OJPCR 1.1: Nonviolent Action in Prevention of Genocide: Bosnia in Focus

By Jennifer Antieno Fisher



The whys of genocide are most obviously attributable to propaganda. Elites make a grab for power during times of instability by mobilizing a latent sense of victimhood, persecution and present danger. But propaganda has a broader context in which we are all implicated. In exploring the causes of mass murder in the Balkans, it becomes clear that we are associated, even enmeshed, with the people there, not only by sharing a web of common history and ideas from the past and not only by our knowledge of events there in the present, but because we share an increasingly common destiny in the future as a whole species. Our national psyche is not more redeemed or less pathological. Genocide can happen anywhere – in fact, it will. That is, unless we choose to stop it. The two parts of that change are the creation of a more inclusive “we” in mythic space and the application of actions in real time. “Nonviolent action” needs to address both of these prerequisites. In a sense, nonviolent action needs to have a propaganda of its own type, creating a counter-culture of human worth, as well as making noise where that worth is violated. While this paper is not a case study or history of genocide in Bosnia, the illustrative examples and most of the secondary research sources I will use draw from events in that region. The first part of this paper may well have already been written more thoroughly elsewhere, but I hope that the application of the principles and the spirit of nonviolent direct action represents, for many, a new way of thinking about the problem of genocide. For the premise of nonviolent action feeds jarringly, bafflingly, almost mystically, on hope.


Hundreds of years ago, the Turks defeated Serbia at Kosovo. Bosnia’s story of coexistence has been one of such success that Serb propagandists had to go back that far to find something that would turn 31% of Bosnia (Serbs, traditionally shepherds) against 44% of Bosnia (Muslims, primarily urban according to sources) (Gutman xviii). But a sense of persecution is crucial to incitement. The recent violent push for Serb nationalism started among intellectuals at the Serbian Academy of Sciences in the late 80s (Gutman 16). When a protege, the nationalist Serb Slobodan Milosevic, seized control of the media, he strongly portrayed Serbs as the victims of external aggressors and internal race traitors in every age, from Tito’s rule to the Hapsburgs’ to Ottoman times to the traumatic years of World War II (Gutman xxii). “It was necessary to impose upon the Serb nation an embattled sense of being surrounded by racial enemies, so that only their gathering within a single Serb state could ensure the biological survival of the nation” (Magas 351). Staging enough violence to give the threat credence ensures that it will continue to perpetuate itself. Jacques Ellul writes that propaganda “furnishes [the individual] with a complete system for explaining the world, and provides immediate incentives for action.” The completeness has to do with total lack of toleration for any outside points of reference. People listen to the media that confirm their own belief, (213) becoming “immune to any other influence.” Their worldview takes more definite shape, contouring to that of the propagandist.

More than stroking up certain beliefs, propaganda shows the bestirred man and woman what to do with/about their beliefs (Magas 11). Once it has played up the theme of victimhood, propaganda goes on to offer immediate solutions. “What are you doing?” S.T. (a Muslim 16 year old) asked the last of her 3 rapists. “That is what your people are doing to us as well,” he replied (Gutman 66). Milosevic did not create his incitements from thin air. Not unlike most nations’, Serb identity relies heavily on having enemies, as well as rescuing heroes (Wilmer 12), perhaps even to the extent that it appears “‘the community within is empty and without conflict, reduced only to the borders that define its freedom and identity'” (Wilmer 9). Serbian children’s textbooks glorify heroism and portray victimization of Serbs. Of ninety primary and secondary textbooks, 58 were found to be “bellicose,” with war as the main theme, 18 were mixed, and only 14 were peaceful. Higher grades had more bellicose texts. “Of the total 58 war topics, 52 texts emphasize incomprehensible and amazing heroism, obediently laying down one’s life for the fatherland.” Referring to the grotesque images depicted, the researcher continues, “Blood spurts from the textbooks,” and they describe scenes of stark degradation and gore (Wilmer 9). In another recent study on hate speech, the popular youth music, called “turbo-folk,” was found to reflect “themes of contemporary heroism to avenge Serb victimization at the hands of old enemies — Muslim ‘Turks’, Croats, Catholics, Ustasha as various race traitors — and new ones — ‘Yankees’ and Tito.” (Wilmer, 9)

But recently concocted propaganda takes the longstanding theme of violence and persecution as merely the skeleton of its work. For example, Dragos Kalajic, a Serb intellectual, can write about the inherent character flaws of Muslims, purporting that “during five centuries, in satisfying their sexual impulses… the Ottoman armies and administrators… created a distinct semi-Arab ethnic group,” dishonest, incapable of understanding the principles of European ideals like personal freedom and incapable of governing themselves. Thus, Muslims became a threat to all of of modern civilization (Cigar 26 ) as well as nefarious plotters, with the intention of seizing control over all Serbia (Cigar 28). “This unscrupulousness completely fits their religion and tradition and culture,” intellectuals assured internationals (Cigar 99). Milosevic organized rallies in the late 80s at which could be heard “Oh Muslims, you black crows, Tito is no longer around to protect you!” and “I’ll be the first, who’ll be the second, to drink some Turkish [Muslim] blood?” (Cigar 34)

When atrocities by Serbs began, propaganda cloaked them in part by trivializing terms. For example, Serb proclamations that “banning our athletes from taking part in international competition is genocide committed against the young” showed a severe blurring of language meanings arising from the monopoly on victimhood. Presenting the conflict as unfortunate civil strife, equalizing the blame and referring to ethnic cleansing as “combat” are other examples of confusing misnomers. Denial took more blatant forms. Serb propagandists accused Muslims of blowing up their own mosques to attract international sympathy. There was blanket denial of camps or of atrocities in camps and of rapes, a denial backed up by the church. Rumors were dismissed, because “everyone is just out to get us” (Cigar 87). In private, however, soldiers might glorify their deeds, gleefully singing at party rallies “In the glade in the little forest, a Serb is f-ing a Muslim woman. The Muslim woman is covered with blood, the Serb was her first ever” (Cigar 92).


The reluctance of world governments to intervene in the Balkans was a message. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher knew this: “The events in the former Yugoslavia raise the question whether a state may address the rights of its minorities by eradicating them to achieve ethnic purity. Bold tyrants and fearful minorities are watching to see whether ethnic cleansing is a policy the world will tolerate” (Gutman). We are not the first age to answer yes. Hitler’s speech to top commanders on eve of Polish invasion emphasized “depopulation.” “Who, after all, is today speaking about the destruction of the Armenians?” he asked them rhetorically (Gutman 174). The US is very cautious about which truth it can afford to admit. David Rawson, U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda, is clear; “As a responsible Government, you don’t just go around hollering ‘genocide.’ You say that acts of genocide may have occurred and they need to be investigated” (Mendlovitz in Strozier 137). The US government and media tended to devalue both victim and perpetrator in Bosnia as equally guilty and took a “let it burn itself out” attitude (Sells 141). What hesitant and vacillating (Lake) intervention eventually did occur failed to provide any fresh vision to the spiritual climate or any support to anti-war activists. Rather, it legitimated the status of those who had seized their power by murdering.

First-track diplomats have somehow locked themselves into highly uncreative ways of conceiving their options (#1). “The willingness of the international mediators to accept all contenders on the basis of their military power served to validate the territorial conquests of the strongest parties” (Fine 278). A couple of interesting facts might help explain the dismayed confusion of the US administration in spite of its over-funded intelligence agencies (#2). First, Serbian obfuscation had a direct “in” with the Bush administration through at least one longstanding personal friendship between a staff member and a Serb nationalist (Gutman xxiv). Second, a group of American Serbs in DC, SerbNet, paid the UN commissioner $15,000 to give speeches in DC, in which he painted the picture of unfortunate civil strife among equally mad factions. (Gutman 168) But complicity goes beyond possible collusion because US interests are not at stake, and diplomatic poverty of imagination . It goes back to the way Western civilization was mapping reality before Milosevic was born. Hannah Arendt writes that “Not until the end of the [19th] century were dignity and importance accorded race-thinking as though it had been one of the major spiritual contributions of the Western world” (Arendt 158). Alexis de Tocqueville wrote on his visit to the US prior to this development that “[race opinions] are probably wrong and certainly pernicious.” Today, far beyond the boundaries within which race-thinking and class-thinking have developed into obligatory patterns of thought, free public opinion has adopted them to such an extent that not only intellectuals but great masses of people will no longer accept a presentation of past facts that is not in agreement with either of these views (Arendt 159). We even mistake causes for consequences of race thinking in research findings (Arendt 160). Franke Wilmer relates this telling anecdote:

Interestingly, on returning this summer I had a conversation with a Tutsi woman from Burundi… she said that Tutsis and Hutus had “learned” from colonialism that the west considers it perfectly normal for one group to claim itself superior to another and to justify brutality by a dominant/superior group against an “inferior” one on that basis. She said the whole experience of colonialism left the people with a profound lack of respect for individual human life (personal email) .

“History” has almost exclusively meant imperialist history, and history books are still sending their open and yet inconspicuous message, creating no apparent contradiction with supposed Western values of equality and autonomy.

There are other ways that our cognitive maps allow genocide. Repetition of supposedly forbidden acts of violence in the public arena of the media seems to sanction them somehow (Charny 265). We are saying one thing about violence with the good side of our face, and another from the other, evil mouth we deny. The same is true as an increasing portion of “us” becomes surplus, outsiders in consumer society. Mouthing withered universalist values is creating an increasing tension with the reality (Denitch 203). The dissonance is compounded by selective naming of genocide, whereby genocide occurs in Rwanda or Bosnia or Armenia or Auschwitz, but not in South Dakota, Hiroshima, Harlem, Nicaragua or Iraq.


It is tempting to find some sense-making explanation for genocide in Darwinism or some other reassuringly natural set of larger principles. But genocide is not effective as population control, so it does not have that evolutionary function (Staub 12). Exhaustive lists of prerequisites to genocide exist elsewhere. I simply discuss four aspects of the phenomenon: (1) economic characteristics and the function of (2) memory, (3) authoritarian history and (4) what might be called, without value judgment or facile dismissal, paranoid projection.

Economic Instability, Incentive, and Inequality

Doug Hostetter, a frequent visitor to the region through his work at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, claims that the first two years of war were run on the booty principle. Muslim property was declared fair game, so greed became a more powerful motivator than hatred. Muslims had invested their (significant, according to Fine, 122) wealth to an unusual degree in gold jewelry. Booty gifts to Serb soldiers’ girlfriends and wives thus co-opted one whole set of people that might otherwise have been a source of anti-war sentiment. Hostetter also points out that lynching of blacks in the Old American South went up as price of cotton went down, and came back down when the price rose again. The rapid economic changes and woes of the region are blamed by many for the war in ex-Yugoslavia.

Lipschutz and Crawford, in a Policy document entitled “‘Ethnic’ Conflict Isn’t”, write that conflict arises when social contracts are eroded in societies that are undergoing rapid and destabilizing economic and political transitions. “Economic and political transitions also offer great possibilities for power and wealth to those well-placed individuals who are entrepreneurial enough to see the opportunities inherent in the newly-emerging systems.” The “social contract” put in place among the Yugoslav republics under Tito involved a particular (re)distribution of power and wealth. The economic crisis of the 1980s, brought on by the oil crises of the 1970s and international economic competition, increased resentments among the republics, eroded living standards throughout the country and fostered a desire for greater autonomy in the richer republics. It also subjected the country to the demands of international lenders for structural adjustment policies. Lipschutz and Crawford go on to claim that the elites at the Serbian Academy of Sciences feared that Serbia might be deprived of its “economic lifeline” to Slovenia and Croatia. Economic insecurity revives feelings of persecution and fear which become the foundations of nationalist propaganda. Lifton writes; “Fascist ideology can have particular appeal for the survivor self fighting off disintegration because it holds out, at all levels, a promise of unity, oneness, fusion” (499). But the instability of rapid change also awakens the entrepreneurial spirit in murderous proportions.

Favoritism in colonial times also sows seeds of violence. The over/under structuring of human relationships as well as the cheapening of human life leaves flammable residue. Groups who were particularly marginalized by colonial powers “eventually make a move to recover/reclaim the integrity of their identity, though of course then often within a cognitive structure of victims seeking revenge.” (Wilmer, personal email) The Ottoman, French and British empires cultivated special relationships with certain groups to co-opt them for administration of the colonial government. Ottomans made converts to Islam in Bosnia and they favored the Orthodox (Serb) Christians over the Catholic (Croat) because of their conflict with papal powers. Oppression of the Croats came to full flower during World War II, when Croat fascists, the Ustasha, killed untold numbers of Jews and Serbs in concentration camps. Memories of the Ustasha purges in turn animate violence in this decade. Lake writes, “When the fear of the future sets in, ethnic identities which may have lain dormant for years are called forth and confirmed by memories and myths.”


Memory may have an energy of its own apart from fear. A 73 year old Serbian refugee remembered her 1991 flight from Croat soldiers in light of a 1940s Ustasha purge of her village, mixing images of carnage from the two periods (Wilmer 7). Journalists have remarked that centuries-old terms such as “Janissary” are used by nationalists, almost as if there is real confusion about the spacing of history. One woman who lost friendships because she wouldn’t agree with the Serb propaganda that the US-backed Croatians were Nazis said of one anti-Croat friend, “I really can’t blame her, since all her father’s family were killed by the Ustasha” (Wilmer 7). It has been estimated that three fourths of WWII deaths in the region were a result of atrocities against civilians. Since one in ten people died and one in five were somehow involved, everyone alive today has parents with strong memories (Wilmer 6). This preoccupation with the past may not have been as pronounced had there been acknowledgement and mourning of the past. In a chapter entitled “Mourning and International Politics,” Vamik Volkan writes, “I have suggested that changes in the relationships and activities of allies and enemies are accompanied by a kind of mourning and that if the groups’ mourning does not follow a ‘normal’ course, the inability to complete it may become a political force.” Tito forbade discussion of the holocaust in Yugoslavia (Gutman xxi). In the same village where the 73 year old refugee saw blood running to her calf in the church from the Ustasha purge, Tito later sent an official to the village who spoke about the Serb and Croat blood that had been spilled. The lone male survivor of the purge stood and announced that if one single Croat bone could be found there, he would slit his own throat, (Wilmer 7) indicating to what extent his identity and very existence hinged on the truth of his victimization.

History of Authoritarianism

One of the causes of genocide listed by Staub (240) was provided by Tito’s style of governance. “A firm authoritarian blueprint for a better world” does not promote pluralism, health, or a positive cultural self-concept that can outlive the ruler. He also writes, “Strong respect for authority and strong inclination to obedience are other predisposing characteristics for mass killing and genocide” (Staub 19). Tito was revered like a deity; some Yugoslavs have been known to hint in hushed tones that only a divine identity could sufficiently account for his story. The glorification of heroes and the need for a savior might explain in part expectations of Western intervention. Yugoslavs had none of the cultural isolation imposed by Soviet communists, and felt a kinship to the West which many feel was betrayed.

Paranoid Projection

The sociologist Kai Erikson (in Strozier 56) writes, “The legends people tell of their own origins usually describe themselves as living at the center of the universe, blessed by whatever divinities preside over the world, and more human by a considerable margin than all the other creatures with which they must share the surface of the earth.” The identification of an “us” and a “them” may be inescapable, even healthy. But under stress, when we regress to a view of reality in which all is either good or evil, we scapegoat “them.” We glorify ourselves and demonize the other, taking for the substance of our accusations all that we cannot bear in ourselves. The current furor over Saddam Hussein, who went from US aid recipient to evil tyrant in a couple of weeks after he threatened our oil supply, is a good case in point. All our favorite grievances against him — stockpiling nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, aggressively invading autonomous nations, slaughtering minorities, refusing to comply with UN judgments — are in fact more true of us, and are the very aspects of ourselves we least want to recognize. In Sam Keen’s excellent analysis and illustration of this process, Faces of the Enemy, he writes that paranoia is the norm rather than the exception. “It is considered both normal and admirable, the essence of tribal loyalty and patriotism, to direct vitriolic hatred toward strangers we hardly know, and to reserve love for those familiar to us” (17). He describes the splitting of the good from the unacceptable self, which can remain unconscious so long as there is an other onto whom we can project it (19).


Each of us, no matter how ‘cultured,’ have the capacity to commit genocidal violence. As Lionel Rubinoff said, “It is possible for a person to both love poems and kill children” (Charny 9). Staub outlines the step by step advance along a continuum that might begin with innocuous ideas. People change as they act, and seemingly insignificant acts can involve them further with a destructive system. Accepting benefits, for example, makes devaluation of victims expedient. Eventually “killing them comes to be seen as good right and desirable…new group norms evolve, and institutions are established in the service of mass killing” (17).

Stanley Milgram’s findings in the “Eichmann Experiment” have been replicated numerous times. In this study, on the instructions of the experimenter, 48-85% (depending on the formality of the setting) of subjects delivered what they thought was a painful and dangerous shock to a “subject” who gave the wrong answer. Those who declined to administer the shock dismissed themselves quietly and raised no questions with Milgram or his superiors (Charny 14).

What might be behind the almost universal capacity for cruelty? I discovered several explanations in the literature. Charny suggests that in situations where death is all around, “It seems almost instinctive that if one wants to gain something [aliveness] that is in short supply, the thing to do is to push others out of the way” (107). Keen quotes a Vietnam veteran; “There is joy, pure joy, in being alive when so many around you are not. And from the joy of being alive in death’s presence to the joy of causing death is unfortunately not that great a step” (138). In Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Saul Bellow has his character, Mr. Sammler, think about the taking of life. A Jew in WWII, Sammler had crawled naked from beneath corpses in a pit, having been missed by executioners’ fire, and survived for some time hiding in the woods. Here he describes shooting a German he ambushed in the snow during that time. “Freezing in Zamosht Forest, he had often dreamed of being near a fire.Well, this was more sumptuous than fire. His heart felt lined with brilliant, rapturous satin. To kill the man and to kill him without pity, for he was dispensed from pity. There was a flash, a blot of fiery white.When he shot again it was less to make sure of the man than to try again for that bliss” (144).  Lifton, perhaps the writer who has devoted the most careful attention to the subject of mass murder, describes genocide as a part of a “cure” that is as total as the felt sickness. Identification of a persecuting enemy, then, becomes a necessity for therapeutic cleansing (470). “A group experiences collective loss and death immersion; the promise of redemptive revitalization, including total merging of self with a mystical collectivity; the absolute failure of that promise, followed by newly intensified experience of collective death imagery and death equivalents; leading in turn to a hunger for a ‘cure’ commensurate in its totality with the ‘sickness.’ It deals with death anxiety, moreover, by glorifying death, even worshiping it” (499). Addiction to killing as a therapeutic antidote for the failure of totalitarianism and the memory of slaughter certainly would apply to the case of Yugoslavia. Ironically, then, mass killing would seem to come from a deep urge toward vitality (Charny 336). To Germans hungry for self respect and positive identity, Hitler promoted his regime not as the creation of the authoritarian police state it was but as the “dawn of an era of recuperation and regeneration of German community life” (Lifton 471). The appeal of such empty promises must have implications for how we approach the prevention of future genocide.


Signs of Resistance and Tolerance

Before beginning to brainstorm preventive nonviolent actions, it should be made clear that the majority of Croats, Serbs and Muslims did not commit atrocities. Milosevic downplayed nationalism in 1992 elections, indicating its dubious popularity (Wilmer 11). There were Serb and Bosnian dissidents throughout the period of disintegration (Cigar 102, Magas 281 and 354, Gutman 12, Fine 1). Doug Hostetter reports the common wisdom that there are no obvious indicators of who will follow their conscience during a genocide and who will passively or actively comply, but he uses the Biblical idea that there are at least ten righteous men in every city. In one story, 11 of 13 young men shot in the back when Serbs took over a town were Serb resisters! The lack of support for those who opposed the genocide, usually at the risk of their own lives, is perhaps the most poignant failure of bystanders. Especially in Bosnia there were deeply sown seeds, now destroyed, of ethnic tolerance, with the intermarriage rate as high as 40% (Fine 9). One recommendation for prevention, then, is to learn from the Vance-Owen variety of fiasco and find ways to seek out and recognize resisters, legitimating and materially supporting their efforts.

Brainstorming Possible Nonviolent Actions

Nonviolent action is traditionally conceived as arising from a group of organized individuals fighting, albeit without arms, an institution or establishment. The public space of international diplomacy seems an inaccessible level for the ordinary person. Yet many of the measures suggested in the literature call for changes in governments and government responses, without outlining how these changes are to be effected. Denitch, for example, sensibly points out the obsolescence of national armies and suggests shifting funding to the UN for the creation of an effective international force (203). I like to take Denitch as a starting point because his suggestion shows that the vision of Nonviolent action goes beyond winning confrontations on issues, and aims for a deep reconfiguration of cognitive maps. The initial redundance of Staub’s statement yields insight on further examination: “Individuals’ and societies’ assumptions about human nature and the nature of groups will significantly shape their realities” (264). Whatever he may mean, he brings us to the heart of the problem of genocide, which, as I tried to show earlier, is a matter of unspoken values.

A philosophy professor recently joined a raging internet discussion — on the value of a Master’s degree versus “real world” experience — to trace the ideas and values expressed up to that point in the discussion back to ancient Greece. We are unaware of the extent to which our civilization’s root philosophies, instituted at specific points in history, shape our everyday behavior and rhetoric. The good news is that “research suggests that by expressing and enacting values to which they are committed, a minority can affect the attitudes of the majority.” Staub gives as examples the witnesses to the fact that blacks are also human beings (261). We alive today are instituting philosophies as did the canonized ancients. We should do so consciously and thoughtfully, bearing in mind that, should history not be cut short soon in a final spasm of violence, we could be some future civilization’s “ancients.”

My first recommendation, then, is that we identify the givens in our culture and examine their genealogy. At the analytical stage, we should go beyond “early warning systems” thinking, with its focus on “potential problem spots” and take on our whole system as a totality. Out of a hopeful and long term vision should then come specific small steps that ordinary people can take with the confidence that they are contributing to a grander general (though not centrally administered or implemented) process. We are laying a foundation for unknown heirs.

My second recommendation is to heal the split between activism and diplomacy. As the peace community gains a strong sense of itself, it can leave behind the emotions of an embattled teenager and relate with a nonanxious adult demeanor to its ideological enemies, inviting them to the higher ground of together-with. To the extent that the activist community continues to buy the Manichean dichotomy of adversarial enmity with ‘the establishment’ (note the dehumanization) it will fail consistently to offer leadership or alternatives to the prevailing order. In this spirit, and bearing in mind all we have learned about the characteristics of the genocide in ex-Yugoslavia, I would like to offer the following list of nonviolent actions without presenting a split between those that assume a diplomatic subtext and those directed to ordinary people. Such a bulleted list might come at the end of a government report or the middle of a Gene Sharp volume. Most have application at both local and international levels.

Locate Bud and Nip It
  • Form human rights and other observer missions. (Inspired by Lund)
  • Track potential conflict areas and develop ante-strategies, before crises, based on humane values, rather than ignore hot spots “out of some unexamined theory of their imagined ‘intractability.'” “Don’t focus on ethnicity or religion, rather identify the multi-ethnic social contract, along with economic and political transitions which undermine it. Identify power-clutchers and power-grabbers. Use locally-constituted NGOs to monitor for signs of friction, collapse, and confusion. Fund and use NGO development projects as models for coping with economic dislocation. Use and fund NGO mediation efforts to head off ‘ethnic card’ players” (Lipschutz and Crawford). In a UNHCR report; “What might have happened in Rwanda if the estimated $2 billion spent on refugee relief during the first two weeks of the emergency (and more since) had been devoted to keeping the peace, protecting human rights and promoting development in the period which preceded the exodus? (Washington Post 1995 in Jentleson) (Inspired by Lund).
  • Create a data base and clearinghouse as early-warning system. (Rotberg 266).
  • Train minorities in nonviolent action techniques before killing starts, disseminate nonviolent action success stories.
The Academy Counts
  • Create a Hippocratic Oath for academics. Saul Bellow writes “These are the people who set the terms, who make up the discourse, and then history follows their words. Think of the wars and revolutions we have scribbled into.” (216) And John Maynard Keyenes reiterates in The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air,are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back… soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.” (inset, Krugman)
  • Study successful transitions — situations that exhibited “probable precipitants” of genocide (Russia and Ukraine over Crimea, the breakup of the Czech and Slovak Republics, Congo’s transition from autocracy, Zambia’s nonviolent shift toward democracy, Hungary’s moderated relations with its neighbors (Lund), and South Africa’s shift to majority rule) but instead avoided the path of genocide (Inspired by Lund).
  • Stage grass-roots dialogues and study circles.
  • Study successful NGO/track two interventions (Lipschutz and Crawford).
  • Research declassified documents. (Inspired by Noam Chomsy.)
  • Study genocide and enmity in universities.
  • Challenge and meaningfully discredit theory that war is inevitable or natural.
  • Use skill and understanding of rhetoric and linguistics to challenge culture of war (Inspired by Noam Chomsky, Ben Yost, Chris Sauder, Brian Groh).
Know Your Enemy/Love Your Enemy
  • Talk about the enemy group, break down stereotypes.
  • Introduce genocide as a topic in University curricula (Markusen in Strozier 84).
  • Expand history and geography curriculum.
  • Engineer “proximal positives.” Contact with citizens in enemy territory can weaken propaganda. A psychologist visiting the USSR had a positive impression of Soviets. Back in the environment of the US he began to doubt his own experience (Staub 276). People need consistent exposure to and direct experience of officially demonized groups, including criminals.
  • Say “we,” not “they .”
  • Create and encourage volunteer service. Just as we learn to devalue those we harm, we learn to value those we help (Staub 276).
  • Teach, model and arrange cooperative culture. When children work for joint rewards, they like each other more (Staub 276).
  • Fight race thinking and stereotyping.
  • Imagine, with help, the everyday realities of African-Americans and other oppressed groups. There is much that is invisible to you and outside your awareness.
  • Honestly identify your class, its interests, and its actions in history.
Accountability and Combating Falsehood
  • Consciously identify the underlying worldview of incoming information.
  • Be aware of the often destructive and dehumanizing and disembodying, yet seductive, messages underlying glam.
  • Break perpetrators’ information monopoly (Cigar 109).
  • Name accurately. Murder is murder whether or not there’s a war on or the perpetrator is a good guy or a powerful guy or an anonymous guy representing the State. Examine “democracy-building” efforts for imperialist agenda and unconscious cultural assumptions. Expose euphemisms (Staub 282) as publicly as possible and with acquaintances. Conversation is one of the best culture-making devices we have as individuals. Teach exposure of euphemisms as a life skill. “Terrorists” are often freedom fighters while Heads of State are often terrorists and war criminals. Prosecuted war criminals are rarely big fish. Big fish often end up on the CIA’s payroll in the aftermath.
  • Break denial of “evil mouth” and past. Promote systems and historical thinking rather than individualist models in psychological fields. Speak prophetically by emphasizing ideals and appealing to goodness (Inspired by my PAX 552 1997 class).
  • Speak of the “Armenians.” Press for historical accuracy, acknowledgement, symbolic apology, symbolic and real reparation.
  • Demand war crimes tribunals with real powers (Inspired by Lund).
See Low-Profile People
  • Recognize the power of all sectors and thereby increase it. Includes parents, families, schools, ideologues (writers, artists, media leaders,all of us). Verbally, with prizes, with private notes of appreciation, with storytelling.
  • Intervene in at risk and disintegrating social orders by engaging local level actors. Seek, legitimate, and materially support resisters of mass murder. Commit to people’s survival. Allow yourself to care. Allow yourself and others to care even as costs of all types increase (Inspired by Lund).
  • Believe NGOs early. According to Lund, “Early-warning specialists are making progress in pinning down the probable precipitants of more gradual, public phenomena such as ethnic warfare, genocide, and the breakdown of states. Demonstrations, repressive measures, hate rhetoric, arms buildups, separatist communities forming parallel institutions: these signs one ignores at one’s peril.” We should not trust only “specialists .” Many NGOs are well-placed to read the warning signs.
  • Do not validate power-grabbers by mediating when arbitration is more appropriate.
Fear Not
  • Be and teach an embodied self. Disembodiedness precipitates perpetration of genocide! (Lifton 500).
  • Encourage nonviolent aggression. Don’t pathologize aggression per se (Charny 259). Repression of the “evil mouth” sets the stage for projection.
  • Maintain high thresholds of tolerance for the messy, random and unpredictable! The need for excess of order and cleanness is related to the perceived need to commit mass murder (Galtung in Charny 263).
  • Do not fear complexity. Few things, groups, or people are all good or all evil.
  • Heal our own wounds and pain. Be aware of the uses of ritual and ceremony. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and your body.
  • Value yourself. Value your truth-seeking spiritual self above all other aspects.
  • Choose hope.
  • Question your own sense of powerlessness
  • Question your own sense of blamelessness.
  • Question your own sense of threat.
  • Question your own sense of victimhood.
  • Love yourself.
  • Emphasize choice (Charny 88).
  • Teach moral agency, model “owning up.”
Empower and Heal
  • Address economic insecurity of others.
  • Address sense of victimhood in others with love. Provide the emotional space for others to do grief work. Identify and address “felt sicknesses.” Listen.
  • Listen.
  • Listen some more.
  • Address security needs of “dangerous” groups; the poor, hate groups, criminals. Listen in an obvious and receptive way to their needs. Ask, “How can I make you feel secure?” (Inspired by PAX 552 1997 class)
  • Cause US need for strong image to atrophy. Change conception of “strength” and “power” at all levels. Approach this indirectly and subtly, not with blame (Inspired by PAX 552 1997 class).
  • Ritually recognize the status of all post-colonial societies as post-war environments, with attendant traumatization and need for psychological de-mining. Start and participate in exchange programs for professional healers. Push for public acknowledgement of the past hurts of colonialism, in textbooks, for example.
  • Structurally and ritually reconcile groups. “Race” relations in the US between African American and white, and between Native American Indian and white are in immediate need of attention. “The experience of other minorities tends to be a more diffuse kind of marginalization and exploitation rather than the result of a structural and policy program on the part of the US aimed directly at the group” (Wilmer, personal email). Structural reconciliation should start with serious equalizing of education and populizing of the media monopoly and requires grassroots initiatives backed by legal reform. Ritual reconciliation recreates cultural myths to be more inclusive, publicly acknowledges historical hurts and resulting privileges and facilitates healing on the personal and interpersonal level. For example, it would be “therapeutic to recognize June 16th, which is ‘June Teenth’ in Texas, as a celebration of African American liberation from slavery, and it would also be as important to replace Columbus Day with some national day of acknowledging/honoring the rights and the historical deprivation of rights of America’s First Peoples/First Nations. [Specific] rituals may follow” (Wilmer, personal email).
  • Mediate through recognition and empowerment.
Make Human Life and Dignity Your Supreme Value in Fact
  • Give well-placed aid so as not to create dependency, except where emergency relief is needed.
  • Apply sanctions with discretion. Evaluate for real, not just intended outcomes. Count human cost, not U.S. foreign policy objectives, which can often be summed up thus; control of region.
  • Model and advocate for acknowledgement of full humanity of each person. Care, care care.
  • Create cultural atmosphere that cannot tolerate murder. Convince Machiavellians of the validity of soft power (Joseph Nye, 1990 in Jentleson), “by which as a pragmatic and indeed quite realist calculus the values and ideals for which the United States stands are not just virtuous, but also a source of international influence.” Process national identity in public and private fora: do we want to become a people that “does not feel a moral imperative to seek to prevent genocide and other mass violence and destruction just because it may be on a geopolitically unimportant piece of real estate” (Jentleson).
  • Change how we treat our own criminals. The fear that we’re unforgivable makes us scapegoat and devalue those who break a social contract in which they have no stake. Publicize criminals’ stories, link poverty to wealth by causation in the public mind (Inspired by my PAX 552 1997 class).
Live a Vision
  • Conceive and nurture a detailed vision of a warm, cooperative, democratic, egalitarian future. Live there much as possible. Behave as if you are a citizen of this utopia.
  • Create public spaces conducive to community. Get people together and talking and doing “life things.”
  • Meditate or pray. Visualize positive futures ritually every day. Invite Love to rule the world.
  • Create contemplative public space during wartime. One family-owned restaurant served only miso soup and mandated silence for the duration of the Gulf War (Generated in Fellowship of Reconciliation Training for Trainers Workshop, November 1997).
  • Reduce your “needs.” Be aware of greed’s threat to truth and justice.
  • Reduce consumerism and reliance on oil. Includes alternative energy research as well as joyful non-consumerist living (Inspired by PAX 552 1997 class).
Transform Institutions
  • Grant membership in, and continue to build up, prestigious international organizations (Inspired by Lund).
  • Form the “United Peoples” to serve as a representational version of the UN, a grassroots effort (Dugger in Strozier 70).
  • Retrain and thoroughly re-educate armies for peacekeeping missions (Inspired by Lund).
  • Be ready to provide multi-media re-education curricula with corporeal (body) and symbol-rich content.
  • Change children’s textbooks.
  • Infiltrate the “establishment.” If you are sure of your motives, get “position.” Be aware of the subtlety of sellouts — “success” is a culture.
  • Develop media savvy as activists. Work to make media more populist, promote moral imperatives for the media as parties in the conflicts they report, identify ways NGOs can work with the media, because media effects policy (Inspired in part by Rotberg/Weiss, 181).
  • Organize to win local elections (Inspired by the New Party website).
  • Perform street and community theater. Encourage other theater and cultural expressions (folk songs, community art.) Write and perform songs.
  • Write editorials/letters to the editor in local and school papers.
  • Call in to radio talk shows.
  • Send a package daily to government officials. This should be some powerfully mute symbol of common humanity, such as rice during a crisis in Asia (Generated in Fellowship of Reconciliation Training for Trainers Workshop, November 1997).
  • Start conversations with people on the issues that concern you.
  • Distribute press releases.
  • Go door to door with a survey as entree (Generated in Fellowship of Reconciliation Training for Trainers Workshop, November 1997).
  • Create a dream newspaper in which all the stories report what you wish the news said in positive terms. A good workshop and educational tool (Generated in Fellowship of Reconciliation Training for Trainers Workshop, November 1997)
  • Slip information sheets into publications/programs (Generated in Fellowship of Reconciliation Training for Trainers Workshop, November 1997).
  • Raise huge families of nonconformist nonviolent warriors.

Genocides and eventual holocaust are not inevitable, but their prevention requires such a strong faith in such an aberrant vision that it may look, in the system we have, like insanity. I urge all of us to be as consistently insane as we have the energy to be. I leave you with a quote from Andrew Harvey.

“There is one way and one way only, I believe, that the planet can be saved in time — and that is through a massive worldwide transformation which is simultaneously spiritual and practical, mystical and political. Turning to the light is not, in itself, enough. We have also to act as humble tireless agents of the light, with the light in us, behind us, inspiring and guiding us, to act on all possible spiritual and practical fronts, wisely, calmly, and very, very fast” (Mack in Strozier).


1. Lake, for example, seems tired: “External powers should limit their roles and the expectations of others in attempting to resolve ethnic conflicts. Decisive intervention to separate the belligerents at the first signs of conflict coupled with a clear commitment to shore up the social/legal order for the long haul may succeed. Yet, it is difficult to rally public support for preventive uses of military force. Mediation typically works only after the conflicting parties have become exhausted by war.”

2. In fact, information was not lacking, but rather clarity on values. One hopes that there was lack of one or the other and not outright absence of fellow-feeling.


Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York, NY: Meridian Books, 1958.

Arendt, Hannah. On Violence. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and Ambivalence. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Bellow, Saul. Mr. Sammler’s Planet. The Viking PRess, New York, 1969.

Charny, Israel W. How Can We Commit The Unthinkable? Genocide: The Human Cancer. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1982.

Cigar, Norman. Genocide In Bosnia: the policy of “ethnic cleansing.” College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1995.

Denitch, Bogdan. Ethnic Nationalism: the tragic death of Yugoslavia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Donia, Robert J and John V.A. Fine Jr. Bosnia And Hercegovina: A Tradition Betrayed. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Ellul, Jacques. Propaganda: the formation of men’s attitudes. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968.

Gutman, Roy. A Witness To Genocide. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1993.

Keen, Sam. Faces Of The Enemy. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1986.

Krugman, Paul. _Peddling Prosperity;economic sense and nonsense in the age of diminished expectations_. WW Norton and Co., New York, 1994.

Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors: medical killing and the psychology of genocide. New York, NY: Basic Books Publishers, 1986.

Magas, Branka. The Destruction of Yugoslavia: tracking the break-up 1980- 92. New York, NY: Verso, 1993.

Rotberg, Robert I. Vigilance and Vengeance: NGOs preventing ethnic conflict in divided societies. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1996.

Rotberg, Robert I. and Thomas G. Weiss. From Massacres to Genocide: the media, public policy, and humanitarian crises. Washington, D.C.:The Brookings Institution, 1996.

Sells, Michael A. The Bridge Betrayed: religion and genocide in Bosnia. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1996.

Staub, Ervin. The roots of evil: the origins of genocide and other group violence. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Strozier, Charles B. and Michael Flynn. Genocide, War And Human Survival. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1996.

Volkan, Vamik D. The Need to Have Enemies and Allies: from clinical practice to international relationships. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc, 1988.

Wilmer, Franke. “Identity, Culture, and Historicity: the social construction of ethnicity in the Balkans.” World Affairs (Summer1997): 3-15.

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