Government Is the Big Killer
The twentieth century has seen unprecedented accomplishments
in killing, and government is the big killer. In a century
of two world wars and many smaller ones, including civil wars,
about 40 million men have died in uniform. But governments
also kill non-combatants, and the total of these deaths for
the twentieth century is approximately 150 million. Mao killed
class enemies of the people; Stalin killed class enemies and
nationalities; Hitler killed Jews and gypsies; Pol Pot killed
class enemies and "non-Cambodian" minorities. To
these official target groups must be added those who did not
accede to state powerliberal elements, former allies,
personal enemies of state leaders. The striking aspect of
this killing is that it is within rather than across state
boundaries: Chinese killing Chinese, Soviets killing within
the U.S.S.R., Hitler killing within Germany and German-occupied
territories, Pol Pot killing Cambodians.
Some cases of state killing are often hidden under the label
of "ethnic conflict": Turks killing Armenians, Hutus
killing Tutsi, Serbs killing Albanians. In these cases we
do not have a name to hitch to the killing: no Mao, no Stalin,
no Hitler, no Pol Pot. Without a name to blame, we may find
it easy to ascribe the killing to "ancient enmities"
of tribe or ethnic group. "Ancient enmities" implies
mass hatredmost people of one group hating another group,
most of one group rising up to kill the most they can of the
hated group. In fact, however, mass killing typically involves
relatively small groups of killers.
In Rwanda, it is estimated that only about one percent of
Hutus actually participated in killing Tutsi. The Hutu elite
prepared the population to accept genocide with months of
radio broadcasts about Tutsi plans for domination; the killers
were prepared with prioritized lists of those, Hutu as well
as Tutsi, who were to be killed. The fact that the killing
employed mostly low-tech weapons like machetes and clubs does
not mean it was not organized. Similarly it seems likely that
no more than one percent of Turks participated in killing
and transporting Armenians, and no more than one percent of
Serbs participated in ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
The fact that killers are a small minority in ethnic cleansing
is inconsistent with ancient-enmities explanations of ethnic
conflict and genocide. Mass killing involves not a mass of
individuals boiling with hate or fear, but massive organization
and planning. Individual hatreds make exceptions for friends
and neighbors, and individual killers get tired or run out
of victims. Mass killing requires prioritizing victims, transporting
and supplying killers, transporting and disposal of those
to be killed. Mass killing requires the industrialization
of killing with the power of the statenot impulsive
aggression by the many but instrumental aggression by a few.
In contrast to government killing, terrorist killing is relatively
small. A terrorist group aims to bring down the state by threatening
and killing those who support the state. Since World War II,
only a handful of terrorist groups have succeeded in replacing
the state they were fighting: in Palestine, Algeria, and South
Africa; perhaps in South Vietnam and Northern Ireland. Although
states have for several decades been concerned about nuclear,
biological, and chemical attacks in which terrorists would
kill millions, thus far terror from below has not come close
to the killing accomplished by state powerterror from
Intergroup Violence Is Normal Group Psychology, Not Individual
The psychology of state violence is twofold. There is the
psychology of leaders who plan and order the violence, and
there is the psychology of those who perpetrate the violence.
It is tempting to say that anyone who can order millions
of innocent people killed must be crazy. The usual specification
of the craziness is psychopathy, the diagnostic category described
earlier as associated with use of instrumental aggression.
Unfortunately for this comfortable view of evil as distant
from normality, there is no evidence that leaders such as
Mao, Stalin, Hitler, or Pol Pot were psychopaths. Indeed,
it is unlikely that a psychopath, with typically impoverished
social relations, could develop the relationships and loyalties
required for effective leadership. The mega-killers are normal
men who devoted their lives to gaining power for themselves
and for an idea that justifies killingoften an ideology
of class or race advancement.
Similarly, it is tempting to say that anyone who can perpetrate
violence against civiliansanyone who can kill old people,
women, and childrenmust be a psychopath. But, as noted
above, some of America's best have been capable of this kind
of violence. Individual motives and individual pathology cannot
explain intergroup violence; state killers and those who direct
them can only be understood at the level of group psychology.
People care about groups, even groups they are not part of,
like sports teams and famine victims. Research indicates that
group attachments are a better predictor of political opinions
than individual self-interest. White support for school desegregation,
for instance, is not related to having school-age children
but is related to sympathy for blacks. Voters are not asking
"What's in it for me?" but "What's in it for
the groups I care about?" This is what is meant by group
identification: caring about what happens to a group. In positive
identification, we want good things to happen to a group;
in negative identification, we want bad things to happen.
Theory and research from a number of perspectives can illuminate
the ways in which group identification affects our behavior.
According to terror-management theory, our attachment to
important cultural groups is our buffer against mortality.
Humans are the only animals that know they are going to die.
The human answer to mortality is participation in a group
that will not die when the individual dies. Larger groups
with longer histories and more glorious futures offer better
reassurance against mortality, so family, ethnic, religious,
and national groups offer more reassurance than neighborhood,
recreational, and occupational groups. Terror-management theory
answers the question of why individuals should be willing
to die for their national or ethnic group: dying for a cultural
group gives meaning to life and an answer to death.
TMT is an extension of group-dynamics theory in relation
to the social-reality function of groups. As science is grounded
in replication, so individual perceptions are validated by
the agreement of others. If someone says she can see a star
where I see none, I am ready to admit the star and my weak
eyes when a third person says she can see the star.
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