Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Khmer Rouge, the Nazis and the Banality of Evil

Very interesting article in English found at the website of the leading and highly respected german weekly news magazine "Der Spiegel":

Hannah Arendt used the phrase 'the banality of evil' to describe Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi bureaucrat who hastened millions to their deaths. SPIEGEL columnist Erich Follath points out the striking similarities between Eichmann and "Duch," the Khmer Rouge official now on trial, which indicates just how universal the propensity for evil really is.

In late November, closing arguments were presented in the case of the international community and the Cambodian people versus Kaing Guek Eav. Better known as "Duch," this 67-year-old former Khmer Rouge official was the commandant of the most notorious prison and torture house in Phnom Penh. The verdict in this spectacular trial is expected soon. When the judges in Phnom Penh pronounce it and, as expected, Duch is sentenced to several decades in prison, justice will have been served. The offender will be locked away, and a chapter in Cambodian history will be closed.

But does the Duch trial honestly represent a reasonable settling of accounts for the country's past, which saw almost a quarter of its population fall victim to genocide in the horrific period between April 1975 and January 1979? Likewise, are there similarities to be found among the men who order others to commit genocide, a core of absolute evil that can be identified in their characters and careers? If so, can crimes against humanity be dissected and classified so as to prevent their recurrence?

Duch, who was at times submissive and at times provocative during his trial in Phnom Penh, seems depressingly ordinary. But if you take a closer look, it becomes clear that the one thing he is not is unique. In fact, Duch resembles a Nazi henchman put on trial in Jerusalem in the early 1960s for his role in the deaths of six million Jews. Indeed, in a way, Duch is a second Adolf Eichmann.

The life of this Khmer Rouge official, the crimes he committed, methodically and completely devoid of pity, his maneuvering during the trial between expressing regret for the victims and attempting to evade responsibility by claiming that he was nothing more than a "cog in the wheel" -- all of this is highly reminiscent of Eichmann's behavior. And like the 1961 trial of the SS lieutenant colonel -- which, despite the best intentions of the prosecutors and the great attention it generated among those affected -- proved to be a failed historic opportunity, the Phnom Penh trial of Duch in 2009 also threatens to end in failure.

To read the complete, worth reading article, go to:,1518,667263,00.html

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