them in institutions of killing and elimination, and by making a transition from not imagining that they would slaugh­ter or systematically eliminate other human beings to a point where, for whatever reason, they are mentally and emotionally prepared to do so. Whether each journey is short or long, direct or tortuous, at some point each perpetrator makes theses dual transitions.

The perpetrators enter eliminationist institutions with different iden­tities and in different ways. Political leaders or subordinates charged with implementing the eliminationist assaults decide on some recruit­ment method based on their notions of which organizations and people are preferable for the task. Some perpetrators are drafted (or assigned); some volunteer. When drafted, they can be transferred from institutions identified with their country’s political regime, which might suggest a predisposition on their part to participate in an eliminationist project, or they can be chosen haphazardly, without consideration of whether they are especially suited for the enterprise. The Soviet leaders staffed the gulag with NKVD troops, the regime’s ideological guardians, peo­ple of demonstrated fidelity to the communist creed and the use of vi­olence to restructure Soviet society. The regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, and Chile typically employed soldiers who were members of special elite units dedicated to rooting out the states’ real or designated enemies. The Turkish leadership employed a combination of special units of criminals, ordinary Turkish troops, and local people who took it upon themselves to torture and kill the Armenians trudg­ing on their death marches, and to plunder their goods. Allowing for such local participation of ordinary Turks produced more than enough volunteers who worked as de facto auxiliaries of the major killing in­stitutions. In Croatia during World War II, the Ustasha mass murderers of Serbs, Jews, and others were mainly volunteers. Similarly during the 1990s, the Serbian perpetrators in Bosnia and Kosovo, whether organ­ized in marauding paramilitary units or having descended impromptu locally upon their neighbors, were by and large volunteers for the un­abashedly murderous eliminationist enterprise. In Rwanda, Hutu in vast numbers, of all and no governmental or paramilitary institutional membership, butchered the Tutsi around them. Eliminationist perpe­trators are frequently not the special storm troopers with previously demonstrated fidelity to the mass murderous regime. They are the groups’ or societies’ ordinary members.

The Holocaust’s German perpetrators were an unusual amalgam. Those in the SS resembled the Soviet NKVD troops. They were the regime’s proud, ideological, and violent shock troops who, having ear­lier volunteered for the SS, were unsurprisingly sent to implement Nazism’s most apocalyptic designs. Others were volunteers, soldiers, or civilians joining in when the opportunity presented itself, as one Ger­man entertainment troupe, upon learning that the units they were pro­viding diversion for were going to kill Jews, begged to participate in the genocidal slaughter. Others volunteered to guard local camps in Germany or to join the Death’s Head Unit staffing the camp system. Still others became perpetrators when the regime drafted them—with­out any regard for their backgrounds, ideological affinity for the regime, or martial spirit—into reserve police units that were then em­ployed in the annihilationist program. The regime also used regular army soldiers to slaughter Jews and others, and policemen and other of­ficials to take part in killing operations against local Jews. The German leadership used the whole range of recruitment methods, drafting those who likely had a predisposition for the task, relying sometimes on vol­unteers, and choosing an enormous number of German men almost at random, expecting them to participate in the annihilation of millions. Most striking about the political leaders’ methods for staffing killing institutions and operations is their casualness. They believed that just about anyone was fit to become an executioner, and seemingly never considered finding willing Germans a problem. They were right. (The Germans also employed local auxiliaries of various nationalities, both organized and volunteer, whose members generally freely opted to help kill Jews.) Many more Germans and non-Germans not formally serving perpetrators in killing institutions lent their hands knowingly to the mass murder.

The number of people during our age who have participated in ex­terminationist and eliminationist assaults (let alone in associated abuses, violations, and crimes such as using victims as slaves or rob­bing them) is astronomical and unknown. It is hard to see how one could even come up with an estimate, given how little is known about the number of perpetrators involved in many eliminations, including some gargantuan ones. There may have been half a million Germans (Austrians at that time were members of the German Reich) involved in the Jews’ annihilation. Across Europe, thousands upon thousands of people of other nationalities participated in the same annihilation, es­pecially Poles, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians, who themselves killed many Jews during and sometimes, as in Poland and Ukraine, after the Holocaust. The French, Dutch, Slovaks, and others helped deport Jews to their deaths. Beyond this one aspect of the Germans’ various exter­minationist and eliminationist assaults on Europe’s peoples, the Ger­mans and their local auxiliaries staffed thousands of eliminationist institutions (twenty thousand camps alone). The Germans used more than 7.6 million slave laborers (many housed in the camps), all of whom had to be guarded and controlled by people using or threaten­ing violence. If we count all the Germans (and their helpers around Europe) who fueled this economy of violent domination by servicing and doing business with these facilities, or who helped serve as the overlords for Europe’s peoples against whom the Germans were con­ducting eliminationist campaigns, the perpetrator population becomes astonishing—probably many millions.

We know much less about the perpetrators of other annihilationist and eliminationist assaults. Yet even a quick survey suggests that an enormous number of people have lent themselves to such violence dur­ing our time. In Rwanda, Hutu all over the country and of virtually every institutional affiliation, background, and profession took a hand in slaughtering their neighbors. A study of Hutu perpetrators that em­ployed a restrictive definition of what actions qualify someone as a per­petrator concluded that between 175,000 and 210,000 Hutu participated in the murdering or serious injuring of the 800,000 Tutsi victims. This amounts to a stunning 14 percent to 17 percent of the ac­tive adult male Hutu population ages eighteen to fifty-four.4 But this already extraordinarily high figure is likely an enormous underestimate. The Rwandan justice system, in its traditional communal justice insti­tution Gacaca, has convicted approximately 900,000 people of partic­ipating in mass murder (often multiple people or large groups killed a single victim or a small group).5 More than seventeen thousand Serbs served in killing institutions in just one small part of the Serbs’ attacks, the mass murder and expulsion of Srebrenica’s Bosniaks. How many more Serbs perpetrated eliminationist violence during Yugoslavia’s breakup? More than thirty thousand Turks served in the special units (discussed below) set up to spearhead the exterminationist assault on the Armenians. How many more tens or hundreds of thousands were there in the army and police forces who, unbidden, participated in the annihilation and expulsion? How many Soviets, how many Chinese, how many North Koreans staffed their vast gulags and other elimina­tionist institutions and contributed to the deaths of the millions these regimes felled? How many Japanese soldiers and civilians gave them­selves to their country’s colossal mass murders around Asia? Add to these all the unknown thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of perpetrators from one eliminationist assault to the next, and the number of mass murderers and eliminationist warriors who have peopled our era is staggering.

Mass annihilations and eliminationist programs show that leaders are knowledgeable about which people are suited to carry out the assaults on the targeted groups. Whatever initiative perpetrators take to join killing institutions or the eliminationist enterprise—from volunteers, to those who had the jobs thrust upon them, to those who chose to be their regime’s shock troops—regimes have rarely used coercion to bring perpetrators to kill or commit eliminationist violence. Leaders know that coercion cannot be a principal or widespread means for getting people to make their apocalyptic visions real. After all, a political lead­ership cannot coerce everyone or nearly everyone because there must be sufficient people who give themselves freely to regimes, particularly those practicing eliminationist politics and mass annihilation, if the regimes are to survive. The surest way for a political leadership to de­stroy itself is to try to force an enormous number of armed people to commit deeds that they think evil, which is what those who disapprove of mass extermination, expulsions, or incarcerations of civilian men, women, and children consider them to be. It is safer and easier to equip willing people of like eliminationist mind, though leaders of course might compel some others to aid them.

Once political leaders decide upon mass elimination and identify the people to perpetrate it, they must turn eliminationist ideas into elimi­nationist projects. The designated executors must be activated, in two senses, to become perpetrators. Their minds and hearts must be ani­mated for killing and its attendant cruelties. They must also be placed in the position to kill.

The historical record—from the Germans in South-West Africa, to the Turks, Germans, Croats, and others during the Nazi period, the Japanese, the Chinese, the British in Kenya, the Indonesians, Khmer Rouge, Hutu and Tutsi, the former Yugoslavia’s various peoples, and to the Political Islamists in many movements and countries—provides every indication that perpetrators quickly comprehend an elimination­ist policy’s announcement. Even though the measures are radical, the perpetrators understand the policies’ rationale and necessity. The per­petrators do not wonder whether the measures are those of a madman, whether the world has gone awry. They do not react with incredulity and overwhelming horror, the way Leslie Davis, the American consul in Harput, did to the Turks’ slaughter of the Armenians taking place around him. He felt as though “the world were coming to an end.”6 Instead, to the perpetrators, as a Turkish reserve officer, commanding a unit of perpetrators, calmly explained, annihilating people by the tens of thousands or more makes perfect and good sense. Their purpose “was to destroy the Armenians and thereby to do away with the Ar­menian question.”7 The perpetrators see the imminent eliminationist onslaught as a rational means to solve severe problems, restore order to the world, straighten a badly twisted society. The record reveals virtu­ally no shock or befuddlement, let alone horror, among perpetrators upon learning of the eliminationist enterprise. Some incipient perpe­trators know that the gruesome task ahead may test their mettle. There are dissenters. But the evidence suggests they are very few compared to the legions of nondissenters readily giving themselves to violent and lethal programs.

In Rwanda, where the Hutu’s demonization of Tutsi was long, firmly established in the public discourse, and taken for granted in much of Hutu culture, and where in the years preceding the full-scale annihilationist assault there had been preparatory smaller-scaled mass murders of Tutsi, the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana together with Burundi’s President Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994 (the culprits’ identities remain unknown) roiled the country. Vo­luminous testimony explicitly or implicitly conveys that Rwandans im­mediately understood that the assassination portended a potential bloodbath, and grasped its sources. Broadcasts on the two national radio stations, Radio Rwanda and RTLM, blamed the Tutsi for the assassination and, as in one broadcast that was recorded, explained that Tutsi should be attacked:

Because of bad [Tutsi] plans we had discovered. Because before the killing of the President of the Republic, people were talking about it in rumours, saying that he was going to die, and even [Hassan] Ngeze wrote about it in Kangura, and others said that after they [the Tutsi] have killed the President, they will exterminate the Hutu. When the Hutu saw that they had just killed the President of the Republic, they said, “Their project is being put into practice now.” They started be­fore them. So, the first reason is that they killed the President. The second one is that they attacked and the third because they were planning to exterminate the Hutu and I think there would be no Hutu left.8

This all made sense to Hutu who were ready to slaughter Tutsi. Hutu inside and outside of paramilitary, military, and police institutions al­most immediately were mobilized or mobilized themselves, requiring little or no explanation as to why the Tutsi would do the things that would make them necessary targets for annihilation. Hutu, led by local officials, held meetings in rural communities all over the country. A Hutu killer, Elie Ngarambe, recounts that “On [April] 10th that is when they started to call meetings of people. They were meeting in football fields, in primary schools, everywhere. So you can imagine all the people went to the meeting. They told them that things have changed, and that what was going to be killed were the Tutsi. They told them that the Tutsi are their only enemy. There was no one else that made the plane crash. There was no one else that killed the presi­dent of the republic except people who are called Inkotanyi. From this time on, fight against Inkotanyi. Fight against all their spies. Tutsi are their spies. Kill them all. That is how it is.” Having received the green light, Hutu in the military, paramilitary, police forces, and mostly in no formal organization at all, then sprang into action all over the country. Ngarambe explains that the authorities told them to “‘start patrols, stop the enemy, block all intersections to the point that wherever he would pass while fleeing, you will get him and kill him.’ So that is what happened after we came from the meeting. We went to a place where so many people pass and we got them. Some of them managed to escape and run, others were stopped by others because roadblocks were put in place almost everywhere. That is when the plan started to be put in ac­tion from the hour and a minute the authorities said so.” Ngarambe himself also killed people they stopped: “You would get him, put him down and hack him, after that you would hit him with a club, pull him and dump him somewhere and continue your journey.”9


1. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, “The ‘Cowardly’ Executioner: On Disobedience in the SS,” Patterns of Prejudice (April 1985): 19–32.

2. Michael T. Kaufman, “Doing Their Part: Looking for the Line Between Patriotism and Guilt,” New York Times, April 11, 1999, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506E0DB1038F932A25757C0A96F958260&scp=2&sq=goldhagen+serbs.

3. Brent Beardsley, Frontline: Ghosts of Rwanda, www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ghosts/interviews/beardsley.html.

4. Scott Straus, “How Many Perpetrators Were There in the Rwandan Genocide? An Estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research (March 2004): 93.

5. Rwandan Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama, author interview, Kigali, Rwanda, May 9, 2008.

6. Quoted in Peter Balakian: The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 236.

7. Quoted in Vahakn Dadrian, “The Role of the Special Organisation in the Armenian Genocide during the First World War,” in Panikos Panayi, ed., Minorities in Wartime: National and Racial Groupings in Europe, North America and Australia during the Two World Wars (Oxford, UK: Berg, 1993), p. 57.

8. Quoted in African Rights, Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance (London: African Rights, 1994), p. 89.

9. Elie Ngarambe, author interview, Kigali, Rwanda, May 8, 2008.

  • for two reasons

    Why “for two reasons”?

    >> It should also come as no surprise that, for two reasons, this strategic planning typically focuses on killing targeted peoples’ elites, the most dangerous portion of the people who are most likely to organize resistance. <<

  • for two reasons

    Well, OK, so nobody reads it, or everybody understands, or what?

  • Armenian

    Anyone wishing to learn of the Goldhagen’s misreading of the historical record need only read the book “A Nation on Trial” by Ruth Birn and Norman Finkelstein. They checked Goldhagen’s sources and found the opposite story. Ordinary Germans did not jump at the chance to kill Jews. Raul Hilberg, the father of Holocaust studies, praised A Nation on Trial and repudiated Goldhagen.

    Why PBS gives time and space to a fraud like Goldhagen makes no sense.

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