Understanding Genocides
Human Beings and Mass Slaughter

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

Our investigation of mass murder begins with basic questions: Is it easy or hard to get people to kill others, including children? Some say that, with opportunity, all or most people will readily slaughter others. Oth­ers say that human beings will assent to kill others merely because they receive orders to do so. Still others hold that people who find them­selves subjected to social psychological pressure to kill will generally do so, or that propaganda can quickly, almost immediately, turn any people into mass executioners of any men, women, and even children. Each of these views has scholarly and “common-sense” or popular ver­sions. Are they right?

Are all or most adults potential mass murderers, mass exterminators of children, just waiting to be asked to kill? Or must something profound happen to people for them to perpetrate mass slaughter? Are all or most states, are all or most societies, proto-genocidal, meaning they could eas­ily be moved to commit genocide? Or are only some ready to be easily in­cited to slaughter? Why has our age of such technological, economic, and undeniable moral progress seen so much mass slaughter?

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