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“It was not my fault; I was only doing what I was told.” That statement was the
most often used phrase during the Nuremburg trials (1945-1946). While this statement
was completely false when used by those of the Nazi command and mid-level leaders,
what about the lowly soldiers and policemen involved in the Holocaust? For years
people have asked this question: how could so many normal everyday citizens be
involved in this atrocity? Stanley Milgram asked this same question in 1961, during the
Israeli trial of Adolf Eichmann. While it is obvious that Eichmann acted out of his own
accord, many of the lowly individuals did not. To answer this Milgram did his now
classic experiment of giving shocks to a “student” by a “teacher”. Each wrong answer
was allotted a higher and higher volt shock until 450 volts was reached, obviously a
deadly shock, even to non-electricians. Sixty-five percent delivered the fatal shock.
Some have said that our western heritage of individualism and our own history of the
rugged idealist would stop citizens of the United States from doing such things. But they
were wrong.

A part of the Holocaust that many do know of is the organization called the
Einsatzgruppen. It was formed out of the Orpo (Ordnungpolizei) or regular German
police, volunteers, the SS, and led by the SD (Sicherheitsdienst), who followed the
German army into Poland, and later into Russia. These ordinary policemen went
about the evil duty of killing Poland’s intelligentsia and any Jews they could find.
All told, approximately one million were murdered in open-air killings. They did
this because they were ordered to by people of authority above them. Many did
these acts because they believed it was the right thing to do. Others complied just
because they were ordered to by their commanders, who had to know why this deed
had to be done.

The question raised by Dr. C is this: could something like this happen here in the
United States? The answer is yes, seeing as the experiment took place at Yale
University. How many of us in this class would be able to resist the power of
authority? Those of us of military back ground might be better able to, but I doubt it.
We are conditioned to obey the orders of our superiors. Look at the My Lai incident
in Viet Nam. I, my self, originally volunteered to join the Special Weapons section
of my Howitzer battery. This section’s (or squad’s) mission was to fire tactical
nuclear rounds in the event of war. I joined because I was against using nuclear
weapons and would use any method possible to keep THAT howitzer from firing any
nuke. After Desert Storm my opinion changed and now I would be quite happy to
pull the lanyard to protect my fellow soldiers and family. I am ashamed to admit it,
but if I was told that the only way I could go home was to shoot every fifth Iraqi I
would have. I was going home come hell or high water. At the time I did not realize
my commitment, it wasn’t until later, in a Final Solution class, I recognized the
emotions when I studied the Einsatzgruppen.

The ability to resist authority when it commands unreasonable things is something

that takes great effort. I have done it to prevent unsafe acts commanded by stupid
lieutenants. That is easy for they are young and inexperienced. It also depends on
the situation a person finds themselves in. Look at Schindler, a man who defied the
Nazi mandate to eliminate his Jews. He was even a member of the Nazi party, but he
found the fortitude to do the right thing.