Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It wasn't just the Nazis.

I don’t remember what triggered it, but the most terrifying epiphany I had in grad school was when it struck me that the only difference between Adolph Eichmann and a clean-cut Air Force first lieutenant sitting in a missile silo in the wheatfields of Kansas was that Eichmann had been given the opportunity to carry out his orders while the lieutenant hadn’t. However, if so ordered, this apple-pie American boy would not have hesitated to press a button that would have resulted in the death of millions.

Slaughter is slaughter, whether the ideology driving it is anti-Semitism or anticommunism.

So great is our revulsion at the Holocaust that we treat it as an aberration, the result of a group of mentally unbalanced Nazis, a historical fluke that could never happen again. This view is reinforced by movies such as Luchino Visconti’s “The Damned” that depicted a Nazi Germany rift with sexual depravity.

The tragic truth is that it took more than depravity to make the Holocaust the stunning success that it was.

Once the Nazis decided that extermination was the only efficient way to rid Germany of its Jewish population, they assigned the task to the SS. The idea was to keep it an interparty operation.

The poor sots tried everything including mass shooting and packing their victims into trucks into which carbon monoxide was pumped. Not only couldn’t they get the numbers, but their executions were going psycho.

Reluctantly, the Nazis decided they had to bring in the German civil service and German industry. This led to the Warmsee Conference, chaired by SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich

Before the conference, Heydrich was very apprehensive over how the civil servants and industrialists would react. After the meeting, he was thrilled by the enthusiasm by which participants greeted the plan.

The Holocaust was a product of corporate management theory. As one writer puts it:

Even a single transport of German Jews required the involvement of many municipal authorities other than the local police. An assembly and loading area, usually in the cargo depot, had to be made available by local railway authorities. Officials from the Finance Office collected property inventories from the deportees, liquidated the property, and turned the proceeds over to the Tax Office.

Engineers drew up blueprints for the death camps while contracts were inked for their construction. Marketing managers of the large chemical firms were thrilled with government orders for large quantities of poison gas.

The point is that the Holocaust was executed by people we’d feel very comfortable sitting next to in church or at a conference. They were solid citizen, respectable in their behavior and mores.

We’d feel as comfortable with them as we would our first lieutenant. To a certain extent, I can identify with him. I was in the military and would not have hesitated to kill if so ordered, and would have made scant distinction between civilian and combatant. The only difference between the lieutenant and me is that my M1 rifle would have created less havoc than his missile.

This suggests that the Holocaust was not an aberration, that the qualities that made it possible are universal to Western society. And with the replacement of paper and forms by the computer, there would be a quantum increase in its efficiency.

The question that has always plagued me is what is the mechanism that numbs our moral sensibilities to such an extent that we would be willing to perpetrate mass slaughter, especially if we knew we would never ever see a dead body? Is it group think, or the bland language of our policymakers that scrubs murder clean of its gore? It must be an adrenalin high for a bored civil servant to implement a policy of state-sanctioned slaughter.

I suspect it all comes down to the language, its tepid drone that normalized horror and gives it respectability. A normal voice or a dry paragraph drowns out the screams of the victims.

What time bombs we are in our well adjusted normality. All we need is a workable label and we're off to the races.

7 comments:

TAO Walker said...

The "mechanism" that has reduced homo domesticus to the "ticking time-bomb" CONdition decried here is "civilization" itself, with its attendant de-humanization of its two-legged captives....who inevitably extend their own misery to others of their own kind and every other Kind they can get their hands on and their CONfinement regimes around.

CONfusion reigns amongst 'em, and fear rules....but "power" is god.

HokaHey!

david m said...

There is a report on the situation in the Congo in last months New York Review of Books. The author expresses his amazement over the amount of rape and murder inflicted on the people by the army yet the soldiers seem so friendly to him. He ask the question, can they really be the same people committing the atrocities. Of course the answer is yes.

Chris said...

your blog today is very thought provoking in that i've never considered the dangers of the information age...and while western society is much more knowledgeable about past and current events thanks to the internet, we are also much more removed from each other...some of the 207 "friends" on my facebook page i've never once met in person...how much of a relationship do we really have, and if put in a crisis situation, would i rise to their defense...it does make you think...how much more easily could the eitsanzgruppen have carried out himmler's and heydrich's orders if all they did was kill people "virtually" from behind a computer terminal? good question.

chris
admin, Never Again!

Suzan said...

I had the same realization at a very young age, and when I asked my Dad about what the difference would be between our bomb-droppers and the Nazis, he replied that it was prolly in the eye of the beholder, and that he had been flummoxed by that question as a young man also. But he was never comfortable raising it among the southerners he lived among.

I always wondered what Nazi stories would come out about our troops' actions in Vietnam when I was a student in the Antiwar movement.

It never surprised me that Cheney and Rumsfeld embraced torture. When I heard Madeleine ALLDull's comment early on about the murder of infants in Iraq being acceptable correllary damage, I knew what would be upcoming from this crowd.

They never disappointed their sadistic supporters, but always gave new faith to those who desired the U.S. to become the bogeyman of dark power and world dominance.

They have won for a while, a long while; and it will take years to recover any semblance of our country's once pristine reputation as a beacon for democratic ideals and selfless action.

S

The Holocaust was a product of corporate management theory. As one writer puts it

Case Wagenvoord said...

Thank you all for you comments. I posted this piece at "The Smirking Chimp" where its has generated a healthy debate. In the past, this has been a issue that has beens swept under the rug, which is unfortunate because our refusal to take a long, hard look at it increases the chances that it will happen again and again and again.

Calm said...

I think that the holocaust was a "Class War".

The Working Class in Europe watched the Rich Folks flaunt their wealth during the Roaring Twenties.

During the depression, the Poor Folks were bringing their jewlery and valuables to pawnshops in order to feed their families. It just so happened that the pawnshops were mostly owned by Jewish People and Gypsies.

More than 80% of the Nazi party's Hitler's brownshirt militia and the SA. members were unemployed young people.

Long before Hitler and The Clowns opened up the gas chambers, the Jews had declared a "Holy War" against Germany. The Jews had asked the world to boycott German goods and the Jews were inciting riots and unrest inside Germany.

Some of the anger an atrocities carried out against the Jews was as revenge.

Stalin and his cronies committed a holocaust too.

In 1934, according to published statistics, 38.5 percent of those holding the most senior posts in Stalin's government and the Soviet security apparatuses were of Jewish origin.

Stalin’s Jews were very influential and held top advisory posts within Stalin’s government and which facilitated mass murder (a holocaust) of 30 million people and against many religions (including christians) across Europe.

While the Jews in the Soviet Union were massacaring millions of Ukrainians, he New York Times was publishing articles claiming that the massacre wasn't happening.

As a direct result, during The Hitler Trip and the subsequent Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe, many of the region's innocent Jews became the target of ferocious revenge attacks by Ukrainians, Balts and Poles. The souls of Stalin's millions of victims still cry out for justice.

Calm

Calm said...

I know this additional comment is a bit off topic, but I thought I would add it to show the irony of history ....

There are less than 18 million Jewish Folks in the whole world.

Only 8 million live in Israel.

How is it possible that we allow 8 million people to hold the world hostage and threaten the universe with nuclear war each and every day .... and for the past 50 years?

8 million people in Israel are constantly threatening and harassing a billion or more Arabs .... We would never allow Taiwan with a population of 35 million to threaten a billion or more Chinese.

Here we are 60 years after the Hitler-Trip and Jewish Folks are still entering courthouses across this universe and insisting on justice and the “Right-Of-Return” of stolen artifacts, property and jewels confiscated by Hitler and The Clowns.

I think that the Palestinian people deserve the same “Right-Of-Return” and the same sense of justice that the Jewish Folks insisted upon in every courthouse in the land.

Never once did I hear any Jewish Person suggest that the “Facts Had Changed On The Ground” and thus the Jews we’re not entitled to compensation for losses incurred under Hitler … but this is the claim that the Jewish Folks make with the Palestinian People and their “Right-Of-Return”.

I never heard any Jewish Person say that suing a bank after 67 years was "Too Long Ago" and that the "Facts Had Changed On The Ground".
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/14/nyregion/14holocaust.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/27/AR2009062702399.html

These are the words spoken by the very first Prime Minister of Israel

“We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.”
–-David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff. From Ben-Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York 1978--
--Israel Koenig, advisor to the Israeli Knesset, The Koenig Memorandum (Al Hamishmar newspaper, September 7, 1976)--

What really puts me over the edge is that at the same time (1948-1949) when the world was parading pictures of holocaust survivors within the media, the Prime Minister of the newly formed government of Israel was promoting and encouraging a holocaust against the Palestinians.

That is almost exactly the kind of statements which Hitler screamed when speaking about the Jewish Folks!

And worse ….. Ben-Gurion said this at the same time that our media was parading holocaust victims across the universe and showing Jewish Folks crying and screaming “Never Again”.

In 1948, with Hitler dead less then 2 years, …. At the very heart of the newly formed country of Israel, …. at the highest levels of government, …. within the Israeli cabinet, the Jewish folks were actually talking about committing a holocaust against the Arabs and which is the exact same crimes as Hitler was being chastised for.

Calm