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February 28, 2009, 2:30 PM

On Aggression: The Politics and Psychobiology of Genocide

Participants: Joyce Apsel, Benedict Kiernan (moderator), Taylor Krauss, Patricia McCormick, Henri Parens

More disturbing perhaps than the human impulse for war, in which nations seek military dominion over other nations, are the historically recurrent campaigns by ethnic or cultural groups to systematically annihilate other ethnic or cultural groups. The prevalent examples of genocide in the 20th century have come to symbolize mankind's darkest impulses, the worst excesses of human aggression, synonymous with our very conception of evil. While war can be explained in terms of politics, territorial ambition, and even economics, the genocidal impulse taps into unparalleled notions of the primal and the irrational. This roundtable will endeavor to uncover the deepest roots of these impulses, and how historical forces that penetrate individual and group behavior may have shaped them. A historian, a filmmaker, a writer, and a psychiatrist will examine the subject from a variety of perspectives, from first-hand accounts as witnesses of human atrocity, to historical and psychological interpretation.

Joyce Apsel is Master Teacher of Humanities in the Liberal Studies Program at NYU and the 2008-09 LSP Nominee for the NYU Distinguished Teaching Award. Dr. Apsel is founder and director of RightsWorks International, a human rights education project; President of the Institute for the Study of Genocide; and past President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars. Dr. Apsel is co-editor of Museums for Peace: Past, Present and Future; editor of Darfur: Genocide before our Eyes and Teaching about Human Rights; and co-editor, with Helen Fein, of Teaching about Genocide. Apsel is the author of a number of articles, including "The Complexity of Genocide in Darfur: Historical Perspectives and Ongoing Processes of Destruction" in Human Rights Review and "On our Watch: The Genocide Convention and the Deadly, Ongoing Case of Darfur," upcoming in Rutgers Law Review.

Benedict Kiernan is the Whitney Griswold Professor of History, Professor of International and Area Studies, and Director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University. He is the author of Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur, which won the 2008 gold medal for the best book in History awarded by the Independent Publishers Association. He also wrote Genocide and Resistance in Southeast Asia: Documentation, Denial and Justice in Cambodia and East Timor, How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930-1975, and The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979.

Taylor Krauss is an independent documentary filmmaker who has worked for various media networks including the Associated Press, BBC, PBS, CNN, and HBO, among others. He trained under Ken Burns while working as an associate producer on the seven-part series, The War, about the American experience of the Second World War. Krauss has worked on various human rights films on subjects ranging from refugee issues, healthcare, illegal immigration, sexual violence, global human smuggling and trafficking, and the genocide in Darfur. He grew up in Phoenix and graduated from Yale University in 2002 with a degree in Film Studies. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Voices of Rwanda, a non-profit organization dedicated to filming testimonies of Rwandans for research and use in genocide education curriculum. For more information about Voices of Rwanda please visit www.voicesofrwanda.org.

Patricia McCormick is a 2006 finalist for the National Book Award and the author of three critically acclaimed novels—Sold, an account of sexual trafficking, My Brother's Keeper, a realistic view of teenage substance abuse, and Cut, an intimate portrait of a teenager's struggle with self-injury. Her books have been translated in a several languages and Cut has sold nearly 500,000 copies. Sold was named by Publishers Weekly as one of Best 100 Books of the Year and was selected by the American Library Association as one of the Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults in 2006. McCormick is currently working on a book that explores the killing of a 10-year-old boy in Iraq and the two American soldiers involved. She recently returned from Cambodia, where she interviewed survivors of the genocide that killed nearly a quarter of the country's population. She also spent time in a remote section of the country talking with former Khmer Rouge soldiers. McCormick was named a New York Foundation on the Arts fellow in 2004 and is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Henri Parens is Professor of Psychiatry at Jefferson Medical College, and a Training and Supervising Analyst (Adult and Child) at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. He is the author of over 200 scientific and lay publications and multi-media programs. He is the author of eight books, including Dependence in Man: The Development of Aggression in Early Childhood, Aggression in Our Children: Coping with it Constructively, and Renewal of Life: Healing from the Holocaust, as well as eight co-edited books, five scientific films, one documentary and a television series for CBS, entitled Parenting: Love and Much More. The recipient of many honors and awards, his principal research and prevention efforts include the development of aggression in early childhood, the prevention of violence and malignant prejudice, and the prevention of experience-derived emotional disorders. Dr. Parens is a Holocaust survivor.


Discussion Board

This forum allows for an ongoing discussion of the above Philoctetes event. You may use this space to share your thoughts or to pose questions for panelists. An attempt will be made to address questions during the live event or as part of a continued online dialogue.
Jackie Goneconti says:
I believe it's important to study the phenomenon of genocide from both a top-down and bottom up approach. Can the panelists speak about genocide eduction and awareness from the perspective of the individual vs. the collective motivations driven by group psychology. I feel the power of the individuals story is particularly powerful approach to educating our public.

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