Film Commentary 07: Daniel Goldhagen’s ‘Worse Than War’

The documentary entitled Worse Than War by Daniel Goldhagen features various historical disasters, as well as personal accounts from people who took part. It provides an in depth analysis of these events in history by being able to exhibit and hear primary accounts of people who were either victims or perpetrators in the said event. Now, aside from the Goldhagen’s complex and in depth account of the different occurrences in history, it provides the viewers with a striking take on the idea of genocides. Genocides, as commonly discussed, is a term used to describe the mass murder of a particular race, religious group, and the like. Basically, it is a term used to refer to the course of action that involves taking out a particular group of people in the population. From this, Goldhagen has a taken on how genocide would be better referred to as eliminationism as it also means the extermination, repression, and destruction of a group’s identity by preventing them to reproduce.

In the documentary, the grisly acts featured involved the events that occurred in Darfur, Germany, Iraq, Kenya, Rwanda. What is interestingly featured in the film is the question as to how these ordinary people have been strongly persuaded and influenced to kill, murder, and destroy their own neighbors? The answer that can be extracted from Goldhagen’s insights is, none other than, politics. He strongly believes that this is all a political act. Mass murder is a political act that, as Goldhagen notes, can always be stopped by the decisions of people above. In other words, he believes that this is way beyond the ideas on bloodlust because these were the fruits of the labor of powerful people in meetings that decided on orders. He believes that this could all have been stopped. These ideas and explanations by Goldhagen reveals how the state is a powerful factor that could bring halt to these disasters in history. More so, it highlights how repression, that could lead to genocides, are a result of the absence of action, rather than actual choices made. While it does not fit the ideas of what it is to be “state sponsored”, it appears as if it were a result of the state’s decisions or lack of initiative to take action on the different matters.

On the other hand, Goldhagen also recognizes from his observation that it is the absence of fully understanding the causes perpetrators to kill. It is explained how this is a result of politicians being able to mobilize the people to kill, to make it appear how they are prejudiced. Thus, bringing some kind of enjoyment and fulfillment when conducting mass murder. It is in these explanations and ideas of Goldhagen where Stone’s (2004) ideas of people feeling “ecstasy” can be perceived. The people feel great by doing these acts or horror, and as Stone explains; this is because of the feeling of belonging that is even more intensified through the murderous acts.

Goldhagen’s account on understanding the historical tragedies was also grounded on the importance of words, euphemism, in order to prevent or change the order of things. He intends to condemn the ideas on how these tragedies are all “the final solution” or a form of “ethnic cleansing” because it brings out inauthentic positivity out of it. In other words, Goldhagen is affirming the ideas of Bauman (1989) and Hamburg (2008) that people think of these as the modern medicine and a form of “wonderful utopia”, respectively. He agrees to these concepts and believes that these are the reasons used by people that is why he is condemning the “word choice” or established euphemisms because it creates that sense that these are good. Goldhagen finds the confusion and absence of incomprehension that can be found within the people perpetuating killings because of how they are blinded by the concepts Bauman and Hamburg identified. While Goldhagen has an open mind to be able to understand that the people were acting because that’s what they thought of to be good, he is highlighting the fact that euphemism is a significant factor because it contributes to how those people’s minds processed their motives and reasonings.

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