Hearts of darkness: 'perpetrator history' and why there is no why

History of the Human Sciences 17 (2-3):211-251 (2004)
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Three theories contend as explanations of perpetrator behavior in the Holocaust as well as other cases of genocide: structural, intentional, and situational. Structural explanations emphasize the sense in which no single individual or choice accounts for the course of events. In opposition, intentional/cutltural accounts insist upon the genocides as intended outcomes, for how can one explain situations in which people ‘step up’ and repeatedly kill defenseless others in large numbers over sustained periods of time as anything other than a choice? Situational explanations offer a type of behavioral account; this is how people act in certain environments. Critical to the situational account as I discuss it is the ‘Asch paradigm’, i.e. experimentally attested conditions for eliciting conformityof behavior regardlesss of available evidence of prior beliefs. In what follows, I defend what I term above a version of situational explanations of perpetrator behavior. Moreover, I maintain that the factors that explain provide an understanding as well. While not committed to the complete irrelevance or exclusion of cultural or structural factors, nonetheless situational analyses can account both for what happened and why. A cardinal virtue of this version of situational explanations consists in showing how shallow the problem of understanding turns out to be for such cases
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