History and Sacrificial Death
by Richard A. Koenigsberg
- WHAT WAS IN IT FOR SADDAM HUSSEIN?
- THE PLEASURE OF KILLING ONE’S OWN PEOPLE
- HITLER’S SACRIFICE OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE
- RATIONALITY VERSUS IRRATIONALITY
- WARFARE AS BLOOD SACRIFICE
- HONORABLE DEATH
- HISTORY AND MASS-MURDER
I. WHAT WAS IN IT FOR SADDAM HUSSEIN?
When no weapons of mass-destruction were found in Iraq, it became easier to pose a question that had not been raised earlier: What was in it for Saddam Hussein? Why had Saddam Hussein not let the inspectors do their work? If he had acted less provocatively, perhaps the United States would have backed off. Why did he not make a greater effort to avoid the outbreak of a hopeless war—to prevent the assault that destroyed his castles and kingdom, killed his sons, forced him to live in a hole in the ground, and led to his execution?
In the build up to the war (and even now) commentators rarely posed—much less attempted to answer—these questions, which essentially are psychological ones. We may pose a broader question: Why is psychology absent in our efforts to ameliorate political violence that endangers the future of the human race?
On Dr. Phil television programs—and many others like it—people spend endless hours talking about psychological motives and individual pathologies: why people gain weight, why relationships fail, why families fall apart, etc. Within the disciplines of psychiatry, individual forms of psychopathology are classified and probed in depth. Millions of people seek psychotherapy and counseling in order to understand their personal problems. Yet upon the stage of international politics, psychological issues rarely are raised or addressed.
Before the war, Iraq was a nation about the size of California. Iraq’s population consisted of approximately 26 million people (12 million fewer than currently reside in California). As the war began, Iraq possessed virtually no defenses to deflect the massive American aerial assault. Yet—before military action was initiated—Saddam Hussein did little to prevent an encounter with the greatest military power in the world.
The first Gulf War had begun twelve years earlier—on January 17, 1991. In this case as well, Hussein made little or no effort to dissuade the American attack. When it became evident that Saddam Hussein was not going to back down and withdraw his troops from Kuwait, U. N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said (on August 27, 1990): “I cannot imagine that someone wants war for the pleasure of killing his own people.”
In November 1997, Hussein again provoked a military showdown with the United States by going to great lengths to obstruct UN inspections. Military analysts were hard pressed to understand why Hussein was pushing the confrontation so far. “It’s a big puzzle,” said W. Seth Carus, an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, a Pentagon think tank. “The cost to Iraq is almost unaccountable. In terms of direct oil revenue losses, you are talking about surrendering $100 million plus (see “Enigma: Why Saddam Courts Disaster”).
If Saddam had cooperated with the UN and turned over suspected stocks of biological and chemical weapons, analysts say, he could have won an end to the sanctions. Instead, he was confronting once again the world’s mightiest military power. As the probability of unilateral American military action grew, analysts were baffled. Dr. Carus concluded: “I think this has a lot to do with the psychology of Saddam.”
On March 11, 2003, Charlie Rose interviewed Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British Ambassador to the United Nations—shortly before the outbreak of the second US-Iraqi war (the invasion began on March 19, 2003). The Ambassador described the machinations of diplomacy, providing detailed arguments on why war was necessary. Then Rose bent over the table and asked the Ambassador, “But what’s in this for Saddam Hussein? Doesn’t he know what’s going to happen to him?”
Taken aback by the question, the Ambassador replied, “Maybe he does think he can win. Maybe he’s stupid.” Rose leaned over the table again and said, “Saddam Hussein isn’t stupid.” At a loss, the British Ambassador terminated the discussion: “We don’t care what his motives are.” Why such willingness to go to war—yet such a refusal to analyze the motives that compel human beings to go to war?
David Brooks on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer on January 24, 2003 noted that analysis of Hussein’s intentions—his vision and what he wanted—had been entirely absent in public discourse. Who was Saddam Hussein and what did he want? These questions were barely posed, even as so much attention was devoted to the person of Saddam Hussein.
We return to the words spoken by U. N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar before the first Gulf War— when it became clear that Hussein would not withdraw from Kuwait and that the Iraqi people soon would be subject to a relentless, massive assault: “I cannot imagine that someone wants war for the pleasure of killing his own people.” We are not quite ready to say it this way—that a political leader wages war for the pleasure of killing his people. So let us say that Saddam Hussein waged war for the pleasure of sacrificing the lives of his own people.
II. THE PLEASURE OF KILLING ONE’S OWN PEOPLE
Our inability to conceive that societies wage war in order to sacrifice the lives of their own people lays at the heart our difficulty in comprehending political violence. We continue to think of warfare in terms of economic gain, conquest, victory and defeat, etc., pretending that people like Saddam Hussein go to war for “rational” reasons. Perhaps by examining war and other forms of political violence through the lens of the concepts of martyrdom and sacrifice we can achieve a deeper understanding.
A martyr is someone willing to suffer or die in order to give witness to the depth of his commitment to an idea or belief. The act of martyrdom testifies to the sincerity of one’s devotion (see Jonah Winters, 1997). The idea of sacrifice, similarly, suggests self-abnegation or renunciation in the name of an ideal. In warfare, societies sacrifice individuals in the name of a larger entity—the nation—whose value is perceived to be greater than the value of the individual.
In his speech of January 17, 2000, Saddam Hussein celebrated the Ninth Anniversary of the First Gulf War, addressing the “wondrous, great people of Iraq.” On a day like today, he said, evil ridden humanity had “delegated you to act for it”—and your valiant army “responded to the call.”
Battlefields were “anointed with the fragrant blood of men and women believers.” Hussein expounded that the value attached to what a man loves ranks on the same level as the “sacrifices he renders to them.”
Hussein commended the Iraqi people for having fought the Gulf War: “You have sacrificed noble Iraqis all that is dear and precious, and have shed your blood seeking the love of God in hope to win His satisfaction.” The suffering of the Iraqi people, Hussein explained, had not been in vain: “Because you have sacrificed so much for your high principles out of love for your people, your homeland and your nation, your chance of winning God’s satisfaction is greater than that of any other people.” Because its people had been willing to confront the infidel superpower—Iraq would become the nation most beloved by God.
Hussein’s words evoke a sense of Iraqis as the chosen people. Citing the prophet Mohammed, Hussein stated that the reward for a man of faith is based on the “greatness of his afflictions.” If God loves a people, he “visits them with afflictions.” Since the Iraqi people had suffered so deeply as a result of the Gulf War, this meant that now they were “nearest to God and ranking highest in His love.”
By virtue of the two wars between Iraq and the United States, the attention of the world focused upon this small nation. The plight and fate and suffering of the Iraqi people became the fulcrum of world history.
III. HITLER’S SACRIFICE OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE
Another case requiring a psychological perspective is that of Adolf Hitler’s role in the Second World War. Historians have written about Hitler’s determination to avenge Germany’s defeat in the First World War, his wish to gain territory in the Soviet Union, his desire for world conquest, etc. But do we really know why Hitler initiated a world-wide conflagration that resulted in the deaths of 55 million people and destruction of Germany?
In spite of Hitler’s nearly psychotic anti-Semitism, historians often write about his decision to go to war as if it grew out of “rational” considerations. Questions are posed regarding Hitler’s strategies and tactics: Why did he attack the Soviet Union in the midst of Germany’s struggle to defeat Great Britain? Why were British forces allowed to escape at Dunkirk? Why did Hitler gratuitously declare war against the United States? Why did Hitler launch the Final Solution in the midst of war—causing massive diversion of human and material resources?
These kinds of questions grow out of the assumption that Hitler more-or-less knew what he was doing. He sought to achieve certain objectives, but made “mistakes” along the way that prevented him from reaching his goals. In my view, the assumption that Hitler understood why he wished to wage war—and knew what he expected to accomplish by doing so—is unfounded.
In “Analysis of Metaphor” and “Ideology, Perception and Genocide”, I present a method that allows one to perceive the “hidden narratives” that lie beneath the actions of political leaders. I study Hitler’s language—the words, images and metaphors contained within his writings and speeches. One may comprehend what Hitler did by placing close attention to what he said.
Hitler’s words and thoughts on warfare bear an eerie resemblance to the words and thoughts of Saddam Hussein. Like Hussein, Hitler rarely spoke of warfare in terms of winning or “victory.” Rather, Hitler’s thinking about war revolved around the idea that individuals are obligated to sacrifice their lives for their nation.
Hitler asserted that any man who loves his people proves it solely by the “sacrifices which he is prepared to make for it.” To be “national,” Hitler said, was to be willing to act with a “boundless and all-embracing love for the people” and if necessary “to die for it.” Giving one’s life for one’s country, Hitler believed, constituted the “crown of sacrifice.”
Hitler declared war on September 1, 1939. Speaking before the Reichstag as German planes and troops crossed the Polish borders in a devastating Blitzkrieg, he said:
As a National Socialist and a German soldier, I enter upon this fight with a stout heart! My whole life has been but one continuous struggle for my people, and that whole struggle has been inspired by one single conviction: Faith in my people! I ask of every German what I myself am prepared to do at any moment: to be ready to lay down his life for his people and for his country. If anyone thinks that he can evade this national duty directly or indirectly, he will perish.
Hitler does not begin the Second World War by telling the German people that he is embarking on a quest to conquer the world. Rather, insisting that his fight is inspired by “faith in his people,” he asks every German to be willing to: “lay down his life” for his people and country. Hitler goes on to say that if anyone tries to evade this national duty (to lay down one’s life), this person would “perish.”
In his declaration of war, Hitler tells everyone what he is going to do—what will happen. What he said he was going to do—eventually is what did happen. The Second World War provided the occasion for the German people to sacrifice their lives for Germany. What’s more, Hitler acted to bring about the death of anyone whom he imagined refused to embrace the sacrificial imperative. The essence of Hitler’s ideology was: die for Germany—or we will kill you.
Hitler’s concept of self-sacrifice for Germany does not differ substantially from the Islamic concept of martyrdom for Allah. Willingness to forfeit one’s life—in each instance—is understood as a way of demonstrating the depth of one’s faith in and devotion to a sacred object. The individual gives witness to the sincerity of his belief by virtue of his willingness to make the “supreme sacrifice.”
People become attached to ideologies conceived as absolutes. These ideologies or symbolic objects have names such as “Communism,” or “Germany,” or “Allah.” Collective forms of violence— warfare, genocide and terrorism—come into being when a group (inspired by a leader) seeks to demonstrate its devotion to the ideology or symbolic object with which the group identifies. By killing and dying in the name of a sacred ideology, the group “gives witness” to the significance of its ideology.
Collective acts of violence occur when a group of people seeks to substantiate the omnipotence of a sacred object by compelling other groups or classes of people to bow down or submit to this same sacred object. The purpose of acts of war, genocide and terror is to demonstrate the omnipotent power of the object with which one’s own group is identified. The true believer declares, in effect: “As I worship and bow down to Allah (or to the ideal of communism, or to Germany), so you too will be compelled to worship or bow down to Allah (or to the ideal of communism, or to Germany).
IV. RATIONALITY VERSUS IRRATIONALITY
Political scientists tend to analyze behavior from the perspective of a “rational choice” model, imagining that leaders take societies to war based on some sort of calculation. According to this model, nations go to war in order to achieve real objectives. Only later do things go awry, leading to slaughter and chaos.
In Terrorism and Liberalism (2003), Paul Berman observes that—according to the “realist” picture of the world—wars break out because some nation’s desire for wealth, power, and geography “brushes up against some other nation’s equally tangible desire for the same.” Critiquing the realist perspective, Berman characterizes violent political movements that have taken place in Iran, Iraq and Algeria as the “politics of slaughter”— slaughter for the sake of sacred devotion, slaughter conducted in a mood of “spiritual loftiness.” He compares suicidal violence in the middle-East with the suicidal violence of the Nazis, observing that Nazis were victimizers, but also the “boldest, the greatest and most sublime of death’s victims.”
According to the realist way of looking at the world against which Berman argues, it is difficult to imagine that from time to time mass political movements do “get drunk on the idea of slaughter.” The realist model proposes that people are bound to behave in “more or less reasonable ways in pursuit of normal and identifiable interests.” Thus, it is difficult to conceive that millions or tens of millions of people might end up joining “pathological political movements.”
Berman notes that we are willing to acknowledge that individual madmen might step forth, but “surely millions of people are not going to choose death.” We hesitate to consider the possibility that millions of people have gone out of their minds and subscribed to a “pathological political tendency.” Why do we find it difficult to conceive that entire societies behave in pathological ways?
Based on the magnitude of political violence that has occurred in the Twentieth Century, it’s reasonable to suggest that society has been in the throes of some as-yet-undiagnosed disorder. Psychologists have no difficulty characterizing individuals who engage in destructive forms of behavior as pathological or disordered. Why do we hesitate to identify collective forms of destruction as forms of pathology?
In the quiet of a Movie Theater—watching a film depicting the chaos, violence and absurdity that occurs in battle—the thought often comes to mind: “War is insane.” Why do people abandon this idea once have they left the Movie Theater? It is time to pursue in a systematic way the hypothesis that collective forms of destruction and self-destruction represent forms of group psychopathology.
V. WARFARE AS BLOOD SACRIFICE
Leaving aside the issue of normality versus abnormality, how may one understand mass political movements revolving around slaughter? I hypothesize that political violence is intimately bound to faith, or belief. Slaughter and sacrificial death function in the name of demonstrating the validity of the ideology with which a group identifies. The proof of the pudding is in the killing and dying.
In the following passage, Ali Benhadj—a revolutionary Islamist leader from Algeria—articulates the relationship between faith, belief and blood-sacrifice:
If a faith, a belief, is not watered and irrigated by blood, it does not grow. It does not live. Principles are reinforced by sacrifices, suicide operations and martyrdom for Allah. Faith is propagated by counting up deaths every day; by adding up massacres and charnel-houses. It hardly matters if the person who has been sacrificed is no longer there.
Faith becomes real—according to Ali Benhadj—to the extent that it is “watered and irrigated by blood.” Beliefs need to be reinforced by “sacrifices, suicide operations and martyrdom.” The validity of the ideology is computed based on the sum of the deaths that have occurred in the ideology’s name. One counts up deaths and adds up massacres.
Suicidal military tactics are associated with Middle-Eastern terrorists. However, people in the West have practiced military techniques that may be characterized as suicidal. World War I—1914-1918—involved many of the nations of the world, resulting in an estimated 99 million dead and 37 million wounded or missing. The Western front during the First World War was the site of one of the greatest instances of mass slaughter in history (see Nations Have the Right to Kill, 2009).
World War I is famous for how battles were fought. Each of the combatants on the Western front—the French and British on one side and Germans on the other—dug themselves into trenches. Battles occurred when troops from one side got out of their trench and moved toward the opposing trench—hoping to survive the trip through “no man’s land,” cut through barbed wire, and break through the enemy line. Rarely did breakthroughs occur. Rather, men were mowed down in massive numbers by artillery shells and machine gun bullets.
One typical British “attack”—that occurred during the Battle of the Somme—is described in the German regimental diary:
Ten columns of extended line could clearly be discerned. Each advancing column was estimated at more than a thousand men, offering such a target as had never been seen before, or thought possible. Never had the machine gunners such straightforward work to do nor done it so effectively. They traversed to and fro along the enemy’s ranks unceasingly.
One would expect such a futile, unproductive battle strategy would have been quickly abandoned. But it was not. Battles continued day after day, week after week, month after month, producing a prodigious volume of corpses and mutilated bodies. During a sixth month period in 1916, nearly one million men were killed in the Battle of the Somme and at Verdun. This was an average of more than 6,600 men killed every day, more than 277 every hour, nearly five men every minute. Yet battle-lines barely changed.
Some political commentators of the time looked favorably upon the slaughter that was taking place. Observing the carnage of the First World War, P. H. Pearse—founder of the Irish Revolutionary movement—gushed (see Nations Have the Right to Kill):
The last sixteen months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.
These words written nearly 100 years ago resonate with ideologies put forth by Islamic revolutionaries. Where Pearse asserted that it was “good for the world to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield,” Ali Benhadj states that belief must be “watered and immigrated by blood.” While Pearse calls battlefield deaths an “offering” that pays homage to God and country, Benhadj states that faith in Allah is propagated by suicide operations, massacres and by “counting up deaths every day.”
The mechanism of sacrifice lies at the heart of ideological systems regardless of cultural context. Lives are forfeited and blood spilled—in order to validate an ideology. Ideologies become real to the extent that human beings fight and die in their name. Surely we imagine—if so many people have killed and died in the name an ideology—there must be something to it. It is difficult to imagine that the sound and fury signifies nothing.
VI. HONORABLE DEATH
Thirty years ago, I witnessed a Japanese movie about the Battle of Port Arthur (1980) that took place during the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. The film depicted endless carnage and bloodshed. Japanese officers sent wave after wave of young men to attack Russian lines in battle after battle—where they were met with machine-gun bullets. Tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers were slaughtered. The Japanese general in the film—trying to motivate his troops to go into a battle that he knew would fail—explained: “Success is not the purpose. The purpose is to risk your life for your country.”
In a strange and poignant scene, the general receives a note in the midst of a conversation with the Emperor, and begins weeping profusely. “Very gratifying,” he says, “Very gratifying.” The Emperor consoles him, asking the general to explain why he is weeping. The General reveals the note’s content: His first son has been killed in battle. “Very gratifying,” the General says, still weeping, “It’s an honor for a soldier to die in battle. Very gratifying.”
These words of the Japanese General echoed when I read the transcript of the audiotape recorded by Saddam Hussein for the Iraqi people on July 29, 2003, in which he paid tribute to his two sons—Uday and Qusay—who had been killed by U. S. forces:
I bring you the glad tidings, the honorable news, which is the wish of every sincere citizen struggling for the sake of Allah. We thank Allah for honoring us with their martyrdom. We sacrifice lives and money for the sake of Allah, Iraq and our nation. If Saddam Hussein had 100 sons other than Uday and Qusay, Saddam Hussein would have offered them on the same path.
We do not ordinarily link violent acts generated by people like Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden to their sacred ideologies—because we don’t believe in their ideologies. Sacrifice is perceived differently depending on whether human beings are dying for their ideal, or for our own ideal.
Professing faith in the sacred ideals that our own society embraces, we feel that declarations of sacrificial intent are sincere and meaningful. When human beings sacrifice their lives in the name of an undertaking in which we believe, their actions seem noble, heroic and beautiful. On the other hand, when people like Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden commit acts of sacrificial violence in the name of ideals in which we do not believe, their declarations of faith seem hollow and insincere.
VII. HISTORY AND MASS-MURDER
An Atlantic Monthly article by Mark Bower (“Tales of the Tyrant,” May 2002) posed the question: “What does Saddam want?” Bower concludes that Hussein was primarily interested in fame, desiring above all to be “admired, remembered and revered.” He notes that a 19 volume official biography was mandatory reading for Iraqi government officials.
Bowden concludes that Hussein’s bloody, single-minded pursuit of power seems to have been motivated primarily by “ego” or “vanity.” It is not difficult to agree with this interpretation. However, are we willing to say the same about other violent political leaders—like Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin and Mao—that they were motivated primarily by ego and vanity?
Rudolph Hess often introduced his Fuhrer by declaring, “Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler.” Men like Hitler, Stalin and Mao identify their “egos” with the ideology that they promote—an ideology they insist has the capacity to transform the world. “History” comes into being when political leaders authorize killing and dying in the name of an ideology with which they identify.
Sheikh Abdullah Azzam was an Islamic revolutionary whose thought exerted a significant influence upon Bin Laden. In “Martyrs: The Building Blocks of Nations” he sets forth a philosophy of history. “History,” Azzam writes, does not write its lines “except with blood.” Glory, he says, does not build its lofty edifice “except with skulls.” Honor and respect cannot be established except on a “foundation of cripples and corpses.”
Saddam Hussein put forth a similar philosophy of history. In his speech of January 6, 2003, he stated: “Our view of our history as a nation is tantamount to faith.” History, he says, is a record of “sacrifices made in blood.” What raises history and elevates it to the status of belief, according to Hussein, is the fact that “sacred blood is shed in the most crucial situations.”
In Blood Sacrifice and the Nation (1998), American social theorist Carolyn Marvin proposes that what is really true in any society is what is “worth killing for,” and what citizens may be compelled to “sacrifice their lives for.” Collective forms of violence perform a validation function. Social groups generate episodes of political violence in order to establish the truth of the ideology with which the group identifies.
Leaders promote collective violence in the name of cultural ideals such as “communism,” or “Germany,” or “Allah,” or “freedom and democracy.” Violent political performances (acts of war, genocide and terror) are undertaken in order to confer reality upon these ideologies. Violence is the way a society demonstrates that it takes its ideals seriously.
Of course, we tend to buy in to these violent political demonstrations. We find it difficult to imagine that those episodes of mass-murder that are the stuff of “history”—are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It seems inconceivable that wars and acts of genocide are undertaken in the name of no-thing. It’s comforting to imagine that political mass-murder occurs in the name of some-thing.
“History” comes into being when a society or group produces death and destruction in the name of its ideology. Hitler, Stalin and Mao are remembered—not because of their contributions to civilization—but by virtue of the vast numbers of people that they killed. As Azzam puts it, the glory of an ideology or belief system builds upon an “edifice of skulls.” The honor or respect accorded to an idea or ideal—its preeminence in history—grows out of a foundation of “cripples and corpses.”
“Significance” is conferred upon a leader and his ideology based on the quantity of people killed in the name of the ideology that the leader represents. This is why historians are so keen to document the number of people that have died in a particular war, battle, genocidal episode, or act of terror. Historians establish the importance of an event by “counting skulls.” History is the record of sacrificial dying that has occurred in relationship to ideologies that seek to transform the world.
Hitler, Stalin and Mao have established their places in history based on the prodigious number of people who died as a result of their political acts. Their reputations are built upon a foundation of “cripples and corpses.” If history, as Saddam Hussein put it, is a record of “sacrifices made in blood,” then men like Hitler, Stalin and Mao are the greatest history-makers—because they caused the greatest amount of blood to be shed.
Saddam Hussein too thought of himself as a “world historic personality” (a phrase Hitler often used to describe himself). He initiated wars and committed acts of genocide that led to the deaths of hundreds-of-thousands of people. Hussein conceived of himself as a brutal, pitiless dictator—in the mold of Stalin. However, in spite of his effort to play the role of brutal dictator—and the quantity of death, pain and suffering that he produced—Saddam Hussein somehow seemed clownish. He did not come across as a world-historic personality.
As post-modernism developed, it became more difficult to embrace and promote “grand narratives.” We became skeptical of politicians—like Hussein—who put forth grandiose claims. Francis Fukuyama’s influential book, The End of History and the Last Man was published in 1992. I interpret this phrase—the end of history—to mean that a certain kind of history begins to fade away when people no longer are willing to kill and die in the name of sacred ideologies.
If history is a record of sacrificial death enacted in the name of empires or nations or ideologies—then history begins to come to an end when people lose the will or desire to sacrifice their lives for the sake of a sacred ideal. If human beings are not willing to die and kill to establish the truth or validity of a sacred ideology—then what becomes of “history?”
Sheikh Abdullah Azzam wrote that the life of the Muslim Ummah is solely dependent on the “ink of its scholars and the blood of its martyrs.” What is more beautiful, he says, than the writing of the Ummah’s history with “both the ink of a scholar and his blood”—so that the map of Islamic history becomes colored with two lines: “One of them black, and that is what the scholar wrote with the ink of his pen; and the other one red, and that is what the martyr wrote with his blood.”
The creation of “History” requires: (1) Political leaders who persuade other human beings to perform acts of violence in the name of an ideology. (2) People (journalists and historians) who record performances of political violence. It is not as if the violent acts that constitute history are separate from the recording of these actions. Journalists and historians are active participants, not merely bystanders who observe what has occurred. Their role is to “witness” violent political acts, and to create “history” by recording these acts.
Human beings who strive to “make history,” we may hypothesize, are not unaware of the dynamics of history creation. They know that their acts of mass-murder are being observed and recorded by journalists and will be chronicled by historians after they have passed away. The worst thing that can happen to a political figure who seeks recognition is that he will be relegated to the the “dustbin of history” (Trotsky, 1917).
Events most likely to be recorded are those that result in the deaths of large numbers of people. Men like Stalin, Hitler and Mao become famous by virtue of the large number of deaths that they have caused. Radical political leaders generate episodes of mass-murder and are recognized and remembered for the havoc that they have wrought—in the name of ideologies they hope will transform the world.
Leaders slaughter people in order to confer reality upon the ideologies they represent. Stalin and communism are not separate phenomena. Hitler and Nazism are not separate phenomena. Leaders murder in a spirit of righteousness because their actions are undertaken in the name of maintaining or regenerating or perpetuating a sacred ideal. Hitler declared: “We may be inhumane, but if we rescue Germany we have performed the greatest deed in the world.”
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a book entitled Human, All Too Human (1878). “History” is made by human beings who aspire to be more than human. Many of us embrace this domain of “history”—a realm of being that seems to consist of phenomena that go beyond ordinary human existence.
In the name of this superhuman domain of existence, human beings create transcendental ideologies—for which people die and kill. Sacrificial death seeks to prove that there is “something else” beyond mere human existence. Killing and dying in warfare is undertaken in order confirm the existence of this something else.
The desire for sacrificial death grows out of our attachment to ideologies that we conceive as absolutes. In order to provide evidence that an ideology is true, a society or group of people kills and dies in the name of this ideology. Political violence (war, genocide and terrorism) represents a mechanism of validation: proof of the pudding.