- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide


“First Kill”: Bureaucratic Ordering and Collective Unconscious

By jessical on January 30, 2013

First Kill is one of the most individualized and disconcerting studies of the psychology of soldiers in war I have ever encountered. One element that struck me the most was the soldiers’ repeated rationalization of killing as a need to meet body counts. This systematized act of killing recalls Hanah Arendt’s discussion of the banality of evil with regards to the Eichmann trial, exhibiting how division of labor in Nazi Germany enabled the killing of thousands of people without individual responsibility or guilt. Additionally, this can be linked to class discussion of Rwanda’s post-conflict bureaucratically strong state that orders society through administrative structuring. The men in the film killed women and children yet explain it as simply meeting a body count requirement. While it is clear theses men are aware of their killing, it seems that they lay the true responsibility elsewhere for they are only doing so due to orders from above and responsibility to the state. Furthermore, bureaucratic structuring of the military system can be seen to transform the collective unconscious of the soldiers. As we have seen in Rwanda, the propaganda framing the Hutus and the Tutsis as fundamentally different and oppositional “ethnicities” transformed relations and encouraged the killing. In First Kill, soldiers explain how Vietnamese were “the enemy” that “had to be killed”. These men have been engineered to kill by the U.S. military. For many of them, it is no longer “wrong” to kill. After their first kill they realized they felt little different than before, that it was easy and that they even took pleasure in the act. This leaves us with the challenge for soldiers returning to the U.S. as well as individuals in Rwanda, what does the “normal” moral society do with those individuals they have taught to kill without thought? How are they reintegrated into society and is a return to a “normal” collective unconscious possible for them?

1 Comment

  • Professor Thomson said:

    Insightful comments on the difficulties of post-conflict justice and reconciliation. How to balance the need for justice of survivors (and their symbolic violence) with killers who have lived through structural forms of violence resulting in orders to kill? What implication for post-conflict justice and reconciliation processes if the lived experience of violence for both survivor and killer is unacknowledged by society?

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