Guiltless Victims

When we are reminded of when others have victimized us, we are less able to see that we victimize others:

Wohl and Branscombe randomly divided [US] volunteers into groups. One group was reminded of the terrorist attacks, while another was told about Nazi atrocities in Poland during World War II. A third group was reminded of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. … Volunteers reminded about the Sept. 11 attacks were less likely to perceive the distress the [Iraq] war has caused many Iraqis, and less likely to feel collective responsibility, compared with volunteers told about the tragedy in Poland. … it makes no difference whether you remind them about the Sept. 11 attacks or about Pearl Harbor. …

The psychologists re-ran the experiment with Canadian volunteers. Two groups heard reminders of the Sept. 11 attacks and Pearl Harbor, while a third heard about a deadly terrorist attack in Sri Lanka.  None of these tragedies affected Canadians personally. Wohl and Branscombe found no differences among the groups in whether they felt distress on behalf of Iraqis, or a sense of collective guilt.  … The psychologists similarly found that Jewish volunteers in North America feel reduced guilt and responsibility for Israeli actions that cause suffering among Palestinians when they are first reminded about the Holocaust, compared with when they are reminded about the genocide in Cambodia.

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