Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Beast Inside

I am almost done re-reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a book I consider to be the best non-fiction book I have ever read.  I just completed the rather voluminous chapter entitled "The New Order" in which the author gives the generalities of the type of rule the Nazis had planned for the world along with some specifics of actual occurrences.  By complete coincidence, the last DVDs that arrived for me from Netflix before that part of my account is shut-off were the ones containing Schindler's List, a movie that up until now I had not seen.  Taking in both of these pieces of media together proved to be quite an unpleasant shock to they system, even if I'd been through one before and was aware of the content of the other.

The most upsetting part, outside the destruction of lives of the Jews and other 'undesirables' was the knowledge of how many people it would take to commit acts on such a grand scale.  The knowledge that there are Hitlers out there is not surprising, and we know serial killers exist.  But it is apparently a truth that if we create a climate that would encourage it, there are millions of men and women who would become murders.  Not soldiers, killing in a way we have deemed acceptable for some reason, but chasing down families, men women and children in the streets and shooting them in the head.  Apparently these people are all around us.  The SS was not made up of Himmler and a few cronies he'd drugged into submission to his will.  Hundreds of thousands, men and women who were eager to bring pain and death to other human beings, they were all there before the Third Reich came to be, it wasn't around long enough to develop its own strain of evolution.

So the obvious question is: who is around us that would stand and be counted should we enter such a regime?  Or more to the point, how can we know that the beast is not within us, waiting for the chance to cause pain and suffering, to spread death and misery to those whom we've chosen to despise?  Could you walk down the streets in Berlin, or Munich in 1922 and point out "Oh yes, he will be with the S.D., and him, he will be S.S.  This one will reject the brown-shirts and flee but she shall become a guard at an extermination camp and cut the hair of the women about to be executed"?

Where does the thing hide when it is daylight outside?  How can we be sure it has to refuge in us?  That feeling of hate, that desire to tear down, to repudiate the life of another, is it not in all of us to some degree? Given sufficient encouragement would it be set loose and could we stop it or would we even want to?

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