Equinox sunset at Salk

Monday, October 14, 2013

That old banality of evil

I have been thinking a bit about good and evil lately. It started when the Ariel Castro story broke. Castro pled guilty to 937 counts, including kidnapping, rape, assault and aggravated murder that sent him to prison for life with no chance of parole for abducting the three women and keeping them as sex slaves for more than a decade in his Cleveland home.  He was found dead in his cell a few weeks ago, either by an act of suicide or possibly while engaged in an autoerotic act.

Castro lured one of his young victims with the promise of a puppy. But Castro denied victimizing the women and said that he was the real victim in the experience.
"Most of the sex that went on in the house, and probably all of it, was consensual," Castro said. "These people are trying to paint me as a monster. I'm not a monster. I'm sick. My sexual problem, it's so bad on my mind," Castro said."God as my witness, I never beat these women like they're trying to say that I did. I never tortured them," he said. He insisted "there was a lot of harmony" in his house among himself and his captives. 
You have to wonder about a man who kidnaps his prey, keeps them chained, impregnates them and then convinces himself that his despicable actions were somehow consensual.

I read a review in the New York Times last week along similar lines. It was a review of the book Hitler's Furies by Wendy Lower. The book chronicles the story of normal nazi women and their descent into acts that most of us would consider evil and abnormal. Very interesting review, I am going to try to read the book.
Some of the women she follows were aides to so-called desk murderers, eagerly assisting their bosses. Others took part in the humiliation of Jews, or plundered their goods. Still others shot them from balconies or in forests. One smashed in a Jewish toddler’s head. Even those who did not directly take part in the killing of Jews, she says, could not claim ignorance about was going on. They were passive bystanders.
Fewer expressed qualms about what they saw. One who did, a relief worker and lawyer named Annette Schücking, wrote home: “What Papa says is true; people with no moral inhibitions exude a strange odor. I can now pick out these people, and many of them really do smell like blood.” Despite what they had seen, the author writes, they asked, “What can one do, after all?”
The moral point Ms. Lower repeatedly makes is that “there were choices concerning how one behaved during and after the war.” Men and women weren’t punished for refusing to take part in the killings of Jews. “In favoring perceived duty over morality,” she writes, “men and women were more alike than different.” 

© Reuters
Monique Macias was the daughter of a brutal African dictator, Francisco Macías Nguema, the President-turned-dictator of Equatorial Guinea between 1968 and 1979. Nguema was overthrown in a coup and convinced his friends in North Korea to protect his wife, daughter and son in exile before he was executed. Macias and her brother Francisco spent 15 years in Korea.

Monique has just finished her memoirs, I'm Monique from Pyongyang. The stories I have read are interesting in the same way as the other two tales I cite. She paints the late North Korean dictator Kim il Sung, a man responsible for numerous atrocities, as a kind grandfather who nagged her about her homework.

Macias's father's regime was known as the Dachau of Africa. He executed entire villages and families. including many of his own, and was said to be responsible for killing close to 80,000 people.Yet to one young boy and girl, he was probably just plain old dad.
During Macías Nguema's regime, the country had neither a development plan nor an accounting system for government funds. After killing the governor of the Central Bank, he carried everything that remained in the national treasury to his house in a rural village.[2] During Christmas of 1975 he ordered about 150 of his opponents killed. Soldiers dressed up in Santa Claus costumes executed them by shooting at the football stadium in Malabo, while amplifiers were playing Mary Hopkin's "Those Were the Days".[8]By the end of his rule, nearly all of the country's educated class was either executed or forced into exile--a brain drain from which the country has never recovered. He also killed two-thirds of the legislature and 10 of his original ministers.[9]

Kim il Sung was the grandson of a minister and went to a missionary school. The founder of North Korea was a radical Stalinist who executed many of his political opponents and instituted an autocratic regime and a cult of personality unmatched in our time, which even required a yearly tribute on his birth and death day. It is estimated that he was responsible for killing approximately one million of his own people.

Erich Priebke died last week, at the ripe old age of one hundred. He lived his life in comfort and freedom, enjoying a rooftop apartment where he could tend his geraniums and come and go as he pleased.

Priebke was an SS officer who orchestrated the killing of men and boys at the Italian Ardeatine caves in 1944, in a reprisal attack ordered by Adolf Hitler for the killing of 33 German soldiers in Rome by resistance fighters.

They were ordered to kill ten people for every nazi killed but Priebke went a little overboard and killed five extra, 335, just for good measure and to be on the safe side. In an interesting twist, he was never tried for the 330 murders which he was ordered to commit, only for the five extra that he was not ordered to kill.

Priebke admitted his role in the massacre, but he never expressed remorse and maintained he was only following orders. Priebke maintained that all the people he killed were merely "terrorists."

"An order was an order... I had to carry it out."

From Wiki:
In post–World War II trials, Priebke was set to be tried for his role in the massacre, but he managed to escape from a British prison camp in northeastern Italy in 1946. After he had escaped, he lived with a family in Sterzing/Vipiteno. During this time he received on 13 September 1948 a second baptism by a local priest.[6] After his time in South Tyrol he went to Vatican City in Rome to find protection. Bishop Alois Hudal, a main participant in the Vatican's Ratlines, was accustomed to making false travel documents for German officials who had been involved in the war, and he supplied Priebke with a falsified visa to travel to Argentina (then led by Juan Perón).[7] Though alleged to have been responsible for war crimes, Priebke lived in Argentina as a free man for 50 years.

It is interesting to note the barbarity that we humans can justify in our own behavior. For a myriad of reasons, including loyalty, duty, a desensitization to our victims, whom we may call terrorists, we can engage in the most sordid and despicable acts. All of these men and women probably found their personal behavior entirely normal and perfectly acceptable. And had relationships with family and friends that were also loving and normal in the socially accepted sense of the word. It seems very few monsters can recognize the monster in the mirror.

Hell is empty and all the devils are here.
William Shakespeare 

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