“The Unkindest Cut of All” by Stephen Budiansky, a book review of “The Killing Compartments” by Abram de Swaan. The Wall Street Journal, 1/11/2015.
- Genocidal killing sprees have taken more than 100 million lives since the late 19th century—four times the toll of combatants in “regular” wars. These paroxysms of annihilation are almost always aimed at a despised ethnic or social group; they are carried out in extreme and intimate brutality (usually accompanied by rape, torture and the mutilation of utterly defenseless victims); and they are conducted with the unabashed intent of exterminating an entire population. Scarcely a decade has passed without such a violent outburst.
- The proportion of psychopaths among [genocidaires] is in fact no greater than in the rest of the population—about 5%. Before engaging in the brutal slaughter of unarmed civilians, most of the perpetrators “may not have ever harmed a living soul,” [Swaan] writes. “Once it is over, most of them by far will never again physically hurt another person.” The men who carry out these acts (nearly all genocidaires are men) are fully functional members of their society before, after and even during their participation in the murders; they have normal friendships, are devoted fathers and loving husbands, are economically successful. They are, in psychological terms, mentally and socially “well integrated.”