The globe and Mail: by Gerald Caplan —
Could you, under any circumstance, be a merciless torturer, a serial rapist, a mass murderer? This month, which marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda and the 99th anniversary of the genocide of the Armenians, is as good a time to ask as any.
Each year, my graduate seminar on Rwanda learns that hundreds of thousands of perfectly ordinary Rwandan Hutu – peasants, farmers, teachers – were mobilized by their leaders to carry out the genocide of the country’s Tutsi minority. I challenge students to consider this question: Had they been a Hutu in Rwanda at that time, would they have joined the systematic slaughter of some three-quarters of all the Tutsi in the country, perhaps as many as a million souls?
Invariably, most are horrified by the very question. Often they are indignant. They, they insist, would never have been reduced to such inhuman behaviour. I tell them how impressed I am with their courage and decency, compared to all the ordinary men (and women too) who did participate. But how, they need to explain, did they escape being brainwashed by the steady diet of anti-Tutsi propaganda that they received from teachers and playmates, from hate radio and government officials? How did they resist believing all Tutsi were aliens who didn’t belong, cockroaches to be crushed under foot, rebels who threatened Hutu lives?