The Act of Killing is a hard to watch, thought provoking 2012 documentary which won Best Documentary at the 2014 Bafta Awards. It follows certain Indonesian ‘death-squad’ leaders from the 1965-66 purge which saw 500,000 killed in the space of a year. The documentary makers follow these guys as they chillingly re-enact some of their heinous crimes. As I said it is not an enjoyable watch. It becomes somewhat surreal in places, as they are trying to create a “movie” of these recreations. These “gangsters” as they are called are still somewhat revered by the authorities in Indonesia today. It made me think it would almost be like meeting up with ex-Nazi’s in South America and filming them re-enact some of their crimes – not for the faint of heart, but certainly thought provoking.
The reason it got me thinking was due to a comment by one of these murdering “gangsters” who questioned the standards by which society judges such crimes. He essentially said he cared little for the Geneva Conventions – tomorrow it might be the Jakarta Convention. He said it was the “winners” who enforced such standards. This made me think about some of the discoveries that were made in the making of the Nefarious Documentary. When the team went to South East Asia, it found that in some of the countries the practice of selling daughters into sex slavery was not only prevalent, but it was to a large extent an accepted part of the culture. When it is ingrained into a society that accepts these positions as Karma, and nobody even questions such behaviour as “wrong” it becomes very difficult to break rings of violence and evil.
Which brings us back to the Geneva Conventions and indeed much of what we consider to be right and wrong in Western Culture. Much of these standards owe much to the Judeo-Christian heritage that has prevailed in Europe for nearly the past millennia and in North America for the past 300-400 years. That is not to say that these places have been free from mass abuses of power and massive tyranny at times. But the basis for right, wrong, mercy and forgiveness, were largely set by the assumptions of this heritage. We actually have much to be thankful for. It is these standards that informed things like the Geneva Convention. Although I believe many of these standards come ultimately from God, there is nothing to stop us from rejecting this heritage and dispensing with these standards over time. However I think that as I ponder the lessons from South East Asia in these two documentaries, dispensing with objective truth and such Christian values does not bode well for our society.