CALGARY, CANADA – On February 20, 2014, Dr. James Waller, AIPR Academic Programs Director and Cohen Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, delivered a keynote address at “Understanding Atrocities: Remembering, Representing and Teaching Genocide,” a conference hosted by Mount Royal University.
Waller’s lecture, “The Dead End of Demonization,” outlined how the practice of demonizing perpetrators of mass atrocities allows us to distance ourselves from the tough questions surrounding these deadly acts. While that distance may be psychological and emotionally comfortable, he said, it’s of little help in understanding the motives and actions of those responsible. “Because it is reprehensible does not mean it is incomprehensible,” said Dr. Waller.
During his presentation, Dr. Waller quoted the work of Tina Rosenberg, author of Children of Cain: Violence and the Violent in Latin America (1991), who interviewed perpetrators of mass atrocities across Central and South America. “I would have preferred them to be monsters,” she wrote. “Coming to understand that this is not the case was disturbing–for what it taught me about these people, and ultimately, about myself.”
For Dr. Waller, understanding the psychological, physical, and emotional needs fulfilled in perpetration can help us understand how to better address those needs in less destructive ways. “Understanding facilitates prevention and intervention,” he said.
In addition to Dr. Waller, the three-day Calgary conference featured keynotes by Andrea Smith, author ofConquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (2005), and Christopher Powell, author of Barbaric Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Genocide (2011).