The Social Conditions of State Crime
It is often thought that those who carry out crimes such as torture and massacre must be
However research suggests that there is little psychological difference between them and
Sociologists argue that such actions are part of a ROLE into which individuals are
SOCIALISED. The focus on the SOCIAL CONDITIONS in which such behaviour becomes
acceptable or even required.
My Lai Massacre in Vietnam
Kelman & Hamilton (1989) studied ‘crimes of obedience’ like the My Lai massacre in
Vietnam where a platoon of US soldiers murdered 400 civilians (many women and
Kelman & Hamilton identify THREE features that produce crimes of obedience:
When acts are ordered or approved by those in authority, normal moral principles are
replaced by the duty to obey.
Once the crime has been committed there is strong pressure to turn the act into routine
which individuals can perform in a detached manner.
When the enemy is portrayed as sub-human rather than human and described as animals,
monsters etc, the usual principles of morality do not apply.
Some argue that modern society creates the conditions for state crime on a vast scale. For
example Zygmunt Bauman (1989) argues that the Holocaust – in which the Nazis murdered
six million Jews and millions of Gypsies, Slavs, political opponents, disabled people,
homosexuals and others – was the product of MODERNITY, and not a return to some premodern barbarism. Bauman argues that for the Nazis to be able to commit mass murder,
many of the features of MODERNITY were essential. These included science, technology
and a division of labour. Bauman claims that the key to understanding the Holocaust is the
ability of modern society to dehumanise the victims and turn mass murder into a routine