Understanding Evil – The Chronicle Review

What is it like to be the perpetrator of genocide or war crimes? A new book by James Dawes, Evil Men, gets at the heart of darkness.

I am visiting with him now because I have spent too many years interviewing survivors of war crimes and human-rights workers and wondering: What kind of person could have committed those heinous acts? I want to know. So I am internally preparing myself, during the smiling pleasantries of our introduction, to ask.

When we start talking about his war crimes, we might as well be talking about a figure from a history textbook, for all the emotion we show. If we were on a television program and you were watching us with the mute button pressed, you would imagine I was asking about his grandchildren. Instead I am asking about how he murdered other people’s grandchildren.

via Understanding Evil – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.


4 thoughts on “Understanding Evil – The Chronicle Review”

  1. It is an interesting field of study, trauma studies. I think getting both sides of the story is necessary to understand the issue at hand- genocide. I am happy that the author did not use too many violent anecdotes to cheaply grab attention. The contrast of the doctor hurting and now using that knowledge to help heal is amazing. Getting the stories of the people who carry out war crimes seems like it has the most potential to prevent genocide in the future, and especially relevant with the story of the man cutting out the heart and eating it in Syria. I was in the living room when my room mate started to watch the first seconds of it and just felt sick, and I get the same feeling when I read the end of the book of Mormon where the society as a whole becomes violent. Hopefully more scholarship in the future of understanding and preventing evil acts will help stem hatred at beginning stages before that hatred explodes into widespread violence.

  2. I would agree. We cannot prevent something we do not understand. Scholarship concerning what turns people into barbarians would be very helpful in preventing these same circumstances from happening time and again in the future. However, the author has a very good point when he suggests that there is fine line between justifying these men’s actions and teaching people how these people became this way. When teaching this topic, it would be important to have an academic view toward this subject in order to maintain academic integrity but at the same time make it very clear that these actions will never be acceptable. When viewing these men and interacting with them, I do believe that it is important to, besides their just punishment for their crimes, whatever that may be, to let them seek for forgiveness of their sins and try to repent. As the author said, the greatest punishment is they have to be who they are.

  3. Understanding why these people did the terrible things they did wont stop different people from doing the same types of terrible things. Human nature isn’t going to change just because some scholars understand it and teach about it in class. This new window into the darker parts of our history just gives us something else to be conflicted about. I’m glad we have it, and I think we can personally gain a lot by taking a new look at judgment and redemption in this context. I like the point he made that it may be hard for us to live with what these people did, but it is likely more difficult for these people to live with themselves. Maybe his work doesn’t help us stop these horrible actions, but help the people who did them find peace (whether they deserve it or not).

  4. This article was thought-provoking at the very least. It is very easy to look at someone and label them as “evil” and then move on with our lives. Evil is never what is seems to be. To a certain extent I can understand the view of the public in that sometimes it feels as though we are giving them excuses for what they did and taking away from the victims that lived through things such as experimental surgery. On the other hand, who are we to look at these men and women up and down and tell them that they don’t regret their decisions and that everything they are is inherently evil. It isn’t our place and it would do a lot for the world to look at motivations and more importantly to look at the people they are today.

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