Category: Richard Rhodes

Setting the exampleSetting the example

“Jewish communities in Eastern Europe were more civilized—that is, socialized more to civil methods of settling disputes, populated with fewer individuals who were personally violent—than the Germans who assaulted them. They were also more civilized than most of the Gentile societies in which they were embedded. Jews historically had not conducted pogroms against Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Byelorussians, Ukrainians; it had been the other way around.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

You can’t always take one with youYou can’t always take one with you

“One of the most painful questions of the Holocaust, raised first of all by the SS perpetrators themselves, has been: Why did the Jews not resist? The question, with its ugly implication that the victims deserve blame—as if they murdered themselves—has many answers. Many victims did not know what was intended for them until after they had been brought under armed guard. Able-bodied men were usually seized first, leaving women, children and the elderly more vulnerable. The path to the killing pit or the transport was a gauntlet bristling with armed guards and vicious dogs, with machine guns positioned on the perimeter. Running away meant leaving family members behind. The shock of encountering the killing pits was paralyzing. Resistance is more difficult stripped naked. It was unusual for Jews to own weapons or to have experience using them. Jewish communities faced with Gentile hostility traditionally negotiated. Mass killing on the Nazi scale was incomprehensible.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

They’re so civilized nowThey’re so civilized now

“European society in medieval times and earlier had been dominated by malefically violent nobles who enforced their authority with serious physical violence, which they took pleasure in and celebrated. Homicide rates in medieval Europe even among commoners, who settled their disputes privately with little local interference from the law, were twenty to fifty times as high as in modern Europe. Violence declined across seven hundred years of Western history as monarchs moved to monopolize violence in order to monopolize taxation and thereby limit the power of the nobility and as an emerging middle class sought protection in official justice from the burdens of settling disputes at personal risk. Social controls over violence, primarily increasing access to courts of law, developed in parallel with changes in child-rearing practices away from physical brutalization. The criminal justice system vividly demonstrated this transformation. When official justice began to take control it advertised its authority with public torture and executions, spectacles attended by enthusiastic crowds. As private violence declined—that is, as populations were socialized to less personally violent identities—people lost their taste for such spectacles. Punishment retreated behind institutional walls.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

The servants of ThanatosThe servants of Thanatos

“The Nazi hecatomb was not ‘modern’ and ‘scientific,’ as it is frequently characterized, nor was it unique in human history. It was accomplished with the same simple equipment as the slaughters of European imperialism and, later, Asian and African civil war. State-sponsored massacre is a complex and recurring social epidemic. Understanding how its perpetrators learn to cope with its challenges is one important part of understanding how to prevent or limit further outbreaks, and no twentieth-century slaughter is better documented than the Third Reich’s.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

The shooters’ shoulders got soreThe shooters’ shoulders got sore

“The notorious gas chambers and crematoria of the death camps have come to typify the Holocaust, but in fact they were exceptional. The primary means of mass murder the Nazis deployed during the Second World War was firearms and lethal privation. Shooting was not less efficient than gassing, as many historians have assumed. It was harder on the shooters’ nerves, and the gas vans and chambers alleviated the burden. But shooting began earlier, continued throughout the war and produced far more victims if Slavs are counted, as they must be, as well as Jews. ‘The Nazi regime was the most genocidal the world has ever seen,’ writes sociologist Michael Mann. ‘During its short twelve years (overwhelmingly its last four) it killed approximately twenty million unarmed persons.’ “ – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

Wild strawberriesWild strawberries

“Maps in Jewish museums from Riga to Odessa confirm that almost every village and town in the entire sweep of the Eastern territories has a killing site nearby. Two thousand Jews, for example, lived in and around the small town of Tykocin, northwest of Warsaw on the road to Bialystok in eastern Poland, worshiping in a square, fortified synagogue with a turreted tower and a red mansard roof, built in 1642, more than a century after Jewish settlement began in the region. Lush farm country surrounds Tykocin: wheat fields, prosperous villages, cattle in the fields, black-and-white storks brooding wide, flat nests on the chimneys of lucky houses. Each village maintains a forest, a dense oval stand of perhaps forty acres of red-barked pines harvested for firewood and house and barn construction. Inside the forests, even in the heat of summer, the air is cool and heady with pine; wild strawberries, small and sweet, strew the forest floor. Police Battalions 309 and 316, based in Bialystok, invaded Tykocin on 5 August 1941. They drove Jewish men, women and children screaming from their homes, killed laggards in the streets, loaded the living onto trucks and jarred them down a potholed, winding dirt road past the storks and the cattle to the Lopuchowo village forest two miles southwest. In the center of the Lopuchowo forest, men dug pits, piling up the sandy yellow soil, and then Police Battalions 309 and 316, out for the morning on excursion from Bialystok, murdered the Jews of Tykocin, man, woman and child. For months the forest buzzed and stank of death.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

En garde, you swineEn garde, you swine

“Serious dueling—dueling to the death to settle a conflict or an insult to one’s honor—arose among the nobility in early modern Europe at a time when states were centralizing. In medieval days the nobility had dominated its demesnes with serious violence, enforcing decrees, claiming and defending territory and levying tribute much as present-day mafiosi do. To assert authority and collect taxes, centralizing governments had to limit such private violence. Monarchs did so in part by establishing courts that the nobility had to attend as disarmed courtiers to seek royal favor. Monarchs also outlawed violent personal contests. The duel, a formalized violent personal contest, then developed outside the law as an implicit political protest, an assertion by the nobility that while it was prepared to bend its knee to the monarch in matters of taxation and social control, it did not recognize the monarch’s writ in matters of personal honor.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

Crazy apes beat allCrazy apes beat all

“Many theories have been proposed to explain violent behavior, including loss of control, involuntary impulse, unconscious motivation, lack of conscience, character disorders, genetic inheritance or neurological damage. Some of these theories are anecdotal, based on an observer’s interpretation of a violent actor’s intentions. Others derive from statistical correlational studies, which by definition do not reveal causal relationships but merely identify qualities that may be associated in some way with violent behavior. That people become violent because they have low self-esteem, for example, is a widely accepted theory that minimal interaction with violent people, including violent professionals, quickly disconfirms: violent people usually have overweeningly high self-esteem verging on egomania, because they are confident of their ability to handle conflict and because other people, fearing them, show them great deference. Not all sociopaths are violent; not all violent people have neurological damage; unconscious motivation is by definition unprovable; and any theory of violent development that fails to account for official violent behavior as well as criminal is incomplete.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

A fresh shipment is in on the S.S. BlackshirtA fresh shipment is in on the S.S. Blackshirt

“To say that governments monopolize violence is to imply that violence is a commodity that can be collected and stored. Violence is a behavior. As such, it resides in individuals, people who have experienced it and out of that experience learned to produce it more or less on demand. Weapons enter the picture as tools violent people may or may not use to amplify their violence production. Governments monopolize violence by authorizing some of their citizens to use violence in circumstances deemed legal and official. These citizens may have come to their official duties already experienced with violence, or they may gain their violent experience through official training. However thy learn to use violence, even these violent officials are authorized to do so only under specific circumstances, and if they use violence under unauthorized circumstances, such acts are deemed criminal. Police brutality and military atrocity, for example, are two categories of criminal violence.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

That’s the theory, anywayThat’s the theory, anyway

“The control of violence is a fundamental responsibility of government. Governments control violence by monopolizing it. They authorize military and police forces to use violence but deem criminal any other individual or institutional use. From this basic division, which evolved across five centuries in the West as governments enlarged and centralized, the common belief has emerged that governmental violence is rational (or at least deliberate and intentional), while private violence is irrational, aberrant, the product of psychopathology rather than deliberate intention. In fact, violence is violence, whether public or private, official or unofficial, good or bad. Violence is an instrumentality, not a psychopathology or a character disorder. Violence is a means to an end—domination and control—one of many possible means. Since its essence is injury, its efficacy in the long term is marginal, but its short-term advantages are obvious.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death