Hum Spring 2013
What turns "Ordinary Men" into "Willing Executioners"?
Before we can begin to map the transition between an Ordinary Man and Willing Executioner, it is best to define some terms. Who are our Ordinary Men? Well, for the most part they were ordinary blue-collared middle-aged men from Hamburg, Germany. Deemed unfit for military duty they were assigned to the Reserve Police Battalion 101 where their duties ranged from rounding up and transporting Jews to concentration camps, to rounding up Jews and leading them into the woods to be shot at close range. Prior to this involuntary drafting, "the men of the battalion had not seen battle or encountered a deadly enemy. Most of them had not fired a shot in anger or ever been fired on, much less [had] comrades fighting at their side"(Browning 161). An argument is going to be made that what the men of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 did was not timeless, or distant, or unrepeatable, so; picture your town barista, your mailman, the check out boy aged nineteen at your local grocery store, Frank- the man getting close to retirement who runs the food cart on Hawthorne and volunteers his time in the Rhododendron gardens, do you have them clear in your mind's eye? Good. Now place them in uniform, don't forget the gun in their hands, maybe place a look of moral reprehension on their face for good measure. At this point you should be feeling a resounding dissonance, these men look unnatural, out of place, profoundly uncomfortable in their newly assigned positions. When tracking the descent into crimes against humanity it is helpful to know where you began. Were these Ordinary Men Spartan like in nature, had they been raised in a militant society to believe that combat and blood shed equated glory and was the greatest fate a man could aspire to?
"Grown up in an age of security, we shared a yearning for danger, for the experience of the extraordinary" is how a German solider, Ernst...