Man or Monster?: The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer
Alexander Laban Hinton is Founding Director, Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University. He is coeditor of Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America, also published by Duke University Press, and author of the award-winning Why Did They Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide.
Man or Monster?: (Conviction)
The book concludes with a last “return”/iteration, an epilogue, which begins with a discussion of the book’s title, noting how it has a double sense that both asserts an answer and questions the reductive binary of the first apparent sense. The chapter builds on this opening by discussing how the current literature on Duch answers this question, usually by emphasizing the “man” argument. The “ordinary men” thesis, however, is somewhat insipid, suggesting a sort of modal personality devoid of complexity. The epilogue considers a nuanced explanation through a discussion of the “effacing conviction” that asserts the sort of shallow articulations of self and other that appealed to Duch and that are often at the heart of mass violence—even as this sort of dynamic is also part of our everyday lives (again, an illustration of the banality of everyday thought). The epilogue concludes by arguing that a key lesson of the trial of Duch is a recognition of the dangers of the sort of narrow articulations and effacing conviction that Duch and S-21 evinced and a recognition of the benefits of the alternative stance of “afacement,” or an openness and recognition of the other that seeks out complexity instead of redacting it. Again, many of these arguments are a response to/reconsideration of the thesis of the most famous book perhaps in the study of perpetration, Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, and her concept of the banality of evil. Discussion is also directed at another key concept in perpetrator studies, “ordinary men,” as presented in Christopher Browning’s book Ordinary Men.