Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Little Murders

Are there bad people, or just people with problems that get of hand? The former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic is now on trial in The Hague, accused of war crimes, but he was once a psychiatrist, a person trained to understand and treat the condition of those suffering from mental illness. Is this a contradiction? For many years following the war, Karadzic lived incognito, sporting long hair and a beard and practicing alternative medicine. His training and the identity he adopted are belied by the fact that he was a murderer and a killer. But surely manifest content is significant; surely some part of him was interested in healing.

Hitler loved dogs. The young Stalin wrote poetry and there were those who thought he might become a priest. What is it that unites these murderers? How do human beings whose behavior shows signs of empathy for others make an about face whereby the brother becomes the other?  Only last week, another crime shocked the nation: the murder of 13 people at Fort Hood, by yet another psychiatrist. What made Major Nidal Malik Hasan open fire? Was he bad or mad?

Little Murders is the title of a play by Jules Feiffer. In a sense, all of us are capable of homicide, and maybe even genocide on a small scale. The beloved wife, friend, business associate, or relative suddenly becomes the enemy, the other, and the vitriol is directly proportionate to the love that once existed. A sense of victimhood can always be counted on to induce revenge. Racial pride was an organizing principle of the Third Reich, allowing for whole new classifications of others. The notion of a shared injury can also become a unifying force that unites a whole population in mass paranoia. Historic feelings of persecution by Christians may have been one of the many causes of the Turkish massacre of its Armenian population. What set the Hutus against the Tutsis, the Janjaweed against the rebels in the Sudan? And what explains the viciousness with which Bosnian Serbs turned against the Muslims with whom they had lived in peace for decades? 

These are no mere squabbles of property lines, money and political power. The depraved indifference to human life that is characteristic of mass murder has the quality of a passion, the kind of passion that once contained the germs of human love. Weren’t the Crusades and the Inquisition about love of God? And yet an academic understanding of the roots of conflict does little to assuage the pain. The guilty still must face trial, even if, as in the case of Karadzic, they refuse to show up.

1 comment:

  1. You are right - Mass murder was practiced through the centuries and more recently by African tribes, the Middle East as well as Eastern Europe - all in the name of Religion or Country...
    Prior to that we had the Inquisition and the Cruzades -
    But it always comes to the same- MURDER.
    Remember- Terrorism and Genocide sometimes changes name to Heroism and can even get a Nobel Prize....
    It always depends from which angle or side you look at it.... After all we are only Human and as such VERY falible.Cochat Nogueira


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