With his first book, the #1 international bestseller Hitler’s Willing Executioners (Vintage, 1997) Daniel Jonah Goldhagen – then a professor of political science at Harvard University– forced the world to re-think some of its most deeply-held beliefs about the Holocaust. Hitler’s Willing Executioners inspired an unprecedented worldwide discussion and debate about the role ordinary Germans played in the annihilation of Europe’s Jews.
A decade later – and more than half a century after the end of World War II – Goldhagen is convinced that the overall phenomenon of genocide is as poorly understood as the Holocaust had once been. How and why do genocides start? Why do the perpetrators kill? Why has intervention rarely occurred in a timely manner? These and other thought-provoking questions are explored in a new documentary film, WORSE THAN WAR.
A co-production of WNET.ORG and JTN Productions and funded by The Pershing Square Foundation, The Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, and The Goren Family Foundation, WORSE THAN WAR, based on Goldhagen’s book of the same title, which has been hailed as “magisterial” by the New York Times, “convincing” and “wholly original” by Kirkus, “pathbreaking” by Die Presse, and “masterful” by the Daily Telegraph, is the first documentary to step back and focus on the general phenomenon of genocide – offering viewers profound insights into its dimensions, patterns and causes, and tragic role in politics and human affairs.
“By the most fundamental measure – the number of people killed –the perpetrators of mass murder since the beginning of the twentieth century have taken the lives of more people than have died in military conflict. So genocide is worse than war,” reiterates Goldhagen. “This is a little-known fact that should be a central focus of international politics, because once you know it, the world, international politics, and what we need to do all begin to look substantially different from how they are typically conceived.”
Premiering on PBS during National Holocaust Remembrance Week on April 14 at 9 p.m. (check local listings), WORSE THAN WAR documents Goldhagen’s travels, teachings, and interviews in nine countries around the world, bringing viewers on an unprecedented journey of insight and analysis. In a film that is highly cinematic and evocative throughout, he speaks with victims, perpetrators, witnesses, politicians, diplomats, historians, humanitarian aid workers, and journalists, all with the purpose of explaining and understanding the critical features of genocide and how to finally stop it.
In Rwanda, perpetrators of genocide speak candidly about their participation in mass murders, and Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama discusses the perpetrators’ willingness, the world’s failure, and how we can prevent other countries from suffering the same fate. In Guatemala, Goldhagen explores the concept of “overkill” with the country’s leading forensic pathologist, and in an extraordinary interview, he confronts former President José Efraín Ríos Montt, the person in power during the genocide of Maya in the early 1980s. In Bosnia, he attends the annual commemoration of the massacre at Srebrenica, the worst mass-killing in Europe since World War II, and has a candid discussion with the nation’s president Haris Silajdžić about his efforts to convince U.S. and world leaders to intervene when it became apparent that “ethnic cleansing” was underway. And in Ukraine, Goldhagen returns with his father Erich (also a scholar of the Holocaust) to the town where Erich was nearly killed during the Holocaust.
Goldhagen also conducts probing and revealing interviews with Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State; Francis Deng, UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide; and Clint Williamson, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues.
Directed by the award-winning Mike DeWitt, the film not will only leave viewers changed, it should have a galvanizing effect on the public and, most importantly on, our political leaders.