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09/11/2001 WE REMEMBER

"Fear is the foundation of most governments." - John Adams

"My family is more important than my party." - Zell Miller

There's a particular thread of conversation that I've seen pop up in several places. It goes something like this:

A: Fuck all Nazis; they're evil, subhuman bastards and they should be killed.
B: Hey, now. Most Nazi soldiers were normal people just trying to Make Germany Great Again. Don't blame every one of them for the actions of the leaders or the death camp administrators.

Both of these viewpoints are stupid. Here's why:

  • A: All Nazis are evil subhumans

    As much as you'd like to feel just, create scapegoats or soften the psychological impact that our soldiers suffer from killing a fellow human being, this is just not how humanity works. A person doesn't become subhuman by belief, association, disagreement, etc. While it is true that the Nazis made themselves big targets by their employment of atrocity, the idea that they were not even human (or were inherently a lower caste of human by right of their lack of virtue) is exactly the same kind of manipulation that the Nazis used to diffuse the psychological impact of what they did to the Jews, Romani, gays, etc. Dehumanization is a critical part in promoting effective warfare and, when taken to a further extent, atrocity.

    What they did was evil. It was also very human.

  • B: Most Nazis were normal and can't be judged for all Nazis

    As much as you'd like to feel that all of the people complicit or only moderately active in the commission of the atrocities of the Third Reich can be excused by way of misdirecting their intent or their ignorance of the atrocities, the fact is that they knew and they went along with it. The idea that all those people that filled the trenches, did innocuous jobs like working radios or supply lines and otherwise assisted the Nazi machine could not possibly be held accountable for the actions of their comrades is patently false; they were complicit. Bound together and, in a sense, empowered by their atrocities, there was little hope that they would have any kind of redemption. The alternative was assisting their cause and helping their comrades. The combination of their dedication to the men shoulder-to-shoulder with them (which exists in all armed forces, regardless of time, place or morality) and the creeping idea that they had already become subhuman in others' eyes bound them together. They complied with the atrocities because they admitted that they were wrong.

    What they did was human. It was also very evil.


    Both of these viewpoints are actually born of the same facile discomfort: the fear born of realizing that the Nazis were not freaks of morality and that we could do the same. We want to believe that (A) the Nazis were inherently "flawed" or "not like us" in some suitably vague way or that (B) most of the men could be excused through ignorance or some kind of "partial ideological compliance" wherein they were only assisting in atrocity in order to build Germany up again. Both are simplistic psychological mechanisms to distance ourselves from the subject.

    The actual psychology of the situation is much more complex and powerful than many understand; propaganda, manipulation, group absolution, authority demand and other factors all pummel the soldier into killing (or atrocity) in many wars throughout history. Nazi Germany was no different in these mechanics. Like all before them, they were human. Like many before them, they committed atrocity. The two are not mutually exclusive. Some would argue that one (or, at least, the capacity for one) is necessary for the other. And yes, you and I are capable of it as well. I would go as far as to say that it would be sheer hubris to claim that we are not. Evil is a human quality.

    If you are interested in reading a far more certified and thorough look at the psychology of the situation, I suggest that you read Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's On Killing, which inspired this thread. It's a well-sourced, well-researched masterwork.

  • I am the mighty Sun-Column.
    There are 25 Replies

    And yes, you and I are capable of it as well. I would go as far as to say that it would be sheer hubris to claim that we are not. Evil is a human quality.

    Hannah Arendt described this phenomenon as "the banality of evil". I'd recommend reading Eichmann in Jerusalem in addition to On Killing.

    Posted January 19th by Arch

    Evil is a human quality

    Viktor Frankl agrees. He said something along the lines of concentration camp prisoners and their Nazi oppressors being different t sides of the same coin.

    Posted January 19th by S.o.h.

    I read Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, though I don't remember how much he talked about his internment in that one. Was that statement from one of his book, an interview, etc.?

    Posted January 19th by nullfather

    What version did you read? The first portion of the one I read talks about his internment . I'll try to pull a direct quote when my brother finishes reading it.

    You should also read Ordinary men police batallion 101. Peer pressure is a helluva thing it seems.

    Posted January 19th by S.o.h.

    I don't remember. It was in college, some seven years ago now.

    Posted January 19th by nullfather

    Even if we accept all the claims about alleged atrocities committed by National Socialist Germany, heres an interesting fact.

    Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps were never accused of any war crimes.

    Posted January 19th by #85

    It's been proven that the Nazis fought a more just and humane war (never thought I'd say that) against the the British and Americans than they did against the Slavs. (It's the the same case for other Western allies) I don't find it suprising that no war crimes were committed in that theater of the war or the Afrika Korps its self.

    Edited January 19th by S.o.h.

    Rommel never went to trial for the same reason that Hitler never went to trial. Rommel committed suicide. Not only did the Afrika Korps serve as a massive source of propaganda, they also carried out pogroms and were closely involved in organizing the Holocaust effort in North Africa.

    Keep your ignorant bullshit out of my thread.

    Posted January 19th by nullfather

    closely involved in organizing the Holocaust effort in North Africa.

    Do you have any sources on this? not calling you a liar, just generally curious as none of the books Ive read have touched on this. I thought the vast majority of the Wannsee Conference focused on the European Jewish Problem.

    Posted January 19th by S.O.H.

    Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps were never accused of any war crimes.

    that doesn't change the fact that he and almost every other nazi after the war suddenly devolped amensia and were 'unaware' of the holocast that was happening. so that makes his accused of a war crime imo

    Posted January 19th by Brandy

    Except he didn't live long enough to be accused of anything. There's no evidence suggesting that he was aware of the larger plan of the final solution or the death camps themselves. There is evidence suggesting he knew about the death squads in North Africa whose mission was to exterminate the Jews and other political enemies.

    We are also not entirely sure just how much of a Nazi he was. There are multiple examples of military officers appearing to support the Nazis out of political necessity but went against them when ever they could.

    Posted January 19th by S.o.h

    Except he didn't live long enough to be accused of anything. There's no evidence suggesting that he was aware of the larger plan of the final solution or the death camps themselves. There is evidence suggesting he knew about the death squads in North Africa whose mission was to exterminate the Jews and other political enemies.

    The claim about these "North African Death Squads", or more specifically known as "Einsatzgruppe Egypt" there is debate on if this was an actual thing or not. Even Wikipedia acknowledges this.

    The "Muh North African Death Squad" is as unfounded hype as the "Muh lampshades".

    If extermination was always the goal, why the Havarra Agreement? Why the Madagascar Plan?

    Posted January 19th by #85

    If extermination was always the goal, why the Havarra Agreement? Why the Madagascar Plan?

    I dont believe it was always the goal for the Nazi Party as a whole, because of the backlash that would have occurred had it been made public. (We saw this backlash with their euthanasia program) ((I do believe it was always a goal for Hitler and and couple of other higher ups)) Those other plans never panned out. Or if they did they backfired. (there was a huge migration of Jews from Germany to Eastern Europe. The very lands Germany conquered not too long after) They saw extermination as the next logical step.

    Its also hard to take those agreements to face value. The Nazi leaders were notorious liars. I am sure had those plans had been fully carried out, and the Nazis had pursued a plan for world domination. That they also would have been wiped out. (I dont personally believe that the Nazis would have carried out such a grandiose plan, since there is enough evidence indicating that Hitler did not want a war with the allies and would have been satisfied with Eastern European lands and Russias critical oil fields)

    I dont consider Rommel a saint. Unless Im mistaking him with some other guy he over saw some Italian units that did commit atrocities in Africa. And there has been some speculation that men under his command slaughtered a bunch of french colonial troops. Historians argue on the full extent of Rommels knowledge in regard to these events though.

    I read somewhere that Rommel never considered himself a great military leader. He stressed had he been a great military leader he would have been sent to fight in the Eastern Front instead of North Africa.

    Edited January 19th by S.O.H.

    Ulysses Grant engaged in scorched Earth warfare against the slave-owning rebellious Confederates, but the problem is VERY Machiavellian: the ends justify the means, which means killing hundreds of thousands and maintaining the Union was better than the long term disrepair of the persistence of slavery and hate.

    There is no justification for evil anywhere, but at least a little bit of evil is everywhere. The saying "The meek shall inherit the Earth" means this: those who do bad will torment and even kill those who do good, but not for eternity. For those who don't believe in heaven and hell, the world is already a cesspool of evil that is already doomed to eternal suffering. The easy answer is "Right is right. Always." I voted for Jill Stein knowing she may not have won. But even if I was the only one who did so, I live with a healthy conscious knowing I voted correctly. We all received the paper ballot in the mail days in advance, more than enough time to research the candidates, and I found myself loving Jill Stein's policies more than anyone. I did what was right. I encouraged other people to do the same. What is right does not change because of other people. At least, that's what I believe. If everyone believed it, we wouldn't have Hillary OR Trump in office and we might actually have a first class society here.

    Posted January 19th by mariomguy

    Any further conversation about whose presidential candidate is "right" should be taken to a new thread.

    Posted January 19th by nullfather

    The answer is obvious. Dwayne "the rock" Johnson is going to body slam America into the right direction.

    Posted January 19th by S.o.h.

    Well, as far as morality goes, the wrong thing doesn't become right just because other people are doing something worse. The ideal has always been "no more wrong." That being said, people should focus on trying to do right and stop the wrong.

    If life has shown us anything, humanity is at its worst when in large groups and threatened. Then you get political rebellion, wars, and genocide. Yes, all this is human. But it is a portion of humanity we should seek to eliminate, not preserve. The fact that Nazis preserved their tyranny for so long is almost as crazy as the British and French's expectations from Germany after the first World War.

    Posted January 20th by mariomguy

    If extermination was always the goal, why the Havarra Agreement? Why the Madagascar Plan?

    You keep on rolling those goalposts around, pal. As it happens, an exceedingly large organization like the Nazi Party might have factions that differ in their opinions as to what exactly should be done with undesirables. Moreover, forcibly resettling millions of law-abiding citizens to countries they've never even been to is not literally genocide but it certainly isn't reasonable, humane or civilized either. Finally, it doesn't matter a fucking whit what the original plan was because the officers still grimly carried out the orders from the top when it came time to work the ovens. Fuck outta here.

    Rommel was a self-righteous coward who believed his own personal conduct on the battlefield somehow excused the wicked cause he was ever championing, and no matter how fascinating he was as a person or talented he was as a commander, he was still a Nazi and died the way all Nazis should, distraught and by his own hand.

    Posted January 20th by Pink Peruvian Flying Bear
    Pink Peruvian Flying Bear

    I've not read any of the literature referenced in this thread, but nevertheless I feel confident saying that there's a really important point here.

    None of us know what it's like to live in a country where dissent with the ruling party is a crime. Our approximate of egalitarianism is all we have ever known, and for most of us the ancient prejudices that were once taken for granted were discouraged during our most formative years, whether on television, at school, or at home.

    So right off the bat it may be a bit much to expect the early 20th century German man to transcend his upbringing, but let's say he does. He is just as enlightened as we all think we are. What then? It's easy enough to forgive him for keeping his head down while under the yoke of a police state, but then he gets conscripted, assigned as a guard in a labor camp, and asked to commit increasingly heinous crimes. Anyone that thinks this man can reasonably refuse orders, assuming he hasn't managed to slowly rationalize the perversity of the situation, is simply not in a position to understand what they're asking.

    I often use the term "moral courage" to describe something as pedestrian expressing certain political opinions in modern America, but maybe it's a mistake to do so. There aren't many opportunities for genuine courage in societies as terminally tolerant as ours, and the only reason we ever celebrate the courageous is because they are so uncommon.

    Edited January 20th by Famov

    Evil doesn't persist because of those who do it, but because of those who do nothing and allow it.

    There is NO excuse for moral wrong. If doing good means you go to jail in that country, then that is what should happen to those who do good, and everyone should be in jail. You watch how quickly things change when people stand together against it. The reason it doesn't happen more often is because of the prisoner's dilemma.

    Posted January 20th by mariomguy

    You're right. There is no excusing what these people did. But it is probably constructive to understand why they did it. Not all of these men were psychopaths, is the point, and there's a cautionary lesson somewhere in that realization.

    Posted January 20th by Famov

    Well who's more psychotic: the ones who actually believe the nonsense, or the ones who know it's nonsense and still do it anyways?

    Posted January 21st by mariomguy

    The actual psychology of the situation is not that simple, mguy. I suggest reading the book I mentioned if you want to get a comprehensive grip on the situation.

    Posted January 21st by nullfather

    Look for the merits within "NAZI-morality" before judging it entirely.

    Posted January 23rd by Kaot0
    Reply to: A very general note on Nazi morality

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