Choose an incident from history. Read American psychiatrist William Gault’s analysis of the various perceptions and factors that may lead to the commission of atrocities, and then apply it to the incident you chose.
1. The enemy is everywhere
(Overwrought soldiers see threats looming everywhere around them.)
2. The enemy is not human (Using derogatory terms for the enemy reflects this tendency to dehumanize them.) No personal responsibility.
(Being part of a unit and following orders can mean shared responsibility is no one’s responsibility.)
3. Pressure to act
(Combat units that do not fight become restless especially when mines and snipers cause casualties. The frantic soldier is driven to mindless revenge.)
4. The urge to dominate in violent personalities
(Brutal war suits the character of such men, where their actions are often admired and they gain leadership.)
(The lightweight M-16 shoots ten bullets a second. A terrified or angry soldier can just point his rifle in the enemy’s general direction and open up a torrent of destruction.)
– William Gault, Some Remarks on Slaughter
Prepare for and take part in a debate on the following proposition:
People who do not speak out when they know that a war crime has been committed are accomplices in the crime.
Find examples of atrocities that have been committed in your country, or by members of the armed forces of your country or by other armed groups.
If such examples are not available, search for them in the history of another country. Write a report comparing what you have discovered with what happened at My Lai.
With a partner or in a small group, work on the dilemma scenario “There was no mercy.”
Complete Part A before reading Part B. Before making your decision, consider each point of view, the various kinds of pressure affecting the situation and the possible consequences – both immediate and long-term.
Then read Part B, and respond to the question at the end.
Write about your experience, or exchange stories with a classmate about the following questions:
Have you ever been asked to do something you felt was wrong, but you did it anyway because you felt pressure? How did you feel afterwards, and what were the consequences of the actions taken?
Find a news story where someone acted on orders from an authority, while knowing it was wrong to do so. Examine the chain of consequences from that event.