Why Did They Kill? – Alexander Hinton

Why Did They Kill? – Alexander Hinton

Alexander Hinton - Why Did They KillSynopsis

Of all the horrors human beings perpetrate, genocide stands near the top of the list. Its toll is staggering: well over 100 million dead worldwide. Why Did They Kill? is one of the first anthropological attempts to analyze the origins of genocide. In it, Alexander Hinton focuses on the devastation that took place in Cambodia from April 1975 to January 1979 under the Khmer Rouge in order to explore why mass murder happens and what motivates perpetrators to kill. Basing his analysis on years of investigative work in Cambodia, Hinton finds parallels between the Khmer Rouge and the Nazi regimes. Policies in Cambodia resulted in the deaths of over 1.7 million of that country’s 8 million inhabitants—almost a quarter of the population–who perished from starvation, overwork, illness, malnutrition, and execution. Hinton considers this violence in light of a number of dynamics, including the ways in which difference is manufactured, how identity and meaning are constructed, and how emotionally resonant forms of cultural knowledge are incorporated into genocidal ideologies.

My Thoughts

Hinton analyzes the Cambodian genocide, and the motivations for such violence, from a very individual perspective. He theorizes from socio-psychological and socio-cultural perspective – which makes this book absolutely perfect for my own analysis for my thesis. These perspectives play on notions of group cohesion and socialization, which are not only important for understanding the group dynamics within a genocidal regime, but also for understanding individual rationalizations.

Basing much of his research from similar processes that occurred during the Holocaust, it is very easy to draw parallels between the two instances of genocide. However, they are not the same occurrence, nor did the acts committed occur for the same reasons. There were specific cultural and bureaucratic factors involved in the Cambodian genocide that were not present in Nazi Germany. These are important to consider going forward in reading this book – or in any genocide research, really.

There are times when this book is an extremely tough pill to swallow. There are in-depth first person narratives that make it extremely difficult to continue. However, these narratives are necessary in order to understand why these perpetrators chose to commit genocide. These narratives are also important in culturally and historically situating ourselves. In order to best understand what was happening, we need a clear picture of what the times were like.

This book outlines social and cultural concepts involved in genocidal ideology, among many others, very well in its explanation of perpetrator motivations. Hinton dives in head first to understand – not excuse – what, exactly, drives a person to extreme acts of violence. This is a very good book for understanding the individualistic side of perpetrators, and where cultural socialization plays into their reasoning.


~ by Aubrey Smith on February 6, 2015.

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