Ever since he arrived on earth, man has killed and has also tried to explain why he kills – to little avail. Killing continues unabated. With due deference to the great minds that have wrestled with this conundrum, two contemporary women writers, while acknowledging that women, too, can kill, offer as persuasive an explanation as we are likely to get.
Historian Anna Geifman’s book, “Thou Shalt Kill,” traces the Russian terrorism that led from 1894 to the overthrow of the czar and the installation of communism, the perfect killing machine. In her book, “The Killing Fields, Harvest of Women” Diana Washington Valdez describes the slaughter of women that turned the Mexican city Juarez into the “Murder Capital of the World.”
The Russian terrorists insisted their violence was the path to the perfect state and the purification of mankind. Liberal society, writes Geifman, took them at their word and was unduly permissive. With that, the terrorists redoubled their efforts – shootings, bombings, kidnappings, robberies, you name it. Terrorism became part of everyday life. Between 1905 and 1907, 4,500 Russian state officials were killed or injured, along with 2,180 random killings with which we are familiar. Understandably, government officials were in despair, awaiting the next terrorist act. Russian rule was fatally weakened, vulnerable to the revolution that changed everything and put the master terrorist, Stalin, in charge.
What, in fact, prompted this terrorism? Ideology was only the apparent motive, writes Geifman. Personal issues – a sense of failure, a desire for revenge – were more important. But above all was the glamour, the lure of terrorism itself. A thrill like no other, it was addictive. The pleasure of inflicting pain “became an obligation for all committed revolutionaries. A leading terrorist known as Gypsy explained why he had killed 19 police officers: “Seeing the blood of his victim gave him a special feeling, and therefore he felt an urge to experience this sweet sensation again.” A feeling no doubt shared by innumerable others. The fun of killing.
Mexico is one of the most murderous countries on earth, and for a few years killers made a special target of women in the border city Juarez. This was reported by Diana Valdez until death threats forced her to move across the border to El Paso. She notes that between 1993 and 2005, 470 women died violently in Juarez. Many were teenagers who worked for a pittance in the assembly plants along the border. They had no idea what awaited them, and their deaths were not easy. They were raped, tortured, strangled and their bodies then mutilated. Afterwards, the killers watched videotapes of their venture.
It was a power trip for the killers, writes Valdez, but beyond that a physical thrill engendered by breaking the neck of a victim in a certain way. Once was not enough. The killer had to have more. Nor did he fear arrest since the police were committing some of the murders themselves. Fueling it all was the enormous wealth of the drug trade courtesy of American consumers who seemed oblivious to the harm their purchases caused. The indifference of the press didn’t help.
With an assist from the FBI and DEA, the Mexican government finally brought Juarez under some control, and it looked as if the city might be on the mend. But now the murder rate is up again, as it is throughout Mexico. The sport continues, though this time women don’t seem to be singled out.
What of the massive killing of war? Are the same factors involved? In his epic account of World War Two, “Human Smoke,” Nicholson Baker notes Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies’ view of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “The light of battle was in his eyes. In every conversation he ultimately reaches a point where he positively enjoys the war.” No doubt others – Hitler, Stalin – derived even greater pleasure from the enormity of their victims.
So if someone speaks glibly of war, you can ask: “Is it for fun?”