The Killing Compartments
An incisive exploration of why acts of mass annihilation take place and how people become mass killers By historical standards, the early years of the twenty-first century have been remarkably peaceful. Only rarely are people killed by their own kind, and only very, very rarely are they killed by other animals, microorganisms excepted.  Nevertheless, even though the statistics should reassure, many people worry about lone killers, murderous gangs, and terrorist bands. At the same time, most people are vaguely aware that even in this relatively calm era, wars have made countless victims.   Yet mass violence against unarmed civilians has claimed three to four times as many lives in the past century as war: one hundred million at least, and possibly many more. These large-scale killings have required the efforts of hundreds of thousands of perpetrators. Such men (and almost all were males) were ready to kill, indiscriminately, for many hours a day, for days and weeks at a stretch, and sometimes for months or even years.   Unlike common criminals who work outside the mainstream of society, in secret, on their own or with a few accomplices, mass murderers almost always worked in large teams, with full knowledge of the authorities and on their orders.  Without exception, they operated within a supportive social context, most often firmly embedded in the institutions of the ruling regime. Unlike terrorists, the mass murderers usually did not want their deeds to be widely known.   How people are enrolled in the service of evil is a question that lies at the heart of this trenchant book. The subject here is mass annihilation—that is, massive, asymmetric violence at close range, where killers and victims are in direct confrontation. Abram de Swaan offers a taxonomy of mass violence that focuses on the rank-and-file perpetrators, examining how murderous regimes recruit them and create what De Swaan calls the “killing compartments” that make possible the worst abominations without apparent moral misgiving, without a sense of personal responsibility, and, above all, without pity. De Swaan wonders where extreme violence comes from and where it goes—seemingly without a trace—when the wild and barbaric gore is over. And what about the perpetrators themselves? Are they merely and only the product of external circumstance? Or is there something in their makeup that helps them become mass murderers? Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, political science, history, and psychology, De Swaan sheds light on an urgent and seemingly intractable pathology that continues to poison peoples all over the world.

The Killing Compartments Details

TitleThe Killing Compartments
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJan 13th, 2015
PublisherYale University Press
ISBN-139780300208726
Rating
GenrePsychology, History, Nonfiction, Sociology, Science

The Killing Compartments Review

  • Georgina Nish
    January 1, 1970
    Boring!Boring!Boring! Extremely repetitive and for what should be a scholarly review of case studies, experiments and interviews is very full of biased opinions. Not to mention confusing and inconsistent as often he will mention something then say oh yes that, I’m going to explain that in this later chapter making it sound as if you are meant to be jumping between chapters. When mentioning other scholar he is never consistent for some he just states their name, for some their title or job, and t Boring!Boring!Boring! Extremely repetitive and for what should be a scholarly review of case studies, experiments and interviews is very full of biased opinions. Not to mention confusing and inconsistent as often he will mention something then say oh yes that, I’m going to explain that in this later chapter making it sound as if you are meant to be jumping between chapters. When mentioning other scholar he is never consistent for some he just states their name, for some their title or job, and then for some he even says what country they are from. If I did not have to read this book for a required book assessment in a history class there is no way I ever would have touched it.
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  • Megan
    January 1, 1970
    This book was more academic than I anticipated ( I now know the words "mesosociological" and "dysmentalization," but although it was somewhat of a slog in places, I found its central message rather reassuring. de Swaan takes on the common wisdom that under the 'right' circumstances, anyone could commit mass murder. While he acknowledges the validity of research into certain groups like Police Battalion 101 (from Browning's Ordinary Men, which I had to read in John Honduras's European history cla This book was more academic than I anticipated ( I now know the words "mesosociological" and "dysmentalization," but although it was somewhat of a slog in places, I found its central message rather reassuring. de Swaan takes on the common wisdom that under the 'right' circumstances, anyone could commit mass murder. While he acknowledges the validity of research into certain groups like Police Battalion 101 (from Browning's Ordinary Men, which I had to read in John Honduras's European history class at Wooster), de Swaan pares these events down further and concludes that there have to be very specific, particular norms in place in order for people to actually commit mass murder, such as a state which encourages demonization and social segregation and an environment distant enough to protect the perpetrators from scrutiny. Maybe we're a better species than we thought.
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  • Riet
    January 1, 1970
    Dit boek is een poging om vanuit de sociologie verklaringen te geven voor het gedrag van mensen die actief deelnemen aan genocides, martelingen etc. het blijft bij eenpoging, de schrijver vindt geen afdoende verklaring. Het zijn vaak "gewone mensen", die in bepaalde omstandigehden vreselijke dingen doen, maar dat wisten we al. Het boek is wel interessant,omdat de Swaan veel voorbeelden van genocides wat nader bekijkt, maar het blijft toch aan de oppervlakte.
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  • Frans van Liempt
    January 1, 1970
    Het boek geeft eerder een goede analyse dan een weerlegging van wat Arendt 'de banaliteit van het kwaad' heeft genoemd. Belangrijke lectuur! Helaas mis ik wel de invloed van een editor, die veel goed werk had kunnen doen: de schrijver valt teveel in herhalingen en gebruikt teveel jargon.
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  • Sander Boek
    January 1, 1970
    Overdreven gekunsteld overzicht van de sociologie achter genocidale regimes en daders met veel herhalingen en te weinig voorbeelden. Belangrijkste argument luidt compartimentalisatie. Nogal zwak voor een werk van 300 pagina's.
  • The Jewish Book Council
    January 1, 1970
    Review by Jack Fischel for the Jewish Book Council.
  • Natalie
    January 1, 1970
    From Abram de Swaan's review in WSJ
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