Modern war crimes trials make for lousy sacrifices

In the essay collection For Rene Girard, Richard J. Golsan talks quite a bit about the holocaust and our inability to unify the world by thoroughly pinning the blame on someone. In the aftermath of the Balkan war in the 1990’s, this is even more the case. This follows Girard’s assertion that we are increasingly unable to bring peace to our own society through ritual sacrifice. Christianity has undermined the scapegoat mechanism. What we have in the modern-day war crimes tribunal is meant to be a proper and civilized ritual sacrifice. But it just doesn’t have the unifying power that a community lynching used to.

Accompanying this fixation on social decline and cultural decay is the belief that particular groups are responsible for this state of affairs, and that these groups continue to actively and insidiously pursue an agenda of destruction and annihilation.

What the purge trials attempted to accomplish (as do, to a certain extend, all political trials) was to isolate a limited number of culprits on whom the shipwreck of French culture, the collapse of the nation in 1940, and collaboration with the Nazis could be blamed. The reality was, of course, that it was not just a “few individuals” that were responsible.

None of this is to suggest that in the 1990s trials for crimes against humanity the accused were “innocent” or undeserving of their convictions. Quite the reverse. But to the extent that the trials became sacrificial rituals were the broader historical and social intent of expelling a criminal past and thereby unifying the nation, they not only partook of the primitive and cohesive ritual sacrifices that Girard describes.