Thanas wrote:Maybe....but I still think it leaves out the answer why nobody decided to stop them out of sheer human decency. Some did, but the vast majority stayed silent. So IMO that theory leaves a lot to be desired and seems to be (forgive me, not trying to be harsh here) a bit too simplistic an explanation for the complex swirl that is nazi Germany.
As i said, sociopaths in leading positions and a general sociopathic, inhumane policy.
Furthermore, human decency towards jews, gypsies, homosexuals, eastern europeans etc. was getting dangerous relatively quickly. Such intervention is already rare due to personal risk factors. Being in a military unit makes it more difficult because you are in a fixed hierarchy, where such intervention is more difficult, especially if your CO is doing it. Being subject to an ideology that discourages such actions adds another layer of difficulty.
The people who did not help weren't bastards. They were decent human beings who were heavily discouraged from intervening.
There are really lot's of factors at work here.
I already mentioned personal risk factors: Intervening for someone else mostly carries a risk for yourself. That risk could be a natural hazard (such as fire), it could be the person assaulting the other person, but it can also be social pressure. At a simple level, standing up for the kid that gets bullied at school can lower your rank in the pecking order. In Nazi Germany, lot's of social pressure against helping was applied.
Then you have the bystander-effect. Basically, when there are several people present who could help your personal incentive to help is lowered. If no one is helping, you are likely to follow the herd and do nothing as well. Lot's of people can break out of that, but that takes awareness of the situation, knowledge about what you can actually do and lot's of initiative. So if the other soldiers in your squad are not doing anything, and if your superiors are not doing anything - then you likely won't do anything either.
Then you have the simple fact that you are not supposed to question your officers orders. Whether that's your sergeant shooting civilians or someone higher up ordering you to do it, a solder is drilled to obey, and so he is likely to do it.
Then there is desensitization. War is already showing your lot's of ugly things, so you'll be less sensitive when more ugly things happen. Atrocities against civilians might be more horrible than shooting enemy soldiers, but when you are accustomed to the latter the former is not that far removed.
All of the above is lowering the individual persons perception of his responsibility and his moral inhibitions.
Okay, we are lacking one crucial factor now. We have plenty of reasons why people won't stop atrocities, but no reason why they are committed in the first place.
There are basically two possibilities here: individual actions and orders by superiors.
The latter doesn't require much explanation. Atrocities were often ordered during WW II and other wars. Plenty of the officers ordering them were probably sociopaths, others might have followed orders of their own, an ideology or even (for them) practical reasons.
The former is more complicated. Basically, one individual soldier out of a group will start committing an atrocity, such as rape, killing civilians or pillaging. Others will follow suit because they have learned to act as a unit. Note that this can be both quite systematic (such as locking a village in a church and burning it) and heated, spontaneous actions (such as just suddenly shooting the villagers).
I claim that such actions are often initiated by people with sociopathic behavior. Studies like the Milgram-experiment have shown that people in positions of power over others are willing to commit atrocities if given an incentive. Group dynamics, like in military units, can provide sufficient incentive for severe atrocities. For sociopaths, no active incentive is needed, so they will often start such actions. In other cases, severe stress might temporarily mimic sociopathic behavior - stress is known to reduce empathy, and sociopaths basically lack empathy. People who are not sociopaths can act like them if under severe stress.
Okay, basic summary:
- People in groups feel less responsible for their actions and have inhibitions against intervening for others. This is amplified in military unit and even more by Nazi ideology.
- Some atrocities were ordered by superior officers and those orders were just followed
- Others were started by sociopaths. Others joined in and did not stop it due to the lowered responsibility and unwillingness to intervene.
- My basic claim
is that a normal person will not start an atrocity unless ordered to or under very severe stress. However, a normal person will help committing an atrocity once one is started and will not intervene if one is observed due to, again, lowered responsibility etc.