Colm Craig

Equinox Staff


Dr. James Waller, Cohen Chair for Holocaust and genocide Studies, imparted some of his insight into genocide prevention, as was temporarily achieved in Burma,  during a small conference on Feb. 14th in the Media Arts Center of Keene State College. Waller, who has dedicated his professional life to the study of genocide perpetrators, has had first hand experience working with  both victims and perpetrators of genocide in the African country of Rwanda.

When ask why he chose to study the  perpetrators, Waller responded, “if all we do is turn our head away, and say I don’t care how they came to kill I just hate them. They’re evil. They’re incomprehensible. There is no need to understand them. To me there is no hope of stopping it.” His focus on the perpetrators, as Waller explained, has been enough to ruffle the feathers of some who have felt the pain of genocide closely, but was adamant in the value of his research. Waller said, “If we really hope to prevent genocide, we really need to understand how so many people can become involved as killers.” When he was asked about the most helpful insight that he has gained into genocide prevention, his reply was not in regards to Rwanda, from which he recently returned, but towards Burma. According to Waller, the high risk conditions for genocide have been in place in Miramar, Burma for the past 5 years.

“I am really surprised every time I come into the office and genocide hasn’t started in Burma” admitted Waller. Burma, however, has done something that seemed highly unlikely considering its ‘Red Alert” risk category given by the Global Justice Center, by scheduling an open democratic election.

Waller credits Burma’s return from the precipice of genocide to the efforts of a woman named Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to bring peace to Burma despite enduring a 15 year house arrest.  Waller said, What this woman, Sann Suu, has shown the world is that it is never too late to stop this, we can pull back from the edge.”

Though most of Waller’s discussion focused on the brutality and reality of genocide, as well as the difficulty of rebuilding a society in a country as marred as Rwanda, he seemed to latch on to Burma as a hopeful example of what could be possible.

Though Waller admitted that Burma is still at high risk for genocide, hope for prevention is kept alive through the efforts of scholars like himself and figures such as Sann Suu.

Waller ended his discussion in this vein of hope for the future, which seemed a welcome reprieve from the atrocities that his work inevitably entails, “It is never too late, even when everything seems in place to commit mass murder, it is never too late to pull them back from that.”


Colm Craig can be contacted at

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