+1(978)310-4246 credencewriters@gmail.com

part 1

After reading this week’s texts :

1) What did you learn about the use of profanity or “cussing” that you didn’t know before? Be specific.

2) After reading “Invitation to Sociology”, do you think that there are some topics/material that sociology or sociology class should


investigate/discuss? If so, which topics/ material? If not, why?

3) What topics/material are uncomfortable or offensive to you ?

part 2

read the attach links and follow number 3

3. AND do a

Critical Reading Reflection assignment 60pts.docx


using this



based on only


of the readings. The first reading by


is required, but you may choose


of the 2nd or 3rd reading to compare. You can do all 3 for extra credit !!! (10pts).

Still not clear? Check out one these these sample papers !!

Sample papers winter 21.docx


and more

sample papers



exploring the architecture of everyday life readings
david m. newman
DePauw University
jodi o’brien
Seattle University
Los Angeles I London I New Delhi
SingaporeI WashingtonDC
Los AngelesI London I New Delhi
Copyright  2013 by SAGE Publications, Inc.
SAGE Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
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Sociology : exploring the architecture of everyday life : readings /
editors, David M. Newman, Jodi O’Brien. — 9th ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-1-4129-8760-8 (pbk.)
1. Sociology. I. Newman, David M., 1958– II. O’Brien, Jodi.
HM586.S64 2013
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Acquisitions Editor: David Repetto
Editorial Assistant: Lauren Johnson
Production Editor: Laureen Gleason
Copy Editor: Erin Livingston
Typesetter: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.
Proofreader: Ellen Howard
Cover Designer: Candice Harman
Marketing Manager: Erica DeLuca
Permissions Editor: Karen Ehrmann
12 13 14 15 16 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
About the Editors
Chapter 1.Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 3
Reading 1.1. The Sociological Imagination 5
C. Wright Mills
Reading 1.2. Invitation to Sociology 10
Peter Berger
Reading 1.3. The My Lai Massacre: A Military Crime of Obedience 14
Herbert Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton
Chapter 2. Seeing and Thinking Sociologically 27
Reading 2.1. The Metropolis and Mental Life 29
Georg Simmel
Reading 2.2. Gift and Exchange 35
Zygmunt Bauman
Reading 2.3. Culture of Fear 44
Barry Glassner
Chapter 3. Building Reality:The Social Construction of Knowledge 59
Reading 3.1. Concepts, Indicators, and Reality 61
Earl Babbie
Reading 3.2. Missing Numbers 65
Joel Best
Chapter 4. Building Order: Culture and History 75
Reading 4.1. Body Ritual among the Nacirema 77
Horace Miner
Reading 4.2. The Melting Pot 81
Anne Fadiman
Reading 4.3. McDonald’s in Hong Kong: Consumerism, Dietary Change, and the
Rise of a Children’s Culture 91
James L. Watson
Chapter 5. Building Identity: Socialization 99
Reading 5.1. Life as the Maid’s Daughter: An Exploration of
the Everyday Boundaries of Race, Class, and Gender 101
Mary Romero
Reading 5.2. The Making of Culture, Identity, and
Ethnicity Among Asian American Youth 110
Min Zhou and Jennifer Lee
Reading 5.3. Working ‘the Code’: On Girls, Gender, and Inner-City Violence
Nikki Jones
Chapter 6. Supporting Identity:The Presentation of Self 127
Reading 6.1. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life: Selections 129
Erving Goffman
Reading 6.2. Public Identities: Managing Race in Public Spaces 139
Karyn Lacy
Reading 6.3. The Girl Hunt: Urban Nightlife and the
Performance of Masculinity as Collective Activity 152
David Grazian
Chapter 7. Building Social Relationships: Intimacy and Family 161
Reading 7.1. The Radical Idea of Marrying for Love 163
Stephanie Coontz
Reading 7.2. Gay Parenthood and the End of Paternity as We Knew It 174
Judith Stacey
Reading 7.3. Covenant Marriage: Reflexivity and Retrenchment
in the Politics of Intimacy 189
Dwight Fee
Chapter 8. Constructing Difference: Social Deviance 195
Reading 8.1. Watching the Canary 197
Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres
Reading 8.2. Healing (Disorderly) Desire: Medical-Therapeutic Regulation of
Sexuality 201
P. J. McGann
Reading 8.3. Patients, “Potheads,” and Dying to Get High 212
Wendy Chapkis
Chapter 9.The Structure of Society: Organizations and Social Institutions 223
Reading 9.1. These Dark Satanic Mills 225
William Greider
Reading 9.2. The Smile Factory: Work at Disneyland 235
John Van Maanen
Reading 9.3. Creating Consumers: Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids 245
Murry Milner
Chapter 10.The Architecture of Stratification: Social Class and Inequality 253
Reading 10.1. Making Class Invisible 255
Gregory Mantsios
Reading 10.2. The Compassion Gap in American Poverty Policy 262
Fred Block, Anna C. Korteweg, and Kerry Woodward,
with Zach Schiller and Imrul Mazid
Reading 10.3. Branded With Infamy: Inscriptions of Poverty and Class in America 271
Vivyan Adair
Chapter 11.The Architecture of Inequality: Race and Ethnicity 283
Reading 11.1. Racial and Ethnic Formation 285
Michael Omi and Howard Winant
Reading 11.2. Optional Ethnicities: For Whites Only? 292
Mary C. Waters
Reading 11.3. Silent Racism: Passivity in Well-Meaning White People 299
Barbara Trepagnier
Chapter 12.The Architecture of Inequality: Sex and Gender 309
Reading 12.1. Black Women and a New Definition of Womanhood 311
Bart Landry
Reading 12.2. Still a Man’s World: Men Who Do “Women’s Work” 323
Christine L. Williams
Reading 12.3. New Biomedical Technologies, New Scripts, New Genders 333
Eve Shapiro
Chapter 13. Global Dynamics and Population Demographic Trends 347
Reading 13.1. Age-Segregation in Later Life: An Examination of
Personal Networks 349
Peter Uhlenberg and Jenny de Jong Gierveld
Reading 13.2. Love and Gold 357
Arlie Russell Hochschild
Reading 13.3. Cyberbrides and Global Imaginaries: Mexican Women’s Turn
from the National to the Foreign 365
Felicity Schaeffer-Grabiel
Chapter 14.The Architects of Change: Reconstructing Society 377
Reading 14.1. Muslim American Immigrants After 9/11: The Struggle for Civil
Rights 379
Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo
Reading 14.2. The Seattle Solidarity Network:
A New Approach to Working Class Social Movements 388
Walter Winslow
Reading 14.3. “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!” Global Capital
and Immigrant Rights 400
William I. Robinson
ne of the greatest challenges we face as teachers of sociology is getting our students to see the relevance of the course material to their own lives and to fully
appreciate its connection to the larger society. We teach our students to see that sociology is all around us. It’s in our families, our careers, our media, our jobs, our classrooms, our goals, our interests, our desires, and even our minds. Sociology can be
found at the neighborhood pub, in conversation with the clerk at 7-Eleven, on a date, and
in the highest offices of government. It’s with us when we’re alone and when we’re in a
group of people. Sociology focuses on questions of global significance as well as private
concerns. For instance, sociologists study how some countries create and maintain
dominance over others and also why we find some people more attractive than others.
Sociology is an invitation to understand yourself within the context of your historical
and cultural circumstances.
We have compiled this collection of short articles, chapters, and excerpts with the intent
of providing comprehensive examples of the power of sociology for helping us to make sense
of our lives and our times. The readings are organized in a format that demonstrates
the uniqueness of the sociological perspective
tools of sociological analysis
the significance of different cultures in a global world
social factors that influence identity development and self-management
social rules about family, relationships, and belonging
the influence of social institutions and organizations on everyday life
the significance of socioeconomic class, gender, and racial/ethnic backgrounds in everyday life
• the significance of social demographics, such as aging populations and migration
• the power of social groups and social change
In general, our intent is to demonstrate the significance of sociology in everyday
life and to show that what seems “obvious” is often not-so-obvious when subjected to
rigorous sociological analysis. The metaphor of “architecture” used in the title for this
reader illustrates the sociological idea that as social beings, we are constantly building
and rebuilding our own social environment. The sociological promise is that if we
understand these processes and how they affect us, we will be able to make more
informed choices about how to live our lives and engage in our communities.
As in the first eight editions of the reader, the selections in this edition are intended
to be vivid, provocative, and eye-opening examples of the practice of sociology. The readings represent a variety of styles. Some use common or everyday experiences and phenomena (such as drug use, employment, athletic performance, religious devotion, eating
fast food, and the balance of work and family) to illustrate the relationship between
the individual and society. Others focus on important social issues or problems
(medical social control, race relations, poverty, educational inequalities, sexuality, immigration, global economics, environmental degradation, or political extremism) or on
specific historical events (massacres during war, drug scares, and 9/11). Some were written
quite recently; others are sociological classics. In addition to accurately representing the
sociological perspective and providing rigorous coverage of the discipline, we hope the
selections are thought-provoking, generate lots of discussion, and are enjoyable to read.
There are 41 selections in this reader, and 12 of them are new. These new readings
focus on current, important social issues such as the pace of life in urban societies, gift
exchange, media manipulation of statistics, status performance and race, parenting
among same-sex couples, marriage promotion, cyberbrides, sexual regulation and
consumer culture in high schools, gender technology in historical context, racism
among well-intended white people, and working-class social movement tactics.
Most of the new readings are based on research studies that were written in the past
5 years. In recent editions of this reader, we have increased the number of selections
drawn from contemporary social research. In doing so, we hope to provide you with
illustrations of the ways in which social researchers combine theories and empirical studies to gain a better understanding of social patterns and processes. Although the professional language of some of these selections may seem challenging for introductory readers, we are confident that you will find them highly relevant and come away with a sense
of being immersed in the most significant details of contemporary sociology.
To help you get the most out of these selections, we’ve written brief introductions
that provide the sociological context for each chapter. We also included reflection
points that can be used for comparing and contrasting the readings in each section and
across sections. For those of you who are also reading the accompanying textbook,
these introductions will furnish a quick intellectual link between the readings and
information in the textbook. We have also included in these introductions brief
instructions on what to look for when you read the selections in a given chapter. After
each reading, you will find a set of discussion questions to ponder. Many of these questions ask you to apply a specific author’s conclusions to some contemporary issue in
society or to your own life experiences. It is our hope that these questions will generate
a lot of classroom debate and help you see the sociological merit of the readings.
A website established for this ninth edition includes do-it-yourself reviews and
tests for students, web-based activities designed to enhance learning, and a chat room
where students and teachers can post messages and debate matters of sociological significance. The site can be accessed via the Pine Forge website at www.pineforge.com.
Books like these are enormous projects. We would like to thank David Repetto,
Laureen Gleason, Erin Livingston, and the rest of the staff at SAGE for their useful advice
and assistance in putting this reader together. It’s always a pleasure to work with this very
professional group. Thanks again to Jennifer Hamann for her assistance with reading
selections and editing. Michelle Robertson joins us in this edition as a contributing
editor, and we are especially grateful for her input.
David M. Newman
Department of Sociology/Anthropology
DePauw University
Greencastle, IN 46135
E-mail: dnewman@depauw.edu
Jodi O’Brien
Department of Sociology
Seattle University
Seattle, WA 98122
E-mail: jobrien@seattleu.edu
About the Editors
David M. Newman (PhD, University of Washington) is Professor of Sociology at
DePauw University. In addition to the introductory course, he teaches courses in
research methods, family, social psychology, deviance, and mental illness. He has won
teaching awards at both the University of Washington and DePauw University. His
other written work includes Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of
Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality (2012) and Families: A Sociological Perspective
Jodi O’Brien (PhD, University of Washington) is Professor of Sociology at Seattle
University. She teaches courses in social psychology, sexuality, inequality, and classical
and contemporary theory. She writes and lectures on the cultural politics of
transgressive identities and communities. Her other books include Everyday Inequalities
(Basil Blackwell), Social Prisms: Reflections on Everyday Myths and Paradoxes (SAGE),
and The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings on Social Interaction (5th edition,
The Individual
and Society
Taking a New Look
at a Familiar World
he primary claim of sociology is that our everyday feelings, thoughts, and actions
are the product of a complex interplay between massive social forces and personal
characteristics. We can’t understand the relationship between individuals and their
societies without understanding the connection between both. As C. Wright Mills
discusses in the introductory article, the “sociological imagination” is the ability to see
the impact of social forces on our private lives. When we develop a sociological
imagination, we gain an awareness that our lives unfold at the intersection of personal
biography and social history. The sociological imagination encourages us to move
beyond individualistic explanations of human experiences to an understanding of the
mutual influence between individuals and society. So rather than study what goes on
within people, sociologists study what goes on between and among people as
individuals, groups, organizations, or entire societies. Sociology teaches us to look
beyond individual personalities and focus instead on the influence of social phenomena
in shaping our ideas of who we are and what we think we can do.
Peter Berger, another well-known sociologist, invites us to consider the uniqueness
of the sociological enterprise. According to Berger, the sociologist is driven by an insatiable curiosity to understand the social conditions that shape human behavior. The
sociologist is also prepared to be surprised, disturbed, and sometimes even bored by
what he or she discovers. In this regard, the sociologist is driven to make sense of the
seemingly obvious with the understanding that once explored, it may not be so obvious after all. One example of the nonobvious is the influence that social institutions
have on our behavior. It’s not always easy to see this influence. We have a tendency to
see people’s behavior in individualistic, sometimes even biological, terms. This tendency toward individualistic explanations is particularly pronounced in U.S. society.
The influence of social institutions on our personal lives is often felt most forcefully when we are compelled to obey the commands of someone who is in a position
of institutional authority. The social institution with the most explicit hierarchy of
authority is the military. In “The My Lai Massacre: A Military Crime of Obedience,”
Herbert Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton describe a specific example of a crime in which
the individuals involved attempted to deny responsibility for their actions by claiming
that they were following the orders of a military officer who had the legitimate right to
command them. This incident occurred in the midst of the Vietnam War. Arguably,
people do things under such trying conditions that they wouldn’t ordinarily do,
even—as in this case—kill defenseless people. Kelman and Hamilton make a key
sociological point by showing that these soldiers were not necessarily psychological
misfits who were especially mean or violent. Instead, the researchers argue, they were
ordinary people caught up in tense circumstances that made obeying the brutal commands of an authority seem like the normal and morally acceptable thing to do.
4 PART 1
Something to Consider as You Read
As you read these selections, consider the effects of social context and situation on
behavior. Even though it might appear extreme, how might the behavior of these
soldiers be similar to other examples of social influence? Consider occasions in which
you have done something publicly that you didn’t feel right about personally. How do
you explain your behavior? How might a sociologist explain your behavior?
The Sociological Imagination
C.Wright Mills
“The individual can . . . know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of
all individuals in his circumstances.”
Nowadays men often feel that their private
lives are a series of traps. They sense that
within their everyday worlds, they cannot
overcome their troubles, and in this feeling,
they are often quite correct: What ordinary
men are directly aware of and what they try to
do are bounded by the private orbits in which
they live; their visions and their powers are
limited to the close-up scenes of job, family,
neighborhood; in other milieux, they move
vicariously and remain spectators. And the
more aware they become, however vaguely, of
ambitions and of threats which transcend their
immediate locales, the more trapped they seem
to feel.
Underlying this sense of being trapped are
seemingly impersonal changes in the very
structure of continent-wide societies. The facts
of contemporary history are also facts about
the success and the failure of individual men
and women. When a society is industrialized, a
peasant becomes a worker; a feudal lord is liquidated or becomes a businessman. When
classes rise or fall, a man is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or
down, a man takes new heart or goes broke.
When wars happen, an insurance salesman
becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a
radar man; a wife lives alone; a child grows up
without a father. Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be
understood without understanding both.
Yet men do not usually define the troubles
they endure in terms of historical change and
institutional contradiction. The well-being
they enjoy, they do not usually impute to the
big ups and downs of the societies in which
they live. Seldom aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of their own lives
and the course of world history, ordinary men
do not usually know what this connection
means for the kinds of men they are becoming
and for the kinds of history-making in which
they might take part. They do not possess the
quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay
of man and society, of biography and history,
of self and world. They cannot cope with their
personal troubles in such ways as to control the
structural transformations that usually lie
behind them.
Surely it is no wonder. In what period have
so many men been so totally exposed at so fast
a pace to such earthquakes of change? That
Americans have not known such catastrophic
changes as have the men and women of other
societies is due to historical facts that are now
quickly becoming “merely history.” The history
that now affects every man is world history.
Within this scene and this period, in the course
of a single generation, one-sixth of mankind is
transformed from all that is feudal and backward into all that is modern, advanced, and
fearful. Political colonies are freed, new and
less visible forms of imperialism installed.
Revolutions occur; men feel the intimate grip
of new kinds of authority. Totalitarian societies
rise, and are smashed to bits—or succeed fabulously. After two centuries of ascendancy, capitalism is shown up as only one way to make
society into an industrial apparatus. After two
6 PART 1
centuries of hope, even formal democracy is
restricted to a quite small portion of mankind.
Everywhere in the underdeveloped world,
ancient ways of life are broken up and vague
expectations become urgent demands.
Everywhere in the overdeveloped world, the
means of authority and of violence become
total in scope and bureaucratic in form.
Humanity itself now lies before us, the supernation at either pole concentrating its most
coordinated and massive efforts upon the
preparation of World War Three.
The very shaping of history now outpaces
the ability of men to orient themselves in
accordance with cherished values. And which
values? Even when they do not panic, men
often sense that older ways of feeling and
thinking have collapsed and that newer beginnings are ambiguous to the point of moral
stasis. Is it any wonder that ordinary men feel
they cannot cope with the larger worlds with
which they are so suddenly confronted? That
they cannot understand the meaning of their
epoch for their own lives? That—in defense of
selfhood—they become morally insensible,
trying to remain altogether private men? Is it
any wonder that they come to be possessed by
a sense of the trap?
It is not only information that they need—
in this Age of Fact, information often dominates their attention and overwhelms their
capacities to assimilate it. It is not only the
skills of reason that they need—although their
struggles to acquire these often exhaust their
limited moral energy.
What they need, and what they feel they
need, is a quality of mind that will help them
to use information and to develop reason in
order to achieve lucid summations of what is
going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves. It is this quality, I
am going to contend, that journalists and
scholars, artists and publics, scientists and editors are coming to expect of what may be
called the sociological imagination.
The sociological imagination enables its
possessor to understand the larger historical
scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life
and the external career of a variety of individuals.
It enables him to take into account how individuals, in the welter of their daily experience, often
become falsely conscious of their social positions.
Within that welter, the framework of modern
society is sought, and within that framework the
psychologies of a variety of men and women are
formulated. By such means the personal uneasiness of individuals is focused upon explicit
troubles and the indifference of publics is transformed into involvement with public issues.
The first fruit of this imagination—and
the first lesson of the social science that embodies it—is the idea that the individual can
understand his own experience and gauge his
own fate only by locating himself within his
period, that he can know his own chances in
life only by becoming aware of those of all
individuals in his circumstances. In many ways
it is a terrible lesson; in many ways a magnificent one. We do not know the limits of man’s
capacities for supreme effort or willing degradation, for agony or glee, for pleasurable brutality or the sweetness of reason. But in our
time we have come to know that the limits of
“human nature” are frighteningly broad. We
have come to know that every individual lives,
from one generation to the next, in some society; that he lives out a biography, and that he
lives it out within some historical sequence. By
the fact of his living he contributes, however
minutely, to the shaping of this society and to
the course of its history, even as he is made by
society and by its historical push and shove.
The sociological imagination enables us to
grasp history and biography and the relations
between the two within society. That is its task
and its promise. To recognize this task and this
promise is the mark of the classic social analyst. It is characteristic of Herbert Spencer—
turgid, polysyllabic, comprehensive; of E. A.
Ross—graceful, muckraking, upright; of
Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim; of the
intricate and subtle Karl Mannheim. It is the
quality of all that is intellectually excellent in
Karl Marx; it is the clue to Thorstein Veblen’s
brilliant and ironic insight, to Joseph
Schumpeter’s many-sided constructions of
reality; it is the basis of the psychological
sweep of W. E. H. Lecky no less than of the
profundity and clarity of Max Weber. And it is
the signal of what is best in contemporary
studies of man and society.
No social study that does not come back to
the problems of biography, of history, and of
their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey. Whatever the
specific problems of the classic social analysts,
however limited or however broad the features
of social reality they have examined, those who
have been imaginatively aware of the promise
of their work have consistently asked three
sorts of questions:
1. What is the structure of this particular
society as a whole? What are its essential
components, and how are they related to
one another? How does it differ from other
varieties of social order? Within it, what is
the meaning of any particular feature for its
continuance and for its change?
2. Where does this society stand in human
history? What are the mechanics by which it
is changing? What is its place within and its
meaning for the development of humanity
as a whole? How does any particular feature
we are examining affect, and how is it affected
by, the historical period in which it moves?
And this period—what are its essential
features? How does it differ from other
periods? What are its characteristic ways of
history making?
3. What varieties of men and women now
prevail in this society and in this period?
And what varieties are coming to prevail? In
what ways are they selected and formed,
liberated and repressed, made sensitive and
blunted? What kinds of “human nature” are
revealed in the conduct and character we
observe in this society in this period? And
what is the meaning for “human nature” of
each and every feature of the society we are
Whether the point of interest is a great
power state or a minor literary mood, a family,
a prison, a creed—these are the kinds of
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 7
questions the best social analysts have asked.
They are the intellectual pivots of classic studies
of man in society—and they are the questions
inevitably raised by any mind possessing the
sociological imagination. For that imagination
is the capacity to shift from one perspective to
another—from the political to the psychological;
from examination of a single family to comparative assessment of the national budgets
of the world; from the theological school to
the military establishment; from considerations
of an oil industry to studies of contemporary
poetry. It is the capacity to range from the most
impersonal and remote transformations to the
most intimate features of the human self—and
to see the relations between the two. Back of its
use there is always the urge to know the social
and historical meaning of the individual in the
society and in the period in which he has his
quality and his being.
That, in brief, is why it is by means of the
sociological imagination that men now hope
to grasp what is going on in the world, and to
understand what is happening in themselves as
minute points of the intersections of biography and history within society. In large part,
contemporary man’s self-conscious view of
himself as at least an outsider, if not a permanent stranger, rests upon an absorbed
realization of social relativity and of the transformative power of history. The sociological
imagination is the most fruitful form of this
self-consciousness. By its use men whose mentalities have swept only a series of limited
orbits often come to feel as if suddenly awakened in a house with which they had only supposed themselves to be familiar. Correctly or
incorrectly, they often come to feel that they
can now provide themselves with adequate
summations, cohesive assessments, comprehensive orientations. Older decisions that once
appeared sound now seem to them products of
a mind unaccountably dense. Their capacity
for astonishment is made lively again. They
acquire a new way of thinking, they experience
a transvaluation of values: in a word, by their
reflection and by their sensibility, they realize
the cultural meaning of the social sciences.
8 PART 1
Perhaps the most fruitful distinction with
which the sociological imagination works is
between “the personal troubles of milieu” and
“the public issues of social structure.” This
distinction is an essential tool of the sociological imagination and a feature of all classic
work in social science.
Troubles occur within the character of the
individual and within the range of his immediate relations with others; they have to do with
his self and with those limited areas of social life
of which he is directly and personally aware.
Accordingly, the statement and the resolution of
troubles properly lie within the individual as a
biographical entity and within the scope of his
immediate milieu—the social setting that is
directly open to his personal experience and to
some extent his willful activity. A trouble is a
private matter: values cherished by an individual are felt by him to be threatened.
Issues have to do with matters that transcend these local environments of the individual and the range of his inner life. They have to
do with the organization of many such milieux
into the institutions of an historical society
as a whole, with the ways in which various
milieux overlap and interpenetrate to form the
larger structure of social and historical life. An
issue is a public matter: some value cherished by
publics is felt to be threatened. Often there is a
debate about what that value really is and about
what it is that really threatens it. This debate is
often without focus if only because it is the very
nature of an issue, unlike even widespread
trouble, that it cannot very well be defined in
terms of the immediate and everyday environments of ordinary men. An issue, in fact, often
involves a crisis in institutional arrangements,
and often too it involves what Marxists call
“contradictions” or “antagonisms.”
In these terms, consider unemployment.
When, in a city of 100,000, only one man is
unemployed, that is his personal trouble,
and for its relief we properly look to the
character of the man, his skills, and his
immediate opportunities. But when in a
nation of 50 million employees, 15 million
men are unemployed, that is an issue, and we
may not hope to find its solution within the
range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities
has collapsed. Both the correct statement of
the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic
and political institutions of the society, and
not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.
Consider war. The personal problem of
war, when it occurs, may be how to survive it or
how to die in it with honor; how to make
money out of it; how to climb into the higher
safety of the military apparatus; or how to contribute to the war’s termination. In short,
according to one’s values, to find a set of milieux
and within it to survive the war or make one’s
death in it meaningful. But the structural issues
of war have to do with its causes; with what
types of men it throws up into command; with
its effects upon economic and political, family,
and religious institutions, with the unorganized
irresponsibility of a world of nation-states.
Consider marriage. Inside a marriage a
man and a woman may experience personal
troubles, but when the divorce rate during the
first four years of marriage is 250 out of every
1,000 attempts, this is an indication of a structural issue having to do with the institutions of
marriage and the family and other institutions
that bear upon them.
Or consider the metropolis—the horrible,
beautiful, ugly, magnificent sprawl of the great
city. For many upper-class people, the personal
solution to “the problem of the city” is to have
an apartment with private garage under it in the
heart of the city, and forty miles out, a house by
Henry Hill, garden by Garrett Eckbo, on a hundred acres of private land. In these two controlled environments—with a small staff at each
end and a private helicopter connection—most
people could solve many of the problems of
personal milieux caused by the facts of the city.
But all this, however splendid, does not solve the
public issues that the structural fact of the city
poses. What should be done with this wonderful
monstrosity? Break it all up into scattered units,
combining residence and work? Refurbish it as
Chapter 1
it stands? Or, after evacuation, dynamite it and
build new cities according to new plans in new
places? What should those plans be? And who is
to decide and to accomplish whatever choice is
made? These are structural issues; to confront
them and to solve them requires us to consider
political and economic issues that affect innumerable milieux.
Insofar as an economy is so arranged
that slumps occur, the problem of unemployment becomes incapable of personal
solution. Insofar as war is inherent in the
nation-state system and in the uneven industrialization of the world, the ordinary
individual in his restricted milieu will be
powerless—with or without psychiatric
aid—to solve the troubles this system or lack
of system imposes upon him. Insofar as the
family as an institution turns women into
darling little slaves and men into their chief
providers and unweaned dependents, the
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 9
problem of a satisfactory marriage remains incapable of purely private solution. Insofar as
the overdeveloped megalopolis and the overdeveloped automobile are built-in features
of the overdeveloped society, the issues of
urban living will not be solved by personal
ingenuity and private wealth.
What we experience in various and specific milieux, I have noted, is often caused by
structural changes. Accordingly, to understand
the changes of many personal milieux we are
required to look beyond them. And the number and variety of such structural changes
increase as the institutions within which we
live become more embracing and more intricately connected with one another. To be aware
of the idea of social structure and to use it with
sensibility is to be capable of tracing such linkages among a great variety of milieux. To be
able to do that is to possess the sociological
imagination. . . .
Consider the political, economic, familial, and cultural circumstances into which you
were born. Make a list of some of these circumstances and also some of the major
historical events that have occurred in your lifetime. How do you think these historical
and social circumstances may have affected your personal biography? Can you think
of ways in which your actions have influenced the course of other people’s lives?
Identify some famous people and consider how the intersection of history and biography led them to their particular position. How might the outcome have differed if
some of the circumstances in their lives were different?
Invitation to Sociology
Peter Berger
We would say then that the sociologist (that
is, the one we would really like to invite to our
game) is a person intensively, endlessly,
shamelessly interested in the doings of men.
His natural habitat is all the human gathering
places of the world, wherever men* come
together. The sociologist may be interested in
many other things. But his consuming interest
remains in the world of men, their institutions,
their history, their passions. He will naturally
be interested in the events that engage men’s
ultimate beliefs, their moments of tragedy
and grandeur and ecstasy. But he will also be
fascinated by the commonplace, the everyday.
He will know reverence, but this reverence
will not prevent him from wanting to see and
to understand. He may sometimes feel
revulsion or contempt. But this also will not
deter him from wanting to have his questions
answered. The sociologist, in his quest for
understanding, moves through the world of
men without respect for the usual lines of
demarcation. Nobility and degradation,
power and obscurity, intelligence and folly—
these are equally interesting to him, however
unequal they may be in his personal values or
tastes. Thus his questions may lead him to all
possible levels of society, the best and the least
known places, the most respected and the
most despised. And, if he is a good sociologist,
he will find himself in all these places because
his own questions have so taken possession of
him that he has little choice but to seek for
We could say that the sociologist, but for
the grace of his academic title, is the man
who must listen to gossip despite himself,
*To be understood as people or persons.
who is tempted to look through keyholes, to
read other people’s mail, to open closed
cabinets. What interests us is the curiosity
that grips any sociologist in front of a closed
door behind which there are human voices.
If he is a good sociologist, he will want to
open that door, to understand these voices.
Behind each closed door he will anticipate
some new facet of human life not yet perceived and understood.
The sociologist will occupy himself with
matters that others regard as too sacred or as
too distasteful for dispassionate investigation.
He will find rewarding the company of priests
or of prostitutes, depending not on his personal preferences but on the questions he happens to be asking at the moment. He will also
concern himself with matters that others may
find much too boring. He will be interested in
the human interaction that goes with warfare
or with great intellectual discoveries, but also
in the relations between people employed in a
restaurant or between a group of little girls
playing with their dolls. His main focus of
attention is not the ultimate significance of
what men do, but the action in itself, as
another example of the infinite richness of
human conduct.
In these journeys through the world of
men the sociologist will inevitably encounter
other professional Peeping Toms. Sometimes
these will resent his presence, feeling that he
is poaching on their preserves. In some places
the sociologist will meet up with the economist, in others with the political scientist, in
yet others with the psychologist or the ethnologist. Yet chances are that the questions
that have brought him to these same places
are different from the ones that propelled his
fellow trespassers. The sociologist’s questions
always remain essentially the same: “What are
people doing with each other here?” “What
are their relationships to each other?” “How
are these relationships organized in institutions?” “What are the collective ideas that
move men and institutions?” In trying to
answer these questions in specific instances,
the sociologist will, of course, have to deal
with economic or political matters, but he
will do so in a way rather different from that
of the economist or the political scientist. The
scene that he contemplates is the same human
scene that these other scientists concern
themselves with. But the sociologist’s angle of
vision is different.
Much of the time the sociologist moves in
sectors of experience that are familiar to him
and to most people in his society. He investigates communities, institutions and activities
that one can read about every day in the newspapers. Yet there is another excitement of discovery beckoning in his investigations. It is not
the excitement of coming upon the totally
unfamiliar, but rather the excitement of finding the familiar becoming transformed in its
meaning. The fascination of sociology lies in
the fact that its perspective makes us see in a
new light the very world in which we have lived
all our lives. This also constitutes a transformation of consciousness. Moreover, this transformation is more relevant existentially than
that of many other intellectual disciplines,
because it is more difficult to segregate in some
special compartment of the mind. The astronomer does not live in the remote galaxies, and
the nuclear physicist can, outside his laboratory, eat and laugh and marry and vote without thinking about the insides of the atom.
The geologist looks at rocks only at appropriate times, and the linguist speaks English with
his wife. The sociologist lives in society, on the
job and off it. His own life, inevitably, is part of
his subject matter. Men being what they are,
sociologists too manage to segregate their professional insights from their everyday affairs.
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 11
But it is a rather difficult feat to perform in
good faith.
The sociologist moves in the common
world of men, close to what most of them
would call real. The categories he employs in
his analyses are only refinements of the categories by which other men live—power, class,
status, race, ethnicity. As a result, there is a
deceptive simplicity and obviousness about
some sociological investigations. One reads
them, nods at the familiar scene, remarks that
one has heard all this before and don’t people
have better things to do than to waste their
time on truisms—until one is suddenly
brought up against an insight that radically
questions everything one had previously
assumed about this familiar scene. This is the
point at which one begins to sense the excitement of sociology.
Let us take a specific example. Imagine a
sociology class in a Southern college where
almost all the students are white Southerners.
Imagine a lecture on the subject of the racial
system of the South. The lecturer is talking
here of matters that have been familiar to his
students from the time of their infancy.
Indeed, it may be that they are much more
familiar with the minutiae of this system than
he is. They are quite bored as a result. It seems
to them that he is only using more pretentious words to describe what they already
know. Thus he may use the term “caste,” one
commonly used now by American sociologists to describe the Southern racial system.
But in explaining the term he shifts to traditional Hindu society, to make it clearer. He
then goes on to analyze the magical beliefs
inherent in caste tabus, the social dynamics of
commensalism and connubium, the economic
interests concealed within the system, the
way in which religious beliefs relate to
the tabus, the effects of the caste system upon
the industrial development of the society and
vice versa—all in India. But suddenly India is
not very far away at all. The lecture then goes
back to its Southern theme. The familiar
now seems not quite so familiar anymore.
Questions are raised that are new, perhaps
12 PART 1
raised angrily, but raised all the same. And at
least some of the students have begun to
understand that there are functions involved
in this business of race that they have not read
about in the newspapers (at least not those in
their hometowns) and that their parents have
not told them—partly, at least, because neither the newspapers nor the parents knew
about them.
It can be said that the first wisdom of sociology is this—things are not what they seem.
This too is a deceptively simple statement. It
ceases to be simple after a while. Social reality
turns out to have many layers of meaning. The
discovery of each new layer changes the perception of the whole.
Anthropologists use the term “culture
shock” to describe the impact of a totally new
culture upon a newcomer. In an extreme
instance such shock will be experienced by the
Western explorer who is told, halfway through
dinner, that he is eating the nice old lady he had
been chatting with the previous day—a shock
with predictable physiological if not moral consequences. Most explorers no longer encounter
cannibalism in their travels today. However, the
first encounters with polygamy or with puberty
rites or even with the way some nations drive
their automobiles can be quite a shock to an
American visitor. With the shock may go not
only disapproval or disgust but a sense of excitement that things can really be that different
from what they are at home. To some extent, at
least, this is the excitement of any first travel
abroad. The experience of sociological discovery could be described as “culture shock” minus
geographical displacement. In other words, the
sociologist travels at home—with shocking
results. He is unlikely to find that he is eating a
nice old lady for dinner. But the discovery, for
instance, that his own church has considerable
money invested in the missile industry or that a
few blocks from his home there are people who
engage in cultic orgies may not be drastically
different in emotional impact. Yet we would not
want to imply that sociological discoveries are
always or even usually outrageous to moral
sentiment. Not at all. What they have in common with exploration in distant lands, however,
is the sudden illumination of new and unsuspected facets of human existence in society. This
is the excitement and . . . the humanistic justification of sociology.
People who like to avoid shocking discoveries, who prefer to believe that society is just
what they were taught in Sunday School, who
like the safety of the rules and the maxims of
what Alfred Schuetz has called the “worldtaken-for-granted,” should stay away from
sociology. People who feel no temptation
before closed doors, who have no curiosity
about human beings, who are content to
admire scenery without wondering about the
people who live in those houses on the other
side of that river, should probably also stay
away from sociology. They will find it unpleasant or, at any rate, unrewarding. People who
are interested in human beings only if they
can change, convert or reform them should
also be warned, for they will find sociology
much less useful than they hoped. And people
whose interest is mainly in their own conceptual constructions will do just as well to turn
to the study of little white mice. Sociology
will be satisfying, in the long run, only to
those who can think of nothing more entrancing than to watch men and to understand
things human.
It may now be clear that we have, albeit
deliberately, understated the case in the title of
this chapter. To be sure, sociology is an individual pastime in the sense that it interests some
men and bores others. Some like to observe
human beings, others to experiment with mice.
The world is big enough to hold all kinds and
there is no logical priority for one interest as
against another. But the word “pastime” is weak
in describing what we mean. Sociology is more
like a passion. The sociological perspective is
more like a demon that possesses one, that
drives one compellingly, again and again, to the
questions that are its own. An introduction to
sociology is, therefore, an invitation to a very
special kind of passion.
Chapter 1
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 13
Peter Berger claims that sociologists are tempted to listen to gossip, peek through
keyholes, and look at other people’s mail. This can be interpreted to mean that the
sociologist has an insatiable curiosity about other people. What are some other
behaviors and situations that might capture the attention of the sociologist? How does
the sociologist differ from the psychologist or the economist or the historian? Are these
fields of study likely to be in competition with sociology or to complement it?
The My Lai Massacre
A Military Crime of Obedience
Herbert Kelman and V. Lee Hamilton
March 16, 1968, was a busy day in U.S. history.
Stateside, Robert F. Kennedy announced his
presidential candidacy, challenging a sitting
president from his own party—in part out of
opposition to an undeclared and disastrous
war. In Vietnam, the war continued. In many
ways, March 16 may have been a typical day in
that war. We will probably never know. But we
do know that on that day a typical company
went on a mission—which may or may not
have been typical—to a village called Son (or
Song) My. Most of what is remembered from
that mission occurred in the subhamlet known
to Americans as My Lai 4.
The My Lai massacre was investigated and
charges were brought in 1969 and 1970. Trials
and disciplinary actions lasted into 1971.
Entire books have been written about the
army’s year-long cover-up of the massacre (for
example, Hersh, 1972), and the cover-up was a
major focus of the army’s own investigation of
the incident. Our central concern here is the
massacre itself—a crime of obedience—and
public reactions to such crimes, rather than the
lengths to which many went to deny the event.
Therefore this account concentrates on one
day: March 16, 1968.
Many verbal testimonials to the horrors
that occurred at My Lai were available. More
unusual was the fact that an army photographer, Ronald Haeberle, was assigned the task
of documenting the anticipated military
engagement at My Lai—and documented a
massacre instead. Later, as the story of the
massacre emerged, his photographs were
widely distributed and seared the public conscience. What might have been dismissed as
unreal or exaggerated was depicted in photographs of demonstrable authenticity. The
dominant image appeared on the cover of Life:
piles of bodies jumbled together in a ditch
along a trail—the dead all apparently unarmed.
All were Oriental, and all appeared to be children, women, or old men. Clearly there had
been a mass execution, one whose image
would not quickly fade.
So many bodies (over twenty in the cover
photo alone) are hard to imagine as the handiwork of one killer. These were not. They were
the product of what we call a crime of obedience. Crimes of obedience begin with orders.
But orders are often vague and rarely survive
with any clarity the transition from one
authority down a chain of subordinates to the
ultimate actors. The operation at Son My was
no exception.
“Charlie” Company, Company C, under
Lt. Col. Frank Barker’s command, arrived in
Vietnam in December 1967. As the army’s
investigative unit, directed by Lt. Gen. William
R. Peers, characterized the personnel, they
“contained no significant deviation from the
average” for the time. Seymour S. Hersh (1970)
described the “average” more explicitly: “Most
of the men in Charlie Company had volunteered for the draft; only a few had gone to
college for even one year. Nearly half were
black, with a few Mexican-Americans. Most
were eighteen to twenty-two years old. The
favorite reading matter of Charlie Company,
like that of other line infantry units in Vietnam,
was comic books” (p. 18). The action at My
Lai, like that throughout Vietnam, was fought
by a cross-section of those Americans who
either believed in the war or lacked the social
resources to avoid participating in it. Charlie
Company was indeed average for that time,
that place, and that war.
Two key figures in Charlie Company were
more unusual. The company’s commander,
Capt. Ernest Medina, was an upwardly mobile
Mexican-American who wanted to make the
army his career, although he feared that he
might never advance beyond captain because
of his lack of formal education. His eagerness
had earned him a nickname among his men:
“Mad Dog Medina.” One of his admirers was
the platoon leader Second Lt. William L. Calley,
Jr., an undistinguished, five-foot-three-inch
junior-college dropout who had failed four of
the seven courses in which he had enrolled his
first year. Many viewed him as one of those
“instant officers” made possible only by the
army’s then-desperate need for manpower.
Whatever the cause, he was an insecure leader
whose frequent claim was “I’m the boss.” His
nickname among some of the troops was
“Surfside 5½,” a reference to the swashbuckling heroes of a popular television show,
“Surfside 6.”
The Son My operation was planned by
Lieutenant Colonel Barker and his staff as a
search-and-destroy mission with the objective
of rooting out the Forty-eighth Viet Cong
Battalion from their base area of Son My village. Apparently no written orders were ever
issued. Barker’s superior, Col. Oran Henderson,
arrived at the staging point the day before.
Among the issues he reviewed with the assembled officers were some of the weaknesses of
prior operations by their units, including their
failure to be appropriately aggressive in pursuit
of the enemy. Later briefings by Lieutenant
Colonel Barker and his staff asserted that no
one except Viet Cong was expected to be in the
village after 7 a.m. on the following day. The
“innocent” would all be at the market. Those
present at the briefings gave conflicting
accounts of Barker’s exact orders, but he conveyed at least a strong suggestion that the Son
My area was to be obliterated. As the army’s
inquiry reported: “While there is some conflict
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 15
in the testimony as to whether LTC Barker
ordered the destruction of houses, dwellings,
livestock, and other foodstuffs in the Song My
area, the preponderance of the evidence indicates that such destruction was implied, if not
specifically directed, by his orders of 15 March”
(Peers Report, in Goldstein et al., 1976, p. 94).
Evidence that Barker ordered the killing of
civilians is even more murky. What does seem
clear, however, is that—having asserted that
civilians would be away at the market—he did
not specify what was to be done with any who
might nevertheless be found on the scene. The
Peers Report therefore considered it “reasonable to conclude that LTC Barker’s minimal or
nonexistent instructions concerning the handling of noncombatants created the potential
for grave misunderstandings as to his intentions and for interpretation of his orders as
authority to fire, without restriction, on all
persons found in target area” (Goldstein et al.,
1976, p. 95). Since Barker was killed in action
in June 1968, his own formal version of the
truth was never available.
Charlie Company’s Captain Medina was
briefed for the operation by Barker and his
staff. He then transmitted the already vague
orders to his own men. Charlie Company was
spoiling for a fight, having been totally frustrated during its months in Vietnam—first by
waiting for battles that never came, then by
incompetent forays led by inexperienced commanders, and finally by mines and booby
traps. In fact, the emotion-laden funeral of a
sergeant killed by a booby trap was held on
March 15, the day before My Lai. Captain
Medina gave the orders for the next day’s
action at the close of that funeral. Many were
in a mood for revenge.
It is again unclear what was ordered.
Although all participants were alive by the time
of the trials for the massacre, they were either on
trial or probably felt under threat of trial.
Memories are often flawed and self-serving at
such times. It is apparent that Medina relayed to
the men at least some of Barker’s general message—to expect Viet Cong resistance, to burn,
and to kill livestock. It is not clear that he
16 PART 1
ordered the slaughter of the inhabitants, but
some of the men who heard him thought he
had. One of those who claimed to have heard
such orders was Lt. William Calley.
As March 16 dawned, much was expected
of the operation by those who had set it into
motion. Therefore a full complement of “brass”
was present in helicopters overhead, including
Barker, Colonel Henderson, and their superior,
Major General Koster (who went on to become
commandant of West Point before the story of
My Lai broke). On the ground, the troops were
to carry with them one reporter and one photographer to immortalize the anticipated battle.
The action for Company C began at 7:30 as
their first wave of helicopters touched down
near the subhamlet of My Lai 4. By 7:47 all of
Company C was present and set to fight. But
instead of the Viet Cong Forty-eighth Battalion,
My Lai was filled with the old men, women, and
children who were supposed to have gone to
market. By this time, in their version of the war,
and with whatever orders they thought they had
heard, the men from Company C were nevertheless ready to find Viet Cong everywhere. By
nightfall, the official tally was 128 VC killed and
three weapons captured, although later, unofficial body counts ran as high as 500. The operation at Son My was over. And by nightfall, as
Hersh reported: “the Viet Cong were back in My
Lai 4, helping the survivors bury the dead. It
took five days. Most of the funeral speeches
were made by the Communist guerrillas.
Nguyen Bat was not a Communist at the time of
the massacre, but the incident changed his
mind. ‘After the shooting,’ he said, ‘all the villagers became Communists’” (1970, p. 74). To this
day, the memory of the massacre is kept alive by
markers and plaques designating the spots
where groups of villagers were killed, by a large
statue, and by the My Lai Museum, established
in 1975 (Williams, 1985).
But what could have happened to leave
American troops reporting a victory over Viet
Cong when in fact they had killed hundreds of
noncombatants? It is not hard to explain the
report of victory; that is the essence of a coverup. It is harder to understand how the killings
came to be committed in the first place, making a cover-up necessary.
Mass Executions and the
Defense of Superior Orders
Some of the atrocities on March 16, 1968, were
evidently unofficial, spontaneous acts: rapes,
tortures, killings. For example, Hersh (1970)
describes Charlie Company’s Second Platoon
as entering “My Lai 4 with guns blazing” (p. 50);
more graphically, Lieutenant “Brooks and his
men in the second platoon to the north had
begun to systematically ransack the hamlet
and slaughter the people, kill the livestock, and
destroy the crops. Men poured rifle and
machine-gun fire into huts without knowing—
or seemingly caring—who was inside” (pp. 49–50).
Some atrocities toward the end of the
action were part of an almost casual “mopping-up,” much of which was the responsibility of Lieutenant LaCross’s Third Platoon of
Charlie Company. The Peers Report states:
“The entire 3rd Platoon then began moving
into the western edge of My Lai (4), for the
mop-up operation. . . . The squad . . . began to
burn the houses in the southwestern portion
of the hamlet” (Goldstein et al., 1976, p. 133).
They became mingled with other platoons
during a series of rapes and killings of survivors for which it was impossible to fix responsibility. Certainly to a Vietnamese all GIs would
by this point look alike: “Nineteen-year-old
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tuyet watched a baby trying
to open her slain mother’s blouse to nurse. A
soldier shot the infant while it was struggling
with the blouse, and then slashed it with his
bayonet.” Tuyet also said she saw another baby
hacked to death by GIs wielding their bayonets. “Le Tong, a twenty-eight-year-old rice
farmer, reported seeing one woman raped after
GIs killed her children. Nguyen Khoa, a thirtyseven-year-old peasant, told of a thirteen-yearold girl who was raped before being killed. GIs
then attacked Khoa’s wife, tearing off her
clothes. Before they could rape her, however,
Khoa said, their six-year-old son, riddled with
bullets, fell and saturated her with blood. The
GIs left her alone” (Hersh, 1970, p. 72). All of
Company C was implicated in a pattern of
death and destruction throughout the hamlet,
much of which seemingly lacked rhyme or
But a substantial amount of the killing was
organized and traceable to one authority: the
First Platoon’s Lt. William Calley. Calley was
originally charged with 109 killings, almost all
of them mass executions at the trail and other
locations. He stood trial for 102 of these killings,
was convicted of 22 in 1971, and at first received
a life sentence. Though others—both superior
and subordinate to Calley—were brought to
trial, he was the only one convicted for the My
Lai crimes. Thus, the only actions of My Lai for
which anyone was ever convicted were mass
executions, ordered and committed. We suspect
that there are commonsense reasons why this
one type of killing was singled out. In the midst
of rapidly moving events with people running
about, an execution of stationary targets is literally a still life that stands out and whose participants are clearly visible. It can be proven that
specific people committed specific deeds. An
execution, in contrast to the shooting of someone on the run, is also more likely to meet the
legal definition of an act resulting from intent—
with malice aforethought. Moreover, American
military law specifically forbids the killing of
unarmed civilians or military prisoners, as does
the Geneva Convention between nations. Thus
common sense, legal standards, and explicit
doctrine all made such actions the likeliest target for prosecution.
When Lieutenant Calley was charged
under military law it was for violation of the
Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)
Article 118 (murder). This article is similar to
civilian codes in that it provides for conviction
if an accused:
without justification or excuse, unlawfully kills
a human being, when he—
1. has a premeditated design to kill;
2. intends to kill or inflict great bodily harm;
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 17
3. is engaged in an act which is inherently
dangerous to others and evinces a
wanton disregard of human life; or
4. is engaged in the perpetration or
attempted perpetration of burglary,
sodomy, rape, robbery, or aggravated
arson. (Goldstein et al., 1976, p. 507)
For a soldier, one legal justification for
killing is warfare; but warfare is subject to
many legal limits and restrictions, including,
of course, the inadmissibility of killing
unarmed noncombatants or prisoners whom
one has disarmed. The pictures of the trail
victims at My Lai certainly portrayed one or
the other of these. Such an action would be
illegal under military law; ordering another to
commit such an action would be illegal; and
following such an order would be illegal.
But following an order may provide a second and pivotal justification for an act that
would be murder when committed by a civilian. American military law assumes that the
subordinate is inclined to follow orders, as that
is the normal obligation of the role. Hence,
legally, obedient subordinates are protected
from unreasonable expectations regarding
their capacity to evaluate those orders:
An order requiring the performance of a
military duty may be inferred to be legal. An
act performed manifestly beyond the scope of
authority, or pursuant to an order that a man
of ordinary sense and understanding would
know to be illegal, or in a wanton manner in
the discharge of a lawful duty, is not excusable.
(Par. 216, Subpar. d, Manual for Courts Martial,
United States, 1969 Rev.)
Thus what may be excusable is the goodfaith carrying out of an order, as long as that
order appears to the ordinary soldier to be a legal
one. In military law, invoking superior orders
moves the question from one of the action’s
consequences—the body count—to one of
evaluating the actor’s motives and good sense.
In sum, if anyone is to be brought to justice for a massacre, common sense and legal
codes decree that the most appropriate targets
18 PART 1
are those who make themselves executioners.
This is the kind of target the government
selected in prosecuting Lieutenant Calley with
the greatest fervor. And in a military context,
the most promising way in which one can
redefine one’s undeniable deeds into acceptability is to invoke superior orders. This is
what Calley did in attempting to avoid conviction. Since the core legal issues involved points
of mass execution—the ditches and trail where
America’s image of My Lai was formed—we
review these events in greater detail.
The day’s quiet beginning has already been
noted. Troops landed and swept unopposed
into the village. The three weapons eventually
reported as the haul from the operation were
picked up from three apparent Viet Cong who
fled the village when the troops arrived and
were pursued and killed by helicopter gunships. Obviously the Viet Cong did frequent
the area. But it appears that by about 8:00 a.m.
no one who met the troops was aggressive, and
no one was armed. By the laws of war Charlie
Company had no argument with such people.
As they moved into the village, the soldiers
began to gather its inhabitants together. Shortly
after 8:00 a.m. Lieutenant Calley told Pfc. Paul
Meadlo that “you know what to do with” a
group of villagers Meadlo was guarding.
Estimates of the numbers in the group ranged
as high as eighty women, children, and old
men, and Meadlo’s own estimate under oath
was thirty to fifty people. As Meadlo later testified, Calley returned after ten or fifteen minutes: “He [Calley] said, ‘How come they’re not
dead?’ I said, ‘I didn’t know we were supposed
to kill them.’ He said, ‘I want them dead.’ He
backed off twenty or thirty feet and started
shooting into the people—the Viet Cong—
shooting automatic. He was beside me. He
burned four or five magazines. I burned off a
few, about three. I helped shoot ’em” (Hammer,
1971, p. 155). Meadlo himself and others testified that Meadlo cried as he fired; others
reported him later to be sobbing and “all broke
up.” It would appear that to Lieutenant Calley’s
subordinates something was unusual, and
stressful, in these orders.
At the trial, the first specification in the
murder charge against Calley was for this incident; he was accused of premeditated murder
of “an unknown number, not less than 30,
Oriental human beings, males and females of
various ages, whose names are unknown,
occupants of the village of My Lai 4, by means
of shooting them with a rifle” (Goldstein et al.,
1976, p. 497).
Among the helicopters flying reconnaissance above Son My was that of CWO Hugh
Thompson. By 9:00 or soon after, Thompson
had noticed some horrifying events from his
perch. As he spotted wounded civilians, he sent
down smoke markers so that soldiers on the
ground could treat them. They killed them
instead. He reported to headquarters, trying to
persuade someone to stop what was going on.
Barker, hearing the message, called down to
Captain Medina. Medina, in turn, later claimed
to have told Calley that it was “enough for
today.” But it was not yet enough.
At Calley’s orders, his men began gathering the remaining villagers—roughly seventyfive individuals, mostly women and children—
and herding them toward a drainage ditch.
Accompanied by three or four enlisted men,
Lieutenant Calley executed several batches of
civilians who had been gathered into ditches.
Some of the details of the process were entered
into testimony in such accounts as Pfc. Dennis
Conti’s: “A lot of them, the people, were trying
to get up and mostly they was just screaming
and pretty bad shot up. . . . I seen a woman
tried to get up. I seen Lieutenant Calley fire. He
hit the side of her head and blew it off ”
(Hammer, 1971, p. 125).
Testimony by other soldiers presented the
shooting’s aftermath. Specialist Four Charles
Hall, asked by Prosecutor Aubrey Daniel how
he knew the people in the ditch were dead,
said: “There was blood coming from them.
They were just scattered all over the ground in
the ditch, some in piles and some scattered out
20, 25 meters perhaps up the ditch. . . . They
were very old people, very young children, and
mothers. . . . There was blood all over them”
(Goldstein et al., 1976, pp. 501–502). And Pfc.
Gregory Olsen corroborated the general picture of the victims: “They were—the majority
were women and children, some babies. I distinctly remember one middle-aged Vietnamese
male dressed in white right at my feet as I crossed.
None of the bodies were mangled in any way.
There was blood. Some appeared to be dead, others followed me with their eyes as I walked across
the ditch” (Goldstein et al., 1976, p. 502).
The second specification in the murder
charge stated that Calley did “with premeditation, murder an unknown number of Oriental
human beings, not less than seventy, males and
females of various ages, whose names are
unknown, occupants of the village of My Lai 4,
by means of shooting them with a rifle” (Goldstein
et al., 1976, p. 497). Calley was also charged with
and tried for shootings of individuals (an old
man and a child); these charges were clearly
supplemental to the main issue at trial—the mass
killings and how they came about.
It is noteworthy that during these executions more than one enlisted man avoided carrying out Calley’s orders, and more than one,
by sworn oath, directly refused to obey them.
For example, Pfc. James Joseph Dursi testified,
when asked if he fired when Lieutenant Calley
ordered him to: “No I just stood there. Meadlo
turned to me after a couple of minutes and
said ‘Shoot! Why don’t you shoot! Why don’t
you fire!’ He was crying and yelling. I said, ‘I
can’t! I won’t!’ And the people were screaming
and crying and yelling. They kept firing for a
couple of minutes, mostly automatic and semiautomatic” (Hammer, 1971, p. 143). . . .
Disobedience of Lieutenant Calley’s own
orders to kill represented a serious legal and
moral threat to a defense based on superior
orders, such as Calley was attempting. This
defense had to assert that the orders seemed
reasonable enough to carry out; that they
appeared to be legal orders. Even if the orders
in question were not legal, the defense had to
assert that an ordinary individual could not
and should not be expected to see the distinction. In short, if what happened was “business
as usual,” even though it might be bad business, then the defendant stood a chance of
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 19
acquittal. But under direct command from
“Surfside 5½,” some ordinary enlisted men
managed to refuse, to avoid, or at least to stop
doing what they were ordered to do. As “reasonable men” of “ordinary sense and understanding,” they had apparently found something awry
that morning; and it would have been hard for an
officer to plead successfully that he was more
ordinary than his men in his capacity to evaluate
the reasonableness of orders.
Even those who obeyed Calley’s orders
showed great stress. For example, Meadlo eventually began to argue and cry directly in front of
Calley. Pfc. Herbert Carter shot himself in the
foot, possibly because he could no longer take
what he was doing. We were not destined to
hear a sworn version of the incident, since neither side at the Calley trial called him to testify.
The most unusual instance of resistance to
authority came from the skies. CWO Hugh
Thompson, who had protested the apparent
carnage of civilians, was Calley’s inferior in
rank but was not in his line of command. He
was also watching the ditch from his helicopter
and noticed some people moving after the first
round of slaughter—chiefly children who had
been shielded by their mothers’ bodies.
Landing to rescue the wounded, he also found
some villagers hiding in a nearby bunker.
Protecting the Vietnamese with his own body,
Thompson ordered his men to train their guns
on the Americans and to open fire if the
Americans fired on the Vietnamese. He then
radioed for additional rescue helicopters and
stood between the Vietnamese and the Americans
under Calley’s command until the Vietnamese
could be evacuated. He later returned to the ditch
to unearth a child buried, unharmed, beneath
layers of bodies. In October 1969, Thompson was
awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism at My Lai, specifically (albeit inaccurately)
for the rescue of children hiding in a bunker
“between Viet Cong forces and advancing
friendly forces” and for the rescue of a wounded
child “caught in the intense crossfire” (Hersh,
1970, p. 119). Four months earlier, at the
Pentagon, Thompson had identified Calley as
having been at the ditch.
20 PART 1
By about 10:00 a.m., the massacre was
winding down. The remaining actions consisted largely of isolated rapes and killings,
“clean-up” shootings of the wounded, and the
destruction of the village by fire. We have
already seen some examples of these more
indiscriminate and possibly less premeditated
acts. By the 11:00 a.m. lunch break, when the
exhausted men of Company C were relaxing,
two young girls wandered back from a hiding
place only to be invited to share lunch. This
surrealist touch illustrates the extent to which
the soldiers’ action had become dissociated
from its meaning. An hour earlier, some of
these men were making sure that not even a
child would escape the executioner’s bullet.
But now the job was done and it was time for
lunch—and in this new context it seemed only
natural to ask the children who had managed
to escape execution to join them. The massacre
had ended. It remained only for the Viet Cong
to reap the political rewards among the survivors in hiding.
The army command in the area knew that
something had gone wrong. Direct commanders, including Lieutenant Colonel Barker, had
firsthand reports, such as Thompson’s complaints. Others had such odd bits of evidence
as the claim of 128 Viet Cong dead with a
booty of only three weapons. But the cover-up
of My Lai began at once. The operation was
reported as a victory over a stronghold of the
Viet Cong Forty-eighth. . . .
William Calley was not the only man tried
for the event at My Lai. The actions of over
thirty soldiers and civilians were scrutinized by
investigators; over half of these had to face
charges or disciplinary action of some sort.
Targets of investigation included Captain
Medina, who was tried, and various higherups, including General Koster. But Lieutenant
Calley was the only person convicted, the only
person to serve time.
The core of Lieutenant Calley’s defense
was superior orders. What this meant to him—
in contrast to what it meant to the judge and
jury—can be gleaned from his responses to a
series of questions from his defense attorney,
George Latimer, in which Calley sketched out
his understanding of the laws of war and the
actions that constitute doing one’s duty within
those laws:
Did you receive any training which had
to do with the obedience to orders?
Yes, sir.
. . . what were you informed [were] the
principles involved in that field?
That all orders were to be assumed
legal, that the soldier’s job was to carry
out any order given him to the best of
his ability.
. . . what might occur if you disobeyed
an order by a senior officer?
You could be court-martialed for
refusing an order and refusing an order
in the face of the enemy, you could be
sent to death, sir.
[I am asking] whether you were
required in any way, shape or form to
make a determination of the legality or
illegality of an order?
No, sir. I was never told that I had the
choice, sir.
If you had a doubt about the order,
what were you supposed to do?
. . . I was supposed to carry the order
out and then come back and make my
complaint. (Hammer, 1971, pp. 240–241)
Lieutenant Calley steadfastly maintained
that his actions within My Lai had constituted,
in his mind, carrying out orders from Captain
Medina. Both his own actions and the orders
he gave to others (such as the instruction to
Meadlo to “waste ’em”) were entirely in
response to superior orders. He denied any
intent to kill individuals and any but the most
passing awareness of distinctions among the
individuals: “I was ordered to go in there and
destroy the enemy. That was my job on that
day. That was the mission I was given. I did not
sit down and think in terms of men, women,
and children. They were all classified the same,
and that was the classification that we dealt
with, just as enemy soldiers.” When Latimer
asked if in his own opinion Calley had acted
“rightly and according to your understanding
of your directions and orders,” Calley replied,
“I felt then and I still do that I acted as I was
directed, and I carried out the orders that I was
given, and I do not feel wrong in doing so, sir”
(Hammer, 1971, p. 257).
His court-martial did not accept Calley’s
defense of superior orders and clearly did not
share his interpretation of his duty. The jury
evidently reasoned that, even if there had been
orders to destroy everything in sight and to
“waste the Vietnamese,” any reasonable person
would have realized that such orders were illegal
and should have refused to carry them out. The
defense of superior orders under such conditions is inadmissible under international and
military law. The U.S. Army’s Law of Land
Warfare (Dept. of the Army, 1956), for example,
states that “the fact that the law of war has been
violated pursuant to an order of a superior
authority, whether military or civil, does not
deprive the act in question of its character of a
war crime, nor does it constitute a defense in the
trial of an accused individual, unless he did not
know and could not reasonably have been
expected to know that the act was unlawful” and
that “members of the armed forces are bound
to obey only lawful orders” (in Falk et al., 1971,
pp. 71–72).
The disagreement between Calley and the
court-martial seems to have revolved around
the definition of the responsibilities of a subordinate to obey, on the one hand, and to
evaluate, on the other. This tension . . . can best
be captured via the charge to the jury in the
Calley court-martial, made by the trial judge,
Col. Reid Kennedy. The forty-one pages of the
charge include the following:
Both combatants captured by and noncombatants detained by the opposing force . . .
have the right to be treated as prisoners. . . .
Summary execution of detainees or prisoners
is forbidden by law. . . . I therefore instruct you
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 21
. . . that if unresisting human beings were
killed at My Lai (4) while within the effective
custody and control of our military forces,
their deaths cannot be considered justified. . . .
Thus if you find that Lieutenant Calley received
an order directing him to kill unresisting
Vietnamese within his control or within the
control of his troops, that order would be an
illegal order.
A determination that an order is illegal
does not, of itself, assign criminal responsibility
to the person following the order for acts done
in compliance with it. Soldiers are taught to
follow orders, and special attention is given to
obedience of orders on the battlefield. Military
effectiveness depends on obedience to orders.
On the other hand, the obedience of a soldier is
not the obedience of an automaton. A soldier is
a reasoning agent, obliged to respond, not as a
machine, but as a person. The law takes these
factors into account in assessing criminal
responsibility for acts done in compliance with
illegal orders.
The acts of a subordinate done in compliance
with an unlawful order given him by his
superior are excused and impose no criminal
liability upon him unless the superior’s order
is one which a man of ordinary sense and
understanding would, under the circumstances,
know to be unlawful, or if the order in question
is actually known to the accused to be unlawful.
(Goldstein et al., 1976, pp. 525–526; emphasis
By this definition, subordinates take part in a
balancing act, one tipped toward obedience but
tempered by“ordinary sense and understanding.”
A jury of combat veterans proceeded to
convict William Calley of the premeditated
murder of no less than twenty-two human
beings. (The army, realizing some unfortunate
connotations in referring to the victims as
“Oriental human beings,” eventually referred
to them as “human beings.”) Regarding the
first specification in the murder charge, the
bodies on the trail, [Calley] was convicted
of premeditated murder of not less than one
22 PART 1
person. (Medical testimony had been able to
pinpoint only one person whose wounds as
revealed in Haeberle’s photos were sure to be
immediately fatal.) Regarding the second specification, the bodies in the ditch, Calley was
convicted of the premeditated murder of not
less than twenty human beings. Regarding
additional specifications that he had killed an
old man and a child, Calley was convicted of
premeditated murder in the first case and of
assault with intent to commit murder in the
Lieutenant Calley was initially sentenced
to life imprisonment. That sentence was
reduced: first to twenty years, eventually to ten
(the latter by Secretary of Defense Callaway in
1974). Calley served three years before being
released on bond. The time was spent under
house arrest in his apartment, where he was
able to receive visits from his girlfriend. He was
granted parole on September 10, 1975.
Sanctioned Massacres
The slaughter at My Lai is an instance of a class
of violent acts that can be described as sanctioned massacres (Kelman, 1973): acts of
indiscriminate, ruthless, and often systematic
mass violence, carried out by military or paramilitary personnel while engaged in officially
sanctioned campaigns, the victims of which
are defenseless and unresisting civilians,
including old men, women, and children.
Sanctioned massacres have occurred throughout history. Within American history, My Lai
had its precursors in the Philippine war around
the turn of the century (Schirmer, 1971) and in
the massacres of American Indians. Elsewhere
in the world, one recalls the Nazis’ “final solution” for European Jews, the massacres and
deportations of Armenians by Turks, the
liquidation of the kulaks and the great purges
in the Soviet Union, and more recently the
massacres in Indonesia and Bangladesh, in
Biafra and Burundi, in South Africa and
Mozambique, in Cambodia and Afghanistan,
in Syria and Lebanon. . . .
The occurrence of sanctioned massacres
cannot be adequately explained by the existence of psychological forces—whether these
be characterological dispositions to engage in
murderous violence or profound hostility
against the target—so powerful that they must
find expression in violent acts unhampered by
moral restraints. Instead, the major instigators
for this class of violence derive from the policy
process. The question that really calls for psychological analysis is why so many people are
willing to formulate, participate in, and condone policies that call for the mass killings of
defenseless civilians. Thus it is more instructive to look not at the motives for violence but
at the conditions under which the usual moral
inhibitions against violence become weakened.
Three social processes that tend to create such
conditions can be identified: authorization,
routinization, and dehumanization. Through
authorization, the situation becomes so
defined that the individual is absolved of the
responsibility to make personal moral choices.
Through routinization, the action becomes so
organized that there is no opportunity for raising moral questions. Through dehumanization, the actors’ attitudes toward the target and
toward themselves become so structured that
it is neither necessary nor possible for them to
view the relationship in moral terms.
Sanctioned massacres by definition occur in
the context of an authority situation, a situation in which, at least for many of the participants, the moral principles that generally
govern human relationships do not apply. Thus,
when acts of violence are explicitly ordered,
implicitly encouraged, tacitly approved, or at
least permitted by legitimate authorities,
people’s readiness to commit or condone them
is enhanced. That such acts are authorized
seems to carry automatic justification for
them. Behaviorally, authorization obviates the
necessity of making judgments or choices.
Not only do normal moral principles become
inoperative, but—particularly when the
actions are explicitly ordered—a different kind
of morality, linked to the duty to obey superior
orders, tends to take over.
In an authority situation, individuals characteristically feel obligated to obey the orders of
the authorities, whether or not these correspond with their personal preferences. They see
themselves as having no choice as long as they
accept the legitimacy of the orders and of the
authorities who give them. Individuals differ
considerably in the degree to which—and the
conditions under which—they are prepared to
challenge the legitimacy of an order on the
grounds that the order itself is illegal, or that
those giving it have overstepped their authority,
or that it stems from a policy that violates fundamental societal values. Regardless of such
individual differences, however, the basic structure of a situation of legitimate authority
requires subordinates to respond in terms of
their role obligations rather than their personal
preferences; they can openly disobey only by
challenging the legitimacy of the authority.
Often people obey without question even
though the behavior they engage in may entail
great personal sacrifice or great harm to others.
An important corollary of the basic structure of the authority situation is that actors
often do not see themselves as personally
responsible for the consequences of their
actions. Again, there are individual differences,
depending on actors’ capacity and readiness to
evaluate the legitimacy of orders received.
Insofar as they see themselves as having had no
choice in their actions, however, they do not
feel personally responsible for them. They were
not personal agents, but merely extensions of
the authority. Thus, when their actions cause
harm to others, they can feel relatively free of
guilt. A similar mechanism operates when a
person engages in antisocial behavior that was
not ordered by the authorities but was tacitly
encouraged and approved by them—even if
only by making it clear that such behavior will
not be punished. In this situation, behavior
that was formerly illegitimate is legitimized by
the authorities’ acquiescence.
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 23
In the My Lai massacre, it is likely that the
structure of the authority situation contributed
to the massive violence in both ways—that is,
by conveying the message that acts of violence
against Vietnamese villagers were required, as
well as the message that such acts, even if not
ordered, were permitted by the authorities in
charge. The actions at My Lai represented, at
least in some respects, responses to explicit or
implicit orders. Lieutenant Calley indicated, by
orders and by example, that he wanted large
numbers of villagers killed. Whether Calley
himself had been ordered by his superiors to
“waste” the whole area, as he claimed, remains a
matter of controversy. Even if we assume, however, that he was not explicitly ordered to wipe
out the village, he had reason to believe that
such actions were expected by his superior officers. Indeed, the very nature of the war conveyed this expectation. The principal measure
of military success was the “body count”—the
number of enemy soldiers killed—and any
Vietnamese killed by the U.S. military was commonly defined as a “Viet Cong.” Thus, it was not
totally bizarre for Calley to believe that what he
was doing at My Lai was to increase his body
count, as any good officer was expected to do.
Even to the extent that the actions at My
Lai occurred spontaneously, without reference
to superior orders, those committing them had
reason to assume that such actions might be
tacitly approved of by the military authorities.
Not only had they failed to punish such acts in
most cases, but the very strategies and tactics
that the authorities consistently devised were
based on the proposition that the civilian
population of South Vietnam—whether “hostile” or “friendly”—was expendable. Such policies as search-and-destroy missions, the establishment of free-shooting zones, the use of
antipersonnel weapons, the bombing of entire
villages if they were suspected of harboring
guerrillas, the forced migration of masses of
the rural population, and the defoliation of
vast forest areas helped legitimize acts of massive violence of the kind occurring at My Lai.
Some of the actions at My Lai suggest an
orientation to authority based on unquestioning
24 PART 1
obedience to superior orders, no matter how
destructive the actions these orders call for.
Such obedience is specifically fostered in the
course of military training and reinforced by
the structure of the military authority situation. It also reflects, however, an ideological
orientation that may be more widespread in
the general population. . . .
Authorization processes create a situation in
which people become involved in an action
without considering its implications and without really making a decision. Once they have
taken the initial step, they are in a new psychological and social situation in which the pressures to continue are powerful. As Lewin (1947)
has pointed out, many forces that might originally have kept people out of a situation reverse
direction once they have made a commitment
(once they have gone through the “gate region”)
and now serve to keep them in the situation. For
example, concern about the criminal nature of
an action, which might originally have inhibited
a person from becoming involved, may now
lead to deeper involvement in efforts to justify
the action and to avoid negative consequences.
Despite these forces, however, given the
nature of the actions involved in sanctioned
massacres, one might still expect moral scruples to intervene; but the likelihood of moral
resistance is greatly reduced by transforming
the action into routine, mechanical, highly
programmed operations. Routinization fulfills
two functions. First, it reduces the necessity of
making decisions, thus minimizing the occasions in which moral questions may arise.
Second, it makes it easier to avoid the implications of the action, since the actor focuses on
the details of the job rather than on its meaning. The latter effect is more readily achieved
among those who participate in sanctioned
massacres from a distance—from their desks
or even from the cockpits of their bombers.
Routinization operates both at the level of
the individual actor and at the organizational
level. Individual job performance is broken
down into a series of discrete steps, most of
them carried out in automatic, regularized
fashion. It becomes easy to forget the nature of
the product that emerges from this process.
When Lieutenant Calley said of My Lai that it
was “no great deal,” he probably implied that it
was all in a day’s work. Organizationally, the
task is divided among different offices, each of
which has responsibility for a small portion of
it. This arrangement diffuses responsibility
and limits the amount and scope of decision
making that is necessary. There is no expectation that the moral implications will be considered at any of these points, nor is there any
opportunity to do so. The organizational processes also help further legitimize the actions
of each participant. By proceeding in routine
fashion—processing papers, exchanging
memos, diligently carrying out their assigned
tasks—the different units mutually reinforce
each other in the view that what is going on
must be perfectly normal, correct, and legitimate. The shared illusion that they are engaged
in a legitimate enterprise helps the participants
assimilate their activities to other purposes,
such as the efficiency of their performance, the
productivity of their unit, or the cohesiveness
of their group (see Janis, 1972).
Normalization of atrocities is more difficult to the extent that there are constant
reminders of the true meaning of the enterprise. Bureaucratic inventiveness in the use of
language helps to cover up such meaning. For
example, the SS had a set of Sprachregelungen,
or “language rules,” to govern descriptions of
their extermination program. As Arendt (1964)
points out, the term language rule in itself was
“a code name; it meant what in ordinary language would be called a lie” (p. 85). The code
names for killing and liquidation were “final
solution,” “evacuation,” and “special treatment.” The war in Indochina produced its
own set of euphemisms, such as “protective
reaction,” “pacification,” and “forced-draft
urbanization and modernization.” The use of
euphemisms allows participants in sanctioned
massacres to differentiate their actions from
ordinary killing and destruction and thus to
avoid confronting their true meaning.
Authorization processes override standard
moral considerations; routinization processes
reduce the likelihood that such considerations
will arise. Still, the inhibitions against murdering one’s fellow human beings are generally so
strong that the victims must also be stripped of
their human status if they are to be subjected
to systematic killing. Insofar as they are dehumanized, the usual principles of morality no
longer apply to them.
Sanctioned massacres become possible to
the extent that the victims are deprived in the
perpetrators’ eyes of the two qualities essential
to being perceived as fully human and included
in the moral compact that governs human
relationships: identity—standing as independent, distinctive individuals, capable of making choices and entitled to live their own
lives—and community—fellow membership in
an interconnected network of individuals who
care for each other and respect each other’s
individuality and rights (Kelman, 1973; see
also Bakan, 1966, for a related distinction
between “agency” and “communion”). Thus,
when a group of people is defined entirely in
terms of a category to which they belong, and
when this category is excluded from the human
family, moral restraints against killing them
are more readily overcome.
Dehumanization of the enemy is a common phenomenon in any war situation.
Sanctioned massacres, however, presuppose a
more extreme degree of dehumanization,
insofar as the killing is not in direct response to
the target’s threats or provocations. It is not
what they have done that marks such victims
for death but who they are—the category to
which they happen to belong. They are the
victims of policies that regard their systematic
destruction as a desirable end or an acceptable
means. Such extreme dehumanization becomes
possible when the target group can readily be
Taking a New Look at a Familiar World 25
identified as a separate category of people who
have historically been stigmatized and excluded
by the victimizers; often the victims belong to
a distinct racial, religious, ethnic, or political
group regarded as inferior or sinister. The traditions, the habits, the images, and the vocabularies for dehumanizing such groups are
already well established and can be drawn
upon when the groups are selected for massacre. Labels help deprive the victims of identity
and community, as in the epithet “gooks” that
was commonly used to refer to Vietnamese
and other Indochinese peoples.
The dynamics of the massacre process itself
further increase the participants’ tendency to
dehumanize their victims. Those who participate
as part of the bureaucratic apparatus increasingly
come to see their victims as bodies to be counted
and entered into their reports, as faceless figures
that will determine their productivity rates and
promotions. Those who participate in the massacre directly—in the field, as it were—are reinforced in their perception of the victims as less
than human by observing their very victimization. The only way they can justify what is being
done to these people—both by others and by
themselves—and the only way they can extract
some degree of meaning out of the absurd events
in which they find themselves participating (see
Lifton, 1971, 1973) is by coming to believe that
the victims are subhuman and deserve to be
rooted out. And thus the process of dehumanization feeds on itself.
Arendt, H. (1964). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report
on the banality of evil. New York: Viking Press.
Bakan, D. (1966). The duality of human existence.
Chicago: Rand McNally.
Department of the Army. (1956). The law of land
warfare (Field Manual, No. 27–10).Washington,
DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Falk, R. A., Kolko, G., & Lifton, R. J. (Eds.). (1971).
Crimes of war. New York: Vintage Books.
French, P. (Ed.). (1972). Individual and collective
responsibility: The massacre at My Lai. Cambridge,
MA: Schenkman.
26 PART 1
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