"Fear is the foundation of most governments." - John Adams
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A very general note on Nazi morality
Posted: Posted January 19th
Edited January 19th by nullfather
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.
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