Society's Influence on Morals

Topics: Human, Christopher Browning, Vietnam War Pages: 6 (1868 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Society's Influence on Morals

The atrocities of the Holocaust have prompted much inquiry by researchers to understand how humans can behave so cruelly toward their fellow man. Theories have been formed that cite the men of Battalion 101 as " exceptions" or men with "faulty personalities," when, in fact, they were ordinary men. The people who attempted to perform a genocide were the same people as you and me with the only difference being the environment in which they worked. The behavior of the men in Battalion 101 was not abnormal human behavior, rather, their actions are testament to the premise that when humans are exposed to certain environmental and psychological conditions, extreme brutality is highly apt to occur.

The members of the Police Battalion 101 had the same ideas and influences as the rest of the German citizens. Because of the racist teachings produced by the German government, the entire German society was uniform under the belief that they were the master race. The German were taught that anyone different from their own kind (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) needed to be removed from their society in order for it to prosper. The Police Battalion men shared the same beliefs as everyone else, but they had to perform the dirty work of killing approximately 83,000 Jews. Christopher Browning states in his book, Ordinary Men, that, "...the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, like most of the German society, was immersed in a deluge of racist and anti-Semitic propaganda" (Browning 184). Unless placed in the Battalion men's situation, one can not fathom how a population of people can so evilly turn against another.

People in every culture are susceptible to the ideas and beliefs brought upon them by propaganda. Whenever an idea is accepted as the ‘norm', people will find a way to justify it and follow it despite the evil implications it might entail. Humans have faced these situations throughout the last two centuries numerous times. For example, the American slave trading was totally acceptable to the southerners because the blacks were perceived to be lesser human beings. The slave owners did not mind controlling and abusing a slave like it was an animal since in their mind the slave was comparable to an animal. This was true in Germany with the only difference being that the Anti-Semitics thought the Jews should be eliminated. A more recent example would be the American's attitudes toward the Russians during the Cold War. Children were taught that the Russians were evil and while the Russian children were being taught the same ideas about the Americans. Propaganda was used by our government to make us believe that we were the good side while they were the bad side. Before anyone had time to sit back and think about the situation rationally, our entire society hated the Communists. The same situation applied for the German citizens except, their attitudes illustrated the effectiveness of propaganda even when it has the evilest of implications.

It must be understood that the men who transported or participated in the killings of 83,000 Jews were not selected as men who were thought to be capable of acting inhuman. They were ordinary men in their 30's and 40's who were too old to fight in the war but they were still capable of carrying out orders. Before the war, the men worked as businessmen, truck drivers, medical workers, and even teachers who came from middle to lower class backgrounds. It is difficult to imagine an individual, such as a teacher, who dedicated his life to the enhancement of a child's education and well-being, participated and tolerated the killing of thousands of children. But it is true that the same men, who the Jewish society trusted as workers and professionals, willfully tried to kill them off.

The political environment which surrounded the Police Battalion made their vicious job less difficult. But those men who did not wish to partake in the killings...

Cited: Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary Men. New York: Aaron Asher
Books/HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1993.
Fogelman, Eva. Conscience and Courage. New York: Anchor Books Doubleday,
Jacobs, Mike. Speech to Class. Dallas, 31 Mar. 1997.
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