15 July 2012

Atrocity Denial

On Killing by LtCol Dave Grossman, 2009, Excerpts

The sheer horror of atrocity serves not only to terrify those who must face it, but also to generate disbelief in distant observers. Whether it is ritual cult killings in our society or mass murders by established governments in the world at large, the common response is often one of total disbelief. And the nearer it is to home, the harder we want to disbelieve it. The sheer awfulness of atrocity makes us wish it away.

Those who were deceived are mainly good, decent, highly educated men and women. It is their very goodness and decency that causes them to be so completely incapable of believing that someone or something they approve of could be so completely evil. Denial of mass atrocity is tied to our innate resistance to killing. Just as one hesitates to kill in the face of extreme pressure and despite the threat of violence, one has difficulty imagining – and believing – the existence of atrocity despite the existence of facts. When you institute and execute a policy of atrocity, you and your society must live with what you have done.

All of us would like to believe that we would not participate in atrocities, that we would deny our friends and leaders and even turn our weapons on them if need be. But there are profound processes involved that prevent such confrontations of peers and leaders in atrocity circumstance. The first involves group absolution and peer pressure.

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