New York Times 1992 Book Review of The Men Who Pulled the Triggers   ◆

The phrase “Ordinary Americans” in the aforelinked piece struck me as familiar, in the context of the Holocaust.

A brief search suggested why: a book titled Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.

Walter Reich wrote in a 1992 New York Times Book Review:

We know a lot about how the Germans carried out the Holocaust. We know much less about how they felt and what they thought as they did it, how they were affected by what they did, and what made it possible for them to do it. In fact, we know remarkably little about the ordinary Germans who made the Holocaust happen — not the desk murderers in Berlin, not the Eichmanns and Heydrichs, and not Hitler and Himmler, but the tens of thousands of conscripted soldiers and policemen from all walks of life, many of them middle-aged, who rounded up millions of Jews and methodically shot them, one by one, in forests, ravines and ditches, or stuffed them, one by one, into cattle cars and guarded those cars on their way to the gas chambers.

We’re no where near rounding up millions of anyone and killing them, but this is incremental. Again, from the review:

The Jews were presented not only as evil and dangerous but also, in some way, as responsible for the bombing deaths of German women and children. Another factor was the process of dehumanization: abetted by Nazi racial theories that were embraced by policemen who preferred not to see themselves as killers, Jews were seen as less than people, as creatures who could be killed without the qualms that would be provoked in them were they to kill fellow Germans or even Slavs.

Evil and dangerous. Responsible for deaths. Dehumanization. Less than.

Sound familiar?

From the review, one more time:

CLEARLY, ordinary human beings are capable of following orders of the most terrible kinds. What stands between civilization and genocide is the respect for the rights and lives of all human beings that societies must struggle to protect. Nazi Germany provided the context, ideological as well as psychological, that allowed the policemen’s actions to happen. Only political systems that recognize the worst possibilities in human nature, but that fashion societies that reward the best, can guard the lives and dignity of all their citizens.

Ordinary Americans, whether in positions of authority or not, must recognize their role in how other human beings are treated.

Handcuffing a five-year-old child or a 65-year-old woman, or denying people food and bathrooms, does not protect this country. It only dehumanizes us all.