The real bastards.
I want to tell you the story of a couple of things that happened in the not too distant past, because they obviously need to be told again, if only to serve as a warning from history. They’re forgotten stories nowadays, possibly because they’re not very pleasant ones, but they did happen.
The philosophical basis for the Nazi movement in Germany, was an unholy union of several things; the pseudo-science of Eugenics, a deliberately perverted understanding of evolution and the romantic ideal of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch or superman, as interpreted by Adolph Hitler in his book Mein Kampf or My Struggle. The idea that to be a German, was to be a member of the Aryan master race destined to conquer and rule over all other inferior races, was successfully grafted onto the public psyche. Essentially, it was that tired old idea of telling someone over and over that they’re very very special. They’ll love you for that, and what’s more important, they’ll do exactly as you want them to do.
Since it was the establishment line, with a lot of authoritative scientific studies and papers backing it up, it became the background, the environment, the day-to-dayness in which most ordinary Germans lived, especially the young.
The one problem with this wonderful self-image of themselves as some sort of super race, was that Germany had exactly the same percentage of people who suffered mental retardation, physical deformity and congenital abnormalities, as every other country. The powers that be, decided to get rid of them, but discreetly. A lot of people played their part in it. The mentally ill or congenitally deformed were identified by their own local doctors or doctors in charge of care institutions. This was done by ticking various boxes on a form after each patient’s examination. The forms eventually found their way to the people handling the problem.
Dependent on which boxes were ticked, the patient’s name got added to a list or not. The actual murder was done in various ways but the most common was to send an enclosed lorry on a round to collect them up in groups. When the lorry was full, it was driven to a spot, where a mass burial pit had already been dug and the lorry backed up to the edge of it.
Then, a hose pipe connected to the exhaust, was fed into the interior of the back of the lorry and the engine left running for the required amount of time. Just run the engine for a bit, let the exhaust fumes do their work and hey presto, job done. A bit of humping and heaving of the bodies into the mass grave, fill it back in with the earth and it’s all over.
Conservative estimates of the number murdered, put the figure at about 70,000 people, mainly children and young people, but the true number is almost certainly a lot higher. You see, they all covered their tracks too well. The doctors weren’t obliged to keep a copy of the forms they ticked and they were clever enough not to do so, the deaths were always officially recorded as being from things like pneumonia, all the bodies were supposedly cremated and all queries by anxious families were strongly discouraged. To this day, some of those families still want to find out exactly what happened to a loved one or at least the location of a burial place, where they might leave some flowers in remembrance.
For the next story, we have to move to Russia. The Soviet Union, like all totalitarian states, always had a problem with political opponents and dissidents, the subtle distinction between the two being that the former simply hated Communism, while the latter just had vehement policy disagreements on exactly how the coming worker’s Utopia was to be achieved. The classic solution for either of them, was a decade or two, safely out of the way in a Siberian work camp .
In the 70s and 80s, this solution became a propaganda liability, because too many of the prominent dissidents already had a high-profile in the West. A quieter and more publically defensible solution, had to be found. The political theorists of the party, came up with an answer. Given that the state was so all-powerful, then any one individual who thought they could oppose the will of the state, just had to be insane or at least unstable. Unlikely as it may sound, scientific papers and psychological studies of dissidents confirmed this essentially political conjecture.
The dissidents were forcibly examined by state psychologists and started disappearing into lunatic asylums, safely out of sight and any possible contact with the outside world. A few of the notables they did this to, included the writer Yuli Daniel, the biologist Zhores Medvedev, the physicist Andrei Sakharov and the biologist Vladimir Bukovsky but there were a lot of ordinary people confined to asylums as well. Not very surprisingly, after a few years of nothing for company but the severely mentally ill and a regime of massive drug over-medication, a lot of them developed mental problems, some of them chronic.
Various commissions have looked at how widespread this abuse of psychiatry was, but nobody has any real idea of how large the numbers were. Certainly, the notable dissidents have all been accounted for but as for the rest, who knows? A sad problem also came to light. Nobody knew how many current residents of long-term institutions had gone in healthy but had now become clinically insane. They freed all those who could still function in the outside world but as for the rest, beyond some real humanitarian care for them, there wasn’t much that could be done for them. Some of them are probably still there now.
This is real history, real facts, it all actually happened and it all happened to ordinary human beings, such as you and I. It’s history, but it’s not the history that’s taught in schools, and it’s exactly the sort of history that should be. The teaching of history as a subject has gone from drumming into pupils an endless succession of boring dates, to the exclusive upward view of the world from downtrodden and exploited peasants, neither of which is actually teaching history, but that’s a debate for another day.
It would be just so easy and comfortable to say only Germans or Russians could do things like that, but that would be just another racist lie. I could just as easily have picked similar stories from any other country. There is a famous experiment done by the psychologist Stanley Milgram in the early 60s. It consisted of three people; a researcher and two volunteers. The volunteers were told that it was research into learning and how it might be improved by mild pain. One of the volunteers would be the teacher and the other one the learner. The learner was placed in different room from the researcher and teacher but they could still communicate by intercom.
The learner had to memorise and repeat back some material to the teacher. If the learner made a mistake, then the teacher was to administer an electric shock to them. If the learner continued to make mistakes, then the voltage was to be gradually increased. The teacher could hear the resultant screams by the learner over the intercom. The scale of the device delivering the shocks was clearly marked with what voltages were dangerous but the teacher, under nothing more than verbal prodding by the researcher, continued to shock the learner, even in some cases, when they started complaining about heart problems.
The reality of the experiment, was that it wasn’t about learning at all, but about just how far an ordinary person could be pushed to hurt another human being. The learner was an actor and no shocks were actually being delivered. The biggest shock was to Milgram and his colleagues. Roughly 65% of the teachers were eventually browbeaten into delivering what they could clearly see was the maximum 450 Volt shock to the learner. That voltage is well into the lethal zone. The Milgram experiment has been repeated all over the world, with substantially similar results. There’s a lot of stuff to think about from that experiment but the truly terrifying implication, is that it doesn’t take much to induce the ordinary person to do terrible things. All it needed was one authority figure in a white lab coat, pushing them on.
It’s not a nice thought, but the sad reality is that the ordinary people of any nation are capable of doing things like that, just as long as they’ve been gradually and carefully conditioned beforehand.
Why am I telling these stories? Well, apart from the basic brutality, they share a common denominator. All these crimes against humanity were facilitated and made possible, because of the cooperation of the more educated and professional segments of the populace. The authority figures. They helpfully produced studies and research on minorities, which the state was determined to eliminate.
Because I am a climate realist, a skeptic, a denier, I am a minority. I see so-called papers, studies and other pseudo-psychological material being produced to explain away what is basically a fundamental political difference in my viewpoint from the establishment’s. I see some notable bloggers discussing such papers and what I find indecent and appalling, is the complete lack of moral condemnation. Who cares what number of people the study was conducted on. Who cares how the research was slanted. Who cares if they used an inappropriate statistical method. Haven’t we learned anything from history? Isn’t it obvious the direction that it’s trying to head in?
Do I think we’re heading into a situation like those German handicapped or those Russian dissidents? No, not in the current political climate but three or so years back, we started moving perilously close to the start of that path to hell.
When I look back on the integrity and the raw, naked, lonely courage and fortitude of scientists like Medvedev, Sakharov and Bukovsky, I consider the people producing these “scientific” studies, as something lower than filth.
Who’s to blame for those mass graves, entombing all those little bones? Who’s to blame for all those shattered minds? In a basic moral sense, where does the blame belong?
Was it Obergefreiter Willie Schmidt and his mate, who started the engine and went away for a smoke, just far enough away not be able to hear the banging from inside or the screams? Was it Ivan Ivanevich Ivanov, who dutifully turned up every day, held the inmates down when they resisted getting those injections and made damn sure that they couldn’t escape? Sure, not great examples of humanity but to my mind, while they and others did the actual deeds, the root cause of the blame doesn’t lay with them.
Perhaps it was all those trusted family doctors, who kept on ticking those boxes, long after they noticed that some of their more difficult patients were disappearing, never to be heard of again? Perhaps it was all those psychologists, consigning those brave and eminently sane people into institutions for the mentally ill? Well, yes, a bigger share of the blame must be borne by them, because at some point, they must have known they were doing real harm to people, when the whole point of both of their professions was to cure or at least help people. Whatever happened to first do no harm?
But No. The real moral blame lies elsewhere. It’s the people at the very head of the chain, the very ones who should have known better. The authoritative highly educated and very respected ones, who produced those learned papers and dissertations. Because a human being had a lower intelligence than normal or crippling disabilities, they were a burden on society and could therefore be considered somehow disposable. They were a chance pollution of racial purity, a problem which had to be addressed. In the eugenicist parlance of the time, a simple matter of racial hygiene. Because someone disagreed with the state’s political viewpoint, they had to be insane, so it was okay to not only take away their liberty but their sanity as well.
All those erudite people and their studies, research and papers, lent a spurious legitimacy and authority to the whole thing and having laid that essential groundwork, facilitated what inevitably followed. They all got away with it too. Every last one of them.
They were the real bastards.
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