Dr. Janice McRae, Adjunct Faculty
I like to compare things. Not everyday things like apples and oranges, but unusual pairings like trees and clouds, insects and cell phones, or diamonds and squirrels. My most recent fascination is finding a suitable comparison for some very bad men. Take Ratko Mladic, for example, a recently captured, very bad man, who had been hiding in plain sight, so to speak. Mladic, a former Serbian military officer, is accused of planning and carrying out one of the most horrendous massacres since World War II. He led his forces in the siege of Sarajevo following Bosnia’s declaration of independence from the then former Yugoslavia. The New York Times (05/26/11) states that during this siege, from 1992-1996, 10,000 Muslims were killed. In July, 1995, more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered – a truly unconscionable atrocity.
Or take Qaddafi of Libya, who has literally dug in his heels and refuses to even consider any other form of governance other than that led by himself or his sons. He has indicated he would die fighting for his right to do so. We can also consider Assad of Syria or Saleh of Yemen. Each of these leaders represents civil military rule at its most dangerous – a forced legitimacy that ignores the rights of the people and destroys opportunities for democratic institutions and policies to flourish. These are delegitimized rulers who have turned on their own people - like male lions who look at their offspring and see nothing but an enemy and then kills them with a single blow.
For those of us studying or practicing in the field of international conflict and its resolution, these last few months have provided an unsettling array of discord to study and reflect upon. At what point, for example, does disengagement from one’s own people begin? Do these leaders form new and different identities that conflict with or become dissonant with their former selves? What is the trigger for these strongmen to cross the line and become mass murderers? Perhaps it’s the point at which they perceive a substantive threat to their core identities (and power). Perhaps an extreme or distorted survival instinct takes over and suppresses or severs normal “connectedness” to the people so that demonization of the other and brutality can take place. This must involve an extreme transformation – like a gentle, caressing breeze that abuses its power and turns into a deadly hurricane that ravages and destroys.
So, back to the comparisons – are Mladic, Qaddafi, Saleh and Assad like tsunamis or hurricanes? That comparison is too easy. No, they are more like viral-crazed miserly zombies, destroying, infecting, killing – impervious to the change around them, tenacious and haunting - possessively clinging to power as if it were the last tasty morsel of flesh left. They are dead and don’t even know it.