24 August 2012

Atrocity by Policy

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning, 1993, Excerpts

Atrocity by Violence
Soldiers who are inured to violence, numbed to the taking of human life, embittered over their own casualties, and frustrated by the tenacity of an insidious and seemingly inhuman enemy sometimes explode to have their revenge at the first opportunity. Atrocities of this kind do not represent official government policy. Despite the hate-filled propaganda of each nation, such atrocities still represent a breakdown in discipline and the chain of command. They are not “standard operating procedure.”

War, and especially race war, leads to brutalization, which leads to atrocity. When deeply embedded negative racial stereotypes are added to the brutalization inherent in sending armed men to kill one another on a massive scale, the fragile tissue of war conventions and rules of combat is even more frequently and viciously broken on all sides.

Atrocity by Policy
Atrocity fully expressing official government policy is decidedly “standard operating procedure.” These are not the spontaneous explosions or cruel revenge of brutalized men, but the methodically executed policies of government. War is the most conducive environment in which governments can adopt “atrocity by policy” and encounter few difficulties in implementing it.

Both kinds of atrocity occur in the brutalizing context of war, but the men who carry out “atrocity by policy” are in a different state of mind. They act not out of frenzy, bitterness, and frustration but with calculation. The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, in implementing the systematic Nazi policy of exterminating European Jewry, belong to the “atrocity by policy” category. The men of the battalion had not seen battle or encountered a deadly enemy. Most of them had not fired a shot in anger or ever been fired on, much less lost comrades fighting at their side. Distancing, not frenzy and brutalization, is key to the behavior of Reserve Police Battalion 101. War and negative racial stereotypes were two mutually reinforcing factors in this distancing.

Reserve Police Battalion 101

House of Dolls by Ka-tzetnik 135633, 1955, Excerpts

It may very well be that at home Hentschel has a wife and children; it is possible that he is careful to go to church every Sunday; perhaps in the circle of his family, relatives, friends, Hentschel is known as a meek, modest person; is first to say “hello” to everyone, gets up for a lady on the streetcar. It may be that until war broke out Hentshcel was employed as a competent, reliable clerk in a construction company, and every morning, at exactly the same time, his wife prepared him a ham sandwich for brunch; and every morning, at exactly the same time, he gave her a good-by peck on the brow before leaving for work. But here, in Camp Labor Via Joy, Hentschel swims day in, day out in a sea of blood, in an inferno of human misery for which no language in the world has the idiom.

When Hentschel flogged – and Hentshcel flogged to death – it was never discernable on his moon face whether he was doing it out of annoyance, or hatred, or for the sadistic fun of it. He was like a machine brought here to kill, and kill he does with exemplary precision. With those very hands he daily crushes young, quivering girlish lives.          

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