Monday, September 8, 2014

Eichmann Was As Evil As The System He Followed

Being Evil

In a book review article in The New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler, writes about Bettina Stangneth's Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer, which shows that Otto Adolf Eichmann was not a man merely caught up in the bureaucracy and machinery of evil, but a man who passionately and enthusiastically believed in what he did. There is no evidence to support the the argument of "banality of evil," as Hannah Arendt put it more than 50 years ago, but, rather, shows a man committed to an evil cause.

In citing Stangneth's book and after conducting an interview with the author, Schuessler writes about the extent of Eichmann's commitment to amorality and mass murder:
Then, while reading through the voluminous memoirs and other testimony Eichmann produced while in hiding in Argentina after the war, Ms. Stangneth came across a long note he wrote, dismissing the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, that flew in the face of Arendt’s notion of Eichmann’s “inability to think.”

“I sat at my desk for three days, thinking about it,” Ms. Stangneth said in a telephone interview from her home. “I was totally shocked. I could not believe this man was able to write something like this.”

Ms. Stangneth’s book cites that document and a mountain of others to offer what some scholars say is the most definitive case yet that Eichmann, who was hanged in 1962, wasn’t the order-following functionary he claimed to be at his trial, but a fanatically dedicated National Socialist. If previous researchers have seriously dented Arendt’s case, Ms. Stangneth “shatters” it, said Deborah E. Lipstadt, a historian at Emory University and the author of a 2011 book about the Eichmann trial.

The facts about Eichmann in Argentina have been dribbling out, “but she really puts flesh on the bones,” Dr. Lipstadt said. “This was not a guy who just happened to do a dirty job, but someone who played a crucial role and did it with wholehearted commitment.”

While Ms. Stangneth maintains that Arendt, who died in 1975, was fooled by Eichmann’s performance on the stand, she sees her less as a foil than as an indispensable intellectual companion.
That Arendt was wrong about Eichmann does not mean she was wrong about everything. It only shows that even the most intelligent and thoughtful individuals, as humans with all attendant faults, can have certain ideas of the mind, informed and shaped by their experiences and sympathies, that can lead any of us astray. That Eichmann was guilty, as the 1961 trial in Israel found him to be, is no surprise; what might surprise some is that Eichmann was the evil unfeeling "monster" that documentary evidence proves he always was.

For more, go to [NYT].

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