The Banality of Evil

November 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

My latest posts happen to be about WWII, or specifically right after the war.  I had not planned it, but sadly it worked out that way.

Today marks 70 years since the Nuremberg trials began, 20 November, 1945.  Impossible to think about and then toss aside.  We will always wonder about the minds, the mentality, the rationalizing, it would take to maintain “civil” sanity while planning and managing the most horrific depravities of humanity in modern history.  The architects and middle managers, doing their day to day work.   The defendants at Nuremberg had their I.Q.s checked.  All scored higher than average.  No answers, or excuses, here –  just a glimpse into “The Banality of Evil.”  And the Trial of the Century that must always be remembered.  I leave the technical details to links.

“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.”  – from opening statement for the prosecution by Robert H. Jackson –  chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials (1) 

Before the end of WWII on 1 November 1943, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States published their “Declaration on German Atrocities in Occupied Europe”, which gave a “full warning” that, when the Nazis were defeated, the Allies would “pursue them to the uttermost ends of the earth … in order that justice may be done. … The above declaration is without prejudice to the case of the major war criminals whose offences have no particular geographical location and who will be punished by a joint decision of the Government of the Allies.”(2)

Rare colour photo of the trial at Nuremberg, depicting the defendants, guarded by American Military Police. I am always freaked out to see Nazis in color photos:

Defendants_in_the_dock_at_nuremberg_trials

No trial provides a better basis for understanding the nature and causes of evil than do the Nuremberg trials from 1945 to 1949.  Those who come to the trials expecting to find sadistic monsters are generally disappointed.  What is shocking about Nuremberg is  the ordinariness of the defendants: men who may be good fathers, kind to animals, even unassuming–yet who committed unspeakable crimes.  Years later, reporting on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt wrote of “the banality of evil.”  Like Eichmann, most Nuremberg defendants never aspired to be villains.  Rather, they over-identified with an ideological cause and suffered from a lack of imagination or empathy: they couldn’t fully appreciate the human consequences of their career-motivated decisions.  The Nuremberg Trials by Doug Linder, 2000(3)

Doug Linder’s piece is an excellent read about the trials.  It is well written and very informative, with links to more in-depth info.  The links are worth exploring as well.  If you are curious at all about the trials – beyond the sad sensationalism, you should take a look.  It is not a long piece.  What I found interesting to read were the prosecution and defense cases.

The American authorities conducted subsequent Nuremberg Trials in their occupied zone.(4)

Other trials conducted after the Nuremberg Trials include the following:

Legacy

The definition of what constitutes a war crime is described by the Nuremberg principles, a set of guidelines document which was created as a result of the trial. The medical experiments conducted by German doctors and prosecuted in the so-called Doctors’ Trial led to the creation of the Nuremberg Code to control future trials involving human subjects, a set of research ethics principles for human experimentation. (5)

Hannah Arndt

This references Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem.  She explored the unimaginable state of mind that maintains a comfortable distance from atrocities.  And penned the phrase:

“The Banality of Evil” – Hannah Arndt (1906-1975)

She was a 20th century political philosopher.  The question with which Arendt engages most frequently is the nature of politics and the political life, as distinct from other domains of human activity.  Her thoughts span totalitarianism, revolution, the nature of freedom and the faculties of thought and judgment.

She controversially uses the phrase “the banality of evil” to characterize Eichmann’s actions as a member of the Nazi regime, in particular his role as chief architect and executioner of Hitler’s genocidal “final solution” (Endlosung) for the “Jewish problem.” Her characterization of these actions, so obscene in their nature and consequences, as “banal” is not meant to position them as workaday. Rather it is meant to contest the prevalent depictions of the Nazi’s inexplicable atrocities as having emanated from a malevolent will to do evil, a delight in murder. As far as Arendt could discern, Eichmann came to his willing involvement with the program of genocide through a failure or absence of the faculties of sound thinking and judgement. From Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem (where he had been brought after Israeli agents found him in hiding in Argentina), Arendt concluded that far from exhibiting a malevolent hatred of Jews which could have accounted psychologically for his participation in the Holocaust, Eichmann was an utterly innocuous individual. He operated unthinkingly, following orders, efficiently carrying them out, with no consideration of their effects upon those he targeted. The human dimension of these activities were not entertained, so the extermination of the Jews became indistinguishable from any other bureaucratically assigned and discharged responsibility for Eichmann and his cohorts.

Arendt concluded that Eichmann was constitutively incapable of exercising the kind of judgement that would have made his victims’ suffering real or apparent for him. It was not the presence of hatred that enabled Eichmann to perpetrate the genocide, but the absence of the imaginative capacities that would have made the human and moral dimensions of his activities tangible for him. Eichmann failed to exercise his capacity of thinking, of having an internal dialogue with himself, which would have permitted self-awareness of the evil nature of his deeds. This amounted to a failure to use self-reflection as a basis forjudgement, the faculty that would have required Eichmann to exercise his imagination so as to contemplate the nature of his deeds from the experiential standpoint of his victims. This connection between the complicity with political evil and the failure of thinking and judgement inspired the last phase of Arendt’s work, which sought to explicate the nature of these faculties and their constitutive role for politically and morally responsible choices.

via http://www.iep.utm.edu/arendt/#H6

You can read about each defendant, charges and sentence at:
The Nuremberg Trials:  
Brief Overview of Defendants & Verdicts by Ben S. Austin,
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/verdicts.html

The Documentation
T
wenty-four major political and military leaders of Nazi Germany, indicted for aggressive war, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, were brought to trial before the International Military Tribunal. More than 100 additional defendants, representing many sectors of German society, were tried before the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals in a series of 12 trials known as “Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings.” The four major publications linked below contain: the official proceedings of the trial of the major war criminals (The Blue Series), documentary evidence and guide materials from that trial (The Red Series), the official condensed record of the subsequent trials (The Green Series), and a final report on all the war crimes trials held in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1945 to 1949

See the referenced docs at the source:
Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/Nuremberg_trials.html

References   [ + ]

1.  Title: “Second Day, Wednesday, 11/21/1945, Part 04″, in Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal. Volume II. Proceedings: 11/14/1945-11/30/1945. [Official text in the English language.] Nuremberg: IMT, 1947. pp. 98-102.
2, 4, 5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_trials
3. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/nurembergACCOUNT.html

The Banality of Evil was originally published on It Matters

The question of the mass settlement of Jews in Palestine, 1945

November 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Is it ever really about people?

For me?  Yes.  This is a sensitive topic that I hesitate to post about.  This is a personal perspective of an event in history, not a statement of sympathy for one group over another.  That is reserved for face to face conversations.  Not a blog.

I am curious, but not well-informed, about the politics governing the Jewish migration to Palestine after WWII.  We know that European Jewish communities needed a safe haven of some sort after the murderous brutality they suffered during WWII, and the economic repercussions from the decimation of  personal property.

A Jewish home would seem the only sliver of light possible in the context of The Holocaust.  Return to their historic homeland.  A plan with great appeal.  But very disturbing in that the region had long been occupied, and not only by Jews.  Unnerving to consider the mass immigration of these Jews into a primarily Arab occupied land by displacing the local populations with Jewish settlements.

I have mixed, troubled, thoughts about the resulting Israel-Arab-Palestine conflicts, favoring and criticizing each side on different issues. I have thought that the politics of the US support of Israel has been to maintain an ally in a hostile region, for oil.  So when I read the beginning of the article I found it comforting.  Less political, more human.

Until I reached the final segments of this article, and got very burned out.  And thought, “Is it ever really about people?”


On this day [11nov] in 1945, President Harry Truman announces the establishment of a panel of inquiry to look into the settlement of Jews in Palestine.

In the last weeks of World War II, the Allies liberated one death camp after another in which the German Nazi regime had held and slaughtered millions of Jews. Surviving Jews in the formerly Nazi-occupied territories were left without family, homes, jobs or savings.

In August 1945, Truman received the Harrison report, which detailed the plight of Jews in post-war Germany, and it became clear to him that something had to be done to speed up the process of finding Jewish refugees a safe place to live.

In late August, Truman contacted British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to propose that Jewish refugees be allowed to immigrate to Palestine, which at the time was occupied by Britain. Attlee responded that he would look into the matter and asked for a joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to examine the complicated issue of integrating Jewish settlers into territory that was home to an Arab majority. Meanwhile, two U.S. senators introduced a resolution in Congress demanding the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

In April 1946, the committee issued its report, which recommended the immigration of 100,000 Jewish refugees to Palestine. Truman wrote to Attlee for his help in moving the repatriation process forward. However, by mid-1946, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had weighed in, bringing up the question of who would control the lucrative oil fields in a region that had the potential for unstable political and cultural relations between Jews and Arabs. Since the threat of communist expansion into politically unstable regions then dictated most of U.S. foreign policy, Truman and Attlee became convinced by their respective military advisors that Jewish communist sympathizers in a new Jewish state might jeopardize the west’s access to Middle Eastern oil. The settlement plans were put on hold.

Truman was again inundated with requests for help from the Jewish community. The issue of the establishment of a Jewish state was debated and delayed for another two years even though the newly formed United Nations, which had no enforcement power without the participation of the United States and Great Britain, had decided in favor of a Jewish state by 1946.

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/truman-announces-inquiry-into-jewish-settlement-in-palestine

Photos from http://www.photographium.com/

Note:  If I have disturbed or offended you, I apologize for that.  This is not intended to be inflammatory or controversial.  It is something that I stopped to think about because of its impact on so many people and the world.

Gojira

November 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

“Godzilla does not feel emotion…Godzilla is emotion”

I imagine that you find this ridiculous.  Far from it.  This documentary from the BBC begins with the birth of the Godzilla phenomenon as an embodiment of the collective  anxiety, helplessness and rage of the Japanese people after WWII.  As they fell prey to the American atomic program in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the subsequent atomic tests in the Pacific rim.   Japanese adults and older, speaking with quiet gravitas about Godzilla.   It is an important piece of history from a bizarre perspective, and culturally quite significant.

You may, like I did, already know all that about Godzilla.  It is different, and profound, to hear it  from these people.

 

the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens

October 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

…the greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone… Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter. – Bill Mollison

Australian biologist/permaculture pioneer Bill Mollison.

What a potent set of points addressing two major global issues. I think it far more effective and interesting when people present solutions when criticising.

Geography Lessons

September 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

This is neither “anti-American” nor snobbery.  It’s simply true.  We live so far removed from other countries and across an ocean from almost all of them.

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography”  - Mark Twain

Ferguson Missouri 2014 mapping tragedy

August 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Bloomberg Businessweek

What does a map have to do with a riot? Everything, in the case of Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot dead a black teenager, some residents looted and rioted, and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

453803670-police-officers-arrest-a-demonstrator-on-august-18-2014.jpg.CROP.rtstoryvar-large
See video to understand St. Louis and Ferguson from a more tangible perspective:
 http://www.bloomberg.com/video/st-louis-urban-decay-ferguson-protests-89prJxAyT~GcxIusttJicA.html

The crazy quilt that is St. Louis County government helps explain why violence broke out in Ferguson, of all the places in the country for a riot. It’s not because Ferguson is desperately poor; it’s lower-middle-income, with a healthy business district and a range of big, close-by employers.

It’s also not because civic leaders have turned their backs on Ferguson’s black population. John Gaskin III, a spokesman for the St. Louis County NAACP, is no pushover. He calls Missouri “the most racist state in the country.”  But he praises the leadership of key business leaders.

Fragmentation is the key.

The problem, rather, is that St. Louis is locked into a pattern of inequitable development, as shown in a remarkable series of maps that Iowa’s Gordon has posted on the Web.

“The Gateway City [St. Louis] is,” he writes, “by any measure, one of the most depopulated, deindustrialized, and deeply segregated examples of American urban decay.”

(Click here for a Bloomberg TV interview with Gordon and here for a series of maps showing the area’s population shift.) Fragmentation “is not the principal cause, but it certainly fed into what’s happening in Ferguson,” says Robert Cohn, author of The History and Growth of St. Louis County, Missouri.

Dating as far back as the 19th century, communities set themselves up as municipalities to capture control of tax revenue from local businesses, to avoid paying taxes to support poorer neighbors, or to exclude blacks. Their behavior has ranged from somewhat parochial to flatly illegal.

Ferguson is comparatively populous at about 21,000 people. Many of St. Louis County’s postage-stamp municipalities have fewer than 1,000 people. Champ may be the smallness champ, with a 2010 population of 13, all white

The result of fragmentation today is a county whose small towns are highly stratified by both race and income. As blacks move into a town, whites move out. The tax base shrinks, and blacks feel cheated that the amenities they came for quickly disappear, says Clarence Lang, a University of Kansas historian who has studied St. Louis. Ferguson flipped from majority white to majority black so quickly that the complexion of the government and police force doesn’t match that of the population. That mismatch was a key factor in the tense race relations that contributed to the riots and, perhaps, the shooting itself.

Taken from

The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord by Peter Coy:
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-15/how-st-dot-louis-countys-map-explains-fergusons-racial-discord

It is best to read the article for a more complete view.  It’s not long.

Today’s Term:  “White Flight”  Blacks move into town, and whites move out.  A term I heard growing up in Illinois, near St. Louis.  It defines St. Louis as a whole much more than I had ever known.

 

 

Ferguson Missouri 2014 mapping tragedy was originally published on It Matters

Ferguson Missouri 2014 mapping tragedy

August 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Bloomberg Businessweek

What does a map have to do with a riot? Everything, in the case of Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot dead a black teenager, some residents looted and rioted, and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

453803670-police-officers-arrest-a-demonstrator-on-august-18-2014.jpg.CROP.rtstoryvar-large
See video to understand St. Louis and Ferguson from a more tangible perspective:
 http://www.bloomberg.com/video/st-louis-urban-decay-ferguson-protests-89prJxAyT~GcxIusttJicA.html

The crazy quilt that is St. Louis County government helps explain why violence broke out in Ferguson, of all the places in the country for a riot. It’s not because Ferguson is desperately poor; it’s lower-middle-income, with a healthy business district and a range of big, close-by employers.

It’s also not because civic leaders have turned their backs on Ferguson’s black population. John Gaskin III, a spokesman for the St. Louis County NAACP, is no pushover. He calls Missouri “the most racist state in the country.”  But he praises the leadership of key business leaders.

Fragmentation is the key.

The problem, rather, is that St. Louis is locked into a pattern of inequitable development, as shown in a remarkable series of maps that Iowa’s Gordon has posted on the Web.

“The Gateway City [St. Louis] is,” he writes, “by any measure, one of the most depopulated, deindustrialized, and deeply segregated examples of American urban decay.”

(Click here for a Bloomberg TV interview with Gordon and here for a series of maps showing the area’s population shift.) Fragmentation “is not the principal cause, but it certainly fed into what’s happening in Ferguson,” says Robert Cohn, author of The History and Growth of St. Louis County, Missouri.

Dating as far back as the 19th century, communities set themselves up as municipalities to capture control of tax revenue from local businesses, to avoid paying taxes to support poorer neighbors, or to exclude blacks. Their behavior has ranged from somewhat parochial to flatly illegal.

Ferguson is comparatively populous at about 21,000 people. Many of St. Louis County’s postage-stamp municipalities have fewer than 1,000 people. Champ may be the smallness champ, with a 2010 population of 13, all white

The result of fragmentation today is a county whose small towns are highly stratified by both race and income. As blacks move into a town, whites move out. The tax base shrinks, and blacks feel cheated that the amenities they came for quickly disappear, says Clarence Lang, a University of Kansas historian who has studied St. Louis. Ferguson flipped from majority white to majority black so quickly that the complexion of the government and police force doesn’t match that of the population. That mismatch was a key factor in the tense race relations that contributed to the riots and, perhaps, the shooting itself.

Taken from

The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord by Peter Coy:
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-15/how-st-dot-louis-countys-map-explains-fergusons-racial-discord

It is best to read the article for a more complete view.  It’s not long.

Today’s Term:  “White Flight”  Blacks move into town, and whites move out.  A term I heard growing up in Illinois, near St. Louis.  It defines St. Louis as a whole much more than I had ever known.

 

 

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