Waller Outlines How Ordinary People Can Commit Genocide

BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS – On Thursday, July 24, 2014, Auschwitz Institute’s Academic Programs Director James Waller delivered a lecture to approximately 40 middle and high school teachers on how ordinary people can become perpetrators of genocide. “To explain behavior is not to excuse the behavior,” said Waller. “To understand is not to forgive.”

The lecture was organized by Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO) as part of a weeklong workshop for U.S. history, world history, humanities, and English language arts teachers from the New England region. FHAO is an international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.

Drawing from his award-winning book, Becoming Evil, Waller highlighted collectivist values, us-versus-them thinking, moral disengagement, and professional socialization as critical dynamics underlying the process of how ordinary people come to commit genocide and mass atrocities. “Understanding the needs—psychological, physical, and emotional—that are fulfilled by evil-doing can also help us understand how to fulfill those needs in less destructive ways,” said Waller.

In addition to directing educational programming at AIPR, Waller is the Cohen Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. Becoming Evil is scheduled for a third edition release later this year. His new book, Done to Death: Genocide and the Modern World, is also scheduled for a 2014 release.