“Good guy” — the description of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales by neighbors that is headlining in the American media — is pretty much the way ordinary Germans saw other Germans who brutalized people in extermination camps in WW2 (See Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust). “Good guy” is how most family, friends and neighbors in the USA described John Demjanjuk, the Ukranian-born Nazi extermination camp guard who was deported to Germany for war crimes and who died Saturday, convicted of his crimes but living free in a German nursing home. And “good guy” is how family, friends and neighbors described Ander Behring Breivik, judged by his countrymen to be “mentally unfit” when he massacred dozens of young people in Norway because his government tolerated Muslim immigrants.

Imagine an Afghan who came to the USA and murdered 16 people, mostly women and children, and burned their bodies. Then the Afghan government whisked the guy away and said, “Trust us, we’ll take care of the matter,” and the Afghan press was full of reports saying that neighbors in Afghanistan liked the guy. An American president who allowed this to happen would likely be impeached. And would Americans really care if some foreign terrorist who had just shot or blown up a bunch of kids sitting at a family diner had done it because he had snapped, or was drinking, or was under stress, or for any of a dozen possible motives our press has proffered for Bales’ actions?

Read more at Huffington Post

Scott Atran

Scott Atran

Research and teaching interests are centered in the following areas: Cognitive and linguistic anthropology, ethnobiology, environmental decision making, categorization and reasoning, evolutionary psychology, anthropology of science (history and philosophy of natural history and natural philosophy); Middle East ethnography and political economy; natural history of Lowland Maya, cognitive and commitment theories of religion, terrorism and foreign affairs.

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