The Anatomy of Motive

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Paul Quinn College|
The Anatomy of Motive|
Dexter D. Evans|


The Anatomy of Motive
Every day I put my life on the line as a soldier in the United States Army. When a person joins the army the first material they learn is “The Soldiers’ Creed.” In this declaration to our country, a fresh recruit is expressing that he or she will defend America, come what may. This include taking out the enemy by killing them. One of the hardest questions for most people to answer is why people kill each other? We are not, of course, talking about what makes people kill in self defense as in the line of duty as soldiers. We might (because of religious or moral concerns) choose not to do so ourselves, but we can understand why someone would kill in a situation like this. But what can possibly be the motivation for people to commit the kind of murder that is usually considered to be a senseless one. What are – what can be? – The motivations behind serial, mass, and spree killings? John Douglas and Mark Olshaker try to answer these questions for us in their book The Anatomy of Motive, a book by an FBI profiler that is actually less concerned with the mechanics of profiling than with the reasons that people commit these kinds of crimes and so have to be hunted to begin with. The book examines some of the most widely known cases from around the world in recent years – Andrew Cunanan, who killed the designer Gianni Versace in Miami Beach in 1997; Timothy J. McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber; the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski; Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon in 1980; Charles Whitman, who shot 13 people from a clock tower at the University of Texas, Austin, in 1966; Lee Harvey Oswald; the mass murder in Dunblane, Scotland, in which a lone shooter killed 16 children and their teacher, the still-unsolved Tylenol poisonings, and even Shakespeare’s Othello (although surely this is a motivated a opposed to a senseless crime) as former FBI profiler Douglas and his coauthor Olshaker try to explain what is in many ways for most of us simply the unthinkable. What sets The Anatomy of Motive apart from so many of the theories about these horrific acts of violence are that Douglas and Olshaker have no obvious political agenda. This is not a diatribe from the right about the need for greater and greater punishments for the criminal or a diatribe from the left (if the left really does make such diatribes) about the importance of considering various mitigating circumstances. Instead, it is a careful study about the commonalities shared by these cases and yet also the many ways in which they are unique. Douglas’s experience clearly shows here: He is not interested in easy answers and knows that there are no easy blanket solutions that can be applied to all “senseless” killings and killers. Douglas, now retired, had a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a profiler, a law-enforcement officer who studied the personalities and tried to discern the motives of the most dangerous arsonists, sexual predators, product tamperers, bombers and assorted mass, serial and spree murderers. The authors tell us – which we probably already know, unless we are entirely insulated from both popular culture and the news – that such criminals are, for the most part, straight white male loners under the age of 50 with self-esteem problems who often come from families with overly authoritarian fathers and who are often set off by a single psychologically dislocating event, often a workplace downsizing. While much emphasis has in the last several years been placed on the possible role that the mass media play in provoking such acts of violence, Douglas and Olshaker argue against this view, believing that the media don't cause such crimes or such violent motivations, which must in fact stem from dark and internal drives and forces. Rather the “current climate of acting out one’s rage in scenarios of...
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