Genocide Leaders: Insane or Intelligent?

Hitler. Stalin. Mussolini. For most people, just even the sound of these names sends a chilling twitch up the spine. For years researchers have grappled with the universal question like a scratch that can’t be itched:

How the hell could this have happened? And what can we do to make it stop?


Recent researcher in genocide shows that this phenomenon is not only a calculated, systematic expenditure, but it requires intelligent, persuasive government leaders to brainwash the nation’s population.

It’s reassuring for me personally to think that Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin ect. were all lunatic psychopaths who somehow stumbled into power, but the chilling truth stands fact. These men were intelligent political leaders who rose to power through charismatic leadership and profound oratorical skills. They were masters of persuasion, specifically in getting people to act against their own will.

Goldhagan (2009) extends this theory through his development of the five stages that ultimately lead to Genocide. While there are many various stages to genocide, Goldhagans emphasis on the language of classification is what differentiates this concept from the rest. So just as Burk argued language as “ a screen composed of terms through which humans perceive the world”, Goldhagan says the first step towards genocide is the classification of a particular group as “unworthy”.

Getting an entire nation to hate a particular social group requires much effort through means of persuasion and manipulation. The scary part is that no citizen is completely immune to the powers of persuasion; furthermore, as humans’ brutality is in our nature, and most of the time we don’t realize the extent to which this brutality is within us. Experiments like the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Experiment are examples of just how much power we have within ourselves to do harm. But as they say, with power comes responsibility. As genocide advocates it is our duty to use our knowledge to identify the steps to which genocides take place in order to change history and end the phenomenon for good.

-Carrie Brennan


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