|A man wakes up one morning.
He gets out of bed and walks to his bathroom, past his degrees in
Philosophy and Medicine hanging on the wall. He shaves, bathes, and gets
ready for work. The man dresses elegantly in shiny black boots, neatly
pressed trousers, a stately jacket, and white cotton gloves. He smiles
in the mirror, with every hair on his head in place. He goes to work,
whistling on the way. When he arrives he continues to whistle as he
arbitrarily selects from masses of exhausted and starving prisoners
those that will live and those who will die in the gas chambers. Today
we know this man as Dr. Josef Mengele. He is known as one of the most
cold–blooded killers in world history. But questions remain unanswered
as little else about this man is known. How did a scientist, a
individual supposedly dedicated [to] the progression of humankind,
evolve into a brutal murderer whose medical experiments claimed the
lives of thousands? Even more shockingly, how could so many throughout
the world stand by while their brethren were systematically eliminated
in the atrocity we now name, in perfect hindsight, the Holocaust? Only
when we understand the past can we insure the safety of our future and
answer the question, how can we prevent this tragedy from happening
In examining the Holocaust we can look to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. The morality Nietzsche advocated was nihilism, the belief that moral responsibility ought to be disregarded. According to Nietzsche, the powerful did not have any obligation to refrain from preying on the weak. The powerful Nazi thugs, also known as the SS, preyed on those weaker than they, which included children and the crippled. Only in a nihilistic society can ordinary human beings willfully commit such heinous acts as the Nazis. Only in a nihilistic society, free of binding moral responsibility, can doctors, the people that devote their careers to the health of their fellow people, commit such atrocious deeds, as did Karl Brandt, Siegried Handloser, Paul Rostock, Oskar Schroeder, and Josef Mengele. It can be seen that men like these must have taken the basic principles of morality that hold civilization together and replaced them with their own rationalizations and need for self–protection. Robert Jay Lifton, author of the book, The Nazi Doctors suggests a psychological concept called "doubling" as an explanation of how the Nazi doctors could bring themselves to commit such monstrous actions. Doubling involves five aspects. First there is a "dialectic between two selves in terms of autonomy and connection." In this aspect, the Nazi doctor needed his Auschwitz state of mind to function psychologically to perform in an atmosphere that completely contradicted his previous ethical standards. Next, according to Lifton, "doubling follows a holistic principle." The Auschwitz state of mind was in a sense the victor because it was consistent with the entire Auschwitz environment. Then, Lifton discusses the third aspect of doubling; in the Auschwitz environment, the doctor perceived the Auschwitz state of mind as a means for survival. The fourth aspect of doubling as Lifton discusses, is the avoidance of guilt. The final aspect of doubling involves both an unconscious dimension and a significant change in moral consciousness. This psychological theory of doubling can explain how nihilistically, Nazi doctors rejected basic human decency and murdered so many people.
As the Nazi regime of Germany followed Nietzsche’s favored "noble morality" or nihilism, it seems as though the German citizens themselves followed the "slave morality" which Nietzsche denounced. Slave morality is based upon values taught to people as they grow up. According to Nietzsche, these values are unfounded and "To admit a belief merely because it is a custom – but that means to be dishonest, cowardly, lazy!" The anti–Semitic beliefs that had been rooted in Germany took custom in Germany because of popular opinion. The propaganda of Adolf Hitler captivated the masses and created a population of uniform beliefs where people consented to Nazi actions. The German public became a slave to Hitler’s regime as Nazi actions went unquestioned. This slavery was only possible because of the population’s belief that they did not own moral responsibility for the actions of Nazi Germany.
The final question unanswered is how can we prevent such a tragedy as the holocaust from happening again? The holocaust went on for so long because the German public had no qualms about it due to the environment under which they lived. John Locke in his Essay on Human Understanding theorized "tabula rasa," or "blank slate." He believed that all people are born neither good nor evil and that human nature is dependent on the environment each individual encounters. This can be seen in the life of Josef Mengele. When he first entered Munich University, Mengele was apolitical. In the 1930’s, Hitler used Munich as his primary stage from which his hateful and nationalistic ideology gripped the nation and had them dreaming about a German Super Race. After Mengele left Munich University he was one of the most fervent believers in Nazi creed. To prevent anything like the holocaust from ever happening again, we must make the earth into an environment where hatred and intolerance do not go accepted. In 1925, long before he came to power, Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf, in which he outlined his plans of terror for the world. This book is a testament to the blindness of the world as it possessed phrases like, "The end is not only the end of the freedom of the peoples oppressed by the Jew, but also the end of this parasite upon the nations. After the death of his victim, the vampire sooner or later dies too." The world cannot be so blind as to let such propaganda go uncontested. People must not become slaves to the ideals of the majority. Tolerance, rather than hate must be propagated. Only when a moral environment is created, will there be a world where the Holocaust can never happen.
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