Ethics/Nonkilling/Geography

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Introduction[edit]

  • This Course is based mainly on "Toward a Nonkilling Geography. Deconstructing the Spatial Logic of Killing", chapter prepared by Professor James Tyner (Kent State University) for Toward a Nonkilling Paradigm (Honolulu: Center for Global Nonkilling, 2009). The Course is part of the Interdisciplinary Program on Nonkilling Studies at the School of Nonkilling Studies.


In 2001 three researchers associated with the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization published an inherently geographic paper entitled ‘Epidemiology of violent deaths in the world.’ Noting that the extent of global violence had never been described, Avid Reza, James Mercy, and Etienne Krug set out to document the patterns of violence-related mortality (including suicide, war, and homicide). Restricting their study to just one year (1990), they detailed an estimated 1.8 million violence-related deaths world-wide (35.3 per 100,000). Among their various findings, Reza, Merchy, and Krug (2001: 107) found that there were an estimated 211,000 and 291,000 war-related deaths among females and males, respectively, and that the war-related death rates for females in the world was highest for 0-4 year olds.

The statistical data provided by Reza and his colleagues conform with other studies on war-related killings, namely the increasing proportion of ‘civilians’ being killed in war. Indeed, throughout the twentieth century civilians in general (and children in particular) have comprised an ever increasing proportion of both direct and indirect casualties of war. During the First World War, for example, civilian casualties comprised between 5 and 19 percent of all war deaths; during the Second World War, this figure jumped to approximately 50 percent. Now into the twenty-first century, at least 80 percent of the approximately 20 million people killed and 60 million people wounded have been civilians.

Unfortunately, the presentation of so many ‘abstract’ numbers risks obfuscating our understanding of violence more than it reveals. What, for example, accounts for these deaths? Why has become easier for people to kill other people at ever larger scales? To consider these questions, however, requires one to move beyond our normal comfort-zones; it forces us, as researchers and teachers, to engage with violence and killing at a level we are usually not accustomed. And yet, as Dave Grossman (1996: xxxiv) explains, “Only on the basis of understanding this ultimate, destructive aspect of human behavior can we hope to influence it in such a way as to ensure the survival of our civilization.” Glenn Paige (2007: 72) forwards a similar proposition, noting that a nonkilling paradigm for society requires, paradoxically, a need to understand killing. The salience, Paige (p. 72) writes, derives from the observation that “where killing is assumed to be inevitable and acceptable for personal and collective purposes, there is less urgency to understand and to remove the causes of lethality.” Consequently, as Paige (p. 72) concludes, “we need to understand processes of cause and effective, however complex and interdependent. Every case of killing demands casual explanation. We need to know who kills whom, how, where, when, why and with what antecedents, contextual conditions, individual and social meanings, and consequences.”

Although geographers have made substantial contributions to the study of violence (Valentine, 1989; Pain, 1997; Koskela; Pain, 2000; Gregory; Pred 2007; Tyner, 2009), missing from these studies has been an explicit engagement with killing as a form of violence within a context of war or genocide. Although widely studied by military theoreticians, military historians, and military psychologists, the actual killing of people has not been explicitly addressed by geographers. This lacunae, I argue, constitutes a serious deficiency in our understanding of violence and warfare. However, this disciplinary gap also provides a remarkable opportunity to contribute to the on-going efforts to develop a nonkilling curricula and, by extension, a nonkilling society. In this chapter I argue that geography is foundational to the human behavior of killing. Indeed, I conclude that there exists a spatial logic to both the practice of killing and the justification for killing. Consequently, any prospect for the construction of a nonkilling society must be predicated on overcoming these geographies. Before proceeding, however, it is necessary to define what I mean by ‘geography’.

Geography and a Geographic Perspective[edit]

For many readers, geography both as a term and a concept is unproblematic. Geography, it is understood, refers to the topography or morphology of a place. Geography entails the physical features (i.e., mountains, rivers, and oceans) of the earth’s surface. Consequently, studies incorporating ‘geography’ must necessarily focus on the interrelations between human activities and the natural environment.

Such a narrow (but seemingly obvious) understanding of geography permeates both academia and the public. Remarkably, for those who identified themselves as Geographers, the subject matter is considerably more difficult. Indeed, since its inception as an academic discipline, there has been little consensus as to what geography is and what Geographers do. In part, the “continual contest over the definitions of geography … is due to the way in which different scholars conceptualize and rework the content and focus of the subject” (Hubbard et al., 2002: 12). This has important implications when one questions how Geography can contribute to the promotion of a nonkilling society.

For the purposes of this chapter, I concentrate on one thread of Geography, one aspect of a greater fabric that weaves together an understanding of the earth and its inhabitants. Here, I consider the basic concept of ‘space’ and how this concept illuminates our understanding of killing specifically, and violence more generally.

Since Geography’s inception as a discipline in the early twentieth-century within the Anglo-American university setting, space has often been treated in absolute terms. Emphasis was placed on the uniqueness of spaces and regions; conceptually, space was based on fixed entities: on the arrangement of discernable objects anchored in an unchanging and undifferentiated space.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, this conception of space (within the discipline of Geography) was gradually transformed. The focus on the uniqueness of phenomena distributed across space was re-directed as geographers increasingly concentrated on the ‘spaces’ between objects. Geography, it was argued, needed to direct attention to the spatial arrangements of phenomena; spatial relations were of importance, rather than objects per se. Consequently, a series of core geographic themes that were based on relative concepts of space began to emerge. Geography as a discipline began to emphasize distance, pattern, position, and location as the basic concepts of the field. As Ron Abler (1971: 73) and his colleagues write, the “shift to a relative spatial context … is probably the most fundamental change in the history of geography.”

Hyperbole not withstanding, the move away from absolute understandings of space did facilitate a remarkable theoretical and philosophical shift in the discipline of Geography, and that shift continues. Contemporary geographers wrestle with many competing understandings and interpretations of space and its associated concepts of distance, pattern, position, and location. Although this abstract conception of space remains dominant in many geographic centers of learning, another, more relational understanding has been forwarded. Rather than conceiving of space as an inert backdrop, a stage on which humans (for example) operate according to abstract physical laws, space is now increasingly understood as an actor in its own right. Space, in effect, is thought to be produced; likewise, space also is thought to produce. As Doreen Massey (1994: 254) writes, “Space is constituted through social relations and material social practices.”

A relational conception of space directs attention to how space is constituted and given meaning through human interactions―including violence. To this end, Ed Soja (1989) has introduced the term ‘spatiality’ in reference to socially-produced space. Rob Shields (1997: 186-87) follows with a further justification for a conception of space as relational. “If one still bridles,” he argues, “at the idea of a social ‘production’ or cultural ‘making’ of ‘spaces’ then perhaps one might refer to the remaking of empirical space by social groups.” This remaking of space, he explains, “takes place almost invisibly” because “the social categories in which space is conceived and perceived structure the most elementary aspects of our interaction with our physical context and setting.”

In the following sections I consider killing as human behavior. I do so, however, through a dual usage of space. First, I consider the act of killing with reference to relative conceptions of both space and distance. Second, I emphasize that the legitimation and justification of killing―the meanings behind the actions―may be understood within the context of a relational (and moral) space. Lastly, I should note that in this chapter my emphasis is primarily on the conduct of killing within contexts of war, mass violence, and genocide. Although parallels may be found with other practices of killing (i.e., homicide), but immediate concern is to question the prevalence and continuance of more large-scale practices and processes of killing.

Killing as Human Behavior[edit]

Humans are unique in their ability to kill members of their own species―often on a scale that borders on the unimaginable. Throughout the 20th century, approximately 230 million people died in wars and other forms of mass conflict. As Milton Leitenberg (2006) concludes, these deaths resulted from human decisions. During the First World War, for example, an estimated 13 to 15 million people died because of the political decisions that led Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and other European states into war. The Second World War, likewise, contributed to the death of between 65 and 75 million people. Embedded within this latter figure are the estimated 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

What accounts for humanity’s ability to engage in such large-scale violence? What allows (or impels) humans to kill one another? There are many existent models, theories, and frameworks that seek to account for this violence. Notable are the works of Kuper (1981), Staub (1989), Chalk and Jonassohn (1990), Gilligan (1997), Hinton (2005), Chirot and McCauley (2006), Kiernan (2007), and Shaw (2007). Common to all approaches, however, is a recognition that killing―ranging from homicide to genocide―is not from the standpoint of the perpetrator an irrational act. Indeed, as James Gilligan (1997: 9) concludes, “even the most apparently ‘insane’ violence has a rational meaning to the person who commits it, and to prevent this violence, we need to learn to understand what than meaning is.”

It is imperative, moreover, to affirm that the killing of other humans by humans is neither natural nor inherent. Although genetic evolution may have contributed to a propensity to engage in violence, including killing, this does not imply that humans are natural-born killers. Indeed, as Daniel Chirot and Clark McCauley (2006: 51) write, “all but those most habituated to extreme brutality or a small number who seem to lack normal emotional reactions to bloody violence, have to overcome a sense of horror when they engage in or witness slaughter firsthand.” In fact, numerous studies on the psychology of combat-related killing have demonstrated, within a variety of geographic and historical settings, that humans are exceptionally reticent to kill. Soldiers may not flee, but they may also not kill in the heat of combat. Studies from the American Civil War onward have indicated that most soldiers do not fire at all (Marshall, 1978; Dyer, 1985; Grossman, 1996). Dave Grossman (1996: 28), for example, concludes that “There is ample evidence of the resistance to killing and that it appears to have existed at least since the black-powder era. This lack of enthusiasm for killing the enemy causes many soldiers to posture, submit, or flee, rather than fight; it represents a powerful psychological force on the battlefield; and it is a force that is discernible throughout the history [of warfare].” Soldiers―but people in general―do not readily kill; why not? According to Grossman (1996: 31), “Looking another human being in the eye, making an independent decision to kill him, and watching as he dies due to your action combine to form the single most basic, important, primal, and potentially traumatic occurrence of war.” Grossman (p. 5) elaborates that a significant misunderstanding of the psychology of the battlefield is a misapplication of the fight-or-flight model of human behavior. It is commonly assumed that when confronted with a threatening situation, people will either fight (and possibly kill another person) or flee the situation. However, the reality of combat is decidedly more complex. Within a potentially threatening or violent situation, the first decision may be to flee, but it may also be to posture: to appear more powerful to the opponent. Such posturing serves to intimidate the enemy, and indeed might result in the enemy fleeing the battlefield.

Studies have also found that soldiers across cultures may either not fire their weapons in combat, or may deliberately shoot above the enemy. Grossman (1996: 39) concludes that “There can be no doubt that this resistance to killing one’s fellow man is there and that it exists as a result of powerful combination of instinctive, rational, environmental, hereditary, cultural, and social factors.”

Not surprisingly, military officials have sought to transform these inhibitions to the taking of life. From studies of combat behavior, and military training programs, some tentative conclusions on the actual practice of killing may be identified. And from these conclusions, we may better develop educational programs to reduce the prevalence of killing within society.

Killing and the Distance-Decay Effect[edit]

So how do humans kill other humans, or: What is the spatial logic of killing? To answer this question, we must consider more directly the relation between geography and human behavior. Dave Grossman (1996) identifies that a qualitative distinction exists between killing people in a bombing raid as opposed to killing with a grenade, rifle, or knife. The difference, he argues, is distance.

Geographers have long understood the importance of distance. In 1955, for example, J.W. Watson defined geography as ‘a discipline in distance.’ His comments, however, originated during a time when geographers were re-conceptualizing both ‘space’ and ‘distance’ as foundational concepts. Reflecting a more relative understanding of space, geographers argued that relative distance is defined by distances along several dimensions. Previously, distance was understood from the standpoint of absolute space; the measure of distance was unchanging (i.e., measured solely in miles or kilometers). With a relative conception of space, however, distance was understood to vary based on other factors, such as time, costs, and barriers to interaction.

The shift toward a relative understanding of space was significant in that it directed geographers to the proposition that the “spaces in which people live are much more psychological than absolute” (Abler et al., 1971: 75). This led to Waldo Tobler’s pronouncement of the ‘first law of geography: everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.’ Tobler’s law, in fact, directs attention to the concept of distance-decay, whereby activities or processes between two locations are presumed to decrease in their intensity (or interaction) with increasing distance. According to Peter Haggett (2001: 399), as a general rule, “the degree of spatial interaction (flows between regions) is inversely related to distance; that is, near regions interact more intensely than distant regions.”

The concept of distance-decay has a surprisingly important role to play in our understanding of killing as a human behavior. Grossman (1996), for example identifies that physical distance is crucial in understanding the behavior of killing. As the distance between perpetrator and victim increases, it becomes easier and less traumatic to kill. Grossman (1996: 107) notes that at ‘maximum range’―a range at which the killer is unable to perceive his individual victims without using some form of mechanical assistance (i.e., binoculars, radar, remote camera)―the act of killing is remarkably simple. Indeed, Grossman (p. 108) has not identified one instance of individuals who have refused to kill the enemy under these circumstances.

As the range decreases, however, killing becomes more difficult. Grossman (1996: 109) notes that at ‘long range’ (i.e., sniper weapons, tank fire) there begins to appear some disturbance at the act of killing. At mid-range, a distance at which the soldier can see and engage the enemy with rifle fire though unable to perceived the extent of the wounds inflicted or the sounds and facial expressions of the victim, there is an increased emotional toll. Grossman (p. 111) explains that killing at this range is often described as reflexive or automatic, and that the soldier experiences a range of emotions, from an initial feeling of euphoria or elation, followed by a period of guilt and remorse.

Killing becomes increasingly difficult at close range. Here lies “the undeniable certainty of responsibility on the part of the killer” (Grossman 1996, 114). Indeed, Grossman (p. 118) concludes that at ‘close range the resistance to killing an opponent is tremendous. When one looks an opponent in the eye, and knows that he is young or old, scared or angry, it is not possible to deny that the individual about to be killed is much like oneself.” As will be discussed later, appeals to justice and legitimacy must increase as the physical distance of killing decreases.

In short, Grossman (1996) develops a ‘distance decay’ model of violence. A geographic spectrum of killing exists, and we may assert that the resistance to killing increases with spatial proximity. At one end of the spectrum is the use of aerial bombers, inter-continental missiles, and drones. Here, people kill from thousands of miles away. At the other end is the use of knives and other weapons designed for hand-to-hand combat. Such intense and personal killing is decidedly more traumatic.

This ‘geography of killing’ has important implications for our broader understanding of killing as human behavior, particular as it relates to the killing by ‘ordinary’ citizens in the context of genocide and mass violence. Soldiers, we may argue, are trained to kill and thus ‘better’ equipped to overcome humanity’s resistance to killing. But what about the rest of us? What of the nonsoldiers who participate in massacres and other forms of direct violence? This question has been addressed in a number of genocidal contexts (Browning, 1992; Hinton, 2005; Semelin, 2007).

Whether one considers the Holocaust or the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and elsewhere, one cannot escape the fact that many (if not most) killings were conducted by ‘ordinary’ people. Indeed, as Christopher Browning (1992: xvii) writes in his seminal work Ordinary Men, “the Holocaust took place because at the most basic level individual human beings killed other human beings in large numbers over an extended period to time.” Such sustained killings throughout the Holocaust and other settings by ‘ordinary’ people, to be sure, were the result of many factors: A broader context in which killings were permitted and sanctioned by state authorities; an organizational structure that facilitated killing; the availability of weapons.

At an individual level, however, other more psychological components must be considered. As Chirot and McCauley (2006: 53) explain, “Most humans have a sense of fairness that governs relations with others.” Consequently, physical distance―while important―must be tempered with an additional component. Distance is not simply spatial; it also entails a social component. This, in fact, ties into our earlier discussion on the concept of space, for spatial relations are also social relations. And, as Taylor (2009: 44) writes, “No perpetrator acts, no victim suffers, in total isolation, even though they may kill, or die, alone.” The human act of killing must be viewed as a socio-spatial relation.

Killing and the Spaces of Moral Exclusion[edit]

Why do ‘ordinary’ people kill and even engage in mass killing?

“People who kill in spite of the inhibitions and penalties that confront them,” Daly and Wilson (1988: 12) write, “are people [who are] moved by strong passions.” These passions may be (and frequently are) intensely personal; but they may also be exceptionally social and political. A person’s passion to kill may arise ironically, paradoxically, from a broader “desire to build a world without conflict or enemies” (Semelin 2007: 33). In other words, the moral justification to kill another may be predicated on the belief that such violence will, ultimately, prevent violence. As Gilligan (1997: 12) notes, “the attempt to achieve and maintain justice, or to undo or prevent injustice, is the one and only universal cause of violence” (emphasis added).

All human societies moralize and thus share basic categories such as obligatory, permitted, or forbidden actions (Taylor 2009: 37). To this end, Susan Opotow (2001) suggests that norms, moral rules, and concerns about rights and fairness govern our conduct toward other people. However, not every person or group is necessarily included within the scope of justice. Rather, she explains that “Inclusion in the scope of justice means applying considerations of fairness, allocating resources, and making sacrifices to foster another’s well-being.” Conversely, moral exclusion “rationalizes and excuses harm inflicted on those outside the scope of justice. Excluding others from the scope of justice means viewing them as unworthy of fairness, resources, or sacrifice, and seeing them as expendable, undeserving, exploitable, or irrelevant” (Opotow 2001: 156). In short, moral exclusion works against the reticence of taking another person’s life. To morally exclude another human is to pave the way to kill that person.

Earlier, I noted that Geographers have increasingly focused their attention on relational understandings of space. This is captured in David Delaney’s idea of geographies of experience. He (1998: 4) writes, “Our lives are, in a sense, made of time. But we are also physical, corporeal, mobile beings. We inhabit a material, spatial world. We move through it. We change it. It changes us. Each of us is weaving a singular path through the world. The paths that we make, the conditions under which we make them, and the experiences that those paths open up or close off are part of what makes us who we are.”

Delaney prefigures a discussion on the meanings and uses of space, questions that are never removed from considerations of power. Who, or which group, is granted or denied access to certain spaces? What activities are deemed appropriate, or not? And who has the authority, the ability, to define (and enforce) those spaces? It becomes clear, therefore, that the process leading to social inclusion or exclusion has a geographic component.

The construction of community and the bounding of social groups are part of the same problem as the separation of self and other (Sibley 1995: 45). According to Young (1990: 43), a social group is a collective of persons differentiated from at least one another group by cultural forms, practices, of way of life. More precisely, groups are expressions of social (and therefore, spatial) relations; groups only exist in relation to other groups. However, as Young (p. 53) elaborates, many groups find themselves socially (and spatially) marginalized. Indeed, a “whole category of people may be expelled from useful participation in social life and thus potentially subjected to severe material deprivation and even extermination.”

The geographic component of moral exclusion is identified as the extent of moral exclusion. This refers to the scope of collective inclusion or exclusion and is seen, for example, in socio-spatial practices that marginalize both people and groups of people. This is particularly prevalent in ‘us-them’ thinking and the promotion of nationalist rhetoric. According to social psychologists, the process of ‘us-them’ thinking originates with social categorizations. These mental constructs (e.g., man/woman, black/white/ citizen/alien) are cognitive tools that segment, classify, and order our social environment (Waller 2002: 239). Indeed Waller (2002: 239-240) suggests that the use of social categorizations in assigning people to populations has four salient effects: assumed similarity, out-group homogeneity, accentuation, and in-group bias. Not surprisingly, these effects are explicitly geographic. First, people who identify themselves as part of an in-group tend to perceive other in-group members as more similar than out-group members. Second, people perceive members of out-groups as all alike; generalizations, moreover, are often based on one or two members. Third, perceived differences between in-groups and out-groups tend to be accentuated, or exaggerated. Finally, the mere act of dividing people into groups inevitably sets up a bias in group members in favor of the in-group and against the out-group. These four effects, moreover, are spatially manifest, as in practices of segregation and community policing. The establishment of Jim Crow in the United States and apartheid in South Africa are prime examples. So too are the examples of Jewish concentration camps in the Second World War and the strategic hamlets developed by American forces during the Vietnam War. In all cases, a perceived ‘Other’ is spatially excluded from the larger society (Tyner, 2009).

Underlying these four effects is also a process Kathleen Taylor (2009: 9) defines as the ‘essence trap.’ According to Taylor, this “involves the imagining that everyone has a core character, the essence of who they are” (emphasis added). Significantly, these essences are frequently portrayed as natural and invariable. The Tutsis in Rwanda, for example, were perceived as alien Others. The process of social (and spatial) categorization, however, does not proceed based on natural divisions of humanity. Indeed, social categories do not simply include groups; rather, the relational process of categorization produces groups. Consequently, there is an immediate spatiality to the processes of social categorization. As Waller (2002: 239) writes, “Not only do social categorizations systemize our social world; they also create and define our place in it” (emphasis added). Social categorizations, in effect, produce geographies (Tyner 2009: 37). This is why it is so important to acknowledge Marc Pilisuk’s (2008: 30) argument that people “are distinguished as a species by their capacity to kill large numbers of their own kind as well as by their symbolic representations of reality” (emphasis added).

Social reality is structured through language. It is language about events rather than the events themselves that people experience. Likewise, it is often ‘languages’ about other peoples (i.e., stereotypes) and places that are experienced, rather than those people and places per se. Another way of approaching ‘language’ however is from that stand-point of knowledge. Knowledges about people and places, we can say, entail geographical knowledges.

What is meant by geographical knowledge, and how can this concept contribute to our understanding of killing? In common usage, geographical knowledge consists of that information used to explain, describe, and/or interpret the distributions and characteristics of peoples and places. Alternatively, however, geographical knowledge may encompass a normative dimension in that is prescribes where people are to be located. According to Derek Gregory (2004: 803), imaginative geographies involve a politics of space. He asks, “Who claims the power to represent: to imagine geography like this rather than that?”

There exists an underlying geographical imagination to killing. As Semelin (2007: 9) explains, humanity’s ability to kill one another is “mainly born out of a mental process, a way of seeing some ‘Other’ being, of stigmatizing him [sic], debasing him, and obliterating him before actually killing him.” In other words, our imagination empowers us “to see beyond the actual to the possible” (Smith 2007: 101). This includes the ability to envision a world without others, a world ‘purified’ of unwanted or undesirable others. Marc Pilisuk (2008: 31) extends the argument, noting that the “evolved evolved tendency for humans to use presentational symbols to categorize ourselves into nations, religions, and other symbolic groups serves both to fortify a positive self-image and to find purpose and meaning in existence” However, this “tendency to identify with one group over another sets the stage for group comparisons and rivalries” (Pilisuk 2008: 31). This tendency, this ability to envision and to imagine alternative geographies may also pave the way to justify killing.

One common approach to justify the exclusion (and killing) of others is to dehumanize the other. Simply put, dehumanization is a composite psychological mechanism that permits people to regard others as unworthy of being considered human (Pilisuk 2008: 34). Through practices of dehumanization, isolated groups are stigmatized as alien. Waller (2002: 245) explains that dehumanization facilitates the practice of exclusion, discrimination, oppression, and, ultimately, violence. Once dehumanized, Waller explains, one’s body “possesses no meaning. It is a waste, and its removal is a matter of sanitation. There is no moral or emphatic context through which the perpetrator can relate to the victim.” Hence, the practice of dehumanization serves to increase the psychological and relational distance between the killer and the victim. Such a dehumanization practice is readily seen in the rhetoric and propaganda genocides and mass killings, including the Holocaust. Waller (2002: 246) explains: “In the Holocaust … the Nazis redefined Jews as ‘bacilli,’ ‘parasites,’ ‘vermin,’ ‘demons,’ ‘syphilis,’ ‘cancer,’ ‘excrement,’ ‘filth,’ ‘tuberculosis,’ and ‘plague.’ In the camps, male inmates were never to be called ‘men’ but Haftlinge (prisoners), and when they ate the verb used to describe it was fressen, the word for animals eating. Statisticians and public health authorities frequently would list corpses not as corpses but as Figuren (figures or pieces), mere things…. Similarly, in a memo of June 5, 1942, labeled ‘Secret Reich Business,’ victims in gas vans at Chelmno are variously referred to as ‘the load,’ ‘number of pieces,’ and the ‘merchandise.’” Dehumanization constitutes a justification system within one’s beliefs that destroying an inherent evil is not the same as killing a human being. People whose ordinary reality contains sharp inhibitions against inflicting violence may switch into an alternative reality that permits killing and even genocide (Pilisuk 2008: 35). When we now reconsider the spatial logic of killing, we are confronted with the relational, or moral, distance of human interaction. As the physical distance between perpetrator and victim increases, it becomes easier to maintain the fiction, the imagination, that the enemy is somehow less than human. To restate the argument thus far: To overcome the reticence of killing, especially at close physical range, it becomes more imperative (from the standpoint of the perpetrator) to increase the moral distance between killer and victim. A moral distance, according to Grossman (1996: 164), involves legitimizing oneself and one’s cause, which on the one hand involves the determination and condemnation of the enemy’s guilt. On the other hand, moral distance likewise provides an affirmation of the legality and legitimacy of one’s own cause (Grossman 1996: 164). The Other may be recognized as human, but exists outside the realm of moral inclusion. The death of the Other becomes legitimate and justified. In short, the killing of the Other is rationalized. The psychology of rationalization that underlies the way in which reluctance to kill is overcome goes by the name of ‘dissonance theory’, whereupon dissonance refers to an unpleasant arousal that comes from seeing ourselves as having chosen to do something that is wrong (Chirot and McCauley, 2006: 54). Consequently, to engage in killing requires one to one’s beliefs about the action: to distance oneself from either the act or the victim. Studies, moreover, have found that such rationalization may become easier as killing becomes more repetitive. Chirot and McCauley (2006: 56) write of a psychology that reinforces desensitization and routinization of killing. They (p. 56) explain:

Each additional killing makes the next one easier because each killing leads to changes in beliefs and values that justify the preceding one: I have been ordered to do this; those being killed are doing something wrong; they stand in my way; they deserve it; they are a threat to my own people; they are not quite human; they are polluting. Desensitization and routinization of killing thus occur in two ways. There is reduced emotional impact of originally disturbing stimuli associated with death, and there is increased cognitive and moral rationalization of the act.

Moral distance also contributes to one’s moral engagement in exclusionary practices and also killing―whether as active participant or bystander. Engagement, in this sense, refers to a person’s responsibility for, and response to, exclusionary and other violent practices. Opotow (2001: 158) suggests that engagement may range from unawareness to ignoring, allowing, facilitating, executing, or devising moral exclusion. Consequently, questions of engagement relate directly to the notion of impunity, with this latter term referring to the exemption from accountability, penalty, punishment, or legal sanctions for a crime.

Similar to the distance decay effect of killing, there is also a spatial logic to the concepts of moral engagement and impunity. As Joseph Nevins (2005: 11-13) explains, geographic proximity, power, and distance must be accounted for in discussions of violence. He argues that social (moral) distance and geographic distance combine to make the plight of others more peripheral and, by extension, less relevant. The killings in Darfur, we say to ourselves, is unfortunate; but it is their problem. Likewise, the “indifference by the international community to earlier massacres of Tutsi by Hutu” in Rwanda offered “encouragement to the … elites that the Hutu could commit genocide [in 1994] and get away with it” (Smith, 1999: 4).

Lastly, we should note that while an understanding of impunity often focuses attention on the alleged perpetrators of violence, more broadly, though, we should speak of a ‘culture of impunity’. This occurs when impunity is institutionalized and widespread, when torture, crimes against humanity, and mass murder are overtly or tacitly condoned and unpunished as a result of amnesties, pardons, indifferences, or simply ‘looking the other way’ (Opotow, 2001: 150). It is a ‘culture of impunity’ that sanctions war as a viable political strategy. It is a ‘culture of impunity’ that enables states in the abstract, but global citizens more specifically, from acting to prevent mass violence.

Barry Sanders (2009: 3) laments that “In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, human beings do not die.” He explains (p. 3) that the “Nazis did not see humans when they looked at Jews, but rather vermin and cockroaches. They saw a multitude of pests in desperate need of wholesale extermination. Following that same tradition, in the more recent past, we read of entire villages of Vietnamese ‘pacified’; Tutsis and Serbs ‘ethnically cleansed’; men, women, and the youngest of children in Darfur and Chad ‘lost to religious strife.” All too often, and all too easily, the geographical imaginations of politicians, military planners, and others seeking power and riches have been spurred to justify and legitimate mass violence. Howard Zinn (2005: 15) writes that “The most powerful weapon of governments in raising armies is the weapon of propaganda, of ideology. They must persuade young people, and their families that though they may die, though they may lose arms or legs, or become blind, that it is done for the common good, for a noble cause, for democracy, for liberty, for God, for the country.” Needed are alternative imaginations, visions that reveal instead a global humanity. Visions that eschew warfare, violence, and killing as acceptable political tools.

Conclusions[edit]

“The structure of society,” Glenn Paige (2007: 2) writes, “does not depend upon lethality.” He explains that there “are no social relationships that require actual or threatened killing to sustain or change them. No relationships of dominance or exclusion―boundaries, forms of government, property, gender, race, ethnicity, class, or systems of spiritual or secular belief―require killing to support or challenge them.” James Gilligan (1997: 21) likewise maintains that “it is really quite clear that we can prevent violence, and it is also clear how we can do so, if we want to.” According to Paige (2007: 71), the “assumed attainability of a nonkilling society implies a disciplinary shift to nonkilling creativity.”

What does this shift imply for the discipline of Geography? And how might a re-oriented Geography contribute to a nonkilling society? First and foremost is recognition that innumerable geographies underlie the actual human behavior of killing. While humans are exceptionally violent, they are not necessarily prone to violence. In other words, killing is not a natural or inherent trait of humans; humans in fact exhibit a strong abhorrence to killing and must be socialized to engage in these acts. Indeed, humans must provide a rational for their actions. As James Gilligan (1997: 11) explains, “all violence is an attempt to achieve justice.” All violence must be legitimated, either to ones self or to the group.

“Given the right circumstances,” Chirot and McCauley (2006: 57) argue, “it is not too difficult to turn a significant proportion of humans into mass murderers.” Simply put, the “disgust one may feel, the identification with the victims, the sense of unfairness can all be overcome and have routinely been overcome with training and experience” (Chirot; McCauley, 2006: 57). The ability to overcome an antipathy toward killing and violence, however, provides the opportunity to promote a nonkilling society.

A fundamental aspect of killing as human behavior involves the identification (or identity formation) of human difference. At both the communal and individual level, an awareness of group boundaries serves to socially and spatially marginalize and exclude other people. This awareness, this geographic imagining, also provides a psychological justification and rationalization of killing. Geography is an important contributor both to the act of killing and to the justification for killing. Consequently, geography must be considered in the construction of alternative frameworks for a nonkilling society.

References[edit]

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