Fahrenheit WWII 2002

Fahrenheit WWII                                        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   There is no construction without destruction—Chairman Mao

 

The elements that can provide a satisfactory explanation of the actions exhibited by the police force in Ordinary Men and those of the Red Guards are strong deeply rooted motivations.  It is important to understand both the mindset of these killers as well as the process by which they acquired what we might call extreme moral flexibility, followed by the most extreme violent actions.  Through propaganda, appealing ideals, and force, Hitler and Mao made themselves into subjects of worship.  These cults of personality[1], accompanied by legitimate promises of economic prosperity were one of the most important aspects of the eventually large-scale brainwashing success.  The historical legacy of the two countries is also significant because the history and cultural myths of China and Germany were used very efficiently to influence the people who would follow the causes.  Going even deeper into the possible explanations for the actions that to most seem inexplicable, the most primal instincts of human beings cannot be discounted.  In terms of human evolution, it is only recently that man has evolved from the hunter.  This is to say that not long ago humans had to kill animals in order to eat and in order to protect themselves.  Most people to not have qualms about killing an animal if it serves a purpose and so by dehumanizing the Jews or presenting nationalists in China as a life threatening force, Hitler and Mao were playing on some of the most basic human instincts.  Germany and China created a receptive audience and using propaganda and force; controlled this audience, but more importantly controlled people by using their almost subconscious desires and fears to create a group of people who were capable and in most cases willing to commit genocide.

          There were two main ideological differences in the propaganda put out by Germany and China.  Germany romanticized the past in order to create a sense of unity among the Christian Germans and to put the blame for present problems on the impurity represented most clearly by the Jews.  China took the opposite position by presenting the old world as corrupt and unequal while presenting the revolution as the solution to the problems caused by this old system.

          China used highly effective propaganda in the form of “Big Character” posters and “Quotations from Mao” to give impressionable students a goal they could believe in and fight for.  The first important and even sensible idiom is that everyone must have faith in the Party in order for the revolution to succeed.[2]  This is a normal expectation as a component of success in any government, that the party in power should have the people’s support.  The rhetoric that follows this stipulation, however, leaves no room for dissent.  Mao states that “Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are Eliminated” and it is also made clear that people who do not support the party are the class to be eliminated.  This no doubt instilled a great fear in many people but for those who would become Red Guards, it was a rallying call.

          The most significant part of the Chinese brainwashing program was the “cult of personality” created by and around Chairman Mao himself. An important step in creating the cult of personality was the destruction of religion because there were idols that could compete with Mao.  The chairmen wanted the people of China to worship him so as to have complete control over mind and body without any interference.  This image of Mao as the great leader and even savior was carefully created and was not restrained by any dissenting realities.  Chairman Mao wanted to be the inspiration and the leader, more like Lenin than Stalin.[3]  Like President Bush’s town meetings, the Audiences for events where Mao appeared was carefully chosen so that the most enthusiastic crowd possible could be shown to the rest of the country.

          The appearance more than the actions of the chairman was used to demonstrate his devout following. Like President Bush’s town meetings, the audiences for events where Mao appeared were carefully chosen so that the most enthusiastic crowd possible could be shown to the rest of the country. As the most impressionable demographic was indoctrinated, a threat to the party was a threat to Mao which was in essence a threat to one’s survival. Mao became, in the eyes of the Red Guards, so important, that for him or the party to fail would be like the death of the nation created in part by these Red Guards.  If the revolution failed then the class to which the Red Guards belonged would be the one eliminated.  This perceived threat, along with the support for the Red Guards, created a group that projected their fears and even petty resentments on others with little provocation[4].

          Examining the motivations behind the police in Ordinary Men is much more difficult for three main reasons; the atrocities were carried out during wartime, there is little exposure of anti Jewish propaganda and the police being interrogated do not give many clues as to their mindset.  Nonetheless it is clear that for centuries in Europe there was an open and widespread hatred of the Jews.  Hitler and his propaganda crew capitalized on this existing animosity by presenting the Jews as not only as the enemy in the war but also as subhuman beings.

No one should believe that the large majority of Battalion 101 was simply following orders in wartime, that they were “political and moral Eunuchs”[5] and had no personal philosophies regarding the extermination of Jewish civilians.  Using more direct methods than the Chinese, the German government complimented military training with “Ideological Education” which reinforced the necessity of the extermination and the Jews’ status as subhuman.[6]  These ideas however dully presented (opinion Browning), were repeated every week and seemed to be aimed at destroying any mercy on the part of the enforcers.  Words like “soulless” were used to describe the Jews in the course of education and it was also made clear that they had started the war with Germany and so put them ideologically on the level of a pack of scavenging dogs.[7]

When the time to kill came around, Battalion 101 used their education by further dehumanizing their victims.  The Jews were shaved and stripped so their appearance could more conform to the picture painted by such informative lectures like “Maintaining the purity of German blood”.[8]  These measure were an unconscious effort on the part of the Germans to ease the moral strain that one might expect when murdering large numbers of innocent people.  The Jewish populations were transformed from normal Europeans into a uniform, naked enemy, so that looking at them would prevent the Battalion from identifying with their victims and thus being unable to carry out their orders.  This idea of aesthetic brainwashing is shown clearly in many of the cases where the police refuse to kill as ordered.  A member of Battalion 101 might not kill, at least personally, someone who came from the same hometown or who had worked for the policeman.

          The men of Battalion 101 and the youths of the Red Guards did what they consciously believed was their duty. There were so many strong and approved justifications for the atrocities they committed so as to virtually eliminate dissention even without punishment.  The German police were not disciplined for refusal to take part in genocide and the youths of China did not have to join the militant Red Guards.  Peer pressure no doubt played a part in the execution of these acts but is in reality a background motivation because in the end the actions of others can not erase one’s own moral standing.  Using different but both highly effective methods of indoctrination, Nazi Germany and Communist China influenced certain people to the extent that they abandoned original thought with regards to the humanity of their fellow man.

Word count 1417

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Cheek p.206

[2] Cheek p.173

[3] Cheek p.206

[4] Cheek p.210

[5] Browning p.150

[6] Browning p.177

[7] Browning p.179

[8] Browning p.177

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Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (2004)

One would not think that the story of an elderly Canadian man could also be a profound and emotional telling of the Rwandan genocide. Media coverage (pointedly after the fact) of the genocide and the conditions that led to it has been abundant but in Shake Hands with the Devil, we are presented with a totally unique victim of the atrocities. Romeo Dallaire is an injured soul and the film takes us on a journey to see the devils that tore apart a country and the mind of a UN general.

The mass killings, rotting bodies, and demonic men with machetes tell a gruesome and horrible tale that turns the stomach and hurts the mind. The genocide evokes emotions such as sadness and confusion. Anger, however, is the emotion most strongly connected with the UN, the catholic church, and the world community at large. Dallaire expresses his frustration and anger at the UN for abandoning the country despite having relevant information, the church for not trying to prevent genocide, and the world for simply ignoring the situation. Former General Dallaire gives a speech on the tenth anniversary of the genocide where he bluntly tells survivors that what happened happened because the world does not care about a small African nation with no resources. The token western representatives present do not seem pleased.

Ultimately the story is about one man who watched a disaster unfold with his hands tied and was changed to the point where alcoholism and suicide were his natural escapes.  Ten years later, as the former general tours the country; we can see the nightmares in his eyes. His pain is vivid at times as he recalls the paradise he entered and the hell he left. At other times we can see that healing has taken place such as during a reunion with his soldiers. He is excited to meet survivors whose very existence lifts Dallaire’s spirit because he can share some of the pain with someone. We see that he is trying to accept his role and as hard as that must be, he has taken a huge step by returning to the scene. The general is able to laugh and smile even when recalling overwhelming situations and seems to have finally made some peace with the rolling green hills of Rwanda.