On Killing by LtCol Dave Grossman, 2009, Excerpts
Those who engage in a policy of atrocity usually strike a bargain that exchanges their future for a brief gain in the present. Though brief, that gain is nonetheless real and powerful. In order to understand the attraction of atrocity, we must understand and clearly acknowledge those benefits that cause individuals, groups and nations to turn to it.
Each soldier who actively or passively participates in such mass executions is faced with a stark choice. On the one hand, the soldier can resist the incredibly powerful array of forces that call for him to kill, and he will instantly be denied his nation, his leaders, and his friends and will most likely be executed along with the other victims of this horror. On the other hand, the soldier can bow before the social and psychological forces that demand that he kill, and in doing so he will be strangely empowered.
He must believe that not only is this atrocity right, but it is proof that he is morally, socially, and culturally superior to those whom he has killed. He firmly believes that the enemy is less than human and is deserving of what has happened. He must violently attack anyone or anything that would threaten his beliefs. His mental health is totally invested in believing that what he has done is good and right. It is the blood of his victims that binds and empowers him to even greater heights of killing and slaughter.
Those who command atrocities are powerfully bonded by blood and guilt to those who commit atrocities, and their cause, since only the success for their cause can ensure that they will not have to answer for their actions. With totalitarian dictators, it is their secret police and other such Praetorian guard-type units who can be counted on to fight for their leader and their cause to the bitter end. Nicolae Ceausescu’s state police in Romania and Hitler’s SS units are two examples of units bonded to their leaders by atrocity. By ensuring that their men participate in atrocities, there is no possibility of reconciliation with the enemy. They are inextricably linked to the fate of their leader. Trapped in their logic and their guilt, those who commit atrocities see no alternatives other than total victory or total defeat in a great Gotterdammerung.
Those who attempt to wield atrocity as a systematic national policy have ultimately been struck down by this two-edged sword. Those who choose the path of atrocity have burned their bridges behind them. There is no turning back. Those who commit atrocities understand that what they are doing will be considered criminal by the rest of the world, and this is why at the level of nation-states they attempt to control their population and press.