Society\'s Influence on Morals


The atrocities of the Holocaust have prompted much inquiry by
researchers to understand how humans can behave so cruelly toward their fellow
man. Theories have been formed that cite the men of Battalion 101 as “
exceptions” or men with “faulty personalities,” when, in fact, they were
ordinary men. The people who attempted to perform a genocide were the same
people as you and me with the only difference being the environment in which
they worked. The behavior of the men in Battalion 101 was not abnormal human
behavior, rather, their actions are testament to the premise that when humans
are exposed to certain environmental and psychological conditions, extreme
brutality is highly apt to occur.
The members of the Police Battalion 101 had the same ideas and
influences as the rest of the German citizens. Because of the racist teachings
produced by the German government, the entire German society was uniform under
the belief that they were the master race. The German were taught that anyone
different from their own kind (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) needed to be
removed from their society in order for it to prosper. The Police Battalion men
shared the same beliefs as everyone else, but they had to perform the dirty work
of killing approximately 83,000 Jews. Christopher Browning states in his book,
Ordinary Men, that, “...the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, like most of
the German society, was immersed in a deluge of racist and anti-Semitic
propaganda” (Browning 184). Unless placed in the Battalion men\'s situation, one
can not fathom how a population of people can so evilly turn against another.
People in every culture are susceptible to the ideas and beliefs brought
upon them by propaganda. Whenever an idea is accepted as the ‘norm\', people
will find a way to justify it and follow it despite the evil implications it
might entail. Humans have faced these situations throughout the last two
centuries numerous times. For example, the American slave trading was totally
acceptable to the southerners because the blacks were perceived to be lesser
human beings. The slave owners did not mind controlling and abusing a slave
like it was an animal since in their mind the slave was comparable to an animal.
This was true in Germany with the only difference being that the Anti-Semitics
thought the Jews should be eliminated. A more recent example would be the
American\'s attitudes toward the Russians during the Cold War. Children were
taught that the Russians were evil and while the Russian children were being
taught the same ideas about the Americans. Propaganda was used by our
government to make us believe that we were the good side while they were the bad
side. Before anyone had time to sit back and think about the situation
rationally, our entire society hated the Communists. The same situation applied
for the German citizens except, their attitudes illustrated the effectiveness of
propaganda even when it has the evilest of implications.
It must be understood that the men who transported or participated in
the killings of 83,000 Jews were not selected as men who were thought to be
capable of acting inhuman. They were ordinary men in their 30\'s and 40\'s who
were too old to fight in the war but they were still capable of carrying out
orders. Before the war, the men worked as businessmen, truck drivers, medical
workers, and even teachers who came from middle to lower class backgrounds. It
is difficult to imagine an individual, such as a teacher, who dedicated his life
to the enhancement of a child\'s education and well-being, participated and
tolerated the killing of thousands of children. But it is true that the same
men, who the Jewish society trusted as workers and professionals, willfully
tried to kill them off.
The political environment which surrounded the Police Battalion made
their vicious job less difficult. But those men who did not wish to partake in
the killings could be given a different assignment. In fact, a minority did
walk a way from the slaughters, but the remaining 80% to 90% carried out their
orders. Reich, in his summary of Ordinary men, suggests that, “For many, the
pressure to conform to a group, and not to seem like cowards, played a major
role in their continuing to shoot” (Reich 1B). If a minority group differs from
a majority group that has the same beliefs, they are looked upon with shame and
disdain. If a soldier were to disagree with their orders, they were the object
of ridicule and scrutiny. It is much easier for a person to follow the beliefs
of their society or