Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Doubling: The Broader Danger 
Although doubling can be understood as a pervasive process present in some degree in most if not all lives, we have mainly been talking about a destructive version of it: victimizer’s doubling. The Germans of the Nazi era came to epitomize this process not because they were inherently more evil than other people, but because they succeeded in making use of this form of doubling for tapping the general human moral and psychological potential for mobilizing evil on a vast scale and channeling it into systematic killing.

While victimizer’s doubling can occur in virtually any group, perhaps professionals of various kinds — physicians, psychologists, physicists, biologists, clergy, generals, statesmen, writers, artists — have a special capacity for doubling. In them a prior, humane self can be joined by a “professional self” willing to ally itself with a destructive project, with harming or even killing others.

Consider the situation of the American psychiatrist doing his military service during the Vietnam War. In working with Vietnam veterans I was surprised by their special animosity toward chaplains and shrinks. It turned out that many of these veterans had experienced a mixture of revulsion and psychological conflict (the two were difficult to distinguish in the midst of Vietnam combat) and were taken to either a chaplain or a psychiatrist (or the assistant of either), depending upon the orientation of the soldier himself or of his immediate superior. The chaplain or the psychiatrist would attempt to help the GI become strong enough to overcome his difficulties and remain in combat, which in Vietnam meant participating in or witnessing daily atrocities in an atrocity-producing situation. In that way, the chaplain or psychiatrist, quite inadvertently, undermined what the soldier would later come to view as his last remnant of decency in that situation The professional involved could do that only because he had undergone a form of doubling which gave rise to a “military self” serving the military unit and its combat project. One reason the chaplain or psychiatrist was so susceptible to that doubling was his misplaced confidence in his profession and his professional self his assumption that, as a member of a healing profession, whatever he did healed. In this case, the military self could come to subsume the professional self. Thus, psychiatrists returning from Vietnam to their American clinical and teaching situations experienced psychological struggles no less severe than those of other Vietnam veterans. 71 (see page 454).

Consider also the physicist who is for the most part a humane person devoted to family life and strongly opposed to violence of any kind. He may undergo a form of doubling from which emerges what we can call his “nuclear-weapons self.” He may actively involve himself in making the weapons, argue that they are necessary for national security and to combat Soviet weapons, and even become an advocate of their use under
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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