Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Judging by some brief TV footage, the defendants in the Srebrenica trial looked like pretty simple men who didn't have a clue how they came to be where they were. For a moment I startled myself by feeling sorry for them. Absurd, of course, they are killers of the innocent and unarmed who had been responsible for perhaps the darkest day in Europe since 1945. But my brief sympathy was inspired by the fact that these looked like average people and some very persuasive psyschological experiments - notably the Milgram and the Stanford - have demonstrated that average people will, in the right circumstances, do extraordinarily nasty things. These experiments suggest that you could pluck people from the streets, give them the tools and the indoctrination and most of them would happily engage in another Srebrenica. This anoints the low ranking mass murderer with a kind of terrible innocence; he's just an average joe doing what average joes have alway done, obeying orders. It is a phenomenally depressing view of the human world, but, confronted by the evidence of history, even the most optimistic among us would have trouble arguing that it is not accurate. And now Radovan Karadzic is to go on trial. I know, I know, it is the right thing to do - but how much better it would have been if he had died in a summary battlefield execution and spared us the sight of another face just like our own.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 4:46 am