Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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[Armeni…] ans in 1915 — not with any claim to comprehensiveness but only to suggest wider applicability. These principles could also apply to recent examples of genocide in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Paraguay, and the Soviet Union. Rather than a definitive theory of genocide, I want to suggest a sequence of collective patterns that occur in at least certain forms of genocide.

At the heart of the task is the question: Why all? What is the source of the impulse to destroy a human group in its entirety? No conceptual approach can be made to this question without satisfying two fundamental requirements: it must consider a combination of psychological and historical forces, and be sensitive to questions of death and killing and their relationship to individual and collective life. Such an approach must also be sufficiently flexible to connect with a variety of historical events, some of them unforeseen and even unprecedented.

Freudian theory cannot in itself meet these requirements, but those of us who would apply alternative theory are nonetheless children of Freud.4* Otto Rank, the early follower of Freud and subsequent dissident, is a key figure here as a major source of the paradigm of death and the continuity of life — or the symbolization of life and death — that I have been employing in this book and in other work over several decades. A central tenet of that model would be that human beings kill in order to assert their own life power. To that tenet may now be added the image of curing a deadly disease, so that genocide may become an absolute form of killing in the name of healing.

The model I propose includes a perception of collective illness, a vision of cure, and a series of motivations, experiences, and requirements of perpetrators in their quest for that cure.  
The Historical “Sickness unto Death” 
The perceived illness is a collectively experienced inundation in death imagery, a shared sense of Kierkegaard's “sickness unto death.” It is the despairing edge of historical (or psychohistorical) dislocation, of the breakdown of the symbolic forms and sources of meaning previously shared by a particular human group. That collective sense of immersion in death, bodily and spiritually, could not have been greater than that experienced in Germany after the First World War. But the larger dislocation had begun much earlier. The German struggle with what has been called anti-modern despair6 goes back at least to the last half of the nineteenth century. So much so, that Fritz Stern called his 1961 study of
* George Kren and others also note the inadequacy of classical Freudian thought for approaching the Holocaust, and look tentatively toward Jung and Wilhelm Reich for more relevant theory. Israel W. Charny suggests the usefulness of Rank’s early work, in connection with which he cites Ernest Becker and myself.5  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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