Genocide has been around since the very beginnings of civilization. Even though the definition of the term itself was not existant until 1948, there have been recordings of genocide even before the Bible itself, in the year 149 B.C. when the Roman army conquered Carthage. It is because of reasons which are hardly understandable to society, that generals, emperors, czars and all other leaders have invested all effort to “exterminate” those they believed to be contaminating the nation with their existence.
Depraved and brutal, they carved up everything from faces and families to peoples and international borders, they pursued the dictates of their own mad muses, as they plunged the world to new depths of darkness. Afterwards most of those same leaders who managed to survive the battles and assassinations were tried and punished for their crimes against humanity, but they continue to exist in society’s consciousness, whether as symbols of unimaginable immorality, or as great heroes and legends in the pursuit of their nation’s goal.
Adolf Hitler (over 11 million people), Josef Stalin (tens of millions), Saddam Hussein (1.5 million people) and Idi Amin (300,000 people) are just some of the names of those who had the power to destroy entire nations and ethnicities. They differed amongst each other, to be sure. Some butchered on a grand and mechanized scale, in numbers too vast for the mind to comprehend. Others killed intimately, even salaciously, targeting each victim with acts of savagery both imaginative and unimaginable. Nevertheless, whether they terrorized a nation or a city, a lavish encampment or a squalid tenement, the worldview these twisted spirits held was chillingly unambiguous: there was a right way (theirs) and a wrong way (everyone else’s). Such clarity of vision made it possible to tear up a nation or tear up a family without hesitation or guilt in their minds.
On a sliding scale of horror, it should be easy to rank evils; simply count the bodies. However, death is a tricky calculus. In sheer mortal volume, the ruthless ideological campaigns of Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin stand apart. Each resulted in tens of millions of deaths – many deliberate, many more the headless result of famine, forced labor and relocation. Yet there is no parallel in history for the systemized horror of the Nazis’ “Final solution”, a cataclysm that turned 6 million European Jews into hunted animals, stripping them legally and progressively of their rights, their citizenship, their possessions, their humanity, and finally their every right to exist.
However, what frightens most is the question, how did these people achieve such high ranks in society, with nobody stopping them? Did they always have such diabolical thoughts, or did power give them such visions of a “clean” nation? To find the underlying cause of this problem, one should do an absolute psychological analysis of the aforementioned individuals. Most of them were abused as children, and have seen great tragedies, and failures. Dysfunctionality in the home was not an uncommon breeding ground. Nevertheless, this type of domestic behavior was very common amongst families, even at the beginning of the 20th century. Something must have been different in these children, which would eventually trigger
monstrous behavior in their adult life. These people had also obviously mentally differed in a way which was not comprehensible to most. However, what was perhaps most extraordinary about them was how skillfully they veiled their mind’s ambitions and any underlying sociopathic tendencies, preceeding their ascent to, most often, high ranking positions at which point all veils fell. They also had an unimaginable talent for controlling the masses; hence becoming mass murderers and war criminals while retaining minds of true leaders – true assets to war and military combat.
Soon enough, they intoxicated the masses with power and selfish ideas. Hitler, for example, had become invincible in the eyes of the new Germany. He had built a strong economy based on the hard labor of captive Jews. Ironically, the first words which the Jews’ eyes fell upon when entering the most horrid concentration camps was “Arbeit macht frei”2. Of course, most Germans were fine with that kind of order, most likely because they were unaware of the horrors which were happening inside the camps themselves. All seemed fine in society’s eyes, Germany was strong, and to many; invincible, as long as the “Fï¿½hrer” was alive and well. It is obvious that the picture which is sent out to the masses will be accepted, as long as there is a good, strong foundation to lay it down upon. This fact is evident in many examples throughout history, and is a true example of collective behavior at its worst and bloodiest.
However, as long as the people who commit such terrible crimes are judged, and punished (whether it be in a courtroom, or in the streets), we have a feeling that something can be done in order to punish those who deserve it. Unfortunately, we are aware of the fact that there have been genocides where the government and media cover up the bloody trail. One of the best examples of this kind, not often referred to as genocide is the killing of the Native American Indians. Unfortunately, no one person in particular can be blamed for this. Similar cleansing happened nearly a century before and thousands of miles away in the Ottoman Empire, where all who fought against Islamic assimilation would be killed and slaughtered.
These are just some examples of genocide which is based on religious, ethnic and national aspects. However; killers, murderers and all alike are not always is in the possibility to become leaders. Therefore, there are those who kill a specific racial or religious group, but in numbers which are too small to be considered genocide; for example; the KKK and the neo-Nazi subculture.
In addition, there are many who are considered to be simply insane or extremely morally deviant. Such are Charles Manson, Jim Jones and Jeffrey Dahmer, and oddly enough, we are actually more shocked at the actions of these individuals, than those of true genocidal murderers.
We must understand that; truth be told, when the numbers grow too big, we risk feeling – and remembering – too little. Despite pictures of piled skulls seen around the world, it is harder to come to terms and empathize with Pol Pot’s “killing fields” – which claimed 3 million Cambodian lives in the 1970’s – and easier to be disturbed by a self-generated image of Jeffrey Dahmer excitedly butchering and eating 17 young men because he was “lonely”, and didn’t want them to leave. History has had more than its share of grotesque, ritualistic crime – whether Al Capone’s 1929 St. Valentine’s massacre of his rivals, the five senseless murders ordered up by Charles Manson in 1969 or the Ku Klux Klan’s hooded terrorism in the 1920’s. The very concept of war dehumanizes us; people become numbers and nationalities instead of individuals.
Perhaps our fascination addresses our deepest fantasies and insulates us from confronting even greater horrors.
Zealots, genocidal murderers and mini-madmen cannot be ranked as they are united mainly by their absolutism. Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, referring to his individual prosecution of homosexuals, adulterers and prostitutes once stated; “If our finger suffers from gangrene, what will you do? Do you let the whole hand, and then the body become filled with gangrene, or do you cut the finger off?” Jim Jones, confronted at the last minute by an acolyte who pleaded, “I look at all the babies and I think they deserve to live,” answered, “Don’t they deserve much more? They deserve peace?”
And so we can psychologically comprehend only so much, and thus understand that these individuals create a full subjective ideology of the world “as it should be”, and by all means plan to form it into reality. If one has created an entire system in their minds, no matter what the question is, they will always have an answer for it. What seems unreasonable and mindless to us makes perfect sense to them.