Roy Baumeister, in his book “Evil – Inside Human Violence And Cruelty”, tells the story of a woman who killed a planeload of people.
When Hyun Hee, as a baby girl in North Korea, learned her first words, they were not “Mom” or “Dad”, but were instead “Thank you Kim Il Sun, Our Great Leader.”. She was taught about the distant enemy, America, which her father told her was “the worst place in the world.” When she grew up, she got into the best university in the land, and also participated in the mandatory military training, including unarmed fights against black belt (male) instructors. She was chosen to become a special agent for the foreign intelligence service. One day she was summoned to the service national headquarters, and told she had a mission that would decide “our entire national destiny.” She and her male comrade were to destroy a South Korean airplane. This would somehow lead to the reunification of Korea.
The young woman was overcome with feelings: awe, dread, gratitude, responsibility, patriotism. She did not think for a moment about the moral questions. Later she wrote that it was not until after the mission succeeded and she had been captured, not until she walked into the South Korean courtroom and faced the families of the victims, that the real meaning of her violent act hit home.
Only after being captured did she suffer inwardly over what she had done. She began to have nightmares, such as that her family was on board that flight, that she was shouting at them to deplane but they weren’t listening. Gradually she came to feel terrible guilt.
So we can ask, was Hyun Hee a good person? She killed over a hundred people, but she had been taught from birth to be a loyal soldier of North Korea. Would we have done the same if we were brought up in a dictatorship that indoctrinated us, and that prevented us from being exposed to any alternate views?
Hyun Hee loved her country, she trusted her leaders, and she honestly believed that her mission would help lead to the triumphant reunification of Korea.
But then again, she was able to commit her act because she felt no guilt at the time about killing over a hundred passengers.
One might ask about not only her emotional makeup, but the makeup of the people who came up with the idea of destroying the airplane, and the emotional makeup of the people who run North Korea. Are they all utopian Communists, who are full of hope and trying to create a utopian country, or do they have darker emotions than the desire to create paradise on earth? Given the evil place they have created in North Korea, my guess is that they are not all good people who believe bad things. I believe there must be a considerable number of bad people who created the situation where an idealistic young woman could become a mass murderer.
We could ask the same question about the Palestinians in Gaza. Their kids get military type training in summer camp, where they learn to hate their enemy, the Jews, the kids watch children’s shows on TV that also preach hate, and they get it from their leaders, their families, their religious mentors, etc. Can you blame them for wanting to kill Jews when they get the opportunity?
But then again, can’t we blame the adults for creating this hellhole?
A son of a Hamas leader became pro-Israel. He says “‘I absolutely know that in anybody’s eyes I was a traitor,” says Mosab Hassan Yousef. “To my family, to my nation, to my God. I crossed all the red lines in my society. I didn’t leave one that I didn’t cross.”
This “traitor” saved lots of civilian lives. Mosab said that he turned against Hamas in an Israeli jail, where he saw them torture other Hamas members. The Muslims he met in jail “bore no resemblance to my father” and “were mean and petty . . . bigots and hypocrites”
In other words, Hamas members are not just idealists who somehow got brainwashed from birth. They actually have character flaws.
I think part of understanding the world around us is knowing that yes, good people can do monstrous things, but also a percentage of any group will be naturally evil, and will create a situation where good people also do evil things.