Monday, February 19, 2007

A Nation of Eichmanns: Revisting Hitler, Arendt, and Ward Churchill

A new book, "Hitler's Beneficiaries", by German scholar Gotz Aly, argues that part of the popularity and stability of the Nazi government was that it provided generous benefits for its ordinary middle and lower middle class non-Jewish citizens. However, it was able to do this with the wealth stolen from Jews throughout Europe. Perhaps most Germans didn't realize from where their new homes, clothes, food, and personal items were coming. Perhaps they did. Aly's book raises more questions about the moral culpability of ordinary, everyday people in the evils committed by their governments.

It reminds me also of Ward Churchill's argument after September 11, 2001--that perhaps we should examine the terrorist attacks on America as an instance of "blowback", of getting what you put out in the world. His controversial statement was that the people in the twin towers might be described as a set of "little Eichmanns"-- a technocratic corp of people, making a living, doing their jobs, but at the same time, helping to further an imperialist war machine that perpetuates injustice in most of the developing world.

How morally responsible were the ordinary non-Jewish German citizens for the Holocaust? How responsible are ordinary, everyday Americans for the troubles that lie at the heart of the "war on terrorism"? Do we benefit from 'stolen' wealth in a world driven by neoliberal globalization?



At 12:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the one hand, I want to say that Americans in general are of course very responsible for the war on terror and its consequences; we live in a "democracy" and we, um, elected Bush.

On the other hand, what are the consequences of making this claim? Without nuance, I think it condemns 300 million people as either being fundamentally immoral or having made one helluva moral mistake. At least the former can't be right (can it?), so what's going on here? How do we accept/claim responsibility without entering into a world wracked with tremendous & paralyzing amounts of moral guilt? If we're responsible, are we not also guilty?

For me, a more interesting question: Given the state of American government - something of a globalized corporatocracy that's responsive only to large amounts of money and/or power - are we responsible for its actions at all anymore? It's not like the government is representative of the average person anyway.

- Dennis


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