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Worse Than War (PBS)

“Worse Than War” is a two-hour television companion to Mr. Goldhagen’s 2009 book of the same title, an examination of the causes of genocide and ethnic cleansing along with his recommendations for how to prevent them. We see him visiting scenes of mass murder in places like Rwanda, Bosnia, Guatemala and Germany, where he talks to survivors and perpetrators, often posed within beautifully photographed landscapes.
The stories are both horrifying and depressingly familiar, sometimes accompanied by disturbing archival footage of the killers in action. In a Guatemalan forensics lab where bones exhumed from mass graves are examined, Mr. Goldhagen holds a baby’s rib that easily fits in his palm.

His conclusions, already spelled out in the book, are consistent with his earlier findings about the Holocaust: that genocide does not “break out” but is always planned; that those who initiate it are making a rational decision based on political gain; that it feeds off of longstanding fears and reflects a confidence on the part of the perpetrators that there will be no consequences. His recommendations — including rapid military intervention outside the framework of the United Nations and bounties put on the heads of genocidal leaders — seem a bit wishful.

Alongside the reporting runs a personal story involving Mr. Goldhagen’s father, Erich, a Holocaust survivor and fellow scholar. They travel together to Erich’s childhood home in what is now Ukraine, visiting a mass grave where a dozen of their relatives were buried, and the street where Erich and his immediate family narrowly avoided being rounded up and sent to their deaths.

In the program’s strangest and most touching scenes, the two men try to process the memories and feelings their trip arouses, and suddenly their formidable intellectual and argumentative skills are useless. “I’m your son in many ways,” Daniel says, analyzing his own awkward silence, “and your dispassion is my own.”

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