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Knotmyday's avatar

Nazi Germany was composed, by and large, of "regular people." Moms, Dads, families. How do "regular people" reconcile themselves to bigotry and atrocity?

Asked by Knotmyday (7488points) June 27th, 2008

Even the soldiers that manned the concentration camps had wives and children. Yet- they dispassionately engaged in wholesale degredation and slaughter. How? WHY?

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14 Answers

arnbev959's avatar

Regular people work in U.S. slaughterhouses too.

ebenezer's avatar

fear and group mentality

iwamoto's avatar

well, what about the family’s of those guantanamo bay “criminals” ?

my grandfather fought on the german side during the war, not because he wanted to, he had to, almost lost his arm in russia , he has never been proud of what he did, he was 17 at the time

i’m not really sure what my grandmother did during the war, i guess she was one of the “regular people” yet that doesn’t mean she was proud of what of her country did or anything like that

i guess sometimes people get carried away by things, wasn’t it revealed recently that some american soldiers shot a dozen detainees ? we all have an urge inside to kill, and i guess that’s what soldiers did and will always do

whatthefluther's avatar

@iwamoto: we all have an urge inside to kill? I must get in better touch with my feelings and emotions because that one has escaped me in my 54 years.

marinelife's avatar

Hitler fed on people’s fears and insecurities to create the climate. The Germans then with Nazi encouragement dehumanized the Jews and their other victims. By saying they were not really “people,” they could disengage their normal instincts.

@iwamoto I disagree.

Harp's avatar

We extend our compassion selectively. When we feel secure and prosperous, it’s easy for us to look benevolently at our great big human family and want to give hugs all around. But man, as soon as things start to get scary or scarce, we’re locking our doors and buying guns.

The line between “us” and “them” is always being redrawn in our individual and societal psyches. In times of conflict, the line becomes a fortified barrier and those who fall on the “them” side of it loose any resemblance of kinship to those on the “us” side. When we loose sight of our commonalities with “them”, compassion is the first casualty.

The first goal of any skilled propagandist in wartime is to paint the “enemy” in the most alien terms possible. They become the “worst of the worst”, an existential threat to all that is good and true, undeserving of our compassion. It’s only when you can get a people to lay their compassion aside that you can lead them into all out war.

And then we’re astonished to see atrocities in our newspapers.

Randy's avatar

If you knew it was them or you, or worse, them or you and everyone you loved, what would you do?

gailcalled's avatar

This is a gargantuan question and impossible to answer here. How have dictators risen anywhere? Why are atrocities committed again and again. I am reading a novel called “Half a Yellow Sun,” which discusses what happened in Biafria when it tried to claim independence from Nigeria. Same horrible story, based on history, and simply a different cast of characters.

Harp gives a tight summation of a complicated abstraction. Bravo.

gailcalled's avatar

@Knot: reread the answers (most of which are thoughtful) to a similar question that you asked last week:

elchoopanebre's avatar

I read a quote once that said something along the lines of, “It is not the Hitlers and Stalins that we should be afraid of, it is the laypeople who do nothing and never stand up for what is right…because if the common man stood up for what is right, the Hitler’s and Stalin’s would never come into power.”

susanc's avatar

How do regular people reconcile themselves to anything?
Little by little.
Gotta keep paying attention.
Go Barack.

wildflower's avatar

Propaganda, Mass Hysteria and Cognitive Dissonance can change how regular people behave – quite a lot!

Knotmyday's avatar

@gail- I’m afraid you are overlooking the larger issue- personal accountability.

Blaming a dictator for personal actions is akin to a child on a playground pointing at another child and saying “He made me do it!”

The Allied soldiers who liberated concentration camps were of one accord in horror and shocked disbelief at the atrocity they discovered. Why, then, not the many, many perpetrators?

Great discussion of a toughy.

gailcalled's avatar

We had a question recently about what your burned body would smell like that many people here found cute or charming or worthy of a silly answer. The Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and other large groups that Hitler disliked might not find that question appropripriate. Yet few of us objected, altho being Jewish, it made me shudder.

The large numbers of the local populace living near the Death Camps knew what burning flesh smelled like, yet pretended it wasn’t happening, out of terror and self-protection.

The resistance fighters in all the occupied countries were heroic and defined the word “brave.” And some emotionally damaged people have sadistic tendencies. But most just cower and hope to get away unscathed.

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