Wednesday, August 20, 2014


His name was Gustav Gilbert. Rank captain. He was an army psychologist assigned to the prison wing of the Nuremburg justice complex. His job? Monitor the defendants in the first war crimes trial. Try to keep them reasonably sane and healthy until the verdicts were in.

During what turned out to a nearly year long trial Gilbert explored, as well as he could, what made the defendants tick. Take a strain of philosophy starting with Hegel that exalted the state over the individual and war over peace. Add a national belief, traced in part back to Martin Luther, that obedience to superiors was how the world works. Any superior; teachers, parents, pastors or political leaders. Not all Germans bought the party lone but the majority did. Mix in an unhealthy dose of anti Jewish, actually anti anybody who wasn’t German, propaganda that painted so called non Aryans were vermin, less than human. Especially the Jews..

But Gilbert still believed he only part of the puzzle of the evils the trial was exploring. He interviewed the defendants. He interviewed other prisoners at Nuremburg and any others he could make contact with. The final piece of the puzzle? A total absence of empathy. The inability to sympathize or even identify with other human beings.

Gilbert even had the chance to interview Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz. Hoess was “proud” of his record of extermination. But claimed that while the camp was in the business of extermination he didn’t tolerate torture or cruelty towards the prisoners. (face palm, head bounce, loud scream)

Keep that in mind as Ferguson, Missouri plays out. And the next African American or Latino is shot, beaten or described as a “thug.” Or the next Faux talking head goes in front of the cameras to fulminate over the Central American kids trying to get out of the killing zones.

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