Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Genocide in History / Genocide Prevention

A Fiery Scholar on the Trail of Genocide and Its Causes
By Mike Hale
The New York Times, April 13, 2010
"Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the controversial scholar who has specialized in the study of mass murder in books like 'Hitler's Willing Executioners' and 'A Moral Reckoning,' has a reputation for combativeness. 'Worse Than War,' Wednesday night on PBS, won't change that. Its dramatic high point involves Mr. Goldhagen's stalking Efraín Ríos Montt, the former dictator, through the halls of Guatemala's Parliament until Mr. Ríos Montt agrees to talk about the killings of Mayan villagers during his time as ruler. As a smiling Mr. Ríos Montt says that he would be in jail if he were responsible for the deaths of 200,000 Mayans, Mr. Goldhagen’s voice on the soundtrack says, 'Staring into the eyes of this killer, I feel outrage and disgust.' 'Worse Than War' is a two-hour television companion to Mr. Goldhagen's 2009 book of the same title, an examination of the causes of genocide and ethnic cleansing along with his recommendations for how to prevent them. We see him visiting scenes of mass murder in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, Guatemala and Germany, where he talks to survivors and perpetrators, often posed within beautifully photographed landscapes. (The director of photography was Rod Bachar.) The stories are both horrifying and depressingly familiar, sometimes accompanied by disturbing archival footage of the killers in action.
In a Guatemalan forensics lab where bones exhumed from mass graves are examined, Mr. Goldhagen holds a baby's rib that easily fits in his palm. His conclusions, already spelled out in the book, are consistent with his earlier findings about the Holocaust: that genocide does not 'break out' but is always planned; that those who initiate it are making a rational decision based on political gain; that it feeds off of longstanding fears and reflects a confidence on the part of the perpetrators that there will be no consequences. His recommendations -- including rapid military intervention outside the framework of the United Nations and bounties put on the heads of genocidal leaders -- seem a bit wishful. [...]"
[n.b. My lengthy review of Goldhagen's "Worse Than War" will appear in the next issue of Journal of Genocide Research, 12:2.]

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Please be constructive in your comments. - AJ