Anniversary Post: Adolf Eichmann’s Sentence

Adolf EichmannOn this day in 1961, Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death. It’s remarkable to think that he was only 39 years old at the end of World War II. And then you look at him in prison in his mid-50s and it isn’t hard to see why people picked up on Hannah Arendt’s concept, “The banality of evil.” This wasn’t what she was getting at, but I know we all have the same reaction when we see a war criminal long after the fact, “That average looking old man did it?!”

But based upon Arendt’s reporting, I would say that Eichmann was a totally typical authoritarian. So when he gave the explanation that he was simply following orders, he was being honest. Obviously, it is wrong to follow orders when the orders are wrong. But the issue that our civilization has never wrestled with is that all of our governments depend upon people following orders. Every aspect of the official state is designed to get people to follow orders without thinking.

All you really need to do is look at the way that our government responded to Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. I don’t believe for a minute that the government really cares about the secrets that were revealed. The overblown outrage that we see is to send a message: it doesn’t matter what you do because you think it is right, the government will hunt you down and destroy you. Do you really think that the US government would have forced another country’s airplane down to search for Robert Lewis Dear, if he were on the run? Of course it wouldn’t. No one needs a lesson about murder, but they do about never crossing the government.

I do think there was something banal about Eichmann. He was doing what almost all authoritarians would do in his place. And in America, I would say that about 25% of us are authoritarians. But the real problem is that the government seems to think things would be better if we all were.

3 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Adolf Eichmann’s Sentence

  1. I wish we had a better term for government than government. It makes it out to be this faceless, nameless creature that just does stuff on its own without showing it is made up of people just like you and I. The people in the government do care about everyone following orders because damn it, someone messing up means I have to fill out form 1418A, in triplicate while at the same time calling fifteen people at 4:30 on a Friday and NO ONE IS AT WORK. GAHHHH…People who work for government want you to obey since that means society continues to function more or less without having to spend a great deal of time fixing the problems that pop up when someone doesn’t obey the rules and the laws.

    However I think that the main reason that the US was annoyed at the spy program revealed by Snowden was due to the fact everyone does it but not one actually admits they do it. Merkel’s peeps do try to hack into Obama’s cell phone to see him texting his oldest that she is not allowed to have that thing she wants, she has to wait like all of her friends do just like we hacked into hers. China does try to hack into the Pentagon’s various phone lines to find out that General so and so is sleeping with Lt. Dan and that we plan on putting US Third Fleet into training around Japan on Tuesday. And we do the same thing they do. No one talks about it though because that is rude.

    • I agree that we all need to go along about most things. For example: all driving on the same side of the road. In addition to everything else about safety and so on, it’s just the polite thing to do. But when it comes to something like Snowden, I think you are wrong. I don’t think there could have been anything revealed that ever would justify it in the eyes of roughly half the population. There are still people who are angry about the Pentagon Papers. If that wasn’t justified, what is? And if that were released today, it would be roundly condemned.

      • Possibly, I view it as it such a non-surprise that I have trouble seeing why anyone would be mad we were doing it beyond it being a polite fiction no one spies on anyone.

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