As more stories emerge from the Holocaust, many wonder at the average people doing above average work at jobs that never should have been. Truly, you must go look at the pictures. The jolly laughter during the photo shoot by the young women running toward the camera collides with the reality that these same beautiful girls were shaving the heads and sending women, men and children to gas chambers just down the road. Roger Cohen calls them "fresh faced and playful" in his Op-Ed Down Time From Murder. That's right. By the way, they were mass murderers.
Americans were rightly horrified at the image of Lynndie England making fun of naked or semi-dressed, humiliated Iraqi prisoners. Her friends report that the person in the picture was not the person they knew before her time in Iraq. No doubt, this is true. But the woman did take a psychological journey with her physical one. What happened?
Clearly, she de-individualized the prisoners. One could make the psychological case for dehumanizing an enemy who would as soon kill you, exterminate you, as look at you. Especially for an angry young woman, taunting an ostensible misogynist or killer of a friend might be conceivable. That is, it is possible to rationalize how she got from soldier to persecutor. It is possible to understand how she might lose her humanity and debase herself facing an enemy who would kill her given the opportunity. It's also why it was understandable to see men rejoice at the hanging of Saddam. It wasn't comfortable to look at, one migt disapprove perhaps, but one could understand.
The innate sense of justice most people have recognizes the eye for an eye. Capital punishment is a form of justice that equalizes the losses. A murderer, by his choice, forfeits his life. The world is rid of his potential further harm. The family of the victim knows that the perpetrator won't get the benefit lost to the victim: life.
But what of innocent victims? How did German "nurses" justify killing children?
Actually, it's probably rather simple. The Germans viewed the Jews as villains. Eventually the Jews very existence was a threat. The Jews deserved to die. Step two is to dehumanize the villain. They aren't really human. Step three is distance oneself from actions. Rationalizing can be I'm only cutting their hair or I'm only giving them a shower or I'm stuck in this job so I need to do my best. Step four is denying responsibility, i.e. engaging in group think. John is doing it, I respect John, so it must be OK. When the group is responsible the responsibility is to the group members.
Germany demonstrated psychopathic tendencies en masse. Here's a description from the Slate article about the Columbine killer Eric Harris, deemed by experts as a psychopath:
"Psychopaths are not disoriented or out of touch with reality, nor do they experience the delusions, hallucinations, or intense subjective distress that characterize most other mental disorders," writes Dr. Robert Hare, in Without Conscience, the seminal book on the condition. "Unlike psychotic individuals, psychopaths are rational and aware of what they are doing and why. Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised."The German people, though were rational and aware of what they were doing and why. They chose.
Were the German people especially evil or do all people have the seeds to do something equally destructive? I think it's the latter. I remember Stalin demonstrating how difficult it was to brave and morally courageous in the atmosphere he created. The quote eludes me. Expedience rules the day, eventually.
For the victims and the world, it was incomprehensible what Hitler, his minions and his thousands of servants planned to do. And that's the point of a telegenic guy like Ahmadinejad. Too many people can't imagine he means it. His population hasn't bought into his rhetoric and that's the difference between Iran and Germany, at least thus far.
A whole country desiring to externalize blame for internal misery, an hypnotic speaker, authoritarianism, bureaucratic detachment and dehumanization make a powerful stew to breed psychopaths. The whole society reinforced asocial behavior.
Because humans can choose, they can choose badly. Ironically, the desire to control free will ends up resulting in the unintended, or too often, intended, consequence: a monolithic, authoritarian Borg-like creature imposing its will on the masses and eventually their enemy.
The only possibility is to guard as individuals against the impulse to control. It's also important to pick leaders who will guard against the impulse to control.
UPDATE: One of the big problems with the Left these days is their projection and utter lack of perspective. Painting the country in fascist terms displays a lack of respect for true fascist regimes and the death and destruction those regimes wrought. Here's an example that John Hawkins highlights:
When *ss-kissing chickensh*t David Petraeus lied his *ss off before Congress about the failed "surge", capitol hill police tackled and arrested a pentecostal minister, damaging his ankle in the process.John says, "It is nothing less than borderline mental illness masquerading as political thought and it is the rule, not the exception, on the Left today."
...If you think America isn't undergoing the same slide into fascist dictatorship today as Germany did in the 1930s, you're kidding yourself.
...Those two reasons, more than the brutal assaults on people and the First Amendment, are why America is devolving into a bad replay of Nazi Germany. The lack of national outrage, to the point we do something about it; and the support of it by mindless groupthinkers in society who are so stupid they think it's a good thing that we're being subjected to tyranny.
These people ignore the obvious: no jack boot is kicking them in the head, putting them in jail or denying their free speech. It's called disagreement and diversity of opinion. That the whole populace doesn't drink the same crazy juice doesn't mean they're fascists. But the Left continues display complete intolerance for a differing opinion about policies, diplomacy, and strategy.
It is exactly those intent on imposing their views who make me nervous. And the fascist rhetoric needs to be saved. It's insulting to people who endured real fascists.
UPDATE AGAIN: From LGF, a simpler explanation of Why?