Humanity: A Moral History
of the Twentieth Century

By Jonathan Glover. United States:Yale University Press, 1999
Categories: Nonfiction, History Hardcover - 464 pages

Glover has provided a necessary look at that aspect of humanity that produces cruelty.
In Humanity, English ethicist Jonathan Glover ( begins with the now commonplace observation that the last 100 years were perhaps the most brutal in all history. But the problem wasn't that human nature suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse: "It is a myth that barbarism is unique to the twentieth century: the whole of human history includes wars, massacres, and every kind of torture and cruelty," he writes. Technology has made a huge difference, but psychology has remained the same--and this is what Glover seeks to examine, through discussions of Nietzsche, the My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, Hiroshima, tribal genocide in Rwanda, Stalinism, Nazism, and so on.

Book Description
This important book confronts the brutal history of the twentieth century to unravel the psychological mystery of why so many atrocities occurred--the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Gulag, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and others--and how we can prevent their recurrence. Jonathan Glover finds disturbing similarities in the psychology of those involved with atrocities, yet offers hope that the development of a political and personal moral imagination can empower us to resist all acts of cruelty.

Jonathan Glover writes, "... This sense of identity has a moral charge when it is not a matter of style or personality but is of deeper character. A person's character, as Aristotle saw, comes partly from individual decisions and actions. Repeated, these become the habits which set into character. The ways we respond to things that happen and to things people do also play a part. These responses may have no reference to ourselves. We may respect loyalty or detest cruelty when we see them in others. They leave a residue of personal commitment, perhaps to being a loyal friend, being a good Catholic, being someone who would not work for a tobacco company, or being someone willing to speak out in an unpopular cause. Few people could easily give a list of what their own commitments are. We may only recognize them when they are challenged. But these commitments, even if hardly conscious, are the core of moral identity."....

More than a century after the atrocities in Bulgaria, journalists covering the Gulf War described what Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces had done to the Kuwaitis. Among the many cruel acts reported, a few individual cases stand out. Hisham al-Abadan, the gynaecologist at Mubarak al-Kabeer hospital, who gave medical treatment to people the Iraqis did not approve of, was found dead with his nails and eyes gouged out.1 A twenty-year-old woman who was arrested by the Iraqis had all her hair cut off, was repeatedly raped over a period of two months, and, pregnant, was electrocuted. Before she died she had 'her breasts cut off and her belly sliced open'.2

Ahmad Qbazard was a nineteen-year-old Kuwaiti held by the Iraqis. An Iraqi officer told his parents he was about to be released.

They were overjoyed, cooked wonderful things, and when they heard cars approaching went to the door. When Ahmad was taken out of the car, they saw that his ears, his nose and his genitalia had been cut off. He was coming out of the car with his eyes in his hands. Then the Iraqis shot him, once in the stomach and once in the head, and told his mother to be sure not to move the body for three days.

Journalists from outside were able to visit places in Iraq where prisoners of Saddam Hussein's regime had been held. When the Kurds captured Kirkuk, Gwynne Roberts described a visit:

In its report issued that year,1991, Amnesty International recorded protests against human rights abuses in over fifty countries, the protests to thirteen countries making specific reference to torture.6 These are the kinds of thing many of us have a vague background awareness of, without being much publicity unless the perpetrators are some currently regime, or unless some highly visible Westerner is among the victims. The reality is that in many countries torture of the most revolting happens routinely, often under the auspices of governments with relations with Europe and the United States, sometimes using knowingly supplied by Western companies. There is little torture is in retreat. The festival of cruelty is in full swing. What is it about human beings that makes such acts possible?

Three factors seem central. There is a love of cruelty. Also, emotionally inadequate people assert themselves by dominance and cruelty. And the resources which restrain cruelty can be neutralized."

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