The origins of genocide and mass killing


University of Massachusetts at Amherst


Copyright 1999 by Trauma, Research, Education and Training Institute, Inc.



Starting points that originate the social and psychological steps leading to genocide or mass killing.


Difficult life conditions (economic problems, political conflict, great social change)


Group conflict—over rights and privilege, territory, and so on. Self-interest


Responses to these life conditions:

Turning to one's group for identity


Destructive ideologies that identify enemies


The evolution of destruction:


Individuals and the group change as they begin to harm another group


Cultural characteristics that make this evolution likely:


Devaluation of another group


A history of intense mutual antagonism


Overly strong respect for authority


A monolithic rather than pluralistic culture


Unhealed wounds due to past victimization or suffering

The important role of bystanders


Passivity or complicity by internal and external bystanders makes the evolution of violence easier and more likely



The role of leaders


Leaders and the elite of a country can use life conditions, culture—already existing
inclinations--to intensify hostility and create violence


The use of propaganda


The creation and advocacy of an ideology

The creation of paramilitary groups


Halting and preventing genocide and mass killing