Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Two thousand US deaths in Iraq evoke a violation of Godwin's Law*

I was at a meeting tonight about the need for a movement for universal health care in this country. Many good and useful things were said; information and inspiration was taken.

Finally people broke up in small groups and began chewing over stories. Eventually someone said it: "I'm still not over the last election. Sometimes I just think something is wrong with the people of this country . . . I can sort of understand how they could elect [sic] Bush the first time, but to do it again…" Yes, I've heard that before, a lot.

I came home to read that the 2000th US death has happened in Iraq. Quite literally, only God knows how many Iraqis have been killed in the plague of death our country has released there.

How indeed can the people of the US continue our silent complicity in this crime? This week I am looking for answers in Milton Mayer's classic 1955 study They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45. A US Jew who had worked with Quakers, Mayer really wanted to know what made very ordinary men tick under the Nazi regime. (This was not a time that much noted women.) He packed up his family and lived for a year in a small German town, getting to know ten self-identified former Nazi "little men." The book is their story.

Here is a passage from Mayer that speaks chillingly about why those Nazis clung to their leader:

None of my ten friends, even today, ascribes moral evil to Hitler, although most of them think (after the fact) that he made fatal strategic mistakes which even they themselves might have made at the time….

Having fixed our faith in a father-figure … we must keep it fixed until inexcusable fault (and what fault of a father…is inexcusable?) crushes it at once and completely. This figure represents our own best selves; it is what we ourselves want to be and, through identification, are. To abandon it for anything less than crushing evidence of inexcusable fault is self-incrimination, and of one's best, unrealized self. Thus Hitler was betrayed by his subordinates and the little Nazis with him. They may hate Bormann and Goebbels .… They may hate Himmler…. But they may not hate Hitler or themselves.

As the Iraq war claims the 2000th US death and we sit on the edge of indictments of Bush's subordinates for actions they took to defend their criminal war, we can only hope that a majority of the people of this country do not feel the need to cling to the faulty father-figure they've made.

*Godwin's Law is an internet convention ruling out further discussion when someone brings up Hitler. Wikipedia.

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

Dean Blobaum from the University of Chicago Press wrote by email: I noticed your blog post on Milton Mayer's book They Thought They Were Freewhich we published. Your readers might also be interested in the excerpt from the book that we recently added to our website here.

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