Over 60 million men, women, and children were victims of genocide and mass killing in the last century alone. An immediate reaction to these horrific acts would lead someone to think that the perpetrators were mentally impaired and what kind of person must you be to engage in such violence. In reality, the perpetrators are among us, ordinary people, whom you would never suspect. He may be your neighbor, your boss, your coach, or even a family member. It can be difficult to detect the warning signs, or even be oblivious to them. The signs are often subtle enough that they don’t strike an immediate gasp. The warning signs can be comparable to subliminal messaging that targets specific audiences. Consciously, I would never partake in such hatred and violence and personally find it appalling, but do I really know how I would act when faced with that situation?
On November 22, 2017, Ratko Mladic, the general of the Bosnian Serb Army, was convicted of war crimes, including genocide, by the United Nations court and sentenced to life in prison. Although justice was finally served in the worst atrocity since WWII, we cannot forget the many genocides that are currently happening all over the world. In Myanmar, the Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants and terrorists from Bangladesh. Approximately 3,000 people have been killed thus far and over 270,000 have been displaced, a case of ethnic cleansing (Kranz). Although a young country, South Sudan has been mired in a civil war since 2013. Additional smaller ethnic groups have been committing genocide behind the scenes as the Dinka-Nuer conflict has taken center stage. Since the South Sudan civil war began, as many as 50,000 people have been killed and more than 2.3 million people forced to leave their homes (Williams). Media coverage has been scarce, if any, on these current genocides, but does that really surprise anyone?
The greatest catastrophes occur when we no longer see the difference between war and crime, or the boundaries between military and criminal conduct fade. They occur when we confuse civility and barbarity and when our own political, social, and religious groups embrace these mass killings and term them “warfare.” As discomforting as it is to admit and acknowledge, Waller states, “…ordinary, ‘normal’ people commit[ing] acts of extraordinary evil” (Jensen 148). Our inherently self-centered human nature with cooperation turns out to be an effective way to compete. There appears to be a dominance issue or fear of social exclusion that tears societies apart. By developing an emotional attachment to a group, these perpetrators have found an important source of self-definition and esteem. Group-based identity begins with disengagement practices and morally justifying their goals as though they are serving a socially worthy or moral purpose. Groups then begin to dehumanize potential victims. (Jensen 155).
I believe the only way we can avoid becoming “one of them,” is to be more self-aware. The more research that is available, the more we can educate ourselves on the ways perpetrators try to manipulate people into following their hateful ways. Sometimes fear can play a big part and survival of the fittest. It is easy for the United States to idly sit by as genocide happens around the world, because it’s selfish. I believe it all ties back into the self-centeredness that makes humans attracted to those types of groups. The United States’ definition of “Not me!” is not me, not my problem. I am hopeful that my definition of “Not me!” will be standing up for others and not allowing injustices to continue.
Jensen, Olaf.Ordinary People as Mass Murderers: Perpetrators in Comparative Perspectives.Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Kranz, Michal. “5 Genocides That Are Still Going on Today.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 22 Nov. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/genocides-still-going-on-today-bosnia-2017-11.
Williams, Jennifer. “The Conflict in South Sudan, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 9 Jan. 2017, www.vox.com/world/2016/12/8/13817072/south-sudan-crisis-explained-ethnic-cleansing-genocide.
Angie St. John is currently a junior, attending ODU part time. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Professional Writing. Angie has a strong passion for human rights and hopes to contribute towards meaningful discussions this semester. Her full time gig is working for Anthem as a Legal Specialist, but in her spare time, you can find her raising good humans (12 year old fraternal twins to be exact). When Angie gets a break from parenting, you can find her singing karaoke or watching some sort of sporting event, depending upon the season.