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SS shot by US Army at Dachau  


Author: Alan Jacobs

May 14, 2000

List Editor: Richard S Levy <rslevy@uic.edu>


List Editor: Jim Mott

From: Alan Jacobs e-mail editor@ideajournal.com

IF memory serves, despite the demands of ego, this thread got started when I responded to what I thought was an excessive demonization of the Nazis, thus setting up an us and THEM dichotomy. The Dachau example was used to emphasize the idea that we too (the Allies) were guilty of terrible acts. Perhaps we committed even a form of genocide, albeit of a milder and lesser degree than the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews. It was one example of several, including the incendiary raids on Dresden and Tokyo, and of course the two big bombs dropped on civilian populations.

I have been reading Dr. Joanna Bourkes An Intimate History of Killing: Face to Face Killing in 20th Century Warfare. I recommend it to anyone interested in this subject. Exhaustively researched and thorough in its scope and detail, it demonstrates the universal transformation of ordinary men [sic] into killing machines. From the cover notes: "...Bourke shows how men and women, just like us can become capable of grotesque acts of violence."

Professor and talk show host Milton Rosenberg's reservations and cautionary note about Banks, Haney, and Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiments are well taken. But in the context of the original points, de-emphasize the idea that we are, I think, all capable of either committing acts of extreme cruelty, or supporting them by doing nothing in their presence. The Milgram experiments were replicated many times. They are not the final word to be sure, but they do indicate that it was not simply the bad guys who do bad things. Many of the subjects in these experiments would under ordinary circumstances, never intentionally harm anyone, much less give them potentially lethal electric shocks, or brutalize them as prisoners. But given certain conditions... these tendencies were/are not far below the surface even if repressed or denied. Please excuse the psychology... I can't help myself.

This very rich and interesting thread has reinforced my view that their are two basic positions regarding the Holocaust and other genocides. The conservative position is that the Holocaust is unique and may in fact be the only true genocide, with the possible exception of the Roma. The other position, call it liberal I suppose, includes other massacres as genocides e.g. Rwanda, Burundi, East Timor, South Africa, Soviet Russia, Mao's Cultural Revolution, the genocide of the Native Americans, etc. What about Charney's research showing that a surprising number of Israeli graduate students in his study opted for euthanasia? There are plenty of other examples from this century and throughout history. How do we justify Jerico? Because it was God's Will? Because they were evil? I seem to have heard this rational before.

I suppose the conservative position is that if we accept these other examples as genocide, then we dilute, trivialize the Holocaust and therefore pave the way for another. Therefore we must keep it special in memory. However this memory had not prevented other genocides, or if you prefer, mass killing, to the tune of 50,000,000 since the end of WW II. So if people are capable of killing others on this massive a scale, why not Jews again? If you accept the theory that we become desensitized to killing on an individual level through mass media etc, then is it not so that knowledge of other mass killings desensitizes on this level as well? And what are we to do about Rummel's democide? Kudos to Charney prominently emphasizing Rummel's ideas in The Encyclopedia of Genocide.

Dachau liberated by US troops

It doesn't make a twit of difference whether the SS guards killed at Dachau were long time, or new. The point is that American boys lined 'em up and blasted them and, I might add, would have done the same, with pleasure. I used this example, and the supportive USHMM archival photo to support my thesis. Would I have done it, enjoyed it, reveled in it? Damn straight. I am certain I would have. Am I universalizing the Holocaust in order to ameliorate my own murderous urges? I hope not.

I realize that this is a list for historians, but in this case historicity seems to have superceded the major point. We are, all of us, capable of killing. Bystanding amounts to the same thing. I believe this is absolutely essential to prevention.


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Picture added by this website from our Dachau dossier

By the same writer: Has anyone here ever had occasion to deal with Elie Wiesel's agent? Do you have any idea what kinds of fees are charged by Wiesel for speaking engagements?

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